Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism
Published on Nov 07, 2010 by Mark Silinsky
Challenges to Islamo-feminism: Women's Literature Critical of Islam
The author offered this article to 10 feminist and academic women's journals, which were connected to universities. Every journal rejected the article. You decide why.
Recent essays by Naomi Wolf and her ideological compatriots have focused light on an emerging trend in feminist literature, which is often referred to as "Islamo-feminism." A chorus of apologetics from Georgetown to Columbia offers Islamo-feminism as a Koran-based set of beliefs that gives women independence through sexual segregation.1 If the quality of life for women in the Islamic world is not identical to that in the West, it is generally no worse.
But there are those with strongly opposing views on the treatment of women in Islam. These are women writers who have experienced Islamism, have extraordinarily strong writing skills, and who have taken up the cause of women's rights in the Islamic world. Some of these authors will likely be familiar to readers. They have appeared on television, often in verbal combat with Islamic opponents. Their books have filled a void that orthodox feminism has yet to address seriously- the legal, social, religious, and often physical subjugation of women.
Women's studies departments at universities, so quick to embrace Palestinian women, have been reluctant to criticize loudly even the most glaring pathologies – honor killings, genital mutilations, low social status, and unfair divorce laws- affecting women in the Islamic world. But four women are not quiet about these and other issues. Brigitte Gabriel, Wafa Sultan, Phyllis Chesler, and Ayan Hirsi Ali have have much to say about women and Islam.
Brigitte Gabriel is the president of the American Congress for Truth (ACT).2 The stated mission of the organization is to "be the definitive source of education, information and research about the multiple threats posed to America's national security and democratic values by radical Islam, in order to awaken and empower freedom-loving people everywhere to effectively combat these threats."3 In the few years of its existence, the website has certainly established itself as, if not the, certainly a definitive source for those looking for a very critical look at global militant Islam. For this reason, the website is a strong resource for those seeking an alternative to standard Islamist websites, such as the one run by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Ms. Gabriel has written two books: "Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America," and "They Must be Stopped." Both books are strong reads. The woman is a forceful and articulate public speaker. She is fluent in Arabic, French, English, and Hebrew. Her English is idiomatic, if slightly accented, and she has a very sharp wit and command of current events, particularly Middle Eastern affairs. Not surprisingly, she appears often on the talk shows, particularly those on the Fox News Channel. Dexterously, she spars with Islamist apologists who try to discredit her, demonize Israel, distort the reality of US foreign policy, and paint Americans as unreconstructed and irredeemable Islamophobes.
Some of Ms. Gabriel's strengths come from her obvious intelligence, as well as from her life's experiences. Ms. Gabriel had a childhood few would wish on anyone. In war-wracked Lebanon the Christian Gabriel and her injured mother were rescued by the Israelis who treated them with dignity, in contrast to sometimes cruel and often indifferent treatment she received at the hands of the Palestinian Muslims.4 Readers will likely enjoy her books as fall turns to winter. Like the author herself, they are spunky, sharp, and entertaining, as well as educational.
Wafa Sultan has an argument with Islam, and more than a few Muslims have an argument with her. In fact, some want to kill her because she challenged Islam. She left Islam in a fury, an act that would earn her a death sentence in some Islamic countries. Today, she is, in her words, trying to "send a message to the West." Her message is well crafted in "A God Who Hates- The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks out Against the Evils of Islam." It is a woman's journey from a childhood in a sometimes brutal Islamic Syrian family; through medical school, during which she personally witnessed members of the Islamic Brotherhood riddle with bullets a professor whom they deemed to be insufficiently Islamic, through her naturalization as an American citizen.
She became a celebrity of sorts in the Islamic world, as well as a marked woman, when she debated a popular television host on al Jazeera in Arabic. She claimed that Islam treats women like cattle, promotes bigotry and ignorance, excuses intellectual laziness, retards economic development, and exonerates dictators and Middle Eastern pathological predators. To which this viewer said "bravo" but to which many of the nearly 1 million estimated viewers undoubtedly said, "Woman, you must die." And Dr. Sultan, like other brave women who speak out against Islam, live in fear of their lives.
Figure 2 A Strong Woman and a Powerful Book
Dr. Sultan distills her argument to a call for victory over Islam. She sees the west and Islam in a life-death struggle akin to a war of "modernity against barbarism." As the reader might anticipate, Westerners are the moderns and Muslims are the barbarians.
Phyllis Chesler is one of most accomplished writers on the subject of womens' lives in the Islamic world. She is also one of the more slandered and vilified of today's writers on this subject, a status she appears to wear as a badge of honor. She is an American, a woman, a Jew, an intellectual, and a sharp critic of both Islam and academic feminism. It is hardly surprising, then, that she has earned a frothing-at-the-mouth revulsion from both Muslims and doctrinaire feminists. And this is the subject of some of her recent writing- the unnatural partnership of Islamism and leftism in their shared contempt of Western, particularly American, civilization. Nowhere does this partnership flourish more than in American universities, and Dr. Chesler, professor emerita professor of women's studies and psychology at the City University of New York, understands the workings and politics of the American academy.
Like the other women mentioned in this article, Dr. Chesler lived in the Islamic world, saw its workings first hand, and didn't like what she saw. This is largely because she was, in her words, "held captive."5 Literally! She fell in love with a sophisticated and seemingly progressive man whom she married and with whom she lived in Kabul for a time. Afghanistan quickly lost its 6exotic attraction for Dr. Chesler, whose passport was confiscated, and who was closeted in a section of the home reserved for only women. But her life in an inescapable coffee klatch, compressed and straight jacketed as it was, was charmed compared the daily misery of the burka-clad women, treated little better than service animals in Islamic Afghanistan. This forged in Dr. Chesler an empathy for subjugated women while, at the same time, instilling an appreciation of American society that, despite all its puzzles and idiosyncrasies, acknowledges the fundamental humanity of women. Her articles reflect abiding concern for the dignity and protection of women.
Dr. Chesler, who earned a Ph. D in psychology, has a website focusing on women's issues and Islam-related events.6 She has an encyclopedic knowledge of women's affairs and has published several books on the subject. Some of her earlier work reflects the angry tone of 1970s-era feminism. But, her work evolved and she became increasingly alienated from, what she saw as, the lefts orthodoxy and omerta on "Islam's subordination and bestial persecution of women, dissidents, and homosexuals."7 Her website is a good read for the straight truth -- in any season.
Figure 3 Professor Chesler
Ayan Hirsi Ali
Ayan Hirsi Ali is a beautiful woman, as the portrait on her book, shown below, makes clear to all but the blind. She is also a spiritually beautiful person who refused to take refuge in resentment or self-pity, which is a remarkable personal triumph given the misery of her childhood. If many women in the Islamic world have difficult lives, that of Ms. Ali was a living hell. She offers her life story in "Infidel," which recounts her young childhood in Somalia, her escape from an arranged marriage to a man she considered dim-witted and vulgar, and the time she spent in Saudi Arabia. She fled to Holland, where she dedicated herself to learning the language, which she mastered; helping less- fortunate women; and bettering herself through education. She flourished, if only for while, in tolerant Holland and became a Dutch parliamentarian.8
She rose to international fame after an artist with whom she was working was slaughtered like a sacrificial animal in an Amsterdam street. He was murdered by a Muslim offended at the Dutch artist's sarcasm towards his religion.9 Immediately, Ayan Hirsi Ali soared high on the hit lists of European Muslims and required around-the-clock police protection. So, even in Europe, she couldn't escape angry Islam. There is something extraordinarily dignified and gentle about this woman. These qualities shine through the book, Infidel.
Figure 4 Ayaan Hirsi Ali
These, then, are quick portraits of women who have spoken out against Islam. They offer an unvarnished and refreshingly politically incorrect view of the oppression of women in the Islam world, a topic that is addressed in mute tones in the dominant media and glossed over in academia. And the authors' rewards for their labor? Certainly, they have received recognition. But their courage has also earned several of them death threats. When they speak at universities, to the extent they are even invited to speak, they need armed guards.
Their books contain the words and explore the worlds of survivors. A survivor of the Lebanese Civil War, Brigitte Gabriel; a survivor of the Syrian dictatorship as well as the Islamic Brotherhood, Wafa Sultan; a middle-class Jewish woman who survived captivity in the socially medieval world of Afghanistan to become an apostate from orthodox feminism, Phyllis Chesler; and a black, African woman who survived the soul-deadening fatalism she found in Somalia and the indifference among so many European intellectuals and American feminists to the semi-enslaved girls and women of the Islamic world's poorest of the poor, Ayan Hirsi Ali. So, read their books and weep with them at the destitution and the fatalism of life for the Islamic woman. And pray that women's studies departments and the fashionable feminist coffee klatches that dot universities open their minds and hearts to the sufferings of their sisters who endure life in the black heart of Islamic misogyny.
Mark Silinsky is a 27-year veteran of the defense intelligence community specializing in counterinsurgency and counterintelligence. He can be reached at Silinsky@yahoo.com
1. Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 17 - 23 January 2002, Issue No.569, http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2002/569/cu1.htm
2. American Congress for Truth website. http://www.americancongressfortruth.com/
3. American Congress for Truth website. http://www.americancongressfortruth.com/
4. Jerry Gordon, Israpundit, http://www.israpundit.com/2006/?p=1283
5. Phyllis Chesler, "A Lesson Learned in Kabul," Human Rights Service, October 27, 2009.
6. The Phyllis Chesler Organization, http://www.phyllis-chesler.com/
7. Phyllis Chesler, "A Lesson Learned in Kabul," Human Rights Service, October 27, 2009.
8. American Enterprise Institute, Book Reviews, http://www.aei.org/book/864
9. American Enterprise Institute, Book Reviews, http://www.aei.org/book/864
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