Sex trade fallacies
Even the most
deplorable souls deserve a rigorous defense
July 25, 2004
This letter is a terse reply to the recycled article
entitled "Sex Slave Jihad" by Donna Hughes, published
twice (most recently in reincarnated form as a speech) on Iranian.com. [Growing
I am tired of polemical articles thinly veiled under
the guise of academic discourse. True academic discourse is free,
reviewed, and rigorous. Propaganda is everything real academic
discourse is not. Hughes's article is a return to Cold War
era threat-construction, where vilifying your enemy was the name
of the political game. As a charter member of the Axis of Evil,
I think Iran probably qualifies as a target of such rhetoric.
Ms. Hughes's article is rife with logical fallacies,
of which I will highlight only the most flagrant violations of
argument. At times, it seems that she may have attended the
George Bush camp of logical analysis. If so, while in the Madreseh-yeh
Crawford, she was certainly sitting at the head of the class with
Messieurs Rumsfeld and Cheney.
I understand that she is a professor and as such,
needs to spend a good portion of time writing and publishing. However,
exception to the manner in which she attempts to stay in the academic
spotlight -- I'm certain I'm not the only reader for
which issues regarding Iran are emotional. For those fidgeting
in their seats, this is certainly no apology for the Iranian regime,
but in the spirit of the American legal tradition, even the most
deplorable souls deserve a rigorous defense.
Hughes opens by insinuating that the Mullahs stone
only women to death. This is true neither in law, nor practice.
Article 83 of
the Iranian Penal Code (Law of Hodoud) sanctions stoning as a
gender-neutral penalty for adultery. Perhaps the difference she
alludes to is
that the men must be buried to their waist, women to above their
chest. For those who still haven't figured it out, I suggest
consulting a high school biology text or your local beach for
an answer as to why the law is drafted as such.
Her next assertion is that the "fundamentalists"
sell women and run prostitution rings. Typically, in the United
we refer to such perpetrators as organized criminals instead
of identifying them by an ideology or ethnic typography. Move the
stage to the Middle East and they are no longer criminals, instead
they are "fundamentalists" or "Islamicists." With
Martha Stewart behind bars, "criminal" just doesn't
have the same ring, does it? Second, most social scientists,
the celebrated feminist author Catherine MacKinnon ascribe prostitution
to the economic realities of a society, not to religiosity.
Hughes may be surprised to know that between 45,000-50,000 women
and children are trafficked into the US annually for the sex
industry according to the CIA's briefing on Global Trafficking
Women and Children in April 1999. This is not an Iranian or Islamic
problem, but a global phenomenon affecting all major religions
and societies. Let us keep in mind that in order to export anything,
Adam Smith and his contemporaries preach there must be a demand,
otherwise the market will disappear. Ms. Hughes is notably silent
regarding demand side of the equation in her condemnation and
gross categorization of Iranian officials as wholesale exporters
Next, she claims that governmental officials themselves
sell women as sex slaves. Hughes points to what seems to be three
incidents of this behavior. Perusing her citation list reveals
that all are derived from the same singular set of facts, massaged
to seem like three individual incidents. After hunting through
her list (which is missing pinpoint citations), I found the one
AFP article of 172 words reporting an Iranian judge in Karaj was
found guilty of molesting girls. Just to give you an idea of how
short that is, the preceding sentence was 31 words long.
is a disease that is not unique to Iran (see Catholic Church scandals
of the past 30 years) and certainly civil servants are not immune,
but to imply by use of imprecise language that government officials
are actively involved in the sex trade as a class is simply not
supported by any verifiable or credible data.
Hearsay from opposition
political groups will turn out to be about as reliable as Ahmed
Chalabi's claims of WMD in Iraq; where there is self interest
and loads of money at stake, a healthy skepticism towards wild
claims does not hurt. History tells us that would be a wise policy
to follow, and those who have spent any time in the region would
affirm it. Iranians exaggerate. Iranians with an agenda can exaggerate
Hughes next claims that because the sex trafficking
is open and notorious, that it must be governmentally supported.
fallacy begs the question, and is also an appeal to common practice;
just because something exists does not necessarily imply it is
supported by the governing body.
The author commits another fallacy when she relays
the story of one woman, who alleged she was forced into having
sex with a judge
so that he would grant her a divorce, as typical judicial practice
in Iran. This is an exercise in the fallacy of composition. Recall
the recent case of a female teacher in Florida alleged to have
had sex with her middle school student. Using the Hughes formula,
it is permissible to assert that in order to graduate from 8th
grade in the United States, one must have sex with their teacher.
I do not doubt the authenticity of the poor victim's claim,
but I am suspicious of casting such a wide net over all judges
Another "red flag" is that much of her research seems
to take aim at the institution of sigheh, which is certainly beyond
the scope of this reply. However one wishes to categorize sigheh,
it is naïve to think it is simply interchangeable with prostitution.
In parts of Europe and the West, calls to regulate prostitution
by the state or the use of unions are called progressive moves
by some academics and feminists, yet Ms. Hughes mocks a similar
solution set forth by an Iranian bureaucrat. It is a pipe-dream
to think that the fall of the IRI will tear the chains of sexual
repression on women. The roo-sari will be traded in for ultra-low
rise jeans (and with it the push to look like Brittney Spears in
them) and loosely enforced laws on make-up will give way to carefully
air-brushed photo sets of models.
Misogyny is not unique to an Islamic
society. A look to posh private universities across the US will
reveal how a privileged American
upbringing fosters women to hate their bodies, resulting in a myriad
of eating disorders among young women.
Claiming that "Selling women…is just the dehumanizing
complement to forcing women and girls to cover their bodies and
hair…" is an absurd and reductionist view of our culture.
I too disagree with the hejab and even take aim at its religious
genealogy, but to equivocate compulsory hejab with pimping is a
poor appeal to emotion (yet another logical fallacy).
I'm not convinced that democratic societies fare
much better. The misogynists and women-haters mask their money-centric,
and pornographic agendas behind the disgenuine First Amendment
claims in order to line their own pockets. Democracy failed for
the Native Americans, African slaves and their lineage, and women
for the first 200 years of our model democracy. Without the arguably
extra-democratic parachute of the judiciary, conservatives in this
country would have succeeded in using perfectly legitimate democratic
processes to bar homosexuals from equal treatment and protection
under the law – Bush still promises they will succeed.
Autocracies are easy to blame for rights violations
because the power, benevolent or otherwise, is visible. Power is
in a democracy, distributed within the system itself. Rights violations
are justified under the doctrine of a representative democracy,
because you are allowed to "vote." This system makes
the minority the definitional and inevitable loser, but the loser
can no longer point to the tyrannical despot as the villain; the
power dissipates and you're left with a ballot to punch.
Hughes ends by espousing free speech in America.
True, speech is generally well protected in the US by the courts,
but this is under
fire by neo-conservatives (they become fundamentalists when you
cross Europe). Hughes must have meant free as long as you agree
and don't read the wrong books at your local library. A country
that can turn your summer reading list into an indefinite vacation
on a Caribbean Island with a complimentary bathing suit (sorry,
only comes in bright orange) does not seem too far away from
the secretive and unjust Iran Hughes seeks to disparage.
So to Donna Hughes (since you won't reply to my emails
addressed directly to you, but you've managed to put me on your
list and won't remove me) stop with your polemics, please.
I understand you want to export this great experiment, but
not all of us are buyers through and through. I refuse to stand
your laser-guided rhetoric, that too exacts much collateral damage.
Amir Ghavi is a law student at Cornell University, New York.
goodbye to spam!