We are witnessing momentous events in the news these days. We all know it. And the events are positive, surely, because they are rife with heroism, courage and solidarity. But they are surrounded by equal measures of suffering so profound that we sit in our living rooms, in front of our televisions dumbfounded, trying to figure out how it is possible for a woman to survive rape by fifteen men. The moral courage evinced by the sista who walked into a hotel lobby in Lybia to expose to the world her ordeal at the hands of violators left us in no doubt as to the heights the best of our human race can rise. She was majestic. The uncertainty still surrounding her fate requires that we simply consign her to the care of a Higher Power.
However, we know somewhere deep down this is a victory. We just cannot put our finger on the significance of the event because it is too close. They say a symbolic betrothal ceremony was held by her tribe. That tribe broke with the past forever by declaring that her honor was intact. This means that women the world over will no longer be hostage to a perverse ideology that says their honor and purity are dependent on events outside their control. This marks the beginning of the end of the use of rape as a weapon of war when men stand up and declare that the soul and honor of a violated woman is intact and that the onus and spiritual burden (for which there will be Divine and promised retribution) rests squarely on the shoulders of the true violators.
I dedicate this poem to Eman al Obaidi, her family and her tribe.
A nineteen year old boy was married
never having tasted of forbidden fruit.
For love of his soul over his body,
regard for a future bride,
he kept a gift to share
on his wedding day.
I called him chaste.
An old woman who gave her allegiance
with a wedding vow
spent a lifetime
on a narrow path,
mind free of lust
for another partner.
And I call her chaste.
But you keep from sending your daughter
to school for fear she will be impregnated
on an African village back road
and you castrate her mind
in the name of chastity.
You cover her body from head to foot
in a chadour so that your eyes won’t see
a wisp of hair or a bare arm.
A black apparition in the Arabian sun,
and you call it chastity.
You sew up her genitals
in a ritual ceremony
and risk her death of infection
while her terror filled eyes
witness the sheer evil
you disguise as piety.
And you do this in the name of chastity.
You cast out your “fallen” daughters
and let them bear their babes in the gutter
in the name of Latin decency.
You teach them such false modesty
they don’t know their own bodies,
fear seeing a doctor for prenatal care.
You, who never learned to curb your lust,
would put the burden of chastity on the innocent.
You, who never punished the true violators,
never asked an account from the seducers,
would chain both the bodies and minds of women
IN THE NAME OF CHASTITY!
You’ve made a mockery of that sweet fruit
the god’s bestow for our taste
and the purity which you lay waste
goes a’begging, deaf and mute.
Your daughter’s welfare,
a sacred trust,
is the bud you trampled,
Chastity, this noble word,
then becomes a two edged sword
by which you will be judged
and shall reap no reward.
And I reject your definition.
I spit upon your prohibition.
The chastity I seek
is a condition of the soul,
made of gold
for men and women young and old
who willingly uphold, in truth
a sacred code.
from which sweet savor
of sanctity is inhaled.
the brightness of whose light
sheds both beauty and delight
upon the worlds of spirit.
A solace to the eyes,
a fragrance wafted heaven wise
to a most exalted Paradise.