"Violence against women is widespread in almost any country, regardless of ethnicity or religion," says Farian Sabahi, an Iranian-Italian academic who teaches Islamic history at the University of Turin.
Although data suggest that violence against women is more common and tolerated in traditional Muslim societies, the difference when compared with Europe is not as significant as one would expect.
According to a 2009 survey, four out of ten women in Turkey experience domestic violence. In Italy gender-based violence strikes "only" 32 percent of the female population (about 80 percent is believed to take place within the family).
Most surprising, perhaps, is the perception of domestic violence among women: while only 10 percent of Turkish women report it as a crime, in Italy this figure is around 18 percent.
Gender-based violence is surprisingly common even in countries thought to be more egalitarian. In Britain, 45 percent of women have reportedly experienced some form of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Similarly, 37 percent of German women have reportedly experienced some form of physical violence, and 25 percent say they have been abused by a partner.
...In 2007, in the Sicilian town of Palermo, Renato Di Felice served only two days in prison, despite being found guilty of purposely killing his wife, Maria Concetta-Pitas, in 2003: the couple's children had testified that their mother had been disrespectful toward her husband, moving the judge to a mild sentence.
But I wonder what percentage of Turkish victims of domestic violence actually report the crimes to authorities, and does the high rate of domestic violence in Italy have anything to do with the large Muslim population there? In Italy, many Italian Muslim women are trapped in polygamous marriages:
Sbai estimates there are 14,000 polygamous families in Italy; others put the number even higher. Many take advantage of the so-called orfi marriage, a less formal union performed by an imam, that does not carry the same social or legal standing as regular marriage.
She is convinced that the polygamists in Italy are practicing a more fundamentalist and abusive form of multiple marriage. Because they feel so threatened by the Western culture around them, the men often imprison their wives and confine them to a life of solitude wholly dependent on the husband.
"They are kept in a kind of ghetto," Sbai said.
When Sbai recently created a hot line for Muslim immigrant women, she was inundated with 1,000 calls in the first three months. To her astonishment, she had tapped into a hidden community of women desperate for information, many trapped in violent, polygamous households, isolated and lonely.
Passion and honor-related crimes against women seem so engrained in Italian society that in 2006 a German court granted extenuating circumstances on the basis of "ethnic and cultural background" to a Sardinia-born man who had his girlfriend gang-raped because he feared she might have cheated on him.
"All Italians, and those living in Sardinia particularly, felt insulted and outraged by this German sentence," notes Sabahi. "Yet when similar crimes take place among the Arab immigrants, Italian authorities tend to blame it on Islam, without caring about offending the Muslim community."
Sabahi believes "racist prejudice will not help" stop violence; she believes education is the key. "Institutions should focus on protecting women, rather than bashing culture," Sabahi says.
Good points by Momigliano, and she didn't even mention OJ Simpson. But she seems to ignore the differences between "honor killings" in Arab culture and domestic violence in the West. In Arab culture, the murderer is often the brother or the father of the victim. We do not often hear of an American man who kills his sister because she had pre-marital sex or because she was raped, and in America violence against women is publicly combatted and the criminals are punished appropriately.
PS: Thanks Aton for posting the article about polygamous marriages in Italy.