Domestic Violence Behind The Veils

Cormac Mac Ruairi
A woman in dark robes places a prayer mat on the floor and she begins to pray to Allah. She is surrendering to her God and Allah's wishes as expressed in the holy Koran.

When the camera moves closer, we see all is not as it first appears: her garments are transparent and her breasts are clearly visible. The Koran forbids all Muslims — men and women — to show themselves naked in public.

And though it is probably not strictly banned, we can only imagine the quotes from the Koran written in calligraphy on her body must also breach the spirit of Islamic religious law. The depicted texts from the Koran deal with the perscribed punishments for women who "misbehave".

As the film continues, we hear four tragic stories of women being forced into arranged marriages, being whipped, beaten and raped. We see images of backs marked by a whip and a woman's face reduced to a bloody pulp by her man's fists.

All the time these women, we are told, are meant to surrender themselves to Allah and accept their fate.

* Hirsi Ali denies Muslim film is plagiarism

The film has provoked a lot of controversy since it was shown on Sunday when its writer, Somali-born MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was interviewed on the "Zomergasten", or Summer Guests, programme.

But the film Submission has little new to say that Hirsi Ali has not said before.

Since her election to the Dutch Parliament one and a half years ago, she has doggedly criticised the treatment of women under Islam, both in immigrant communities in the Netherlands and overseas.

She has made headlines for describing Islam as backward and its prophet Mohammed as a pervert because he married a 12-year-old girl.

Remarks like that have drawn the wrath of fundamentalists: her life has been threatened more than once and she is accompanied everywhere by armed security officers.

Her criticism of Islam has been very heavy-handed and even some liberal thinkers have tended to dismiss her as an embittered crank. (She fled, aged 22, to the Netherlands when her father tried to force her into an arranged marriage in Kenya in 1991.)

But with Submission, part 1, Hirsi Ali is continuing her campaign, no matter how uncomfortable her message might be to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Her message remains as uncompromising as ever and the semi-nudity provides the necessary dose of shock value that always seem to accompany her public statements.

But this time round she has teamed up with Theo van Gogh, one of the most brilliant, if controversial, directors in the Netherlands to make her case through art.

One reviewer has described the movie as a monologue, but it is more in the tradition of the political pamphlets of the 17th and 18th centuries. The arguments are drawn with broad strokes and there is no room for equivocation or even-handedness. If the form veers towards the sensational or caricature, all the better to get attention and stimulate debate.

Van Gogh is not one to censure out a naked body when the script demands it — and Hirsi Ali says it does. The woman's nakedness strips away the cloak of the veil and reveals Muslim woman are just like everyone else; flesh and blood humans, she claims.

The Koran tells women to cover themselves up and submit to Allah in all things

At first glance, Hirsi Ali and director Van Gogh are a bit of an odd couple. She is slim and immaculately turned out, he is rotund, dresses "casually" with braces, and chain-smokes.

What they have in common is a drive to state their point of view forcibly, sometimes to the point of enraging their audiences and alienating people. And neither seems to care.

Hirsi Ali was a member of the Labour PvdA party, but she left spectacularly in 2002. Having had to flee to the US following death threats in the Netherlands, she claimed the social democrats in the PvdA were only paying lip-service to women's rights, particularly when it comes to rights for women in immigrant and Muslim communities.

She joined the right-wing Liberal VVD which welcomed her call for Muslims to integrate into Dutch society. But even there, some of her pointed condemnations of Islam have sent her party colleagues running for cover.

VVD leaders Gerrit Zalm and Jozias van Aartsen have come out this week to express support for the central message of the film, but Zalm spoke for many would-be supporters when he added: "That naked body, eh...".

Writer and director Van Gogh is used to stirring things up too and could be described as the Netherlands' Michael Moore.

He has been hired and fired many times as a columnist, he publishes his own internet page — entitled "De Gezonde Roker", or The Healthy Smoker — featuring his thoughts on Islam (negative), hypocrisy (negative) and a lot of other subjects (usually negative).

Van Gogh is an artist with a passion for commenting on current events. He has published a compilation of his columns in book form entitled Allah weet het beter, or Allah knows best.

'That naked body' from Submission © Theo van Gogh

His remarks can sometimes be very offensive and totally unfounded. Van Gogh once said "Muslims are goatf***ers", accuses Dutch-Moroocan website

He is currently making a movie about Pim Fortuyn, the populist politician and critic of Islam who was murdered in Hilversum in May 2001. Earlier this month, cinema giant Pathe refused to show Van Gogh's movie Cool!, a story about a group of Moroccan criminals.

Van Gogh paid the EUR 18,000 price tag for Submission which was filmed in secret in a month. The dialogue is in English and Van Gogh says he wants to sell it everywhere.

"I am going to send it to Arabic news channel Aljazeera. They broadcast (Osama) bin Laden's little films so they won't have a problem with this," he quipped.

Given its subject matter though, Submission might never make top billing in cinemas in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan. He has been given bodyguards as a result of the controversy.

And "that naked body…".

Theo van Gogh: a joker with a serious message?

"That naked body" has created quite a stir in the media and on a multitude of internet forums, from a chat room on Dutch politics to one for gay Turkish men. A correspondent on the latter saying Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh will do anything for attention.

Mohammed Sini of the Dutch foundation Islam and Citizenship told the Dutch media that Submission had gone too far and insulted many Muslims.

At the same time, he said many Muslims in the Netherlands felt their identity was under siege and, as a result, clung too rigidly to the Koran. He said Muslims should not accept everything in the Koran too literally.

Other mainstream political parties have been broadly positive about the film, but the Christian Democrat CDA has so far stonewalled and refused to express an opinion.

The leader of the green-left GroenLinks party, Femke Halsema, said the film could have been slightly more refined and Hirsi Ali came across as a bit triumphant.

"I grew up with the film 'Turks Fruit' so I am fairly used (to the nudity)... but I really enjoyed the evening's viewing," she said.

Not everyone will react in the same way, but like the pamphleteers of old, Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh have certainly stoked up a lively debate.


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bright-islam said…



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