Voices from the Arab press: Religious extremism and sexual assault

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 LEV TAHOR sect members escape detention in Huixtla, Mexico, Sept. 29. Twenty members had been detained on drug trafficking and rape accustations.  (photo credit: Benjamin Alfaro/AFP via Getty Images)
LEV TAHOR sect members escape detention in Huixtla, Mexico, Sept. 29. Twenty members had been detained on drug trafficking and rape accustations.
(photo credit: Benjamin Alfaro/AFP via Getty Images)

Religious extremism and sexual assault

Al Qabas, Kuwait, November 3

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One of my female relatives recently started volunteering at a nonprofit, operating a support line for women – teenage girls, mothers, wives – who experienced sexual assault. The stories she shared with me were jarring. The stories are particularly horrible when they happen in closed religious societies that hide such crimes under the veil of religion. 

The haredi community, often described as the “Jewish Taliban,” is characterized by being mysterious and secretive in its rituals and practices. The Lev Tahor or “Immaculate Heart” sect is one of the most radical of these groups, and its leaders have previously been arrested for assault-related charges. 

The most recent arrest took place in a Mexican town, where the group established a home base. Several of the sect’s leaders, including Israelis from Canada and America, were arrested. A few days ago, an Israeli court sentenced the leader of a sect, charged with polygamy and assault, to 30 years in prison, and convicted him of sexual charges related to his wives and daughters, in addition to the charge of claiming divinity. 

 Members of a Jewish community stand on a street in the village of San Juan La Laguna August 24, 2014 (credit: JORGE DAN LOPEZ/REUTERS) Members of a Jewish community stand on a street in the village of San Juan La Laguna August 24, 2014 (credit: JORGE DAN LOPEZ/REUTERS)

Lev Tahor is far from the only sect where such crimes take place. Sexual assault occurs even in places where women are forced to wear black cloaks that cover their entire bodies. I have also heard and read about sexual crimes committed against children and minors in some Christian churches, mostly Catholic ones. 

Most of these crimes have been documented through lawsuits and criminal prosecutions in several European and American courts. Many of these crimes were covered up by the Vatican and even former popes. Churches paid hundreds of millions of dollars in financial compensation to victims after years of silencing and suffering. 

In Kuwait, authorities recently charged a religious teacher with sexual assaults on several school students. Many of the teacher’s acts were documented through surveillance cameras. This is not the first crime of its kind; many preceded it and, sadly, it will not be the last. 

Of course, sexual assault can take place even in the most open, secular and liberal societies. But there is something about extremist religious sects that provides for a dangerous environment in which these crimes can unfold. The ability to detect, investigate, or talk about these issues in such societies is very limited. 

Furthermore, when senior clergy members are suspected of such acts, the sect and its institutions often work to cover up the crime to deflect the attention and scrutiny of authorities. A good example of this is the reports of the Audit Bureau, which are overflowing with violations of religious bodies and ministries. Yet no one wants to open this can of worms and investigate the reports. – Ahmad al-Sarraf 

Netanyahu is back. Will he cancel the border demarcation agreement?

An-Nahar, Lebanon, November 4

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the election and succeeded in avenging his political defeat that led to the downfall of his previous government. But what will happen after his victory? Will he be able to form a stable government and implement his electoral promises and threats? 

At the outset, it must be recalled that Netanyahu vowed to cancel the agreement on the demarcation of the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. He led a violent campaign against the agreement and described it as a concession of Israeli sovereignty to Hezbollah. Netanyahu also made sure to criticize his successor’s stance on the Iranian nuclear file, the infiltration of Iranian forces into Syria and Lebanon, and the smuggling of advanced weapons into the hands of Hezbollah. 

However, the maritime border with Lebanon remains the most important and recent threat, especially since the agreement was achieved and signed at the peak of Israel’s election campaign. This issue could be explosive if Netanyahu fulfills his electoral pledges. It may push Iran’s forces in Lebanon over the edge and lead to an escalation, beginning with a psychological war and continuing with an armed one. 

But there’s also reason to believe that Netanyahu will maintain the agreement as it stands. First, because the US serves as a guarantor of the agreement, and any step taken by Netanyahu to withdraw from the agreement may lead to a crisis in relations between Israel and the Biden administration. Another factor standing in Netanyahu’s way of breaking the agreement is that the Karish field has begun production, and most importantly, that Israeli society, which brought Netanyahu to power again with a clear majority, isn’t pushing for war.

The right-leaning Israeli vote is directed primarily against the Palestinians. In no way does it represent a license for Netanyahu to get involved in a war over the border demarcation problem with Lebanon. The signing of an agreement to demarcate the borders between Israel and Lebanon with the permission of Iran, specifically the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is an achievement for Israel. Therefore, it has a positive impact on Israel’s security, political and economic interests. – Ali Hamada 

Oil prices following the next OPEC meeting

Al-Ittihad, United Arab Emirates, November 1

By the time OPEC countries hold their next meeting at the beginning of December, a lot of water will have flowed under the bridge of the global economic crisis. The new US Congress will already be elected following the midterm elections scheduled for early November, and the winter that Europe so profoundly fears will already sweep the gas-deprived continent. 

Christmas and New Year’s Eve will be a little sadder this year, and Santa Claus will not be able to distribute his gifts to children as he usually does – due to either a lack of money or a lack of heating. In addition to this global economic and political downturn, and its impact on standards of living in various countries, OPEC members will find themselves facing several other thorny issues that will necessitate sensitivity and equanimity in the decisions they make. 

OPEC members have relied on two main strategies these past few years: The first is complete unanimity in their decision and actions, and the second is flexibility in how they operate and respond to market conditions. Following the group’s decision, taken in its last meeting, to reduce oil production by 2 million barrels a day, global oil prices shot up.

However, prices have largely returned to their pre-reduction levels since then. Therefore, the world is awaiting the next meeting with much interest, and countries and companies are already basing their decisions on how they expect OPEC to respond to global markets. The expectation is that OPEC countries will work to stabilize the oil market and ensure a fair and consistent price per gallon in months to come. 

If oil prices surge, it is expected that the group will respond by increasing production to restrain this rise. Conversely, if prices continue to decline, then further reductions in supply will be very likely. Therefore, all options are still on the table for the December meeting. 

No one expects the group to make decisions that contradict its collective interests. But this doesn’t mean that there is no room for cooperation and negotiation between OPEC and consuming states. 

This is true today more than ever before, given the vitriolic media campaigns conducted against OPEC following the rise in oil prices. The sharp fluctuations in energy prices aren’t beneficial to the global economy, and both OPEC and non-OPEC states have an interest in finding a healthy middle ground. – Dr. Mohammed Al-Asoomi

The arrest of Prof. Dariush Farhoud

El Watan, Egypt, November 1

Dariush Farhoud is an incredible man who left the comfort of his lab to defend the rights of his country’s women. The 85-year-old professor of medical and clinical genetics was abducted by Iran’s security forces after criticizing the regime’s plans to ban prenatal screening and legal abortions. Farhoud is a hero who refused to be intimidated by the mullahs who terrorize women in the streets of Iran and kill those who dare lift their veils from their hair. 

The news of his arrest shook the world. Farhoud is a world-class scholar. Whenever he attended a conference or an academic meeting, he was greeted with reverence and respect by his colleagues from across the globe. 

Farhoud was born in Tehran, then moved with his family to southern Iran. He spent his primary school in Khuzestan Province and after completing his secondary studies, he moved to Germany. He obtained two doctorate degrees in natural sciences and human genetics, and another in anthropology and psychology from the University of Mainz in the early 1970s and returned to obtain a master’s degree in genetics. He also received the Khwarizmi International Award, which is a research award given annually by the president of Iran.

Farhoud often spoke about his choice to pursue such a unique combination of degrees. He described how his choice to study genetics was driven by an interest in how the field would change medicine. His choice of anthropology and psychology, meanwhile, was driven by a recognition that without incorporating ethics into medical research, the world would face serious problems. 

Farhoud chose to stand in defense of a women’s right over her body, especially as it pertains to abortions. He did so not only because it is the right stance from a medical viewpoint, but also – and perhaps most importantly – because it is the right stance from a moral and ethical viewpoint. Dariush Farhoud is one of the few people in Iran who can truly understand both viewpoints. – Khaled Montaser

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.