Image by hisks on SXC.hu
The economic crisis changed my lifestyle drastically. It made me realise that it was never about him, it was about the money. I came to realise that our relationship wasn’t good. He would criticise me all the time, making me feel ashamed. He would criticise what I cooked, what I wore. He likes to criticise. It is in his nature. Sometimes, I feel he has opinions which are not for a man. He may come from a rich family but we are stylish. Yet, in the first month of our marriage, he would criticise our furniture and had this idea that I should be grateful that he brought me from Iraq to Europe, from rubbish to here. He never praised me, never complimented me. I had to be grateful. I felt undermined. He treated me like a little girl. So I stopped asking for his opinion. I stopped relying on his opinions.
Even my brothers, who used to visit twice a year, would notice there was a problem. We were always arguing, like enemies – a little discussion would escalate into a big argument. He was always trying to put me down in front of them, dominating me.
I wasn’t happy and I started to think about the choice I had made. I felt marrying him was the only choice I had. Throughout my life, however, I have always felt that I deserve something better. Money is an issue; having a partner with more money. I have this feeling that if a man has money, it makes him good and strong, so you automatically have a better life.
My husband was the first man sexually in my life. This was very important. The idea that he was the only one I had been with. It is an obsession amongst Arab men. I had had friendships with boys, but it was limited to the telephone and very innocent. These days, I think more about the choices I have and why there is a difference between the lives of women in Europe and the Middle East. European women for me equals non Muslim, they represent the unrestricted world that does not have the challenges we face. I believe that this is because virginity before marriage is still important in the Middle East. Therefore marriage is a passport to freedom; freedom from restrictions, from constraints.
Marriage protects a woman’s reputation and offers an escape from gossip and stigma whilst in contact with boys and men. It is why in many families (not all) girls are not encouraged to ride bicycles, do gymnastics for fear of them losing their virginity. Girls were encouraged to be careful when using the bidet so that it does not interfere with their virginity. It is why even the design of the bidet, rumour has it, has been changed – so the water doesn’t go right up the vagina and only through the anus – for fear spoiling her virginity.
The effect of this obsession in Saudi Arabia and Iran is very strong. It is interesting that the war on terror has provided a theatre for these two major Muslim powers in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to promote two extreme versions of the Muslim religion. Saudi Arabia is Sunni and Iran is Shia.
The whole Shia and Sunni rivalry came about on the death of the Prophet Mohamed who wanted his cousin Ali to take over from him. His friends, however, wanted a different a leader, Abu Bakarr. Those who followed Ali became the Shias and the others became Sunni.
Saudi Arabia is very rich and it uses its influence to promote the Wahabi religion, a branch of the Sunni religion which is Yemeni in origin. The Saudi royal family is from Yemen. Even before Sadaam Hussein’s death, he had also begun to take an unusual interest in religion, tearing down the horse racing stadium to build a mosque and ‘purifying’ prostitutes through summary executions. There was a sense that even though he was known for not being religious he was either trying to compete with other countries or please his more religious neighbours. Sadaam was Sunni like the Saudis and given their power in the region, he was doing a lot to satisfy them.
As a result of this rivalry we have gone backwards as a people and women are suffering a lot. There is also the fact that twenty fouryears under Saddam, from nineteen seventy nine to two thousand and three, had left us isolated, imprisoned and backward. With the invasion in two thousand and three, Iraq was taken hostage by the two rival religious extremist interests. So it is very common today to see women wearing the himar and gloves that is a costume of the Saudis.
In this war of extremism, it is the Saudis who are winning. To some Iraqis, they make the Iranians come across as modern. My friend visited Iran recently and was shocked. It is true that they will stone their women to death if they are unfaithful and that they are a very religious country, but she found them to be religious in a very fashionable way. Apart from this, there is also the fact that they consider themselves superior as Aryans to the Arabs.
As part of the escalating rivalry, lots of Sunni countries, the Yemenis and Afghanis included sent militia to Iraq to destablise the Shia regime. There is no doubt that the rivalry has been encouraged by America, primarily because of their access to our oil. They are sucking our blood and our money. The second motive is that the more intense the rivalry between the Arabs who have money, the more we will spend on military equipment. This rivalry also means that they are providers of our services, as the Iraqis remain distracted.