Sex with dead wives? Please give readers some facts

Please consider this post the strangest possible sequel to my recent posts on the need for journalists to be more precise when using terms such as "Islamist." In fact, I hesitate to even mention this Daily Mail story that is drawing -- needless to say -- all kinds of attention online. One of the GetReligionistas wondered if this report actually originated in The Onion. Alas, it did not.

However, I have a serious journalistic point to make about this grisly subject. Honest.

First, here's the top of the story:

Egyptian husbands will soon be legally allowed to have sex with their dead wives -- for up to six hours after their death.

The controversial new law is part of a raft of measures being introduced by the Islamist-dominated parliament.

It will also see the minimum age of marriage lowered to 14 and the ridding of women's rights of getting education and employment. Egypt's National Council for Women is campaigning against the changes, saying that "marginalising and undermining the status of women would negatively affect the country's human development."

The leader of the National Council of Women is later quoted as blaming this law on "alleged religious interpretations." It doesn't help matters that the law would extend the same privilege to wives after the deaths of their husbands.

The short story ends with a burst of outrage from a predictable source -- mainstream Egyptian media.

TV anchor Jaber al-Qarmouty slammed the notion of letting a husband have sex with his wife after her death under the so-called "Farewell Intercourse" draft law. He said: 'This is very serious. Could the panel that will draft the Egyptian constitution possibly discuss such issues? ...

"This is unbelievable. It is a catastrophe to give the husband such a right! Has the Islamic trend reached that far? Is there really a draft law in this regard? Are there people thinking in this manner?"

OK, put yourself into the editor's chair on this one.

Let's ask a basic question: Is there any way in the world that you would publish this story without some kind of commentary from mainstream Muslim scholars on this question? Is there any way in the world that a story on this topic should be allowed to run without quotes from the supporters of the law in which they explain what it has to do with the Koran or any standing body of Sharia law?

In other words, the minute someone says that this law is being backed by alleged "Islamists," doesn't that mean that someone in the newsroom had to try to find out how this law is or is not linked to someone's interpretation of Islamic laws? If journalists are going to try to pin this on one or more camps of "Islamists," shouldn't there be some explanation of the source of the law? Isn't that a rather basic journalistic question?

Even a basic online search on this subject that includes the term "Sharia" yields next to nothing -- other than the usual outraged commentary from the usual outraged sources.

Is this a story or not? If the bill was introduced by an Islamist group, then provide a legal text. If this is linked to Sharia, then will someone please quote the appropriate reference? The more awkward the subject, the more journalists have to be cautious and establish the basic facts.

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