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Phyllis Chesler
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Posted in: Feminism, Islamism/Muslim Dissidents, ISIS

Published on Sep 03, 2015 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for The Huffington Post

What Kind of Feminist Future Does ISIS Have In Mind?


I want to thank East Hampton's East End Women's Alliance for honoring my lifetime of feminist work. That work spans nearly half a century. In this time, a visionary feminism managed to seriously challenge, if not transform, world consciousness.

Like many of us, I started out in 1967 and have never looked back. The work still drives me. 1967 was an easier year to "come out" as a feminist. It is much harder now. We had an opening in history and we rushed right through that door and almost instantly became Players in History.

Our original feminist vision was radical and transformative. We believed in universal human rights. We were not multi-cultural relativists. We called out misogyny when we saw it and did not exempt a rapist, a wife-beater, or a pedophile because he was poor (his victims were also poor); or a man of color (his victims were also people of color); or because he had an abused childhood (so did his victims).

Like other American feminists, I was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Unlike other feminists, I "once lived in a harem in Afghanistan." This is the opening sentence of my book An American Bride in Kabul. I lived in a polygamous household in posh purdah--which meant I was not allowed out without a male escort. My father-in-law had three wives and twenty-one children--facts my Westernized husband failed to mention during our American college courtship.

When I was 20, I saw Afghan women stumbling around in burqas--sensory deprivation isolation chambers. They were literally forced to sit at the back of the bus. This was before Rosa Parks refused to do so in the United States. I nearly died there. My kind of American feminism was forged in fire in Kabul. I learned the hard way that America was the best country in the world, the land of liberty and libraries. I remembered that even when I critiqued sexism, racism, and homophobia here.

In 1967, I joined NOW. I went to meetings, joined a CR group, sat-in, marched. In 1968, I co-founded the Association for Women in Psychology, and in 1969, I delivered a fiery speech at the American Psychological Association. I demanded reparations for all the women who had been misdiagnosed, pathologized, drugged, and institutionalized by the psychological and psychiatric professions. Two thousand people laughed at me--but nervously. Some accused me of "penis envy."

I began writing what would become Women and Madness on the plane back to NY. My speech made world headlines. Adrienne Rich reviewed the book on the front page of the NYT Book Review. My book was a best seller. More important: Women signed themselves out of mental hospitals, left abusive marriages, went back to school, left abusive shrinks--I know, because they wrote me letters. Thousands of letters. Women and Madness's then-radical thesis was that double standards of mental health and illness exist and that women are punitively labeled as a function of gender, race, class, or sexual preference.

It does not sound that radical today--and that is definite proof of progress!

I stood on formidable shoulders. Between 1967-1971, there was an amazing, incredible grassroots deluge of feminist magazines, broadsheets, position papers, journals, and full-length books. Remember Notes from the First, Second, and Third Year? No More Fun & Games? Anything that came after 1971-1972 had the broadest of shoulders to stand on. We were everywhere, we changed everything--or at least we tried to. Here is a short list of issues that I was involved in personally. Multiply that by many millions of women and you have an idea of how formidable we were:

Abortion. Rape. Sexual harassment. Incest. Domestic violence. Equal pay. Entry into the professions and male-only blue-collar unions. Pornography. Prostitution. Trafficking. The image of women in the media. Women's right to sexual pleasure. Her right not to be raped by her husband--or by her "John." Femicide. Mother's custody rights. Children's rights. Surrogacy. A woman's right to self-defense and her right to practice her religion--be it Wicca or Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

We were "something else"--and yet today, fundamentalist passions are threatening to destroy what feminists have accomplished. Four examples come to mind.

1) Incredibly, the right to an abortion--and to birth control--remain under siege.

2) Very good mothers are losing custody of children and to wife-batterers and child abusers. Yes, in America. Mothers who try to protect their children from paternal, incestuous rape often lose custody and visitation and face jail time.

3) We know that rape has traumatic consequences. We have not been able to abolish or always prosecute it--not even as a war crime. Rape has become a full-fledged weapon--not merely a spoil--of war. Repeated and public gang rape is a form of gender cleansing. Think: the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Rwanda, Guatemala, Algeria, Pakistan, the Punjab. It is happening now in Iraq and Syria.

4) Extreme tribal misogyny is upon us. Honor Killing--a family of origin's conspiracy to murder a daughter for perceived "disobedience"--is rampant among Hindus, but only in India, and among Muslims worldwide, including in Europe and North America. There are other tribal customs afflicting women globally and in the West: Female genital mutilation, polygamy, forced child marriage, and forced face veiling.

These are all burning feminist issues. These are OUR issues.

ISIS is kidnapping young girls and raping them nine-to-ten times a day--sometimes thirty to fifty times a day--every day. These infidels--Christians and Yazidis--are viewed by Islamists as religiously permitted sex slaves and are auctioned off in slave markets. Many girls are killing themselves. Brothel slaves are begging for death or rescue and for the bombing of the brothels in which they are held captive.

Feminists in America exposed, condemned, and analyzed rape. We began rape crisis counseling and changed the laws about rape. Why are so many of our feminist leading lights so paralyzed now? A Yazidi female singer has just formed a women's military brigade against ISIS. Western professional feminists: our Women's Studies professors, politicians, journalists, human rights activists--are not rescuing these rape victims. Feminists are too nervous about being called "Islamophobes," "racists," or "colonialists."

We may not be able to personally, physically, rescue the raped girls of ISIS. But here is what American feminists can do.

We can fund those who do.

We can at least call barbarism (beheading, stoning, crucifixions, public gang-raping, the destruction of our human cultural heritage) by its rightful name. We can understand that the leaders--not the people--of Iran and all the Caliphates in formation are dangerous to America and to a Western way of life. American-style feminist is also on the line.

We can help girls and women who live here and who are being death-threatened because they refuse to veil or to marry their first cousin. Their blood should not be on our hands. We must prosecute both honor killers and accomplices.

Today, my closest colleagues are Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and dissidents. We are anti-Islamists or anti-Sharia-ists: As the feminists of yore, we share one universal standard of human rights. Therefore, we are not politically correct. We support post-Enlightenment Western values such as free speech, the right to dissent, freedom fromand freedom of religion, the separation of religion and state, individual rights, etc. We know that Muslim-on-Muslim violence and Muslim-on-infidel violence has not been caused by Western imperialism, colonialism, or by foreign wars. We also know that Islam has a long history of imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, slavery, conversion via the sword--and anti-black racism. This knowledge is considered forbidden among progressives and is usually shouted down.

Some of my allies write under pseudonyms. Others live with round-the-clock bodyguards. This Muslim and infidel anti-Islamist movement is the major resistance movement of our time. It is marginalized by Western governments.

In the 21st century, in addition to publishing six new books and five updated and expanded editions of previous books, I have conducted and published four studies about honor killing. This pioneering research has allowed me to submit affidavits on behalf of Muslim and ex-Muslim girls and women in flight from being honor killed in immigrant communities in Europe, the United States, Africa, and Asia. This research has also been used in honor killing prosecutions in the United States and Canada.

Gender apartheid and honor-based violence is a human rights violation and cannot be justified in the name of cultural relativism, tolerance, anti-racism, diversity, or political correctness. As long as Islamist groups justify the subordination of women and Westerners refuse to name or judge what is happening, women will continue to be honor (horror) killed globally and in the West.

The battle for women's rights is central to the battle for Western values. It is a necessary part of true democracy, along with freedom of and from religion, free speech, and freedom of dissent. Here, then, is exactly where the greatest battle of the twenty-first century is joined.


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