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Posted in: Gender, Psychology & Law

Published on Jun 08, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Obama Throws Muslim Women Under the Bus


Is it just me or has anyone else noticed how the North American mainstream media has consistently been mainstreaming the subject of Islam and veiled Muslim women as a friendly, feel-good kinda subject, nothing to be afraid of, something that may be "different" but that we are obligated to understand and accept? Specifically, the mainstream pro-feminist/pro-human rights media are arguing that Muslim women in hijab are "choosing" to face-veil themselves or to wear headscarves for religious reasons–and since North America is comprised of immigrants in search of religious freedom, such acceptance is actually part of our own tradition. We must understand that some Muslim girls and women are hurt, offended when we assume that they have been forced to veil when that might not be the case. Some Muslim girls are also quite happily attending women-only proms; they view hijab as "liberating" them from the sex object treatment reserved for uncovered women.

Hey, goes the unwritten subscript– these women are not terrorists. They are modest and kind , gentle and submissive, far more obedient than their (pesky, upstart) North American counterparts. Indeed, veiled or headscarved women can also be modern and educated–just the kind of citizens and immigrants who are, perhaps, more worthy than….your ordinary western slut.

For example: On the same weekend, Erin Andersson, in The Globe and Mail (June 6th), and Deborah Sontag in the New York Times (June 7th), both published stories about some modern, very talented Muslim women in Canada and America who are choosing to wear severe headscarves or to veil themselves. Before you jump down my throat, please rest assured: I know this is actually possible. I have no problem with any woman's religious or clothing choice. I believe in religious freedom. And, I know that many well educated Muslim women, including feminists in Muslim countries, do wear headscarves, and more, no doubt for a variety of reasons, including their desire to remain alive. And here is where I draw the line.

It is a Catholic woman's right to become a nun and shave or cover her hair; it is an Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish woman's right to shave or cover her hair; and it is a Muslim woman's right to cover her hair and her face–as long as those women who refuse to do so are not browbeaten, beaten, ostracized, stalked, stoned to death or honor-murdered. I have written about just such cases in the West right here, at this blog, cases in which young American- and Canadian-Muslim girls were tormented, then killed because they refused to wear hijab.

In Europe, where there are many more Muslims, there is a veritable epidemic of such exceedingly dishonorable and incredibly gruesome "honor" murders.

But there's something more. Let's face it: The Islamic face-veil and headscarf have become symbols of "jihad" and Islamic religious apartheid or intolerance in the West. And, it is spooky, even frightening to see women, (or are they men?), face-veiled or wearing full-body shrouds. Masked people, hooded people, have cut themselves off from human contact; they can see you, but you can't see them. You cannot see their expressions in response to what you are saying. I would not want to appear before a masked judge, study with a masked teacher, hire a masked lawyer, etc. Would you?

Whether I approve of their clothing choices or not, Hasidic (ultra-orthodox or anti-modern) Jews and Catholics are not threatening western civilization and are not out there be-heading those who leave Judaism or Catholicism. Nor are they force-converting Muslims and Hindus. Muslims are doing just that at this very moment in history when America's President has reached out to the entire Islamic world.

What's more, Jews and Catholics are not honor-murdering their daughters and wives because they refuse to veil their faces, their hair, or their bodies. Mainly Muslims do that.

And, when it comes to diplomacy, reciprocity is even more important than relativism. Why do Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wear "shmattas" when they accompany the President to Saudi Arabia or when they meet with Syria's President (whose own wife does not cover her hair?) Surely, since this is the case, we would expect the (non-existent) Arab Muslim female diplomats to the West or at least the male diplomat's wives to follow Western customs when they are in the West.
However, this is not what they do.

Of course, Obama did not mention any of this–wanted to make a good dhimmi impression, did he? Or is he perhaps engaging in some clever taqquia (disinformation) tactics of his own? I certainly hope so.

Based on the exchange between President Obama and President Sarkozy, below, I fear that President Obama does not understand the difference between a free choice and a forced choice; the difference between womens' human rights and the subordination of women in the name of religion. Remember: He's the politician who is proud of his left-liberal feminist stands.

Here is a rather shocking exchange between President Obama and his French counterpart, Sarkozy, on this very subject. It was posted at the Chicago Sun-Times but is no longer there. This excerpt now appears at IslaminEurope and is dated June 6, 2009.

Q President Obama, the ban on headscarves and veils for young girls in French schools and President Sarkozy's position on Turkey's entry into the European Union, is this likely to hinder the new approach to Islam that you presented in Cairo two days ago?

A PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that this is a process. And what I tried to do in Cairo was to open up a conversation both in Muslim communities, but also in non-Muslim communities; both in the Middle East, but also here in the West.

And as I said in the speech, I think that freedom of religious expression is critical. That is part of our liberal tradition both in France and the United States, and that we should not have two standards for freedom of religious expression, one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims.

That doesn't mean that each country isn't going to be working through these issues with its own history and its own sensitivities in mind. And I don't take responsibility for how other countries are going to approach this. I will tell you that in the United States our basic attitude is, is that we're not going to tell people what to wear. If, in their exercise of religion, they are impeding somebody else's rights, that's something that we would obviously be concerned about.

But my general view is, is that the most effective way to integrate people of all faiths is to not try to suppress their customs or traditions; rather to open up opportunities and give them a chance for full participation in the life of their country.

And in both France and in the United States, we have enormous Muslim populations. So as I said in the Cairo speech, there's no contradiction between America and Islam because we have Muslim Americans who actually have higher education and income averages than is the average in the United States. That's a testament to the degree to which they've been able to succeed, thrive, remain true to their religion, and be full-fledged, patriotic Americans. And that kind of approach I think is the one that you want, as opposed to an approach that increases tensions both within our borders and outside of our borders.

PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Perhaps I could just say a few words on this. First of all, I thought that President Obama's speech was a remarkable speech. We have long been awaiting to hear the United States of America, the world's number one power, shouldering its full share of responsibility in avoiding the clash of cultures and civilizations between East and West. And I totally agree with what President Obama said, including on headscarves and veils.

But let me simply say two things. In France, any young girl, any girl who wishes to wear a veil or a headscarf may do so, it's her free choice to do so. We simply set two limits because we are a secular state; that is that civil servants who are actually on duty must not have — must not show any sign of their religious belief, be they Jewish, Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, you name it. That's what we call a totally impartial, secular administration. In other words, when on duty at the actual counters where they work, there must be no visible sign of whatever religion they belong to. Secondly, the fact that young girls may choose to wear a veil or a headscarf is not a problem as long as they have actually chosen to do so, as opposed to this being imposed upon them, be it by their families or by their environment.

In a country like France, where everyone can live according to their convictions and beliefs, we respect the individual, we respect women, we respect the family. I've also done a lot when I was home secretary, minister of the interior, to ensure that the Muslim community in France could practice their religion and their creed like any other — any other religion or creed in France.

I have just returned from a trip out of town and have not yet comprehensively researched the Muslim feminist response to Obama's speech in Cairo but here's what Ayaan Hirsi Ali had to say in an interview with Jeb Golinkin for the New Majority.

ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS:

President Obama's speech didn't do much for Muslim women. He defended their rights in Western countries to wear the hijab. He didn't touch on Muslim women being confined, being forced into marriages or being victims of honor killings: These traditions and principles in the Koran and in Islam are being practiced in the West. He didn't address that. I think he was just appeasing the Muslim world because they perceive–they have these notions that Muslim women in Western countries–are not allowed to wear the headscarf or cover themselves. I mean you can wear whatever you want in the United States.

In Egypt where he spoke, women who do not wear their veil in public are subjected to very obscene remarks on the street and even sexual assault. Nowadays, even if they are covered they become victims of the same things: That is, in public, in Egypt, as a woman, you run 80% of the time the risk of being assaulted simply because you are a woman walking down the street. They are forced into marriages; their testimony in countries where Sharia is law is just half of that of a man. They can be divorced with no rights. They need guardians, a married guardian or they cannot sign any legal papers. The President simply did not address Sharia or Islamic law in relation to women.

In his speech in Cairo, President Obama threw Muslim women under the bus. He threw Muslim feminists, reformers, and dissidents under the next bus. Obviously, I will return to this subject soon again.


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