Chesler Chronicles

A Civilized Dialogue Between Feminists Who Disagree About Islamic Gender Apartheid. Part Two.

Last night I posted the first part of a dialogue between myself and my esteemed colleague, Dorchen Leithold, who is a dedicated and brilliant lawyer and feminist activist. Unsurprisingly, tragically, we disagree about Islam and the nature of its relationship to domestic violence and honor killings, including the recent horrific beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan in Buffalo.

From Dorchen’s point of view, she has seen “racism” in action against Muslims in America, and among her Muslim victims of domestic violence. She might view what happens when a Muslim approaches the criminal justice system as similar to what happens when an African American does so. I agree that this is a real concern. However, focusing only, or even mainly on this injustice, may also blind feminists to the fact that the majority of Muslim and/or African-American domestic violence victims are women who have been beaten, sometimes killed, by intimate partners who are often also Muslim or African-American men.

I write about how Islamic gender apartheid has penetrated the West in The Death of Feminism. At issue, is the relationship between multi-cultural relativism and universal human rights, including womens’ rights. Secular feminists either lump all religions together as either dangerous or inconsequential or they theoretically view all religions as equally capable of doing good or evil on earth. In doing so, they fail to contemplate the ways in which Islam is different from other religions in the West. They genuinely, really, actually, amazingly, unbelievably, do not want to understand the ways in which Islam is different. (Pretty paradoxical for such good multi-cultural relativists).

Last evening, another feminist joined this debate: Artemis March, in the pages of The New Agenda in a piece titled: “The New Feminism: Breaking the Multicultural Relativism Taboo.” In her wonderful article, March discusses the ways in which such multi-cultural relativism is harmful to women, Muslim women especially. She writes:

“Despite commonalities among all forms of male violence against women, we ought not simply disappear honor killings into the general Violence Against Women (VAW) category by dismissing the importance of making distinctions that derive from their cultural or religious context… If we lump honor killings in with all VAW, we beg the question of the exportation of Sharia Law to non-Muslim countries… Not only are honor killings migrating to many parts of the world, but so also are demands for a dual legal system that accepts and glorifies rather than punishes the perpetrators. As we observe this process in Europe, we can be sure that these demands for a double standard in our laws are coming to a neighborhood near you. ”

Mary Jackson, at the New English Review, is another feminist who has also been criticizing politically correct feminists for their failure to truly understand the nature of Islamic gender apartheid. Read her excellent work HERE and HERE.

And now: For the conclusion of my dialogue with Dorchen.

From: Phyllis Chesler
Sent: Sunday, March 01, 2009 9:39 AM
To: ‘Dorchen Leidholdt’

Hi dear.

Am a little more rested now but am on other deadlines today.

First: May I now write about the case that you handled which emanated from Pakistan and which involved helpful men, and which used the Qu’ran in a helpful way? Please recall that I DID write about this case in The Death Of Feminism but only in part, and in a disguised way at your request. I was not allowed to include it in my study because you would not tell me the country of origin. I DO recommend seeking or being open to just such interventions and have written as much in my study. This Pakistani story does set a good example and I will be happy to say so again, this time with more details. May I do so? If you say no, it will be no.

Second: We may only seemingly disagree right now because your priority may be working to save battered women and mine right now concerns working to save western civilization. I see the two goals as joined. You may not. We may both be “right.” The Muslim Chechen leader has just had seven women murdered for “immorality” and threatens to kill others for the same reason. Is he Muslim? Is what he is doing based on the Qu’ran? Must we, can we, draw any conclusions from acts such as these which are taking place ALL over the Islamic world and which have also penetrated the West?

Third: Do you realize that based on a handful of cases (the Pakistani case, others like it), you have concluded that Islam is good, and that Muslims are also good. In my view: Some are, some aren’t, the good guys have not yet begun to fight within their own religion–and those who ARE fighting are just killing each other and murdering their own and each others’ women–in the name of Islam.

Show me ten more examples like the Pakistani case. Show me eight more. I will study them and write about them as a model to follow.

Do you want to keep our dialogue private or might you want me to publish it? In part? I will not do so if you wish to remain private.

That’s it for now.

All best,

Sent: Sunday, March 01, 2009 3:35 PM
To: ‘Dorchen Leidholdt’
Subject: My dear, do you want to publish

our exchange? I am willing to do that. And, please confirm if you are (or are not) ready and willing for me to name Pakistan as the country from which, with Muslim assistance, you were able to rescue one woman. I will not do anything without your approval.

All best,

From: Dorchen Leidholdt
Sent: Sunday, March 01, 2009 4:26 PM
To: Phyllis Chesler

Dorchen responds:

Phyllis, coincidentally this client called me last night about another matter. She said that I could discuss her case with you. I should mention that after this, the young Muslim male lawyer and I together gave a presentation on domestic violence, with one of Sanctuary’s lawyers, a Muslim feminist, at the Islamic Cultural Center on domestic violence. Since then the Imams have referred domestic violence victims to our organization for shelter and other services.

My priority is working to create a world in which women enjoy fundamental human rights. I think that there are few things more dangerous to all of the civilizations of the world, Eastern and Western, Northern and Southern, than religious intolerance. Brutal, murderous violence against women in the name of men’s honor is not an Islamic creation that has penetrated the West. It has deep roots in patriarchies all over the world and has been justified in the name of Christianity (punishing the “whore”) as well as in the name of Islam. By the way, if we really want to hold a major religion accountable for atrocities I’d start with my own religious tradition, Christianity, which carried out some of the world’s most horrific, murderous genocidal campaigns, in the form of the Crusades and pogroms, not to mention the Holocaust and the recent genocide in Rwanda, which, of course, involved major complicity on the part of the Church.

I think that each of these religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) can be forces for good or evil, depending on who’s doing the interpreting. I don’t base my conclusions on a single case. As a lawyer representing domestic violence victims, I have worked with hundreds of Muslim women from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Europe. I also have long (for decades) worked with Muslim feminists through the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

I am right now with a devout Bengali mother. We have just reunited her with her nine-year-old son after a separation of six months—her husband battered and abandoned her and abducted him. I wish I could say that this kind of abusive behavior involving the separation of mothers from children is peculiar to Muslims but we see it carried out by men of all faiths. Like my other client, this mother, a pillar of strength and courage, has turned to the Koran. I respect her doing so and am grateful that she can draw on her faith for strength. When we parted, she hugged me and said that God is working through me. She sees Sanctuary for Families, a feminist organization, as an instrument of God, her God, who is part of her Muslim faith. I took it as the highest compliment. Phyllis, you may publish it if you wish. If you choose to do so, please publish it in its entirety.

Warm regards, Dorchen

From: Phyllis Chesler
Sent: Sunday, March 01, 2009 4:47 PM
To: ‘Dorchen Leidholdt’

Dear Dorchen:

I appreciate your willingness to allow me to publish this dialogue. I will allow you to see what I might say in response to what you’ve just said. Let me think about how to do this right. It is already very long. Maybe we might break it up somehow. Don’t worry, that’s my problem and I will let you see it first.

This is rather exciting. We are agreeing and disagreeing without cutting each other off or out and without condemning each other either.

Happy Times.


Phyllis responds:

Dear Dorchen:

I must comment upon your focus on Christianity. As you know, I am a religious Jew and have been writing about the epidemic return of anti-Semitism, which is primarily now coming at us from the Muslim, not the Christian world. Yes, the Catholic Church has a bad record on women in terms of the alleged witch-burnings and I have written about this at length. And yes, the Catholic and Protestant Churches indoctrinated their followers into Jew-hatred which, arguably, paved the way for a national socialist and pagan Nazism which conducted the genocide of six millions Jews and of five million other human beings in the European Holocaust. However, Church doctrines have evolved. The attitude towards “whores” in our world, while reprehensible, is not quite the same as the Church’s former mass, public torture and immolation of women as “witches.” And, by the way, Jesus stood by Mary Magdalene, who was a prostitute. Perhaps the problem also lies in certain mens’ inability to practice the very doctrine they preach and which they insist that only women follow.

But, in addition, contrary to myth, the Crusades were actually a very belated response to the vicious, widespread imperialism of Arab Peninsula Muslims who were converting Christians by the swords, building mosques where once proud churches stood, and committing genocide against the Jews. Yes, genocide. Muhammed the Prophet began this awful Islamic practice which, to this day, has not been rescinded. Please read some serious books on this subject, not just the “Islam is a Peaceful Religion and the Jews had a Golden Age among Muslim rulers.” Read Bat Ye’or, Andrew Bostom, Nonie Darwish, Steve Emerson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warraq, Daniel Pipes, and Robert Spencer for starters.

Christianity has evolved. So has Judaism. Alas, Islam has not. At least, not yet. I welcome the feminist wrestling with Islamic doctrine towards this end. For, Christianity and Judaism have, in large part, become more tolerant, more user-friendly. Islam, which once, in certain places may indeed have been gentler, has become more intolerant, and even more barbaric. Ask Algerian, Iranian, Afghan, Pakistani, Somali, Egyptian, Gaza/West Bank, Muslims who live in exile in the West.

Also please realize that what the holy text actually says may be less important than what people believe they say. Many Muslims interpret the Qu’ran as commanding wife-beating, the beheading of infidels, the forced conversion of infidels, a death sentence for Muslims who leave the faith, the importance of lying to non-Muslims, and the necessity to commit jihad. Not an inner, spiritual struggle but an outer, external, military onslaught.

According to my friend, Ibn Warraq, who is also from Pakistan:

“The root cause of Islamic fundamentalism is Islam. American foreign policy has nothing to do with the stoning to death of a woman for adultery in Nigeria. It has every thing to do with Islam, and Islamic Law. The theory and practice of Jihad – Bin Laden’s foreign policy -was not concocted in the Pentagon, it is directly derived from the Koran and Hadith, Islamic Tradition. But Western Liberals and Humanists find it hard to admit or accept or believe this. They simply lack the imagination to do so….The fact is Christianity has absorbed many principles of the Enlightenment, and Islam has not. Then there are the crimes of Western imperialism – some undoubtedly true and a disgrace to Western ideals, but which must be seen in comparison to Islamic Imperialism to put it all in perspective. Islamic Imperialism virtually destroyed several cultures – Eastern Christianity and the culture of Pre-Islamic Iran.”

Dorchen: I hope that we continue this conversation. Via email, on the phone, in person, even in public. As we both know: Womens’ lives depend upon what we come to understand. Mens’ lives too.

In loving sisterhood,