Sunday, March 20, 2005

Hidden in Plain Sight - Prostitution in the Arab World

Prostitution is alive and well in Amman. This massage parlour, although illegal, is by no means unique; in fact, its dull façade is practically the standard for such businesses, which have sprung up across Jordan’s capital in the last year. “You can see their advertisements in newspapers,” says Tamer Khreis, a human-rights lawyer in Jordan. “People all know that massage parlours are used for something other than massage.”

Everyone also knows that this is not the only way to pay for sex. It is available on street corners, as well as in hundreds of similarly nondescript nightclubs that cater to expats and wealthy Jordanians. Pornography is viewed, shared and habitually obsessed over in Internet cafés around the city. Because a woman’s virginity is prized, al-Qassem says that young Jordanians choose to have anal sex instead—usually without protection.

Internet porn is more than rampant in Amman; it is an epidemic. “Most of the people who use the Internet, they use it for porn,” al-Qassem says. “They pay 7 to 8 JDs [$12–$14] for the day, and they just watch porno." The stories Ayman tells seem almost surreal, at least to Western ears. He once had a woman wearing a hijab ask for help downloading hardcore pornography.

Internet culture in Jordan is rife with homosexuality, he says, despite—or perhaps because of—the severe repression of gay sexual activity. To him, it’s a question of logic. “You have a guy, he’s horny, and he can’t have sex with a girl. So he goes to an Internet café to meet other guys and to be with them. And no one talks about it.”

In Syria and Saudi Arabia—a far more prosperous but no less repressive country—technological savvy often trumps government censorship. Though Saudi Arabia has one of the largest Internet filtering systems this side of China, ostensibly blocking (according to Reporters Without Borders) some four hundred thousand Web pages that “violate the principles of Islam and the social norms,” access is nonetheless relatively easy. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the Internet can use proxy servers located outside the country to circumvent state-controlled ISPs. Saudis use this trick to access information about their royal family and Israel, as well as news about Saudi affairs from sources other than the state-controlled media. Yet, according to the same Reporters Without Borders brief, “in the great majority of cases, these relay servers are used to access pornography sites.”

The young women were jumpy and didn’t want to talk, constantly looking over their shoulder for police. Apparently, they were right to be nervous. “Sometimes when police catch a prostitute, and they know she’s a prostitute, they try to be with her in the police department,” confirms Tamer Khreis,the Jordanian lawyer. “Sometimes they will take her money or even rape her, threatening to tell her family”—which can amount to a death sentence.


At March 21, 2005 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard a report on BBC world service (Radio) on prostitution in Afghanistan (Not Arab country but still in the Islamic world). The reporter asked one of the women about how this could go on back when the Taliban still was in power. The answer was : 'Oh, the Talibs where the most eager customers of all !' (Qoiting from memory)


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