When are women like "uncovered meat"?

When they don't wear hijabs, of course.

Published October 27, 2006 7:00PM (EDT)

What a nasty, nasty development in the now-global controversy over Muslim women's dress. On Thursday, reports surfaced that Australia's lead Muslim cleric suggested that women who do not wear hijabs are responsible for rape.

The chronically controversial Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, the mufti of Australia's biggest mosque, made the comments last month during a Ramadan sermon, offering this rich metaphor: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it, whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem." A sloppy line of logic, to be sure, but the suggestion that women are to blame for violence against them seems clear. Sure enough, he continued: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred." Referring to a famous gang-rape case in Sydney in 2000, he further criticized women who "sway suggestively," and lamented the fate of tempted men, saying, "then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" Everybody got that? Don't leave home -- and if you do, don't dare tempt unwitting, defenseless men with your wanton physicality.

Hilaly reportedly went even further off the deep end later in his sermon, when, according to the New Zealand Weekend Herald, he said women are "weapons" used by "Satan," and "when it comes to adultery the responsibility falls on the woman 90 percent of the time."

Keysar Trad, Hilaly's spokesperson, angled for a little damage control. "He's talking about those people who prey on others, whether men or women, who seek to engage in sexual conduct outside of marriage, and do so through alluring types of attire," Trad said. The "uncovered meat" refers to prostitutes, he claimed. Which, even if it is what the cleric meant, isn't much better -- are we supposed to be cheered that prostitutes either deserve to be raped or are wholly responsible for men's sexual transgressions?

There's plenty that's gross about Hilaly's comments. Worst of all, though, is how familiar his argument is. The same argument has been spawned by nearly every culture, it seems; it's the ever-robust "she asked for it" meme. His comments reinforce the worst interpretations of Muslim culture, amid an existing Christian-Muslim rift in Australia. Even scarier is that Hilaly's remarks effectively excuse sexual assault among his followers.

Hilaly has been barred from preaching for three months; some have called for him to resign, which he says he'll only do "after we clean the world of the White House first." He has, however, apologized for any offense caused, saying, "This does not condone rape; I condemn rape." But as a Broadsheet reader pointed out in an e-mail, that's not the point. Hilaly may condemn rape, but he condemns it as a situation in which immodest women lure men into sin.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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