Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Polygamy: the other white meat

Talking with all kinds of people in Kentucky, I notice a trend: they like the wealthy sheikhs from Saudi Arabia and Dubai who own horse farms here. They respect their abiding passion for horses. Arab hospitality is something to love. But then they’ll pull you aside and quietly admit: there’s just one thing they don’t like – all that polygamy.

I can’t disagree with that. And no need to whisper. Saudis have the same kind of “my, what a disgrace” attitude on the subject of Americans eating pork.

One of the few times I’ve written a scene taken directly from a real life event is in the upcoming City of Veils. A police officer, Osama, answers a call to a scene of domestic violence. Officially it’s off the record because women are fighting and male police officers aren’t allowed to intervene in female domestic disputes. But Osama is a hero. He arrives on the scene and discovers that some co-wives are trying to kill each other. Their husband is unable to intervene. He’s just one poor guy against three murderous women.

The personal stories I hear about polygamy are not very pretty. A friend of mine in Saudi married three women. (Technically, four, although one was living in a foreign country.) The wives hated each other and wound up divorcing him. He was a drug addict himself, which is remarkable in Saudi, where the punishment for possession is something like “three strikes and you’re dead.” But eventually he quit using only to reveal – ta-da! – an underlying disorder. Nymphomania.

No longer self-medicating with illegal substances, he went to a family doctor for help. The doctor said there was nothing he could do and he asked my friend: “But you’re a Muslim, right?” Yes, he was a Muslim. “Then marry four wives – problem solved!” My friend blew up. He leapt out of his chair, shouting: “I already DID that! You don’t know what it did to me! I can never do it AGAIN!”
His complaints? One of his wives wants sex for breakfast, the other for lunch, the third one for dinner. And according to the Quran, he is obliged to treat them all equally. It’s not really about love anymore, he said, it’s about who’s sexier. His wives were constantly trying to outdo each other. He always had to act impressed. The truth was they cared less about him than about their own structures of power. Not to mention the COST of it all....

Can’t say I feel sorry for the guy, but heck, just a view from the other side.