Saturday, August 22, 2015

Critique of Maya Mikdashi's Sexual Violence Is A Crime, Sometimes


Even though the year is only 2015, the Arab World has had a very energetic decade thus far with many legal, political, and social changes. Whereas in most of the Arab World, these changes revolved around the Arab Spring, the Lebanese changes were much more scattered. One of these significant events was the 2012 controversy over whether or not marital rape should be criminalized. Maya Mikdashi’s online article “Sexual Violence is a Crime, Sometimes” was released around that time. Its intentions were twofold. One was to discuss the legal history of marital rape in Lebanon and why marital rape was legally protected. The other was to encourage people to actively fight for criminalizing marital rape by taking part in the contemporary protests. However, Mikdashi presents an unclear, fallacious, and weakly structured explanation of the former, and her persuasion for the latter seems incomplete because it did not rely on enough facts and arguments.


Published on January 11th 2012, Maya Mikdashi’s online article is in a call-to-action and an incitement to readers to take a stance and attend an anti-marital rape protest that was going to be held later on January 14th. In her article, Mikdashi starts out by going through the then-recent history of marital rape legislation in major world countries. Sadly in many first world countries, marital rape has often been seen as legal or as a less serious form of rape until the last few decades. The bulk of the article goes into dissecting and explaining why marital rape was at the time legally protected in Lebanon and why it should be fought. Although many people quickly put the blame on the Lebanese religious authorities, Mikdashi argues that the religious institutions are only an organ of a much larger patriarchal society, not the main obstacle. It is this patriarchal society that creates legalized discrimination against women in multiple legal areas: housing, employment, marriage, divorce, nationality/citizenship, and so on. Mikdashi attacks this patriarchal institution as the source of these discriminatory practices. She later argues that public discussion of these taboo issues, specifically sexual assault, helps in fighting against it. She ends her article by calling on her readers to attend a protest on the 14th of January to fight for the criminalization of marital rape in Lebanon. 

Mikdashi’s treatment of marital rape laws is not very complicated because her main goal is to liven up readers to protest for criminalization, not to understand the history and complexities behind it. But it is this simplicity that makes her article feel unsubstantiated and unorganized. The information she provides was accurate at the time of publication and representative of the then-current state of the laws in Lebanon. But because the legal data she provides was from 2012, her main argument can be said to be outdated because of the legal changes that have occurred since then, especially the recent criminalization of marital rape (Shadi Shidrawi, personal communication, August 2015). The first thing that Mikdashi does is establish and define the topic at hand, that rape is when one person physically forces another into having sex. And, she encapsulates the entire issue of why she is specifically writing about marital rape: “In many countries, sexual consent is an implied provision of a marriage contract. The idea is that when two people get married, they are granted rights to each other's bodies”.

In terms of research, her article she mostly provides then-recent legal history on marital rape laws in the developed world and Lebanon, but through an excessive and slow logical flow. In some developed countries, such as the US, France, and Germany, marital rape has only recently been criminalized. But even in the first world, some countries like Japan and certain US states still don’t recognize marital rape as real or serious. In Lebanon, however, marital rape was (at the time of the article) legal and there was public action to criminalize it. However, there was a strong opposition against criminalization, with the most vocal opposition coming from religious authorities.

When it comes to explaining why there is such a controversy on marital laws in Lebanon and implicitly throughout the world, Mikdashi puts the blame mostly on sexist societies themselves and partly on specific institutions like Islam or religions in general. However, her argument that religions are partly to blame for the spread of marital rape is weak and prejudicial. It is inherently wrong because the major religions of the world, including Islam, are strictly against all forms of human torture and sexual violence (Shadi Shidrawi, personal communication, August 2015).

Following her weak argument against religion, Mikdashi spends a lot of her time talking about off-topic legal issues. Instead of talking more about the history or the legal and social subtleties of marital rape, she instead chooses to talk about other legalized forms of gender inequality that women face. These include unfair laws in areas such as banking, inheritance, marriage-divorce, marital rape, and the nationality law. This last law is about how Lebanese women do not have the right to pass on their citizenship to their foreign-born families, whereas Lebanese men are.  During this digression, she even uses profanity and emotionally loaded terms. Although there is overlap between Mikdashi’s goal to criminalize marital rape and between the general legalized discriminations that women face, Mikdashi doesn’t present a strong link between these issues to merit the time she spends on discussing them. If anything, this lengthy digression is a red herring whereby it seems that Mikdashi is trying to divert her audience to tangential issues so that we don’t see the holes in her logic. Ultimately, Mikdashi provides a very compact description of the social forces that go with marital rape laws in Lebanon, but her compactness comes at the price of a complete and understandable explanation. She goes into off-topic issues and uses profanity and emotions in her presentation of what is supposed to be up-to-date, objective, and professionally delivered data.

Besides explaining the legal history of the reasons for marital rape criminalization, Mikdashi spends a great deal of time discussing why her Lebanese readers should actively fight for the criminalization and why the mere act of discussing is part of the fight. The goal of this is to encourage readers to take part in civil activism and the upcoming protests on this issue. This is the more persuasive part of the article and this is where the writer gets more personal by describing her own emotional reactions to sexism and rape in Lebanon. When it comes to public discussions on rape, Mikdashi argues that by doing so we are helping to end it. She acknowledges that most people (and especially women) do not publicly discuss this taboo subject because of how they are taught that such issues will anger men, will be washed over as “her fault”, will be explained away as a man’s minor error in judgment, or will simply be denied as ever happening. However, although she rightfully gets angered at why such things are happening, she doesn’t actually argue why they should not be happening. In order to persuade her readers to be against marital rape, she doesn’t provide objective facts or reasons but relies on using emotional and powerful ideas of female suffering in Lebanon. We can say that her persuasion thus relies more on pathos than on logos because most of what the writer does is make her audience feel that marital fight should be fought instead of making them think and objectively conclude that it should be fought.

Processing this article as a whole, it is clear that Mikdashi did not put enough time and effort into accurately collect and representing the necessary legal information on marital rape. She has a fast and simplistic explanation for the legal environment of marital laws in Lebanon, one littered with emotional bias, oversimplification, profanity, outdated laws, antireligious-ness, and logical fallacies. She does not take the time to provide carefully collected statistical data on the extent of marital rape, the Lebanese legal history on criminalization, or other relevant social factors about how violence against women is handled by the family, state, and police (Bramley, 2014). Neither does she try to portray a realistic image of Lebanese marital victims or how they are affected by these issues (Hawali, 2013). When it comes to her persuasive strategy, there is not a strong reliance on using logical argumentative strategies. In order to persuade her readers to call for the criminalization of marital rape, Mikdashi relies on showing how marital rape is often ignored in public discourse, how such silence is unethical, and how this silence and legal protection infuriate her. Instead of explaining more subtle issues like the long-term effects of marital rape or countering the arguments of the anti-criminalization camp, Mikdashi only gives her audience an emotional motivation to criminalize marital rape. By relying on pathos instead of logos, it is arguable that her persuasive article could strengthen a person’s pre-existing position against marital rape but it probably will not persuade someone from the opposition.

Rape is a serious human rights issue and is recognized as a crime against humanity alongside other such horrors like genocide, slavery, child soldiers, and human trafficking. In Lebanon, although women’s rights are relatively better compared to some other Arab countries, this does not mean that it is a feminist paradise. There are many legal obstacles against gender equality in this country, one of the most obvious being the legal status of marital rape at the time of Mikdashi’s article. However, marital rape was recently criminalized so this casts doubt on whether Mikdashi’s article is up-to-date and still relevant. But even so, she writes in a very weak way and does not provide enough data on why and how marital rape was legal and protected in Lebanon. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, she spends her time going off-topic to issues related to Lebanese women’s legal rights in general, especially the controversy over the nationality law. In order to persuade her readers to protest for criminalization, Mikdashi does not offer strong enough arguments or explanations. Instead, she relies on making the reader “feel” that rape is bad, that we should talk about it, and shows her own disgust and anger towards it: “Even writing this, the hair on my the back of my neck is standing up, thinking of an archive of sexual violence that will never become "Lebanese history"” (Mikdashi, 2012, para. 3). As a persuasive strategy, her emphasis on emotions and not logical argumentation makes her article weak in that aspect. However, knowing that her article’s main goal is to encourage people to attend an upcoming protest for the criminalization, it is understandable as to why she doesn’t go in depth and provide stronger and more complicated arguments.

Bramley, E. V. (2014, April 9). Why does Lebanese bill on domestic violence fail to tackle marital rape? The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/09/lebanese-bill-domestic-violence-marital-rape


Halawi, D. (2013, March 23). Activists urge Lebanon to make marital rape illegal. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/23/us-lebanon-women-abuse-idUSKBN0MJ0GY20150323


This critique was written originally in Mr. Shadi Shidrawi's Sophomore Rhetoric course at the Lebanese American University, Beirut, Lebanon.
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