Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chaos Under the Canopy

In a recent article on CNN, the Saudi Government would like us to understand why they felt the necessity to punish a woman who is a victim of rape. "The woman was originally sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes. But that sentence was more than doubled to 200 lashes and six months in prison by the Qatif General Court, because she spoke to the media about the case, a court source told Middle Eastern daily newspaper Arab News" [1].

Why was she sentenced to anything at all (let alone 90 lashes)? Apparently, the victim was being blackmailed by a person who had a photo - a harmless photo according to the Saudi Government - of her and she met with the man. "It is illegal for a woman to meet with an unrelated male under Saudi's Islamic law" [1]. Shortly after this meeting she was raped by seven men.

This is the danger of living in a state where religious dogma is institutionalized as public law. Why is mercy so rare from those who (1) are in the position to grant it and (2) empowered by sacred text to grant it? I believe it may be because dogma (or rigid interpretation of sacred texts) cannot be moved to exception - even in extreme circumstances - because it can lead to chaos (or anome).

Peter Berger argues that religion serves as a means to stave off the nightmare of chaos and create safe boundaries of order [2, p. 24]. It is institutionalized and endowed with "an ontological status to the point where to deny them is to deny being itself - the being of the universal order of things and, consequently, one's own being in this order" [2, p. 24]. Even if the Saudis wanted to grant mercy, it may have been outside of their power to do so because to question the institutionalization of Islamic law is to question their own being.

What a shame that a woman felt so threatened over a harmless picture that she would risk the lash and pay blackmail demands for its return. What a shame that a rigid Islamic law had no option but to punish when mercy was needed.

Chaos happens in this world; society tries to establish order in the world. One way a society does this is to establish religion to explain catastrophy (remember 9/11) or, as Berger notes, "religion is the audacious attempt to conceive of the entire universe as being humanly significant" [2, p. 28].


[1] http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/11/20/saudi.rape.victim/index.html
[2] Peter L. Berger (1990). The Sacred Canopy. New York: Anchor Books.

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