By Phyllis Chesler and Marcia Pappas
It is time for feminists, both women and men, of all faiths, and of no faith, to stand together for a woman’s right not to be murdered in the name of family honor. Indeed, we welcome men and women of all faiths, including Islam, to stand with us against female genital mutilation/castration, forced veiling, child marriage, arranged marriage, polygamy, and “honorcide,” and in favor of a woman’s right to live as a westerner in the West without being threatened and beaten for refusing to wear hijab, wanting to have non-Muslim friends, wear makeup, attend college, drive her own car, or end an abusive marriage. Muslim and Sikh women have been honor murdered in North America for all these alleged crimes against their religion and their culture.
Here are some specific examples of how American feminist leaders have addressed the problems of Third World women, including Muslim women, both here and abroad. While there are exceptions, most feminists seem to feel more comfortable criticizing their own government. They hesitate to criticize foreign, Third World governments, lest they be demonized as “crusaders” or “politically incorrect racists.”
In the 1980s, feminists respected Alice Walker’s brave stand against female genital cutting/mutilation. Walker, a feminist-“womanist,” focused on perpetrators who were usually women of color, in the Middle East and Africa, who were savagely mutilating their own daughters and granddaughters to render them “marriageable” for men. As an African-American legend, perhaps Walker was viewed as morally “entitled” to criticize foreign, including African, sexism. (Walker finally published her book about this, Warrior Marks, in 1993). In the 1990s, NOW national and state Presidents also spoke out against female genital cutting/mutilation.
Today, sadly something has changed. The unspoken politics of racism among the feminist intelligentsia, and among feminist philanthropists is as follows: If the victims are women of color, especially if they are Arabs, definitely if they are Palestinians, or Muslims, their suffering and their deaths matter—but only if their abusers and murderers are white, European, American, or Israeli. If dark-skinned Africans or Muslims of color gang-rape, kidnap, sexually enslave, bury alive, immolate or stone women of color, including Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims, (in the West Bank and Gaza, in Afghanistan, Iran, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia), or if one Muslim denomination (Sunni) blows up the other, (Shiaa) in Pakistan and Iraq, it is simply not politically correct to say so. Muslim-on-Muslim crimes do not count in the same way that white European or American-on-Muslim crimes seem to matter.
This is the party line in our universities, in our mainstream media, at the United Nations and in international human rights organizations.
Why are Second and Third Wave feminists buying into this? Why are feminists sacrificing so many women to the dangerous ideology of “cultural relativism,” a belief system in which concerns about sexism are always trumped by concerns about racism? The authors are not saying that racism does not exist, that it does not matter, that it must not be addressed. We are saying that women are affected by both. And when a man or a woman seeks to objectify, abuse or murder women, they should be called out on it, no matter what their skin-color or gender may be.
Conflicting views about whether womens’ rights are universal or not seem to be surfacing in contemporary feminist circles.
In the mid-1990s, and to her credit, Ellie Smeal, a former NOW President and long the head of the Feminist Majority, began appearing on American television to condemn the Taliban’s outrages against Afghan women. While no one went further than this: no one sponsored military-like rescue missions, or raised money to sponsor a multitude of Afghan women for political asylum, Smeal and other feminists were not afraid to speak out in favor of womens’ global rights. Their feminism was not tempered by a fear that they might be called “racists.” Smeal and others understood that the Taliban were male Muslim fundamentalists.
Feminists were ready to take up this fight because Muslim women–who had either suffered female genital mutilation and/or had suffered at the hands of the Taliban –were guest speakers at NOW and at other feminist conferences. They begged American feminists for help. Feminist activists listened, cried, and vowed to take a stand against Muslim violence against Muslim women.
Then, 9/11 happened and America finally responded to the attacks against us which began when Khomeini took power in Iran and held Americans hostage for 444 days. Once we invaded Afghanistan, American feminists grew conflicted, often silent. They sometimes spoke out—for the NGOs, against the American “invasion;” sometimes, feminists maintained an uneasy silence. Sometimes, the same feminist leader did both.
For example, on October 8, 2007, NOW national President, Kim Gandy issued a statement in which, to her credit, she urged the United States to “call strongly for the protection of the millions of women who will become victims of stoning, stabbing, maiming, forced suicide, beheadings, acid throwing and many other cruel punishments with the false justification of “family honor.” Gandy was supporting House Resolution (H.Res) 32, which denounces the practices of “female genital mutilation, domestic violence, ‘honor’ killings, dowry deaths, sexual slavery and other gender-based persecutions.” (This bill was passed by the House but seems to have gone no further). At the time, Gandy noted that such gender-based crimes, (honor killings, beheadings), are “often sanctioned by religious and ethnic traditions” and ignored by law enforcement authorities.
However, by early 2009, when an actual beheading of a Muslim woman took place in Buffalo, New York, not on foreign shores, Gandy contradicted herself and insisted that this particular crime had nothing to do with any religious or ethnic tradition, certainly not with Islam.
Like many other feminists and domestic violence activists, NOW President Gandy seems afraid of denouncing violence done in the name of religion—especially if that religion happens to be Islam. NOW has no such hesitation when it comes to fundamentalist Christianity. Under the leadership of Patricia Ireland NOW launched an effective media campaign against fundamentalist Christians a.k.a The Promise Keepers, a misogynistic, mainly Caucasian group.
NOW’s campaign against the “right wing conservative” Promise Keepers, a campaign launched by former President Patricia Ireland, and by current President, Kim Gandy, urged the members of NOW “to take action in response to a dangerous, new group quietly building a mass movement in the United States. Promise Keepers is the fastest growing segment of the religious right wing.” They define responsibility as taking control and women taking a back seat. They extol the “God-given” right of men to lead and repeatedly call on wives to “submit” to their husbands.” NOW’s criticism was clearly based on the fact that: “This right-wing group stands against nearly everything we believe in.”
Islam, as practiced under Sharia Law, by many Muslims in Muslim countries and in Muslim communities in the West, sounds a lot like the Promise Keepers whom then NOW VP Gandy once condemned.
In 2009, President Gandy also excoriated the Catholic Church for having ex-communicated the physicians who performed an abortion on a nine year old girl in Brazil whose father had raped and impregnated her. Fair enough. But why doesn’t Gandy cite Islam, as practiced by its fundamentalist adherents in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, who allow under-age girls to be married i.e. raped by men who are old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers, and who murder girls and women whose “disobedience” is viewed and treated as a capital crime?
In addition, in early 2009, President Gandy issued a statement in which she completely contradicted her support for H.R 32. Gandy presents both Rihanna’s beating and Aasiya Z. Hassan’s beheading in Buffalo–as if the two are the same or of equal importance. (And, by the way: Where is the Reverend Al Sharpton on the matter of the Rihanna beating? Rest assured, if her batterer had been a white man he would have taken to the streets as he did in the falsified matter of Tawana Brawly which, arguably, made Sharpton’s career).
But wait just a minute. The victims of the dowry burnings, acid throwings, and honor killings (which Gandy referred to in her 2007 statement, in favor of H.Res 32), are mainly women of color who are Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Why refrain from saying so? Why would a national NOW President seek to protect men of color from being held accountable for their reigns of domestic terror in America? For not only beating their wives and daughters but, in the Buffalo case, for beheading a wife in America?
How can Gandy support H.Res 32 meant for abroad, and yet adopt such a position at home? What has changed since she wrote her article in support of H.Res 32?
We understand and sympathize with the demands of national leadership. We also understand that a culturally relativist view has taken over the world. However, we would hope that feminist leaders would resist, not succumb, to such a viewpoint. Alas, that is not the case.
If Gandy and other feminist leaders would stop being afraid of being labeled as “racists” they might consider the following: That battered immigrant daughters and wives may have special needs and may be at risk in ways that are different from native-American victims of domestic violence. There is no shame in admitting that needs are different. In fact, it’s more racist to deny it.
For example, a shelter for battered Muslim women who have escaped potential femicide, might require different services than one for Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant women. For example, they might require a halal kitchen, access to social workers who can speak Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, Hindi, Urdu, and Kurdish for starters; access to mullahs and imams who have already begun the work of campaigning against domestic violence and against femicide/honor killing; law enforcement ties that understand that such victims, as opposed to victims of other cultures and other faiths, may require the equivalent of a federal witness protection program.
Gandy is certainly not alone. Many Muslim-American groups, other serious feminists, and even a coalition of eight Erie County domestic violence advocacy groups recently attacked Marcia Pappas. Unfortunately, they have not posted their letter in cyberspace and so we cannot link to it. Suffice it to say, they add nothing new to the conversation. All they do is denounce Pappas in abstract and politically correct ways. They do not give a single example of a real woman who is, in reality, in any way endangered by a departure from the politically correct line.
Perhaps politically correct funders are viewing what Pappas has said as “Islamophobic” and domestic violence advocates are running scared, afraid of losing their funding. In any event, the fact that these activists felt it important to write to Pappas in a “coalition,” suggests that they might have been contacted by national NOW or by its many allies who work against domestic violence and asked to do so. Of course, this might not be the case.
Surprisingly, Gandy also wrote to President Obama in 2009. She presented him with an agenda. Included are the following:
“Address Violence Against Women Around the World and Stop Sex Trafficking…. Pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which provides an opportunity for the United States to be a leader in preventing violence against women around the world… Provide asylum rights for women to protect them from violence and end “honor killings,” forced marriages, genital mutilation, femicide, child marriages, mass rape as a weapon in armed conflict, and other atrocities.”
Thus, on the one hand, NOW’s Gandy is concerned with honor killings–as she imagines them to exist: Far away, in Third World countries, Muslim lands, Arab lands, and perhaps among Sikhs. She is just unwilling to imagine that they exist in the West, in the United States, in New York State, in Buffalo.
Gandy and her many feminist supporters still refuse to consider that Muslim women and immigrant women in general probably face much greater danger, both in terms of being beaten and being killed than do non-Muslim and non-immigrant women; that Muslim women in Muslim countries are prey, targets, human sacrifices, every single day; and that if we do not stop the forces of jihad that are headed our way that many more women will be beaten, veiled, and killed both at home and on the street. Instead, Gandy joins many Muslim/Islamist groups who all insist that honor killings either do not exist or have nothing to do with Islam; that an honor killing is simply domestic violence; that economic stress, war, colonialism, or decadent Western mores (!) lead to such gruesome acts as the beheading of a wife.
One might conclude that womens’ rights may not be Gandy’s primary concern. What she is most concerned about is this. In her own words:
“Despite these patterns that are typical of spouse abuse and murder (only the manner of killing was atypical), most of the conservative commentary has focused not on male violence toward women….but has focused instead on attacking the Muslim community. Although the crime was quickly decried by Muslim groups, many talk shows and blogs used the horror of (Buffalo-based) Muzzammil’s (Hassan’s) act to indict an entire community — in a way that they would never have accused the entire Christian religion because a Methodist man murdered his estranged wife in a horrible way. Three weeks ago, a Chinese graduate student at Virginia Tech cut off a female friend’s head with a knife. Not a single news outlet referred to his religion.”
Why does Gandy, like so many other feminists, carelessly jump right on board the politically correct anti-globalization, anti-Guantanamo, anti-post 9/11 “redlining” bandwagon? When they do, they are not thinking about womens’ rights and about feminist responsibilities but rather about the rights of innocent Muslim and Arab men not to be viewed with suspicion in America. We agree with that concern–but not at the expense of a woman’s right to live and to live free of violence.
Gandy, like so many other left-leaning secular fundamentalists, views fundamentalist Christianity and Catholicism as fair feminist targets–but not Islam. This is mind-boggling but it is part of an anti-western, pro-totalitarian mindset. Thus, we are not surprised to see that Gandy also keeps referring to the “cycle of violence,” as if domestically violent men, (like Palestinian terrorists), are involved in a “cycle” of violence, one in which the perpetrator is somehow “provoked” by equal and opposite acts of violence. But this is not the case. Men who beat and murder female intimates, who honor murder family members, or who blow up Israelis and civilians everywhere, are all perpetrating violence against innocent non-combatants. They do so as a way of systematically terrorizing others into submission. With each violent act, they are seizing and retaining control, and advancing their agenda of male supremacy and/or of Islamic jihad.
The fact that Islamic gender apartheid has been penetrating the West, including North America, should be of prime concern to President Gandy of NOW. The fact that it is not–is worrisome, tragic, and sadly, all-too-predictable.
It is time for feminists, both in NOW and in other feminist organizations, to unite to stop Islamic gender apartheid from infiltrating the United States any further. We do not want to become like Europe. We want immigrant women to be able to lead safer lives here than they might do back home in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
It is also time for feminists, both in NOW and in other feminist organizations to take a strong, principled stand against multi-cultural relativism and in favor of universal womens’ rights. Phyllis Chesler has been writing about this for years, most recently, in The Death of Feminism. Recently, Artemis March has supported this point of view in a very good position paper of her own on the subject.
We call upon men and women of all faiths, all skin-colors, to join us in this task.
We understand that we will be attacked for taking this position. But, we also know that we have many allies, including all the incredibly brave dissidents in Muslim countries, or who live in exile in the West, who have faced serious death threats and enormous slander and ostracism for their principled stands.
As feminists, we know that speaking truth to power is always a dangerous proposition. In this instance, the positions of power are being held, not only by Islamist terrorists but by Western collaborators, including feminists who believe in “multi-cultural relativism” and who have deserted their original feminist vision of universalist human rights.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a well known author, an Emerita Professor of Psychology, and the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology, and the National Women’s Health Network. She may be reached through her website www.phyllis-chesler.com. Marcia Pappas is a feminist/activist, holds a Bachelor of Science in Cultural Studies, and is currently the President of the National Organization for Women-New York State. Pappas may be reached through her website: [email protected]