Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Petition (n.): A respectful or humble request.

THERE are many horrifying things in the news today.

President Bashar al Assad of Syria and his wife gossip about America's Got Talent and splurge thousands on new chandeliers while his regime targets journalists, murders civilians willy-nilly and gives Al Qaeda all the help it needs to get a foothold in the region, for one.

The thought that the actor who plays Ken Barlow not only has a winky but has used it on 1,000 women for another - a fact made 433% more awful by the revelation his nickname on set was 'Cock Roache'.


Troops getting their pay cut while serving on the front line of a pointless war, a journalist being arrested for writing about publicly-available information, SamCam being praised for wearing a selection of utterly boring frocks. It's all stuff that makes you shake your head, grit your teeth, and turn the page.

And all of those things appear pale, pointless and petty when you consider the true horror which is the story of Amina Filali, whose tale has been reported, very briefly, in just a few papers.

She came from a small town near Tangiers in Morocco and was abducted and raped at the age of 15 by a man who was 10 years her senior. I can't find his name, or I'd publish it in a large and angry font.

Morocco is considered one of the most forward-thinking Arabic countries in terms of women's rights. Ten per cent of seats in its Parliament are reserved for women, custody, inheritance and divorce laws have been modernised, and the minimum age of marriage raised from 15 to 18.

Perhaps bearing this in mind, Amina's family took her abuser to court in a civil action to demand justice.

But unfortunately Morocco also retains a law which says that if a woman under 18 is abducted, the 'stain of honour' upon her and her family can be removed if the abductor marries her. This also gives the perpetrator immunity from prosecution.

The court ordered the two to enter a marriage contract. The abuser at first refused - after all, she was used goods - but was forced to agree after being threatened with a sentence of up to 20 years in jail if he did not.

Amina and this unnamed man were married, against both their wills, five months ago. Amina was regularly beaten and, it is assumed, probably raped throughout the marriage.

Unable to bear it any more, she ate rat poison.

For those who don't know, rat poison's main constituent is usually an anti-coagulant like warfarin, which prevents the blood from clotting and the body from healing itself. tiny blood vessels all over your body break and clot every day - if you bruise or sneeze for example. Eating rat poison means that you bleed to death, internally, in great pain over several days. It's not an easy way to go.

When Amina told her abuser what she had done, he dragged her down the street by her hair in a rage. This was probably more merciful than he intended, as it will merely have speeded up the rate at which she was losing blood. In another country he would be charged with manslaughter for not calling a doctor and for hastening her death.

But then, in another country it would not have happened at all. There would be no 'stain' on the victim of a dreadful crime that needed to be removed, and the rapist would be named, shamed and jailed, at least for a while.

Amina's story is horrifying in a thousand ways but it has two main lessons which, whether you care about a girl in Morocco or not, have some impact on lives here in Britain too.

Firstly, after the first court decision that she should marry her rapist, it led to a very strong campaign on Twitter and Facebook with many thousands of people behind it, all retweeting in a frenzy that this sort of thing shouldn't be allowed. It made bugger-all difference to Amina, which just goes to show that while social media can spread the word its practical power to change the course of events is limited. Petitions are simply too polite.

And secondly, whatever you might think about strict Islamic law, it is based upon a literal reading of its holy book. If there is a God-fearing type reading this - hello, by the way, can't imagine we've much in common but you're welcome all the same - the very same provision for a rapist to marry his victim is in the Bible and the Torah. It's in Deuteronomy, Chapter 22 to be precise, shortly after bits about how women can't wear trousers and a girl who's not a virgin when she marries can be stoned to death.

The Deuteronomic Code is generally considered to be based on the speeches of Moses, who is regarded as a prophet by all three Abrahamic faiths. And their holy books are the foundations of many of the world's laws.

However, just because this was the way people carried on thousands of years ago doesn't mean it's still all right. As our societies have matured we've absorbed the bits of those books that work into our penal codes and quietly forgotten about the parts which don't. The holy books were written and re-written by human beings, and just like journalists they're capable of producing inaccurate, ambiguous or misleading copy, and telling stories which may well have been true at the time of publication but which don't stand up to later scrutiny.

So the next time someone of a religious bent says some people can't do all the things everyone else does because it says so in a book, think about what the same book says about people like Amina.

Then do what she couldn't, and flick 'em the Vs.

Or start a petition, and see how far it gets you.