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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Oct 29, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Our Brothers Keepers?


Listen carefully to what they are telling us.

In their countries, if they speak out for women’s rights, they will be imprisoned for twenty years–something that just happened to a young male journalism student in Afghanistan. The Afghan mullahs have accused the judge of being “anti-Islam.” They wanted the young man, Parwez Kambakhsh, hung.

Those Muslim and Arab dissidents who live in exile in the West do not understand why their western counterparts refuse to respect the freedom they enjoy in their own western countries but, on the contrary, blame the West for the crimes of Egypt and Syria. Muslim tyrants usually imprison and torture their dissidents. In Iran, the country that once held Americans hostage for 444 days and which is now threatening to visit a nuclear holocaust upon Israel, peaceful student activists, feminists, and dissidents are arrested and, if they’re lucky, are not hung or shot but are “only” raped, flogged, put into solitary confinement and eventually released. Some souls flee and apply for political asylum in the West.

In 2006, the American State Department protested the horrendous treatment of Iranian student activists, especially that of Akbar Mohammadi who died in captivity.

In 2008, 22 year-old Hana Abdi was sentenced to five long years in prison. Her crime? Working on a campaign to gather one million signatures on behalf of Iranian women's’ rights. In September of 2008, four Iranian women were sentenced to six months in jail for cyber-feminist activism. Their crime? Writing online articles on behalf of women's’ rights in Iran.

Arab and Muslim intellectuals are forever asking me why progressives in the West do not stand against tyranny but instead seek to appease or make common cause with it. In a recent interview in the New York Times, formerly tortured Iranian student protestor Ahmad Batebi carefully said: “If people could stand up and have the right to challenge their government, and not be put down by the government, and know that they have the international community behind them, then they would change their government's policy and behavior.” (Italics mine).

So, to our new American President I say: On your watch, will we stand with the tyrants or with the dissidents? Do we have a responsibility to advance the cause of liberty internationally—or have the American people decided that the cost of doing so is too high, that it is now time to take care of our own first? This is certainly a valid, although heartbreaking position.

But, Mr. New President: What if the forces of Al-Qaeda rush into Iraq, just as Iran and its proxy army Hezbollah de-stabilize the Middle East and openly take over Lebanon? What if our departure means that the Sunni- Shiia fratricide heats up even further and the Muslim Brotherhood openly takes over Egypt–just as Hamas took over Gaza: via the ballot? What if this means that more and more women will all be wearing the face-veil and put in purdah instead of entering the professions or leading dissident struggles? What if this means that more and more Christians will be persecuted, murdered, and forced to flee Muslim lands?

Alright, you say: What’s that got to do with us? Well, what if similar (or the same) forces of repression are already here in our own country and using our laws of tolerance to advance the cause of intolerance? What about the imposition of Sharia law right here in America–a possibility that my dear friend, the writer and dissident, Nonie Darwish, fears might happen? Her important new book on the subject, Cruel and Usual Punishment. The Terrifying Implications of Global Sharia Law will be out in early 2009.

Many Muslim women in the Muslim world are bravely speaking out against the veil and against other features of Islamic gender apartheid. Rania al-Baz was a successful television news announcer in Saudi Arabia. One day, in 2005, her husband, jealous of her success, beat her so badly she sustained thirteen face fractures and was in a coma for four days. Rania bravely published the photos of how she looked. This caused a sensation. It inspired the first study of domestic violence in The Kingdom. Rania required twelve operations to restore her facial appearance. Rania says: “In the end, I may lose my fight. But at least I did not accept the way things are.”

In 2007, in Afghanistan, within the same week, two female journalists, Zakia Zaki, head of a local radio station and, Sanga Amach, a 22-year-old news presenter with a private television station were shot dead for their criticism of warlords.

Activists are being censored, warned, arrested, and tortured. In 2007, the Egyptian government began a massive crackdown on journalists and human rights activists. They are paying a huge price for doing so.

Yet, right here in America, as Darwish points out, more and more young and educated Muslim-American women are proudly and aggressively veiling themselves as a way of supporting jihad, protesting alleged “Islamophobia,” and expressing solidarity with their religious community. They, too are cutting their dissident and trapped Muslim sisters and brothers loose.

Mr. New President: Are you prepared to join them?


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