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Phyllis Chesler
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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Feb 24, 2004 by Jamie Glazov

Published by FrontPageMagazine.com

Fighting Islam's Gender Apartheid

Frontpage Magazine: Ms. Chesler, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Chesler: Thank you Jamie. It is my pleasure to be with you.

FP: Why don't we start by talking a bit about the need for an alliance between sane feminists and conservatives. Isn't this an important step in our war against militant Islam?Chesler: Yes. Conservatives and people of faith must realize that women's rights are human rights. They must strategically adopt the feminist critique of gender apartheid under Islam and must use it in the propaganda and military war that Islamists have declared against America and western civilization. Feminists need to understand that freedom OF religion is as important as freedom FROM religion and must connect to peoples of faith, beginning with Jews and Christians, who are being persecuted by Islamists in the Middle East. Both conservatives and feminists need to support western democracy since democracy cannot exist without women's full civil participation. If feminists are serious about anti-colonialism then surely they must oppose Arab jihadic colonialism, not glorify it. If they are serious about anti-racism, they must oppose Jew-hatred by any other name. Someone recently asked me: "As a feminist, how can you justify your being pro-American and pro-Israel?" I answered: "Because I oppose totalitarianism and gender and religious apartheid. Although both Israel and America are far from perfect, what we have here would constitute a revolution in any Islamic country."

As a feminist I opposed the Taliban and I supported President Bush's invasion of Afghanistan. Few other feminists did. True, the job is not done but the job is hard, complicated, dangerous, perhaps even not-doable; which does mean that one should not try. We are battling men with 10th century mentalities who have access to 21st century weaponry. Freedom, democracy, tolerance, the habit of peaceful or non-violent living--the desire to live, not die in chronic battle against your brother, the members of an "enemy" tribe, or against the invader-Crusader---take time, patience, resources, and will to evolve. We are also battling their view of women as chattel property whose savage subordination is, increasingly, their culture's definition of "honor."

FP: What do you think is the best way we can expose and defeat gender apartheid under Islam?Chesler: This is the most direct route to democracy but it is also the hardest one. Making things harder is the fact that war punishes women, children, the elderly first and that, in the short run, our battle against the jihadists will be seen as hurting, not helping these vulnerable populations. Those "politically correct" close-minded western ideologues who blame America and Israel for 9/11, and who oppose President Bush's every military move might never change their minds. They will probably continue to cling to their multi-cultural view that we cannot impose our western standards on non-western cultures. However, perhaps more open and less intolerant western minds might, if they understood more about the terrible plight of women (and men) under Islam, they would understand that this is a Just War on many levels.First, we must recognize that Islam is the largest and most systematic practioner of both gender and religious Apartheid on earth. The multi-culturalists refuse to see what is staring them in the face and civilians may not truly comprehend how ruthlessly circumscribed and endangered the lives of girls, women, and non-Muslim minorities are under jihadic Islam. Life under the Taliban--brilliantly rendered in the film "Osama,"-- is a nightmare version of misogyny which exists in various ways all over the Islamic world. Indeed, it has been imported to Europe/Eurabia and to North America too. The fight in France about the veiling of girls and women is a case in point. Nawal el-Sadawii, the Egyptian Marxist-feminist has described French Muslim women marching for their right TO be veiled as a case of "false consciousness," one that is fraught with contradictions since the marchers are also wearing tight jeans and heavy makeup. However, el-Sadawii also goes on to blame international capitalism and American imperialism for the Arab and Islamic mistreatment of women. Talk about contradictions! In fact, the 2000 Arab Human Development Report describes corruption, poverty, and illiteracy in 22 Arab countries rather bravely but then goes on to blame it all on Israel!Second, we must learn the history of both women and non-Muslims under Islam and monitor and document the plight of these groups now. Third, we must educate others, both as wartime-propaganda but also as part of our own concept that human rights are and should be universal, available to everyone, everywhere, not merely the province of those lucky enough to live in the West. Gender apartheid includes the Arab "honor" killings of women who have been raped, had sex outside of marriage, wear lipstick, want an education and are thus "dishonoring" medieval notions of what is proper and Islamic for women. Gender apartheid also includes forced veiling, genital mutilation, arranged child marriages, marital rape, polygamy, constant pregnancies without proper nutrition, shelter, or medical care; sequestration at home, stonings to death for alleged adultery, domestic slavery, sexual slavery.

Assuming that America and Britain can bring about democratic elections in Iraq, what kind of vote will misinformed, and terrorized people cast? Women may vote against their best interests. One-person-one-vote democracy in the absence of education, freedom, a stable civil society, will not be enough.

FP: Tell us how the Left -- and radical feminists in particular -- have been trying to silence you.

Chesler: Let me first say that THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM has been very well received in conservative, Christian, Republican, and right-wing venues--which is quite refreshing for me--but it has also been well received in many Jewish-world media outlets. Certain distinguished liberals have also praised it to the skies e.g, Alan Dershowitz, Paul Berman, Erica Jong, etc. It is important to acknowledge that women, like men, may be sexists, that Jews, like others, may be Judeo-phobic, that lesbians and homosexuals may, like others, also be homophobic, and that people of color may have white-skin color preferences. Civilization is filled with such prejudices and most people share such views, either consciously or unconsciously. It is important to acknowledge such prejudices because only then can one consciously, psychologically, and politically resist such views. Thus, it is unsurprising that many leftists and feminists manifest common prejudices. Many feminists were not happy when I wrote about women's sexism in my tenth book, WOMAN'S INHUMANITY TO WOMAN. Some wrote fairly vicious (and sometimes incomprehensible) reviews of this book. Many pretended it did not exist. Some feminists stopped talking to me. But many feminists thanked me profusely for having done this work, both publicly and privately.Similarly, many feminists have been very supportive of THE NEW ANTISEMITISM and have shared with me similar experiences of being silenced for their pro-Israel, pro-democracy, and pro-Judaism views in their academic and social circles. My good friend Erica Jong gave me a bookparty when THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM first came out in August of 03. We invited many liberal and left high-profile feminists with whom we had both worked, or whom we knew, for more than thirty years. Not one came. Of course, the party was a great success, at least one hundred and twenty five intellectuals, writers, editors, activists, thinkers, entertainers, and journalists came. I have received hundreds of moving letters from both Jews and Christians thanking me for writing this work. To it's credit, the left-Jewish magazine, TIKKUN, even had a cover story piece by Miriam Greenspan which praised my book and expanded the conversation about Jew-hatred But, I was also attacked non-stop on various left feminist listserv groups about my ZIonism--as if it were a Thought Crime, not a reasoned and passionate political position to which I'm entitled. Some Arab and Palestinian feminists professionals in mental health sent a barrage of non-stop anti-Zionist screeds and also threatened to resign from the listserv groups if I continued to oppose such propaganda or to say "unmentionable" truths. For example, when I wrote in these very pages about the possibility that Palestinian female suicide bombers might be a new category of Arab honor killings, and sent it around, few feminists said: "How awful if true." They did not say: "If this is true, what can we do about it?" The piece was greeted with silence--or with attacks because I'd published it in Frontpage (!) or because I was somehow "fighting dirty" by critiquing Islamic misogyny when Islam/Palestine was under such "genocidal" attack. (The True Believers are saps for the most extreme propaganda).
Lilith magazine, a Jewish feminist magazine, founded by Aviva Cantor Zuckoff, has been around since 1976. Aviva interviewed me for their second issue as a major cover story interview in 1976/77. Over the years, I have written for Lilith and they have reviewed many of my books. Aviva left the magazine years ago. Now, these many years later, the review of THE NEW ANTISEMITISM was buried on a back page and not listed in their table of contents. The review was mainly favorable but Lilith insisted on running it two months before books reached the stores. I am not sure what conclusion I may draw but I must note that a good deal of their financial support comes from "politically correct" Jews. In these circles It is not currently politically correct to be pro-Israel or pro-American. The Women's Review of Books has, so far, done me a great favor by not reviewing it. In the past, under the stewardship of Linda Gardiner, they maintained an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist stance. I understand they have a new editor-in-chief. Perhaps this might change things. I am also grateful that the pro-PLO feminist newspaper, Off Our Backs, has not reviewed the book either.

Feminist anti-racists should be discussing THE NEW ANTISEMITISM because I expose both left and feminist Jew-hatred which is a form of racism. In the book, I also describe an incident in which an Israeli feminist was disinvited to an international feminist conference merely because she was a Jew from Israel. She happened to be a pro-PLO politically correct kind of feminist but feminists decided to punish her for what they viewed as Sharon's crimes. They did not disinvite any Palestinian or Arab women for the far more considerable crimes of Arafat, and other Mid-East dictators. Feminists should care about this.

Media that used to be liberal is now increasingly left or at least "politically correct." On the subject of Jews and Israel that means an unexamined and irrational preference for the Palestinians as the most noble of oppressed folk and an abiding hatred for anything Israeli as "worse than the Nazis." Thus, the venerable NY Times has not reviewed this book either which is surprising since two of my books received front page NYTBook Reviews, my photo once appeared on the cover of the Sunday magazine, I've published about 9 pieces in their pages in just the last decade, and I've been interviewed at least one hundred times since 1969. Of course, they do not have to review every single book I've written. Maybe they are overwhelmed by books in this area and simply cannot review them all. Still, in the seven months since my book has been published, the NYTBR has reviewed at least six male-authored books on the subject of Israel and antisemitism. Dr. Paula Caplan did a count of all the books reviewed there in 2002-2003 and found that 72% of the books reviewed had been written by men and that 66% of all reviews carried a male byline. Could sexism account for why my book was not reviewed? Anything is possible but I doubt it. The male-authored books on Israel and antisemitism were not written by intellectuals who have in any way changed course on this issue as I have. The Globe and Mail commissioned a review of my book and then found it too scurrilous to run. The reviewer self-published on the internet. Perhaps this happened at the TImes. At least two NY Times journalists (not friends, not colleagues) requested to review the book and to interview me. Both were turned down more than once. I have written to various editors at the Paper of Record about this but to no avail.

I happen to disagree with the TImes' coverage of the Middle East but since the NYTimes is such a gatekeeper of culture, their failure to review my book has certain consequences.

FP: Leftist voices such as NPR and the Nation are pushing various Jews forward to speak about the Middle East – and obviously in condemnation of Israel. Why would any Jewish person do such a thing? Can you give us a theory on the psychological mindset here?

Chesler: Certainly. At one level, those Jews who are the first to condemn Israel (but not Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan) and religious Judaism (but not totalitarian Islam) are, in their view, practicing Jewish ethics; they have a point. Some Jews pride themselves on being a "light unto the nations," and on understanding the other fellow's point of view and feeling his pain, on being an internationalist in pursuit of justice for all. I have no problem with this. Indeed, I have practiced Judaism in precisely this way in the past. But, many such Jews are also refusing to extend any compassion to the Jewish and Israeli victims of suicide terrorism--or for that matter, to American civilians too. Many are, instead, demonizing Israel and religious Judaism as if their lives depended upon it. Many such progressives end up romanticizing fascism and scorning democracy. Tony Judt, in a recent article for The New York Review of Books, said that he was a Jew but that he did not "need" the Jewish state. Let me suggest that he apply for citizenship in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, or Egypt and he will discover not only that life is harsher there than in Israel (for Jews, intellectuals, free spirits, non-Muslim westerners), but that, as Jew, he cannot even become a citizen. All 22 Arab Muslim states in the Middle East are judenrein, the Jews fled and were forced out. This does not bother Judt at all nor does the surreal level of Jew-hatred in the Islamic world or it's glorification in the West among intellectuals.I do not know Judt nor do I know the Nations' reviewer, Brian Klug, whose name may be Jewish. Their cover story was about the "myth" of the new anti-Semitism and they copied my bookjacket as their cover. Of course, my title is The New Anti-Semitism which alas is no myth. Both Judt and Klug are as anti-Zionist as the late Edward Said. In my view, they and others like them are not self-hating Jews. On the contrary. Their psychology is one of sheer, heartbreaking, opportunism--similar perhaps to that of Nazi-era German Jews who felt more German than Jewish and who did not think that pariah status should or would apply to them. Also, some people deal with terror by denying it exists, or by blaming themselves or a designated scapegoat (Israel, America, Jews), for it. Of course, psychologically, those who either appease or identify with terrorists may be even more frightened than I am. Perhaps some Jewish progressives care more about the right to gay marriage--a cause I support but one that is not a priority for me--than they care about Jewish or American survival. Maybe they need to be loved more than I do and understand that their being both Jewish and progressive endangers them too much for comfort. Thinking psychologically again about leftism: Perhaps some leftists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, prefer to cling to a communist/socialist dream rather than admit that in it's name, hundreds of millions of inoocent people were tortured and killed. To acknowledge this would be tantamount to accepting some responsibility for what happened and this they cannot bear to do. Some Jews simply want their safe and illusion-filled lives to continue and do not want to have them interrupted even by a Just War. Paradoxically, many such Jews glamorize or sympathize with Islamist jihadists but reject both religious Jews and Israelis as reactionary parent figures who are endangering the ability of their politically correct "children" to assimilate and to appease Jew-haters. (I do not mean to denigrate or reduce sophisticated political differences to a parent-child argument but this dimension must also be considered).

Perhaps such psychological insights might explain, in part, why Israeli left wing Jews brought the case of the Security Fence before the International Court of Justice in the Hague; and why European academic Jews published a letter in which they renounced their right of Return to Israel. (I am not aware of any Palestinian counterpart letter in existence which renounces their right of return).

FP: Ms. Chesler, we are out of time. It was wonderful to have you here.

Chesler: My pleasure Jamie.

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