Monday, 13 July 2009

What is in a flogging?

Khartoum's emailers received today an invitation by Ms Lubna Ahmed Husein, a prominent columnist with a reputation for annoying the authorities, to attend the court session where she, the accused, may well be punished with 40 lashes for "indecent dress" - a police Islameeze term which translates in this case into trousers. She was arrested together with a number of other young ladies from a Khartoum restaurant, some of whom immediately pleaded guilty, received 10 lashes and went on with their daily lives with another trauma on the pile. She, however has chosen to consult her lawyer and face a judge. The BBC caught up with the story and gave it a place on its Africa news pages under the title "Sudan women lashed for trousers". 
The practice of flogging women for "indecent dress" in Sudan, Khartoum in particular, is 20 years old, and dates back to the declaration of Sharia by Bashir & Co in 1990, and the establishment of a Sharia-based criminal law. A distinct police authority, largely recruited from the overzealous and determinately sexist, racist, chauvinist and younger poorer elements of the NIF lower cadre is responsible for enforcement of sections of the this Sharia based law pertinent to public behaviour - the Public Order Code, articles of which go as far as announcing the act of a man and a women sitting "thigh next to thigh"as criminal and "approaching fornication".
It is amazing how Khartoum's society has managed to subvert these declarations of false piety and chastity. Over the years and in flagrant disregard of all aspirations of the Public Order Code Khartoum's young women developed tactics and language that caricature the sexual fantasies of the men in beards enacted into law. The first phenomenon was probably the introduction of the ibaya - a wide black garment not popular previously in the Sudan. Young women would dress as they please, sometimes a minimum, and over their clothing of choice wear a ibaya for public appearance to their safer destination. This protective article of dress was dubbed in some circles al Islam. It became very popular particularly among young university students who would cover up when entering campus, where a female guard from the security apparatus is sure to check for appropriate clothing and prevent the "indecently" dressed from entering, and once inside would discard the ibaya into the handbag. To counteract such dress subversion female guards started to check not only the ibaya but what is beneath it.
Those exposed to Khartoum's subcultures probably know that two sections of the society have remained adamantly resistant to the Islamist dress code, the richer westernised class who can bribe their way out of police encounters, or who can afford to evade police control in their air-conditioned cars and concrete villas and relatively exclusive clubs; and the impoverished many. In the latter's case a whole new world of symbols came to express their disillusion with the Islamist pledges of justice and righteousness; well known are the slang songs of young girls and women that praise the boyfriend who sneeks into the house to satisfy the common needs of love, or the poignantly erotic lyrics that celebrate a potential husband whatever his ethnicity or social background, or the extensive rhymed annotations of a hooker's day on the road: names of streets and neighbourhoods and brands of cars. My favourite examples are the names given to articles of dress that obviously challenge the authorities' Sharia: "religion and politics" for cleavage exposing low cut tops; "separation of state and religion" for crop tops, and the "civilizatory project" (Islamist project) for miniskirts.
Now the nastier part of this note. Khartoum's liberal intellectuals rose in a flurry to support Ms Husein in her predicament, and organised a largely habitual gathering of solidarity in the premises of the SPLM-supported newspaper, Ajras al Hurriya, that was attended by senior party officials, Yasir Arman from the SPLM and Kamal Omer from the Popular Congress Party (Turabi's faction of the Islamist Movement). Ms Husein was there to demonstrate to the onlookers the article of clothing she was arrested for wearing, baggy pants. She is to attend court next week after being released on bail. The other young ladies who were also arrested in the incident did what most Sudanese young women would do in this situation, and remained nameless. Some bribed their way out of police custody and others surrendered to an immediate 10 lashes. This is how they have been surviving NIF madness for the past 20 years, largely unnoticed. In any case, they never made it to the BBC news service, their lot never deserved politics, may be sympathy. In essence, a flogging and another are not the same, there is always a class distinction.

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Creative Commons Licence
This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.