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The Failure of Western Feminists to Address Islamist Abuse

ICC Note

Both Christian and Muslim women have been killed, intimidated and abused by Islamic extremists who treat them as sub human. This article describes various incidents in which women were targeted by Islamic extremists. It also deals with struggle waged by Muslim women to challenge discrimination against them and the failure of Western feminists to take up the issue of treatment of women in Islam.

By Adrian Morgan

December 17, 2007 Islam (Family Security Matters)-This year, women have been killed in Basra , Iraq , by fanatical Islamists. Their bodies are subsequently dumped among refuse, with notes saying they were killed for “un-Islamic behavior”. Such “behavior” is actually the mere fact that these women did not wear the hijab or Muslim headscarf. One mother who did not wear a veil was murdered with her children, who were aged 6 to 11 years. In September, the headless bodies of a woman and her six-year-old son were among those found. In fact, between July and September this year, 42 women had been killed in this manner in Basra .

In Basra , Christian women who wear no head coverings have been warned by Shia militants that if they do not wear the hijab, they will be killed. This month 41-year old Maison Marzouq, a Christian woman, was killed with her 31-year old brother. Their bodies were dumped in a Basra refuse tip. The killings have continued, bringing the number of “un-Islamic” Basran women murdered over the past six months to 48.

In June this year, Hamas took control of Gaza by force. Sheikh Abu Saqer, who runs the Islamist group called Jihadia Salafiya, warned that Christian women living in Gaza should wear the hijab if they wished to live free from attack: “All women, including non-Muslims, need to understand they must be covered at all times while in public.”

In Sudan in 2004, a Christian woman was given a sentence of 40 lashes and a fine, for the “crime” of standing near a garden at night, and not wearing a headscarf. She was beaten by police and denied the right to speak in her defense at her Sharia trial. The sentence of whipping was carried out immediately after her conviction.

The issue of Muslim men forcing women to wear the hijab continues. In September 2007 British dentist Omer Butt – brother of former radical Hassan Butt – faced a tribunal, accused of misconduct. He had told a woman patient that he would grant her free government-sponsored dental care only if she wore a headscarf. If she refused, she would have to seek dental treatment elsewhere. Butt was found guilty but received only an admonishment.

Last week, a 16-year old girl was murdered in Missauga, Toronto . Aqsa Parvez was strangled, and died on Monday, December 10, after a brief struggle for life in hospital. Her father was arrested and on Tuesday, he was charged with her murder. Her 26-year old brother Waqas was charged with obstruction of justice.

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Muslim groups, such as CAIR naturally rushed to defend their religion, maintaining that: “Teen rebellion is something that exists in all households in Canada and is not unique to any culture or background.” The Islamic Social Services Association said that the death was a case of domestic violence, and was a problem across Canada ‘s society.

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In Britain , numerous honor killings have taken place, particularly amongst Muslim immigrants of Pakistani and Kurdish backgrounds. On November 1, 2006, Pakistani immigrant Mohammed Riaz burned his wife and four daughters (aged 3 to 16) to death because they had become too “Westernized”. Before the murders, he had destroyed “Western clothes” belonging to the girls.

It is frequently argued that honor-killings, like female genital mutilation (FGM) have nothing to do with Islam. This does not explain why such abuses of women take place predominantly in Muslim societies. In today’s climate of cultural relativism where Westerners do not wish to find fault with abuses of women under Islam, the voices of famous so-called feminists are either quiet, or even refuse to acknowledge that such abuse has anything to do with them.

Where were the voices of Western feminists when several girls and young women died in a fire in Mecca , Saudi Arabia , on March 11, 2002? The girls were students, staying in a dormitory when the fire broke out. When they tried to flee the building, those who were not Islamically “covered” were beaten back into the flames by the muttawa or “religious policemen.”

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Greer’s shamefully hollow sympathies are symptomatic of the malaise of Western feminism, whose modern luminaries bask in the limelight of publicity, live lives of middle class privilege yet ignore those who are denied such privileges. A hundred years ago, women in America and Britain had not been granted universal suffrage. The vote for all U.S. women only came in 1920, and it was not until 1928 that British women were allowed equal rights to men at the polling booth. Their struggles had begun decades earlier.

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Muslim Feminism

Writing on the recent case of murdered schoolgirl Aqsa Parvez in Canada ‘s National Post, Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan argue that there is nothing in the Koran to justify wearing of a hijab. Both writers are members of the Canadian Muslim Congress, and claim that extremists have made the veil issue the “sixth pillar of Islam”. They cite one Montreal mosque which had carried a notice on its website stating: “By removing your hijab, you have destroyed your faith. Islam means submission to Allah in all our actions.” In October 2006 the door of Farzana Hassan’s home was pelted with eggs. She claimed that her comments about there being no Koranic justification for the hijab had prompted the attack.

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The veil has been known at least since the time of the Assyrians, whose empire flourished around northern Iraq from 2400 BC to 612 BC. In Assyria , a woman had to wear the veil outside the house, and prostitutes were forbidden to wear it. It has been argued that only as Islam expanded did the veil become incorporated into Muslim codes of dress. Around the 10th century AD, it became part of general Islamic tradition. In the 14th century, Arab traveler Ibn Battuta was shocked to find Turkish women in Anatolia who went about uncovered.

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There are aspects of Islam that always will be used by extremists to undermine Muslim women’s emancipation, such as the Sharia concept that legally, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. Muslim “feminists” must fight against such entrenched positions if they really want full equality. There are no Muslim spiritual leaders who are women. Some women may teach, but few are imams.

Amina Wudud broke with traditions and led Islamic prayers in New York on March 18, 2005. The Islamic Friday prayers were held in an Episcopalian church under tight security. Three mosques had refused to let her lead prayers. She attended the first European conference on Islamic Feminism held at Barcelona , Spain , in October 2005. The conference ran smoothly, attended by 300 delegates from the Muslim world.

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There are many sincere and intelligent Muslim women who argue that the original Islam of the Koran is a source of women’s emancipation, such as Asma Barlas, and Mahsa Sherkarloo. In Malaysia , the daughter of a former president has campaigned for women’s rights. Marina Mahathir is still a Muslim, but has condemned Islamist legislation in her country.

Also in Malaysia , the women’s group Sisters in Islam argues that the Koran should be used for the emancipation of women. In neighboring Indonesia , Lily Zakiyah Munir similarly maintains that despite 1,400 years of patriarchal Islamic jurisprudence, Islam as described in the Koran promotes the rights of women. She argues that a genuine form of Sharia law should promote justice for women.

The efforts of these Muslim women who struggle to find a message of equality and liberation in the Koran should be applauded. If there is any hope for a genuine reformation in Islam, it may come from the arguments presented by scholars such as these. However, even these women must concede that Sura 4:34 of the Koran grants a man permission to beat his wife.

The existing schools of Islam are not going to give women equal legal and religious status in a hurry. Ghada Jamshir is a woman’s rights activist living in Bahrain . She is a Muslim, but refuses to let patriarchal clerics silence her criticisms of their methods. When Muslim woman doctor Taslima Nasreen wrote a newspaper article describing how in her native Bangladesh a Muslim cleric had organized the illegal stoning to death of a woman, reactions against her were swift and hostile. A death fatwa was put on her head, and she was forced to flee the country. 14 years later, she is still subject to persecution.

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The Failures of Western Feminism

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The term “feminist” is now viewed by 75% of working American women as an insult. The fault for this lies not in the drive for full economic, legislative, and social equality of women, but in the arrogant and vainglorious personalities of many of feminism’s leading icons. There have always been great and remarkable women who stood up for their rights as human beings in patriarchal environments, from Lysistrata and Sappho to Boudicca, Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth Fry, Mary Woollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth and Eleanor Roosevelt, but these women never saw themselves as “feminists”.

Dworkin, who died on April 9, 2005, had been sexually abused as a child, had engaged in prostitution and was a battered wife. Dworkin has stated: “Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice,” and “Men are distinguished from women by their commitment to do violence rather than to be victimized by it.”

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MacKinnon’s failings, in my view, stem not from commission but from omission. To wish to see a mass murderer and supervisor of rapes charged is commendable. Yet I wonder what deeper motives prevent MacKinnon, who has loudly attacked pornography, from employing the Alien Tort Statute against visiting Islamists and religious officials who have committed atrocities against women in their own countries. In my research for this article, I have found no condemnation from MacKinnon or Dworkin against Islamist abuses of women in Muslim societies. I hope I am wrong, and wish that either individual has used her influence to voice disapproval.

There are certainly no shortages of horrific acts to condemn. On March 24, 2006 a 16-year old girl who had been raped in northern Bangladesh by two men was sentenced to 57 lashes. Her two rapists were given the same punishment by two clerics from a local madrassa. The rapists had fled after being given 27 lashes, but the girl received 51 lashes before she passed out.

From February 10, 1979 to November 17, 2006, Pakistan had legislation called the Hudood Ordinances. This had been introduced by Islamists during the rule of dictator Zia ul-Haq. Any woman who complained that she had been raped was obliged to provide four witnesses to the act. Failure to do so meant she would be charged with adultery, for which the maximum sentence was the death penalty and lashes. Though no woman was executed under the Hudood Laws, thousands of women were detained in prisons across Pakistan for contravening these laws.

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In Britain , the feminist movement is now a sick joke. With an estimated 109 cases of honor killings committed on their own doorstep, and at least 250 young British Muslim girls annually sent off to be forced into arranged marriages against their wills, there are plenty of local causes to champion. Instead of decrying these abuses, British feminists have bought into the myth that women in veils and headscarfs who submit themselves to arranged marriages are actually “liberated”.

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After the 7/7 bombings killed 52 innocent people in London , Ridley appeared on the BBC wearing a black robe, headscarf and face-veil, claiming that Islam was a religion of peace, even though the four bombers were perhaps better versed in Islamic Hadiths than herself. She claims the hijab and niqab are liberating, and that wearing such items means a woman is “judged on your character and intelligence”. She said: “How liberating is it to be judged for your mind and not the size of your bust or length of your legs.” I may be a Philistine, but I treat a woman who dresses like a tent as a woman dressed like a tent. As such a costume is a political statement of “separateness” from Western values, I do not want to know any more about her.

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Ridley, a former Western “feminist” is the public voice of British Islamic feminism – even though her views are attention-seeking, contradictory and inflammatory, a far cry from those of authentic Muslim women who go unnoticed. When the Stop the War coalition had one rally in 2005 one of the Leftist organizers urged the non-Muslim women to cover their heads to “show respect” to the Muslim women attending.

In Britain , and in an increasing number in North America , there are Muslim women who live in fear of their families. A friend of mine, who is now an apostate from Islam, was once thrown out of a moving car by her husband for not wearing her “hijab”. She still fears her own family’s reprisals. I personally have known Muslim women who live in dread of their families, because they have had relationships with Hindus or Sikhs.

Even though some women proudly proclaim themselves as feminists, where are the feminist voices to stand up for the rights of these women who live in fear?

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