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Posted in: Islamic Gender & Religious Apartheid, Feminism

Published on Oct 13, 2017 by Robert Fulford

Published by National Post

Robert Fulford: Feminists are failing to confront Islamic society's treatment of women

Feminists do a disservice to their sisters in Islam when they ignore practices they would never tolerate in their own lives

Of all the citizen-driven movements of our time, feminism has proven the most successful. Through argument and passion, feminists have made serious changes. In equal-pay legislation, marital rights, education, politics and the professions, women are better off. They have even erased, in many places, entrenched anti-woman prejudices that seemed unshakeable only a few decades ago.

But on one subject feminists have failed completely. They have remained silent on the brutal reality of women in Islamic countries.

Feminists of all genders do a disservice to their sisters in Islam when they ignore ordained rules and practices they would never tolerate in their own lives. This crucial (and rather embarrassing) flaw in Western feminism was emphasized recently by two women with deep knowledge of the problem: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born, ex-Muslim author renowned for her criticism of Islam; and Asra Q. Nomania, a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.

In a joint statement directed at women who marched across the U.S. against President Donald Trump’s policies, they said: “We’re still waiting for a march against honour killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.”

They implied that they expected to wait a long time. Hirsi Ali believes that feminist thinking avoids a reasonable approach to Islam: “If one finds white male sexism intolerable, then one should find all male sexism just as intolerable. Excusing men of colour, Muslims, immigrants or men living in non-Western societies for bad behaviour toward women is an expression of the bigotry of low expectations. The result of this mindset is that Christianity is criticized for every misstep against women but Islam is protected from the glare of scrutiny.”

As Hirsi Ali sees it, there are several reasons why universal standards are not applied to Muslim men. Feminists may view them as victims of colonialism and military invasions. They may be forgiven because they are new immigrants facing cultural alienation. Or perhaps they can’t be deprived of “their last source of pride: their domination over their women.”

Sadly, Hirsi Ali is not always taken seriously by those who need her most. Feminists, if they notice her, tend to take a guarded position. They seem to fear that she’s too direct when writing on a subject they approach with caution. While she seems a heroic figure to many of us, I believe many feminists would be happier if she stopped writing.

One highly experienced advocate from the last feminist surge has argued from a position much like Hirsi Ali’s. Phyllis Chesler said recently in a speech that feminists have failed to confront the rampant misogyny at the heart of Islam. She thinks feminists condemn Western imperialism but refuse to acknowledge the long history of Islamic imperialism, colonialism, slavery, anti-black racism and religious and gender apartheid.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as Chesler campaigned with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other organizations, she understood that they were talking about women everywhere. She also worked with Muslim dissidents and artists from Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, Iran and Lebanon. Now, she complains that, “What I describe as a ‘faux feminism’ has arisen in the last 30 years, a postmodern and postcolonial feminism that passionately condemns Christianity and Judaism but dares not critique religiously supremacist Islam for this same reason.” She thinks that women’s studies associations and national feminist organizations are not merely politically correct. They have become “Islamically correct.”

She recalls organizing rape-crisis counselling and new laws about rape. Today, feminists in the West are not rescuing rape victims in Islamic communities, she says, because they “are too nervous about being called Islamophobes, racists or colonialists.” She recommends that feminists help girls and women in the West “who are being beaten, stalked, and death-threatened by their own families because they refuse to veil or to marry their first cousin.” She wants feminists everywhere to create shelters where honour-based violence is forbidden.

Perhaps the central problem is that feminism has been shaped by its potential audience. In the West, it speaks to women and men who have learned that critical thinking is a natural part of civilization. Those reared in Islam, on the other hand, rarely have acquired that conviction. “They fear critical thinking,” Hirsi Ali has said. Feminists will never stop criticizing ignorant and powerful men in the West for their treatment of women, but they can’t imagine how to address the very different men produced by Islam.

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