A prominent Tunisian cleric has called for a 19-year-old female activist to be "quarantined and stoned to death" because the topless pictures she posted could soon become an "epidemic."
The Tunisian newspaper AssabahNews quoted Salafi preacher Alami Adel (head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) as saying: "According to God’s law, she deserves 80 to 100 lashes, but what she committed is worth much more than that. She deserves to be stoned to death and she must be quarantined because what she did is an epidemic."
The young activist, Amina, is part of the feminist movement known as FEMEN — a Ukranian-based group which has utilized brazen nudity campaigns to bring awareness to feminist issues across Europe and the Middle East.
Amina posted a picture of herself on Facebook, in which she can be seen smoking a cigarette, reading a book, wearing jeans and has the following message written across her topless chest: "My body is my own and not somebody's honor."
Her family has since placed her in a mental asylum, claiming she has lost her mind — though this is most likely an act intended to keep her safe from attacks. Tunisia's mostly secular laws will probably see her imprisoned for her offense, but the fears of further violent reprisals from Muslim fanatics highlight an ongoing culture clash between western ideologies and fundamentalist Islam.
Over the last few years, we have seen all sorts of manifestations of these conflicts occur throughout Europe and the Middle East. The Dutch cartoonist Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten was killed for depicting Mohammed, while other illustrators narrowly escaped a similar fate. Theo van Gogh was assassinated in Holland for making the film Submission, which highlighted some Islamic cultures' repression of women, while another anti-Islam film was blamed for sparking protests across the Middle East — including the Benghazi attacks. A group of Muslim men in the UK were found guilty of abusing and prostituting girls as young as 11, while several women throughout many European countries have been victims of gang rape by groups of Muslim immigrants intent on teaching them "humility."
Amidst all this hatred, religious doctrine, and political rallying, a growing number of women are trying to have their voices heard — hoping to establish a new standard of safety and equality. Amina wasn't the first woman to utilize FEMEN's suggestion of "using your body as a poster for slogans of freedom." Alia al-Mahdi protested Egypt's drafted constitution by standing naked in front of the Egyptian embassy in Sweden. Iranian activists have also pursued a topless march to protest the hijab.
Women's liberation and feminist movements in the 1960s demanded careers, independence, roles in government, and autonomy over their bodies. Betty Friedan's book "The Feminine Mystique" described the bored suburban housewife as the "problem that has no name." But women in today's age who face Muslim oppression have much more fundamental rights to promote and violent challenges to face: honor killings, stoning, sex slavery, child marriages, rape, and female genital mutilation.
As more Muslims immigrate into European countries, and western media infiltrates the Middle East, the cultural divide between the two continues to manifest in sometimes violent conflicts. Child bride numbers in Saudi Arabia have been on the rise after the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah issued a fatwa allowing girls as young as 10 years old to be married off. The New York Times reported on a heartbreaking story from Yemen, where a 9-year-old ran away from her husband and begged for a divorce to escape his sexual abuse. Lara Logan's attack in Tahir square brought to light the dangers faced by female reporters in the region. Since that incident, Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood have been exposed to be paying gangs of thugs to rape female protesters in the streets.
Most of the female victims throughout these countries would only face further abuse, divorce, imprisonment or execution if they admitted to being raped or having sex outside of their marriage. While Betty Friedan was outraged that young women were choosing to drop out of college to get married, young girls throughout the Middle East have to fear having their skulls caved in with stones for defying their husbands.
Many might judge the FEMEN activists for making the opposition argument seem tawdry or extreme, rather than calm and reasonable. But it is often startling images that bring the true nature of our societies to light.
The United States has its own issues regarding the separation of church and state — the abortion and gay marriage debates are proof of that. Our country aims to support freedom, including the freedom to practice any religion. But what if Sharia law leads to the abuse and torment of women? What if Scientology brainwashes and imprisons its members? What if Christian snake handlers endanger their church goers? At what point does someone's freedom corrupt the freedom of others?
America has never had a period in its history where so many women held powerful positions in office: Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Rice, Kathleen Sebelius, Elizabeth Warren, and Human Abedin, to name just a few. Though they cannot hope to solve the problems spreading throughout the Middle East and Europe by themselves, no one would fault them for giving voice to the issue — disgarding diplomacy to perhaps share their opinion.
A few years ago, the Muslim salafis in Tunisia were in prison. Their freedom to preach and practice their faith was returned to them after the revolution. Alami Adel and his followers are now utilizing their newfound liberty to restrict the freedom of others. Perhaps developed countries need to radically rethink how they can effectively sustain a true separation between church and state.