Re-reading “The Sheikh”: The (Problematic) Wedding

I’m rereading a Thai novel, “The Sheikh”, originally published in 1987. The story follows the life of Dawid ibn Sharbaz, the only son of a murdered sheikh, through the changing times in the fictional North Africa country of Byderhabad from 1941-1970. Things to note is that while it’s international in scope, this novel was written through the lens of a Thai novelist. Also, there is a lot of political commentary and observation in the novel which is the author’s forte but I choose to focus on the drama side of it. Because, well, that’s why I’ve been rereading this book since 1992!

Where we left off: Captain Rogers set a trap to capture Dawid’s assassin to have the whole Bedouin tribe turns on him and his men.

Part II: 1945. British-Occupied Byderhabad

Chapter 28

“Stand down!”, thunders Dawid. He may have sounded commanding but he’s a little wobbly on his feet. Nonetheless, crisis averted! The lynch mob dispersed.

Privately, Dawid scolds Hazar for not seeing the bigger picture, that the relationship with the British is symbiotic and good for all the tribes (Well, at least for now, he believes that so). Then he yells at Captain Rogers for not respecting the Bedouin traditions of punishment (whatever that is he never said) and having gone and pissed off the village with a British display of power. Dammit colonizer!

Dawid now has there problems to solve: 1) show the villagers that he is his own man and not a British puppet, 2) make peace with Abbas Yemir to quell his power grab and stop more attempts on his life, and 3) to save Hazar from execution because Rogers still needs to show that the British rules must be obeyed.

Solution? A wedding! Tonight! Because tomorrow we head back to Farwah!

Dawid is going to marry Hazar to unite the tribes and subvert the British power over him because they now cannot execute his wife or do anything about his decision.

Note: Okay, when I was younger reading this, I didn’t see a problem with the plan. Aw, Dawid’s trying to save Hazar and make peace with Abbas Yemir. How noble! Looking at it now, this was a devious and hideous maneuver, using Hazar as a hostage/bargaining chip for Abbas Yemir to leave him and his tribe alone. Dude is more flawed than I remember which is both a good thing and a bad thing. And the worst hasn’t even happened yet!

Considering the culture and time period, an arranged marriage between a 19-year-old and a 15-year-old is, well, normal. Dawid follows as much of the culture he could manage–asking permission to marry Hazar from her guardian, Old Man Harun, and the women got Hazar prepped and prettified. With all the attention and everyone being happy for her, even Hazar got carried away for a few moments that she’s fulfilling her womanly duty of becoming someone’s wife.

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TRIGGER WARNING! Sexual violence and rape and a discussion about sexual violence depiction in Thai literature and culture.

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After the wedding ceremony, much like Khal Drogo and Danaerys’ wedding night, Dawid rapes Hazar. I mean, per the author as Thai culture dictates, Dawid “forces himself on” Hazar. **Part 1 of the cultural issue to be discussed below.**

Unlike Danaerys, Hazar fights like hell. The rapist, I mean, Dawid lies awake, lost in thoughts about Lydia (urgh!) as Hazar sobs at his side. Once she finally collected herself, she doesn’t hate him anymore, y’all. **Part II of Thailand’s problematic rape culture. Again, to be discussed below.** He apologizes for hurting her and promises to come back to take her to see her father when he’s done with business in Farwah. Hazar says she MUST tell him something but Dawid shooshes her and goes to sleep.

Hazar wakes the next morning to find him gone. (Seriously, dude!) And while the rest of us would’ve just laid there and let Dawid gets fucked by whatever information she has, Stockholm Hazar runs through the village, screaming for him, and instead finds the Sudanese: “You must stop them from going to Farwah or he will die!”

Image by softhunterdevil from Pixabay

** Discussion Time **

This article explains the history of rape in Thai culture and literature better than I can so you can skip all this and just read it.

As for personal thought: I’ve grown up in Thailand reading stories and watching soaps and movies where the male protagonist rapes–I mean, “forces himself onto”–the female protagonist out of passion while either/and/or sober, drunk, or angry. She, at some point either during the act or afterward, realizes she loves him and she can now express it sexually so now they’re in love. *BUT* You see, it’s not “rape”.

Thai has 2 different expressions for the violent act. “Force himself on her” is the same word as grappling or wrestling. Rape, on the other hand, is a heinous criminal act. Rape only happens to the female (often slutty) villain, or when a bad guy does it to the female protagonist.

My WHOLE LIFE, we watch this on TV and read it in novels. Per that article, it seems this trope starts showing up more prominently in the 70s, but there’s evidence in our older literature, written a hundred years ago, as well. We think that’s how “love” is supposed to be expressed. We say no because we’re good girls until love overwhelms your boy and he *must* have you. So if he loves you and you kind of don’t mind, he can rape you and that will be okay in the end because you know now that he REALLY loves you and you can now love him back. It’s not just the rape itself but we were also taught that you have to/should love your rapist.

On the flip side, we’re also taught that “bad girls” get bad consequences. Dress/act like a slut? Get raped. Act all crazy and be evil? Get raped.

Fucked up, right? I didn’t see how wrong that is until I came to the US and look back at the whole thing from a different point of view. It’s only about 5 years ago when women of Thailand finally pushed back and fought against the old ways, pushed also by American #MeToo movement. It’s long overdue.

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