Sharia law means more suffering for female tsunami victims

Extremist clerics say the South Asian tidal wave was God's punishment for wanton women.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Published December 22, 2005 7:37PM (EST)

With the one-year anniversary of the South Asian tsunami fast approaching, we'd like to thank Feministing for pointing out this troubling story from today's Times of London. Nick Meo reports that some of Indonesia's Islamic extremists are calling the tsunami not an act of nature but, rather, a divine act of revenge for women's "wicked ways" -- and are taking advantage of survivors' fears in order to further humiliate and abuse local women under sharia law.

Fatimah Syam, of Indonesian Women for Legal Justice, tells Meo that a "control team" of sharia enforcers "seeks out women without headscarves or unmarried girls meeting boys in private and parades them through the streets in an open car." "I've seen the police laughing and boasting, and the girls in tears," she explains. "[They] say the tsunami happened because women ignored religion. We never heard of this parading before the tsunami."

Other women have been violently arrested, had their hair chopped off and been dragged through the streets while their alleged sins were shouted from a megaphone. According to the Times, "more than 100 gamblers and drinkers -- men and women -- have been caned in public and some clerics are calling for thieves' hands to be amputated."

Meo also relays the story of 12-year-old Sheila Mentari, who won her country's version of "American Idol" by singing a song about "how God sent the wave as punishment for sin." Mentari believes that her father, who was killed in the tsunami, would have approved of her performance.

Marzuki Lidan, whose wife and children died in the disaster, tells Meo he thinks the sharia "police are good Muslims doing an excellent job." "We must listen to them and follow Gods rules," he explains. "Otherwise the tsunami will happen again."

From the relative comfort of our mostly Judeo-Christian country, it might be tempting to shake our heads in condescension and chalk it all up to Muslim fanaticism, but it's worth remembering that these attitudes -- no matter how repugnant and shocking we find them -- are as old as Eve.

Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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