Chesler Chronicles

Kites and Other Cultural Baggage: What Muslim Immigrants Pack

Last night I finally saw the film based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner. I loved it–yes, even if it captures a pre-Taliban country more mythical than real. Nevertheless, the musical soundtrack, the recitation of classical poetry, the innocent kite-flying competitions in Kabul, (not to mention Homayoun Ershadi who strongly resembles Marcello Mastroianni), all comprise utterly charming scenes and characters carefully chosen and calibrated to help us distinguish between sophisticated and westernized Afghans who are non-violent, (I know many), and the barbarians amongst them.

I think that the film is also brave. First, it depicts a tall, thin, slightly effeminate, incredibly brutal pederast (“Assef”) who, although he is an Afghan through and through, reminds one of none other than Osama bin Laden. Both figures walk languidly; both teach “harsh” lessons. The film also shows us how the Taliban publicly stone a sobbing woman in a pink burqa to death and how they kidnap or purchase Afghan orphans, mainly girls, but sometimes also boys, as “dancing” sex-objects.

True, as shown, wealthy and western-educated Afghans did have private, gender-integrated dancing parties in the 1970s in Kabul–but the nature of Afghan society is better represented in both the novel and the film in how they depict Afghan marriage and family customs in America. Even those immigrants who live in San Francisco guard their women, expect would-be suitors to ask a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. (The film has a wonderful Afghan Wedding scene every bit the equal of any Bollywood Indian Wedding.) And, Afghan immigrants continue to live with or geographically near to their parents and to center their adult social lives together with them.

Not a bad idea at all.

Ah, but now I come to the hard part. Daily, I receive news of Islamic gender and religious apartheid, both in the Islamic East and as it has steadily penetrated the West. I write about this at length in my latest book The Death of Feminism.

But, the same continent (North America) and culture (the West) which is so proud of its multi-cultural sensitivity and tolerance–and whose people have embraced books such as The Kite Runner and Reading Lolita in Tehran, are all more eager to embrace the immigrant “Other,” (which is commendably open-hearted), and reluctant to take into account the cultural “baggage” that most immigrants bring with them into their new lives.

Although fewer immigrants arrive in the West from Iran or Saudi Arabia, these two countries have exported their versions of Islam to Muslims in very effective ways. For example, in the last month:

A top Muslim cleric, Hojatolislam Gholam Reza Hassani said that Muslim women who do not wear the hijab “should die.” He went further: “These women and their husbands and their fathers must die.”

The use of the word “women” has just been banned from Iranian state TV. They have begun using the word “family” instead. In recent weeks, Iran’s Center for the Participation of Women changed its name to the Centre for Family Matters.

Two Kurdish women’s rights activists, Ronak Safazadeh and Hana Abdi, were just arrested in Teheran and charged as “terrorists.” These two feminists were collecting “a million signatures for equality” but have, instead, been charged with a car bomb.

Seventy one percent of the men polled in Pakistan “justify beating women.” The survey documents that 80% of Pakistani women are the “victims of domestic violence.” The report claims that “Women in Pakistan face death by shooting, burning, or killing with axes” in shame and honor murders.

Also, a former Muslim in Pakistan who converted to Christianity has been receiving “death threats from his Muslim siblings” and is now in hiding together with his wife, their four daughters and son.

Religious vigilantes have killed at least 40 women in the southern city of Basra because their dress “violated Islamic teachings.” Maj General Jalil Khalaf said: “The women of Basra are being horrifically murdered and then dumped in the garbage with notes saying they were killed for un-Islamic behavior.”

The parents of a nineteen year-old Saudi girl chained her by the feet in order to prevent her from meeting her fiancée whom her family would not accept.

Saudi women are not allowed to drive or change the color of their clothing or shake a man’s hand (which some mullahs view as “adultery of the hand.”) She cannot marry without permission, retain custody of her children after a divorce, or “annoy” her husband. She is also forbidden to “speak in public.” A popular Saudi television preacher has stated that “a girl who is not beaten from an early age grows up to be a rebellious woman, difficult to control” and that “a woman who leaves her home without a veil is like a woman who goes out naked.”

Those who emigrate into the West from these countries take these attitudes and customs along with them. So far, the West has been slow in noting or in trying to prevent what for us are crimes. On the other hand, the West has also offered refuge to and published the work of Islamic dissidents; appointed and elected pro-woman and anti-violence Muslims to public office; offered police protection and shelter to those in flight from Islamist violence in the West. Thus, also in the last month:

The daughter of an imam who herself has converted to Christianity, is under serious police protection after receiving death threats from her family. She has, so far, had to move 45 times since she converted 15 years ago. She did so after she ran away from home to escape an arranged marriage.

Waris Dirie, who herself underwent female genital mutilation in her native Somalia has, together with Corinna Milborn, published a new book in Britain. They estimate that 500,000 girls and women have been genitally mutilated in Europe–even though it is illegal to do so. Dirie considers the “difficulties of bringing such cases to court, the culture of silence that keeps affected women quiet, and the muddled association of circumcision with Islam.”

Norwegian author, Tor Erling Staff has published a book in which he calls for “reduced sentences for honor murders.” In his view, such Muslim men who kill are “betrayed by Norwegian society. They come from places where equality is an unknown concept. Where the thought of equality is a humiliation. Suddenly they land here, in the middle of equality paradise. It is clear there is stress…”

Dutch Minister of Integration, Ella Vogellar, admitted that the emancipation of immigrant women is expected to lead to more cases of honor related violence. A special task force has received about 470 such cases this year. Men are also the victims, either because they are homosexuals or because they try to help their sisters.

Not everyone is keeping their heads firmly down. In Amsterdam, Ehsan Jami, the founder of the Committee for Former Muslims is about to release a film about The Life of Mohammed. He says: “I show how violent and tyrannical Mohammed was. This man murdered three Jewish tribes, killed people who left the faith, and married a 6 year-old girl with whom he had sex when she was 9.” Jami remains under heavy police protection and has offered EUR 50,000 to “anyone who can refute these facts.”

Too many people in the West are misguided and believe that telling the truth about Islam is “Islamophobic” or simply dangerous. May we all begin to have the courage of Ehsan Jami (or Khaled Hosseini) because we are going to need it.