Wednesday, June 22, 2005

No Hand Shaking With Women

The Associated Press reports that the prime minister of Iraq doesn't shake hands with women:

Photographers didn't have much luck getting pictures of Iraq's prime minister shaking hands with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, even though the United States was co-hosting an international conference on rebuilding Iraq.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari met with Rice for about 15 minutes Tuesday at a downtown Brussels hotel and again at a working dinner Wednesday hosted by the European Union.

However, al-Jaafari -- a conservative Shiite cleric -- is rarely seen shaking hands with women. Islam calls for separation between the sexes, and many Muslim males who strictly adhere to the Islamic faith do not shake hand with females.

One photo shows EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner offering her hand to al-Jaafari -- and the Iraqi prime minister smiling, but with his arms firmly at his side.

A literal interpretation of religion, one which to me confuses the intent (to avoid extramarital sex and so on) with the letter. But also one which reminds us that the forces of democracy in Iraq might not offer very much for women. Not that shaking hands is that important, but the segregation of sexes bit is. For it will not mean some sort of a world with two parallel yet separate public spaces and two parallel yet separate governments. It will mean a world where the women are largely restricted to their homes and where women will not have the same rights and powers as men do.