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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Jul 06, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Conservatives are Feminists, Liberals Are Misogynists


Over the weekend, Asma al-Ghul, a Palestinian woman journalist in Gaza was nearly arrested by Hamas policemen for "laughing in public" and for dressing "immodestly" at the beach. The police confiscated her passport. Subsequent death threats have kept her confined to her home. (Hat tip to Jeffrey Imm of Real Courage).

If Hamas has its way, the women of Gaza will soon be wearing burqas or the Iranian version of them. My question: If Asma immigrates to America, will she be free of such policing? Who will best safeguard her personal rights in America?

Some of my best friends are, or certainly were, liberals. As long as they are not still afflicted with Bush Derangement or Let's-All-Pile-On Palin Syndrome, we have certain memories, friends, interests, and values in common.

Well, maybe we don't anymore.

For example: On the matter of America, Israel, the Jews, and Islam we seem to have parted company. Still, I am willing to entertain certain liberal views; I respect and wrestle with valid points no matter what flag their bearers fly. The same is not true in reverse. Whenever I even hint at a view that does not match theirs exactly, there is tension, yelling, hyperventilating, shaming, a harangue.

This is the behavior of a cult member, not that of a free human being.

Why do I even mention this? Because I have been polling various liberals of all faiths and of no faith at all about whether America should restrict or ban the burqa and niqab in America.

A Muslim friend made an interesting point. She said that "if you ban something the hotheads will protest it, you will give them a raison d'être, a symbol. If you just leave it alone, it is bound to die on its own."

A Jewish friend immediately yelled at me. He insisted that if I applied the same ban to hasidic and ultra-Orthodox dress that I would consider myself an anti-Semite. "You don't want the government coming in and telling people how to practice their religion."

I pointed out that hasidic and ultra-orthodox attire does not block the five senses, communication and identification are possible, there is no sensory deprivation involved—although, I conceded, wearing heavy, long, dark clothing works better in nineteenth century Poland on a cold winter day than in The New World (or in Israel) on a hot summer afternoon. I also pointed out that there are only a small number of Jews (14 million) compared to Muslims (1.3 billion), and that hasidic and ultra-orthodox Jews have set a high educational standard for themselves and others and do not share a religious ideology which has vowed a jihadic war against the West.

I spoke to no avail. Interestingly, this particular Jewish man does not usually defend the rights of hasidic or ultra-orthodox Jews. On the contrary. He continuously attacks them. His brotherly concern seems to emerge only when Muslim dress codes are at issue.

I do agree that the subordination, marginalization, disenfranchisement of women may be an issue in all religions. However, there is a difference between an evolved, diversified, and pro-modern Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism as compared to a medieval and barbaric version of Islam.

In my conversations of the last few weeks, here is how liberals differ from…me–aka the Zionist bitch, conservative traitor, "too dangerous to even talk to," Islamophobe, etc.

1. Liberals do not really believe there is a war on, that there is any clear and present danger; they fear that any relaxation of our fundamental civil rights will either lead to their permanent loss or, like the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two, will turn into a permanent blot on America's moral reputation.

2. Liberals do not like the idea of the government telling them how to dress or nosing into their business. Wait a minute. I thought this is a conservative position…and it is. But what liberals seem to have in mind is clothing, sexual activities, free speech, and the right not to be coerced into any religious practice; conservatives tend to first think about the right to bear arms, family morality, or the right to practice one's religion apart from state scrutiny.

Then, surely, liberals will best safeguard Asma al-Ghul's right to dress "immodestly" at the beach. Ah–not so fast.

3. Liberals tend to view all immigrant groups, especially if they are Muslims, as persecuted victims, not as barbaric oppressors. Therefore, very often, essentially secular or atheistic liberals are willing to believe that the burqa is truly mandated by the Qu'ran (it is not) and is a religious right that should be guaranteed in America. Thus, if the equivalent of the Hamas police move here and force or persuade their women to wear the burqa, how will liberals be able to distinguish a free choice from a forced choice when someone else's religious rights are being invoked? Will their feminism trump their multi-culti respect for Islam?

5 Liberals believe in "choice." Thus, they also believe that women have the right to choose: an abortion (I strongly agree with this), to rent out their wombs (I strongly disagree with this), or to work as a prostitute or in the pornography industry. (I am a long-time abolitionist on these last two points). Call me conservative; call me an Old Time radical feminist, because I understand the difference between a "free" choice and a "forced" choice. Fifteen year old girls who have run away from home to escape lives of incest and physical abuse are not freely choosing to sell sex for food. And, when they turn eighteen—now that's a subject for another blog.

6. For such reasons, I cannot persuade most true liberals that most/many? /some? /a handful of Muslim women wear the burqa mainly in order to avoid being killed. Western liberals simply do not believe it. Their professors and most beloved journalists have not educated them about the phenomenon. They want to believe that everyone is like them.

Yes, I know, I know: There are all kinds of ostensibly religious pro-burqa testimonials one can find in the mass media (and even in the comments section of my last three blogs) written by women and by men about "modesty" but I doubt that true modesty requires putting a bag over one's head or dropping a sheet over oneself in public. Surely, as Daniel Pipes has pointed out, there are more "modest" ways to be modest.

Conservatives, who have been accused of misogyny, and former liberals who are hawks on certain issues, "get" the burqa problem and do not want women wearing it in America. But that's because they tend to believe that we are, indeed, at war; that Islamic jihad is a serious problem; that Islamic gender and religious apartheid really do exist; that American women live in a more progressive society than Afghan,Saudi, or Pakistani women do (saying so is still heretical in certain feminist quarters); that we may not be able to abolish barbarism abroad but we sure as hell do not have to tolerate it at home.

At this moment, and for many reasons, I think that Asma al-Ghul's fate hangs in the balance.


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