Syria’s Suheir Atassi
Millions of women around the world do this daily without attracting much attention, but recently, Suhair Atassi, a prominent, secular Syrian opposition figure was spotted wearing a swimsuit at a Turkish resort. When photos of her appeared in social media, a vicious campaign, mainly in Arabic, was unleashed.
It was shocking and painful to read the comments on Twitter by many, both men and women, pro and anti-Syrian regime, pro and anti Islamic State, openly insulting Atassi and describing her with disgusting descriptions. It was as if Atassi’s body became a unifying figure for most Syrians, regardless of political stances. They indulged in demonizing and demeaning her, with varying arrays of excuses.
In a brutal civil war, as in Syria, it is perhaps expected that Atassi’s opponents, the Assad regime’s supporters, would brutally attack her politically as part of their campaign to discredit their opponents. What is stunningly sick, however, is to see anti-Assad supporters join in the dirty campaign against Atassi, under the context that she was wearing a revealing swimsuit.
The hemorrhagic fever that infects people against women in swimsuits is an insidious disease in the Arab world, not just in Syria. I personally experience it in many Arab countries, when men stare at women wearing swim attire in an ugly rude invasive way. The same patriarchal mindsets that justify sexual harassment detest women who dare to wear swimsuits. For that mentally ill bunch, which is unfortunately not a minority, women are the ones to blame for bringing such behavior by wearing revealing clothes.
The Atassi’s story also has another disturbing side____ the infringement of privacy. In Islamic teaching, it is not permissible to infringe on a woman’s privacy, and this must certainly include taking photos of her without her consent. Islam respects the privacy of women to a degree that Sharia places an impossible condition regarding the need to have four witnesses to press charges of adultery. This tenet is conveniently ignored by conservative Islamists who are now blatantly infringing upon Atassi’s privacy. That is alone is shocking.
Some have tried to justify the photos because they were taken in a public place (a hotel), as if that is a valid excuse. The fact that Atassi was at a hotel does not entitle any one to take a photo of her without her permission. More disturbingly, the photo was taking in Turkey, the patron of Syrian opposition. This indicates the high probability that whoever took the photo was possibly an opposition supporter. More recently, some opposition figures have expressed support for Atassi, albeit late.
It is worth noting that the Islamic factions within the Syrian opposition have very conservative agendas. The first thing that opposition groups have done in their controlled areas was to enforce conservative dress codes on women, an act that only highlights their shallow definition of freedom and democracy. Atassi has also been criticized for her performance, and she was forced to resign as head of the Syrian National Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit in 2013.
Nonetheless, in wartime, people tend to unite against their enemies and leave their differences aside, at least until they prevail and win the war. This hurtful attack, using the flesh of one of their woman as weapon reflects some deep necrosis. A divided opposition cannot prevail against its enemy.
A third opposition group attacks Attasi under the premise of her living a life of luxury in comparison to the suffering of the Syrian people. Yet this bunch ignores the many male wealthy Syrians enjoying their lives in Lebanon and other countries while ignoring their fellow Syrians. Needless to say, for a politician who spends most of her time in meetings, usually in hotels, using the facilities is hardly a luxury.
Meanwhile, most liberal and intellectual Arabs and Muslims have opted to remain silent on the Atassi case, while yelling and criticizing Western countries like Switzerland for banning face veils. Their passionate defense of freedom to cover-up was only matched by their deafening silence for the right of Atassi to dress as she pleases.
The story of Atassi and her swimming attire highlights how our societies have reached an alarming level of moral bankruptcy. Atassi may not be Syria’s best politician, but she should not be judged for wearing a swimsuit. We Muslims have betrayed our basic values as humans and practitioners of this faith. We are now willing to join in a frenzied scrum via the very non-Islamic act of infringing upon a woman’s privacy, solely for political reasons. We have by every definition, reached a new low.
I will not publish Atassi’s swimsuit photos in this blog because they were taken without her permission.