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Jun 20, 2008
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Liberal Syrian Actor Bassam Kossa Clashes with an Islamist Kuwaiti Professor over Issues of Women's Rights and Development in the Arab World

#1830 | 08:09
Source: Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar)

Following are excerpts from a symposium featuring Syrian actor Bassam Al-Kossa and 'Uweid Al-Mash'an, head of the psychology department at the University of Kuwait, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on June 20, 2008

Bassam Al-Kossa: The first thing [Western] societies did was to separate religion and state. This was the first thing. Why? Because even when the Church ruled Europe, it was, in fact, ruled by the Inquisition, and they would kill any innovative person, any scholar, and any doctor. So they separated religion and state.


From the age of three or four, the killings of girls begin: "Cover your knees." "Don't speak in a loud voice." "Bring your brother his food." "Get up, put this there." "Take this down." All the while, the "emperor" just sits there... "This is disgraceful," and "that is prohibited"... Then comes her wedding day, and the mother demands that this oppressed and shackled girl be the epitome of womanhood, seduction, and temptation. You constantly make her fear men and society, yet on her wedding night, at the drop of a hat, she is supposed to transform into a seductive beauty queen, to understand the husband, cooperate with him, and so on. These are double standards. Like my colleague said, this is like a man who beats his son for lying, but when someone calls, he says to his son: "Tell him I'm not home."


'Uweid Al-Mash'an: We do not want a secular state. The Arab countries are not secular states. We have our religion and the , and we have values that we must preserve. Modernity is desirable. We all want modernity, but when it runs counter to our values, customs, and traditions, it must be rejected. Every person in this world lives according to the social values that he absorbs. We must reject the erasing of our identity.


Female panel member: Nobody said that we are against...

'Uweid Al-Mash'an: Allow me... We must reject the erasing of our identity. We do not want our identity to be erased. We refuse to be subservient and do not want a secular state. Our religion has a constitution – the Islamic Shari'a.


The husband has certain rights, and the wife has certain duties towards him. Similarly, the wife has rights, and the husband has duties towards her. These rights and duties are inseparable. The husband has certain rights to which he is entitled. Does a man marry a woman so she can doll herself up and leave, or does he marry her so she can serve him? So she can serve him... Excuse me... You do not understand the concept of "serving"... Excuse me... Let me clarify... Just one moment... I don't mean "serving" the way you understand it – serving him things. No. It is a duty according to the Shari'a for the wife to serve her husband.

Female panel member: No Islamic text mentions this "service," Dr. Mash'an.

'Uweid Al-Mash'an: So the wife is not supposed to respect her husband and serve him anything?

Female panel member: You talked about "serving," not about respect.

'Uweid Al-Mash'an: What does "to serve" mean? I didn't mean "serving" in the sense that... My concept of "serving is different. If you have some other concept, well...

Moderator: Okay, so what is your concept?

'Uweid Al-Mash'an: In what respect?

Moderator: The service...

'Uweid Al-Mash'an: By "serving," I mean that the wife should give her husband whatever he asks for – his rights. That's what I mean. Does he have rights, yes or no? She should provide these rights.


Bassam Al-Kossa: I noticed from some of my colleagues said that we are always more than ready to accuse others of being traitors. If you call for women's liberation – you undoubtedly support globalization, and you have surely been infused with Western ideology. This, in my opinion, is a disaster. It is as if we have no ideas of our own, and we import all our ideas from abroad. Who said so? If this nation has any problem, it is that all we have is ideas, and no actions. All we do is talk – from the very beginning and to this day. We know how to talk, but not how to act. If the region we live in... My colleague said that in Switzerland and Sweden, women used to have no rights, and we helped women progress, and so on... If this is the case, why are we backward today? What was said is true, but I don't care. We once reached Spain, but the [Spaniards] don't care. What is important is how we live today. Nations that channel all their energy towards the past – contemplating the past, crying over it, and lamenting it – have sentenced themselves to death.


When we say that they should think about women's liberation, this includes the liberation of men, who are backward as well. Who said that we are the only ones who understood moral values? We believe in our religion, but who said the rest of humanity does not have moral values and only we do? Moral values preceded [Islam]. Humanity goes back millions of years, and religion only regulated [its values] into laws and emphasized them. But with regard to moral values – what, Hammurabi did not have any? Does Europe in its entirety have no moral values? Does Europe call to steal and to nor respect your neighbors?! We have the world's highest rate of corruption. How come? Doesn't our religion call to refrain from stealing, whether it is private or public money? How come we are the most thieving nation in the world? This is a problem. Who said that in Europe, people don't keep their promise? If you make a promise you must keep it. How much do we lie? Go to Europe, and you will see... I am not preaching in support of Europe. I like this place better. I respect this place and care about it more than about America and Europe. Let nobody say that I import Western ideas. A believer is allowed to do anything except for lying. This appears in a hadith. A believing [Muslim] must not lie, but how much we lie in this society! Go to Europe. Again, I am not saying Europe is more important, but they have moral values, and they keep their word. I am not generalizing, but talking in relative terms. The problem is we always say that these are modern people... I don't care if these ideas come from Europe or elsewhere. All I care about is how to benefit from these nations in order to develop myself in a way that is suitable for me, whether with regard to religion or... Why are you so upset about separation of religion and state? I did not say that you should get rid of religion. By no means. This is my religion. I descend from the Prophet, and I'm proud of my religion. This religion is important to me, but I am talking about establishing modern institutions. When we talk about separating religion and state, this does not mean getting rid of the religion. However, banks are one thing, and religion is another.

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