Following are excerpts from a TV interview with Kuwaiti author Ibtihal Al-Khatib, which aired on Mayadeen TV on August 14, 2012.
Interviewer: As an Arab woman, are you intimidated by the rise to power of the religious Islamic movements? Do you fear for your rights and the rights of all Arab women? I'm talking about societies in which women's rights exist in the first place, because in some societies, women have yet to enjoy even the most basic rights.
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Women are the first to lose when any religious movement rises to power in any country. This is instantaneous. When a religious movement comes to power, women are the first to lose. Yes. This scares me on a personal level. I think that we are going to lose many of our rights, and that our upcoming struggle will be a harsh one. But in the long run, I believe that this is a natural interim period.
Interviewer: Is the separation of religion and state possible in Islamic societies? Is this a realistic call, when many Islamic movements consider the Koran to be the constitution?
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: It depends on what one means by separation of religion and state. Separating religion from society is impossible in the Arab world, as well as in the most secular countries in the West. Most societies were founded on religion, and have a need for it on the human, psychological, and spiritual levels.
Interviewer: A spiritual and existential need.
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: That's right. However, if we are talking about separation of religious law from civil law – in my view, this is not only possible, but truly an urgent necessity. It is necessary for the sake of stability in Iraq and in Lebanon. It is necessary for the sake of stability in Egypt at present – between the Copts and the Muslims. I believe that the Islamic groups that have come to power are also aware of this, and therefore, their rhetoric has changed. I still have doubts with regard to what will follow this rhetoric...
Interviewer: You are apprehensive...
Ibtihal Al-Khatib: Yes, I am. But the rhetoric of the Al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, and of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, contains many secular aspects. Only time will tell.
If we do not reexamine our religious texts, and interpret them in a way that befits the time and place in which we live, and the development of the human mind over the past 1,000 years, we will be losing a lot. We will be running a race against time, which we cannot win – a race against cultures that we cannot overtake.
I have been asked whether homosexuals deserve to have rights, and I have said – and I will say it again – that any human being on the face of the earth has rights – whether he is good or bad, whether you think he will go to Heaven or Hell. These rights are inalienable.
The scope of laws pertaining to these rights expands in countries with greater freedom, and contracts in countries with less freedom. It depends upon the nature of the society in question. When I was asked about same-sex marriage, for example, I said that it was not appropriate in Arab societies for the simple reason that a family is defined as consisting of a father, a mother, and their children. In such a society, you cannot legalize such marriages. When you legislate laws, you have to ensure the safety of those for whom you are making them. It is wrong to legislate laws if you cannot protect these people.