The Hypocrisy of the Feminist Response to Islam’s Oppression of Women


Editor’s Note: This is Part III of an ongoing series by Robert Spencer highlighting human rights hypocrisy and fraudulent peace activists. For Part I, see “The Hypocrisy of the ‘Islamophobia’ Scam,” for Part II, see last week’s “The Hypocrisy of the Fatwa Against Terrorism.”

Concerned about the Islamic oppression of women? The divine sanction for the beating of women (Qur’an 4:34)? The commodification, the polygamy, the child marriage, the female genital mutilation, the honor killing? Ah – that just confirms that you’re a racist, bigoted Islamophobe – at least as far as the British feminist writer Laurie Penny is concerned. And Penny is by no means alone: her article just provides a particularly egregious case study of the general tolerance of Western feminists for Muslim misogyny.

“Islamophobes,” wrote Penny with admirable certainty in the Guardian last week, “could not care less about women of any creed or colour.” These wicked fellows only criticize the Sharia mistreatment of Muslim women because of their bigotry and hatred. According to Penny, “misogyny only matters when it isn’t being done by white men.” Penny complains:

As a person who writes about women’s issues, I am constantly being told that Islam is the greatest threat to gender equality in this or any other country – mostly by white men, who always know best. This has been an extraordinary year for feminism, but from the Rochdale grooming case to interminable debates over whether traditional Islamic dress is “empowering” or otherwise, the rhetoric and language of feminism has been co-opted by Islamophobes, who could not care less about women of any creed or colour.

How does Laurie Penny know that those whom she tars as “Islamophobes” really don’t care about women? Because, as you’ll see below, some baddies from the BNP and EDL allegedly said some rude things. And that means that any critic of Islamic gender oppression must be using feminism as a cover for his “hatred,” doncha know.

Penny grumbles about a report from Student Rights, which she describes as “a pressure group not run by students,” that stooped to “vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers.” In the wake of this, she said, “unfortunately, rightwing commentators and tabloids seized upon the issue to imply that Islamic extremists are taking over the British academy.”

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Whether or not “Islamic extremists” are “taking over the British academy,” there was talk about some Muslim gatherings separating male and female students. If some conservative group had done this, Laurie Penny would have been loudly outraged; but now she has branded those who are concerned about Muslim gender apartheid as bigots and hatemongers. If it is not permitted to speak out against this relatively small matter, will there be anyone left to speak out against the oppression of women in Islam that is quite real?  Penny hates and fears right-wingers far more than she does the Muslims who stone women to death for adultery, mutilate their genitals, deny them the right to leave the house without permission from a male, and beat them when they displease them.

Oblivious to the oppression she is enabling, Penny continues:

It’s the dishonesty that angers me most. It’s the hypocrisy of men claiming to stand for women’s rights while appropriating our language of liberation to serve their own small-minded agenda. Far-right groups like the English Defence League and the British National party rush to condemn crimes against women committed by Muslim men, while fielding candidates who make claims like “women are like gongs – they need to be struck regularly”.

Some of their members tell me that since they are standing against the sexism of Muslim barbarians, as a feminist I should be on their side. When I disagree, I am invariably informed I deserve be shipped to Afghanistan and stoned to death.

I don’t think Laurie Penny should be shipped to Afghanistan and stoned to death. I’m just sorry that she doesn’t have more concern about women who are already in Afghanistan, or Iran, or Sudan, and in danger of being stoned to death — concern enough, at least, to avoid demonizing their defenders.

All this concern for Muslim women, says Penny, is just a ruse “to justify imperialism abroad and sexism at home.” How does she know this? Because Lord Cromer, a lion of the British colonial period, criticized the wearing of the hijab by Egyptian women and then came home and campaigned against women’s suffrage. Penny quotes Katharine Viner, another feminist writer, saying that Cromer “wanted merely to replace eastern misogyny with western misogyny,” and adds: “More than a century later, the same logic is used to imply that misogyny only matters when it isn’t being done by white men.”

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Penny’s great fallacy here is thinking that denying women the right to vote is equivalent to stoning them to death, making them property of men, denying them inheritance rights, and giving divine sanction to beating them.

But Penny is unconcerned about such matters. She is much more “infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism.” For “the people making these arguments don’t care about women. They care about stoking controversy, attacking Muslims and shouting down feminists of all stripes.”

Shouting down feminists? It seems as if it is Penny is the one doing all the shouting down, denouncing the “western men” who “for decades” have “hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia.” Penny concludes darkly: “If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.”

In reality, if we care about Muslim women, we can’t let the Guardian or Laurie Penny set the agenda. For the intent and effect of her criticism of the critics of Islam’s mistreatment of women is quite insidious: those who do dare speak out against Islam’s institutionalized, codified oppression of women will be branded as “Islamophobes,” and the only misogny that doesn’t matter will be that which is done by Muslim men. The victims will be, as ever, Muslim women.