Islam, virginity, and public outrage in France
Yesterday’s Herald reported on a case in France in which a requested marriage annulment made by a Muslim man after he discovered that his wife was not a virgin was overturned. The article states that:
Public outrage at April’s annulment ruling forced the Government to order the case be reviewed, against the wishes of both spouses.
The groom, a Muslim engineer in his 30s whose name was not made public, sought the annulment after realising his bride was not a virgin on the night of their marriage in a civil ceremony in July 2006.
His wife, who admitted to him she had had premarital sex, said she accepted the annulment.
The case is extraordinary both because the annulment was reversed due to public pressure and because it was done against the wishes of both spouses. Reading the article, I asked myself why a case like this would generate so much outrage while other cases involving a breach of trust between newlyweds would not register a blip on the public’s radar. I can only assume that the case fitted neatly into stereotypes about “Islamic oppression of women”, the public focusing mainly on the question of the bride’s virginity rather than on the issue of trust. Ironically, the French public may likely be more fixated on the issue of virginity than the groom himself.
The fact that in all the outrage about this case the views of the bride were ignored also speaks volumes. I am reminded of discussions of “the veil” in which the opinions of veil-wearing Muslim women themselves tend to be excluded because it is assumed that these women have been so brainwashed by their socialisation that they do not realise they are being oppressed.
The case would seem to suggest that Muslims in France are subjected to a higher level of public scrutiny of their private dealings than most people would expect. It would also seem to suggest that gender relations within the Muslim community form a privileged site of critique by the non-Muslim population, an area in which people feel authorised to be outraged, and to express that outrage actively and publicly.