Thursday, November 29, 2007

Saudi Law: Can't Punish Female Victims Too Harshly & Gay Sex Is OK If It's Rape By Men Also Raping A Woman, Pt. 2

Before I return to the topic at hand, I want to make two points clear. Although organized religion does not work for me at all, I strongly believe in and very much admire genuine spirituality. I define "genuine" spirituality as that which places a powerful emphasis on tolerance, kindness, honesty, empathy, generosity and humility. I've read quite a bit on the subject. I have attended the services of many different faiths.

Islam sports a number of characteristics that impress me. The priority Islam places on fostering the community and the requisite discipline (perhaps best exemplified by the Salah or compulsory ritual daily prayers) are but two. Having lived for years in a Muslim-rich inner city neighborhood, I found Muslims to be excellent neighbors. I believe in my heart that most Muslims practice Islam is as a religion of peace. Unfortunately (and exactly analogous to fundamentalist Christianity), the fundamentalist form of Islam is a perversion of spirituality rife with intolerance and riddled with hypocrisy.

Few incidents have exposed this intolerance and hypocrisy more clearly than the case of an engaged to be married Shiite woman attacked, kidnapped and brutally gang raped by 5 Sunni men. This woman was thought to be "fair game" because they determined she had an "inappropriate" meeting with a man not related to her. (She has steadfastly maintained she was being blackmailed by this man. Her account best explains why she would ever take such a risk). Having deputized themselves in their own minds, these self-styled vigilantes appointed themselves judge and jury too. Her punishment was a fait accompli as was their role as her punishers.

These pigs later bragged about their heinous crimes confident her family would disown her. They expected her fiancé to break their engagement. They were certain they would escape prosecution because they were Sunni and their victims were Shiite. They depended on her shame and that of her family, at what they did to her, to end the story there. In fact, her brother did try to kill her. But it was her now-husband's response that was completely unanticipated. Upon learning of the atrocity committed upon his betrothed, her husband filed a complaint with the police. After an investigation, the case went to court.

The BBC makes clear the extent to which the burden of proof is skewed against women once a "sexual offense" reaches the Sharia legal system:

In Islamic law, both adultery and rape require four witnesses to be present at the "act". A woman's evidence is still only worth half of a man's, and in adultery cases she cannot be a witness at all.
It comes as no surprise that the Saudi rapists were not actually convicted of rape. They were convicted of the lesser charge of kidnapping supposedly because prosecutors could not prove rape. Per Human Rights Watch:
The judges reportedly ignored evidence from a mobile phone video in which the attackers recorded the assault.
Under Sharia law "unproved rape is fornication, punishable by stoning." Despite ample evidence to the contrary the married rapists also avoided being charged with "Zina" (adultery) which is also deemed "fornication." Evidently the Saudi courts give married Sunni men a free pass on "fornication" with a Shiite woman as long as that woman was in public and unaccompanied by a Sharia-required "guardian" i.e. a husband/male member of immediate family).

This is post is running longer far longer than expected. I'll wrap it up with Part 3 tomorrow.

Si Fractus Fortis

Saudi Law: Can't Punish Female Victims Too Harshly + Gay Sex Is OK If It's Rape By Men Also Raping A Woman, Pt. 1

The Sunni Saudi court system has justifiably received world wide admonishment for sentencing the Shiite victim of a brutal, unbelievably sadistic gang rape to 90 lashes. (The Independent has the deeply disturbing story here). On Wednesday it was announced that her lawyer's successful appeal led to increased punishment for her Sunni rapists. The seven animals' original sentences ranging from 10 months to 5 years were boosted to run from 2 years to 9 years. At first glance the rapists' increased sentences could appear to be one in a series of small measures the Saudi government has taken lately to improve treatment of women under that country's strict interpretation of Sharia Law. It's not.

The body of Islamic Law, Sharia, is open to a variety of interpretations (and subject to selective application by the all-male judiciary). However three aspects appear almost universal:

  1. Women who are raped are frequently punished more severely than their attackers.
  2. Courts in those countries ruled by Sharia law are extremely charitable in their handling of men who commit violent crimes against women. This is especially true of sex crimes. A rapist's confession can been thrown out on a "technicality." That same "technicality " does not apply to the victim's case even if it would "prove" to "exonerate" the victim.
  3. Minority Shiites cannot expect objectivity from a Sunni legal system and vice versa.
The Sunni Saudi judges, who have repeatedly retaliated against the Shiite victim, have increased her punishment to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison! CNN sheds light on a vindictive legal system that can't keep its stories straight:
The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media."
The ministry has previously said the woman's punishment was increased after further evidence came to light against her when she appealed her original sentence.
In contrast, her story has remained consistent throughout. Not that this benefited her in anyway whatsoever. Her "trial" was worse than a farce. It was seized as an opportunity by Sunni males to heap abuse upon a Shiite woman who had been raped for what they perceived as her "crime": being raped.

Appearing in a closed courtroom, she was subjected to threats by her Sunni attackers and berated by one of the Sunni judges. Worst of all she found herself denied "any chance to prove her innocence or describe how she was a victim
of multiple brutal rapes." Having found himself unable to defend his client in court, her lawyer stepped up his efforts to get her story out. CNN:
Al-Lahim previously said the woman met the man at a shopping mall in order to retrieve an innocuous photograph from him. He has also said the man was blackmailing his client and forced her to have the meeting to save her engagement and avoid embarrassment.
The need to avoid embarrassment is a particularly powerful motivation in Arab culture. Taken in this context her story rings true. Understandably, most of our planet found it incomprehensible for her to be charged with any crime. Suddenly it's the Sunni Saudi
government that is embarrassed. They've responded by taking every opportunity to vilify this Shiite woman. The latest official Saudi government smear via CNN:
The woman had an "illegitimate relationship" with a man who was not her husband, and that both "exposed themselves to this heinous crime."
(I'm glad they cleared this up for me. I always have a problem getting passed the whole pursuit-of-happiness/don't-blame-the-victim/
innocent-until-proven-guilty/feminist frame of reference encoded within my DNA).

The victim's lawyer did not escape unscathed either. His clamor for justice may cost him dearly:

Judge Saad al-Muhanna fom the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

At this disciplinary hearing, Al-Lahim could be slapped with a three-year suspension or disbarment. Regardless of the final outcome, the court's numerous retaliatory actions in this case will have an incredibly chilling effect on any Saudi woman (and her lawyer) considering whether or not to seek justice after being victimized by a violent crime.

The Saudi court's shameful conduct in this trial goes far beyond their harassment and cruel treatment of the victim and her lawyer. Part 2 will look at the court's hypocrisy and duplicity in dealing with male perpetrators of violence against women.


Ed.'s note: Call me oversensitive. I cringe at labeling anyone who has been raped as a "victim." It comes from knowing and loving too many people who have been sexually abused. They are amazing, resilient and strong folks. "Victim" appears an insult. Yet to say otherwise minimizes the terrible crime committed against them. That strikes me as far worse. Regardless of the crime, those upon whom criminals prey are called victims.

"So victims" it is.

Sully Is Not Just Tone-Deaf and Colorblind. He's Flat-Out Dumb Too!

Sully is told just how much of a bigoted jerk Will Saletan is. Our zero learns important lessons about the folly of using standardized IQ tests to determine genetic and racial absolutes. Robert Farley delivers a mighty body blow calling out Saletan for his utter failure to research the racist source of the very research upon which he based the worst of his recent ignorant and inflammatory columns. You'd think this sort of thing would be important if one were about to write that science sure does prove them black folks are dumb. Then again maybe not. It's not like people actually read Slate, right?

Upon being learning the truth about the deeply flawed basis of Saletan's argument, Andrew Sullivan's response is so typically Sully:

A chastened Will Saletan...deserves mad props for raising this important but frustrating issue.
Is Sully for real? Could he really be that clueless? At best Saletan is an egotistic hack nonpareil "accidentally" peddling bigoted bullshit. At worst he's a nasty racist. For Sully's part he time and time again fails to examine his active role in disseminating such nonsense. Then he puts the topper on this by giving Saletan a compliment!

I'm officially speechless.


h/t Atrois

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Songs About Buildings And Greed

The music industry is reminiscent of a B-movie thug bleeding out from a belly wound who refuses medical treatment lest he get thrown in the slammer. The main difference is that the music biz's wounds are entirely self-inflicted. These wounds were caused not only by unprecedented stupidity but also by unprecedented greed. A bold statement given our subject but hear me out. It wasn't enough for the label honchos to fill their coffers to overflowing with found money re-selling their back catalog as music buyers converted their vinyl faves to CD.* They had to overcharge for new releases too.

I recall an extremely frustrating and somewhat bizarre conversation with a now former major label president in the mid-90s regarding CD pricing. We were trying to break a completely unknown new artist. The list price was $16.98 with certain stores charging up to $18.98. Competitive artists were selling in the $11.98 to $13.98 range. I asked this prez who ran our distributing label to agree to lower our list by at least $2 and preferably by $4. His verbatim reply: "If they (the consumers) really want it, they'll pay $16.98 for it."** Through persistent lobbying, the list price was eventually lowered. We did break this band after a year-and-a-half single-minded perseverance. No thanks to a certain old school label fat cat their debut sold in excess of 1 million copies.***

Can the music business as we know it survive? Not a chance. There's been decade-long mass exodus of many of the industry's brightest minds. Frustrated by the stupidity, sickened by the greed and tired of jumping from one unstable company to the next, these folks have forsaken their life's passion for relative normalcy. They have rewarding new careers as real estate agents, insurance salesmen, teachers, caterers, software developers, activists, advertising executives, political bloggers, and stock brokers. That's right. Those who could have performed timely surgery necessary to save this wounded beast have long since left it to die on its own.

Some of collateral damage caused as the music industry staggers bleeding into the future has been difficult to swallow. I hate watching old friends and former colleagues lose their jobs. I acutely feel the loss of history and tradition as labels from A&M, Virgin and Polydor (US) to the much maligned, and deservedly so, MCA became mere imprints. (For fuck sake the EMI idiots sold the Capitol Records Tower to be made into condos! Thankfully, the resulting outcry and loss of face forced them to enter into a sale and lease back agreement).

Still I cannot help believe that this may be for the best. We've seen how the music industry historically is highly resistant to change. Their bloated inefficient business model begs to be razed to the ground. Perhaps then and only then will a visionary or three be free to undertake a long overdue industry re-make/remodel.


*Record companies rushed their back catalog CDs out so fast that they didn't bother to master them properly. No worries. A few years later, after much negatively publicity (just two examples here and here) regarding the superior sound of vinyl vs. that of CDs, they re-mastered them and sold them back to us yet again. The re-mastered CDs were then followed by "expanded" or "special anniversary" editions containing B-sides, unreleased tracks, demos, radio spots et al. Those bastards! I can't count how many different CD versions I have of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model alone.

**Music fans' resulting resentment and rejection of this highway robbery were major factors spurring the explosion of "free" MP3 sharing discussed previously.

***For this and our overall unprecedented success, we were rewarded with the equivalent of our long-promised, long-awaited Christmas bonuses...and pink slips. Natch.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Music Biz Still Hemorrhaging From Deadly Self-Inflicted Wound

Former Reprise Records prezzie Howie Klein has a post, How To Destroy A Profitable Industry, over at his wonderful Down With Tyranny. It's his response to this New Yorker piece describing backward Universal Music honcho Doug Morris' ineptitude in dealing with the introduction of MP3 technology almost a decade ago. Howie mentions a key aspect of this equation a key that deserves elaboration. By hemming and hawing (and suing rather than embracing MP3s, record companies alienated an entire generation of young music fans. This is important particularly since teenage consumers traditionally spend a large part of their disposable income on music. At this time they also tend to establish specific buyer behavior that may last at lifetime.

One again the Luddite old school record company presidents foolishly believed that they could bend the marketplace to their will instead of pro-actively responding to the marketplace's demands. The result is a whole generation of music buyers with a deeply ingrained belief that they should always get their music for free. Furthermore, they believe that by not paying for this product, they are striking a blow against the evil, greedy music biz establishment. The same corporate forces that had been suing people just like them.

Once the record companies finally surrendered it was too late. The music industry's belated demand to charge the consumer for mp3s was akin to locking the barn door after the cow was stolen. To make matters worse, they've been spectacularly unsuccessful in convincing these music fans as to why they should pay for music. Just telling people that it's stealing doesn't cut it.

The extent to which this fandango has negatively impacted recording artists has been largely and typically ignored. Without going into mind-numbing specifics, the wholesale distribution of "free" MP3s makes it exponentially harder for musicians to make a living. Any directly related reduction in sales further limits artists' leverage with their record co. as well as the music industry at large. This affects everything from recording budgets, tour plans and radio airplay. These factors may force musicians to compromise their artistic vision in ways hitherto unthought-of of. Thus discouraged an artist could feel compelled to cut their career short before its time.

Wholesale sharing of free downloads can be murder to a developing artist. It can wreak havoc on a new release by an established artist too. A few years back I worked with an artist whose intricate marketing plan was sabotaged by a college kid who somehow got his hands on an advance copy. 125,000 downloads later we were forced to release the album's six weeks earlier than planned. We had to forgo some important set up in the process. This cost us a good third of our projected sales before this album's new street date. Once the album was in stores the lost six weeks of marketing setup cost us dearly too as it's impact was lessened considerably.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sully's Colorblindness

The Prospect's Dana Goldstein applies the wood to evil bigot William Saletan on Race & IQ. Saletan's written a series of columns on the subject. Race, Genes and Intelligence defends uber-biologist James Watson who last month claimed that Africans' "intelligence is the same as ours." Here he scribes the particularly self-serving Jewgenics.

It's not enough for unabashed Saletan admirer Sully to buy into Saletan's racial rhetoric. He does him one better:

I like the fact that asking these kinds of questions is also part of the Jewish inheritance.
Really? Did you also know that all Irish are drunks and those blacks are such wonderful dancers?

As an openly gay HIV-positive "journalist" of British descent, you'd think that Andrew Sullivan would be more sensitive to stereotypes, bigotry and the folly of sweeping generalizations. Instead he once again chooses to perpetuate them.

These two deserve each other.


h/t Atrios

Monday, November 12, 2007

Atrios Gives Sully A Poke or Two

Atrios finds fault with Sully's fantasy world within which we would all agree...with him (natch):

"National Consensus"

I'm always puzzled when this phrase is thrown around, as Andy Sullivan and others do. I don't know why it's assumed to be a good thing. I don't know how we'd know if we had it when we did. I don't know why Andy and the gang imagine they'd feel better if such a thing were achieved, or why it seems to be important to them.
Exactly. Andy, the retro-cons and his formerly close friends, the neo-cons, yearn for the days of yore when everyone thought the same and lived in perfect harmony. The reality is that there hasn't been anything close to resembling a national consensus in either our country or his in 50+ years. It's a dirty little historical secret that even in in the dark days of World War Two, dissent was commonplace especially among the socially marginalized. The African-American community was particularly ambivalent. Why fight for a country that tried Nazi saboteurs in court while lynching black men for minor slights real or imagined?

But I digress. Sully's fervent wish for a national consensus reflects a deep inferiority complex at the core of the conservative baby-boomer. Having been raised by the Greatest Generation, it's only natural to want to blaze your own trail. But with the Cold War won (by pre-boomers no less) and Vietnam lost there has been scant opportunity to do so. Until 9/11. Thus a war for oil is marketed as a "global war against islamofacist terroristas" or what have you. This is position is born not just out of the need to mollify the masses but also is a desperate attempt to convince themselves that they are continuing in the honorable legacy of that "greatest of generations."

Which leads nicely into where Atrios gets to the nub of what drives Andrew Sullivan and his compadres. He goes in for the kill:

...I mean, I guess I do basically understand - it's the need of the narcissist for the world to line up completely with their views, along with the ego to be convinced that one's rightness transcends all.