Judge: Wife-beating is normal in your culture

In a divorce case, a German court defers to a 7th-century religious text.

Published March 23, 2007 12:43AM (EDT)

In Germany, it's not easy to get a divorce -- there's a mandatory one-year waiting period after filing. Sometimes when there is serious hardship, however, the courts make an exception. Unfortunately, what constitutes hardship can fall into a cross-cultural morass where 7th-century religious texts trump both modern law and international human rights. At least that's what happened with a 26-year-old Morrocan-born German who attempted to get a fast-track divorce from her husband because he was beating her and threatening to kill her.

According to an article in the New York Times, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, denied the woman a reprieve from the waiting period because the couple are Muslims noting the Koran allows husbands to "castigate" their wives and wife beating is common in Moroccan culture.

Here's what Datz-Winter told the woman in court: "You were raised in the Moroccan culture. Such situations could be normal in your culture. According to the sura Nisa of the Koran, man has dominance over woman. So, there is no need for you to get an urgent divorce." Hello! Shari'a law lives in Germany!

Once the court ruling was made public by the woman's lawyer, it drew sharp condemnation from legal experts, women's rights advocates and Muslim religious groups, demanding disciplinary action against the judge. But one women's rights worker told Spiegel that the case was not an isolated instance of a pernicious kind of cultural relativism seeping into court cases involving marital violence. Now with a growing population of fundamentalist Muslims living in German society, this case suggests that a desire to accommodate a radically different culture can have unsettling ramifications. If nothing else it may keep other Muslim women who are stuck in abusive marriages from seeking help in the courts.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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