May 18, 2007

Islamic Feminism

At the risk of overkill here on the subjects of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the treatment of women under Islam, and the silence of American feminism on the issue, I must pass along the new Weekly Standard cover story by Christina Hoff Sommers. A longish set of excerpts: (ellipsis mine)

The condition of Muslim women may be the most pressing women's issue of our age, but for many contemporary American feminists it is not a high priority. Why not?

The reasons are rooted in the worldview of the women who shape the concerns and activities of contemporary American feminism. That worldview is--by tendency and sometimes emphatically--antagonistic toward the United States, agnostic about marriage and family, hostile to traditional religion, and wary of femininity. The contrast with Islamic feminism could hardly be greater.

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...many feminists are tied up in knots by multiculturalism and find it very hard to pass judgment on non-Western cultures. They are far more comfortable finding fault with American society for minor inequities (the exclusion of women from the Augusta National Golf Club, the "underrepresentation" of women on faculties of engineering) than criticizing heinous practices beyond our shores. The occasional feminist scholar who takes the women's movement to task for neglecting the plight of foreigners is ignored or ruled out of order.

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The good news is that Muslim women are not waiting around for Western feminists to rescue them. "Feminists in the West may fiddle while Muslim women are burning," wrote Manhattan Institute scholar Kay Hymowitz in a prescient 2003 essay, "but in the Muslim world itself there is a burgeoning movement to address the miserable predicament of the second sex." The number of valiant and resourceful Muslim women who are devoting themselves to the cause of greater freedom grows each and every day.

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Success...is not certain. Yet there are many hopeful signs. Experience in Morocco, Tunisia, and Turkey is encouraging. Groups like WISE are holding up a new image of female piety that does not require silence, powerlessness, and second-class citizenship. And individual women such as Pakistan's Mukhtar Mai, Morocco's Fatima Mernissi, Iran's Shirin Ebadi, Canada's Irshad Manji, and Holland's Ayaan Hirsi Ali are offering the world profiles in astonishing courage and grace. Their example may prove as infectious as it is inspiring. Radical Islam does indeed pose an extreme challenge to the cause of women's rights--but these wise and brave women pose a devastating and unexpected challenge to radical Islam.

I asked Daisy Kahn, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and organizer of the WISE conference, how Americans can help. Her answer was simple: "Support us. Embrace our struggle." That is already happening, though mostly outside feminist circles.

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The women who constitute the American feminist establishment today are destined to play little role in the battle for Muslim women's rights. Preoccupied with their own imagined oppression, they can be of little help to others--especially family-centered Islamic feminists. The Katha Pollitts and Eve Enslers, the vagina warriors and university gender theorists--these are women who cannot distinguish between free and unfree societies, between the Taliban and the Promise Keepers, between being forced to wear a veil and being socially pressured to be slender and fit. Their moral obtuseness leads many of them to regard helping Muslim women as "colonialist" or as part of a "hegemonic" "civilizing mission." It disqualifies them as participants in this moral fight.

In reality, of course, it is the Islamic feminists themselves who are on a civilizing mission--one that is vital to their own welfare and to the welfare of an anxious world.

Related:

A recent interview with Shirin Ebadi

Posted by dan at May 18, 2007 11:20 PM