Young Iranian chess grandmaster expelled from national team for not wearing hijab

21 Feb, 2017


Iran has banned 18-year-old chess grandmaster Dorsa Derakhshani from competing for the national chess team for not wearing a hijab – obligatory dress for women under Iranian law.

Derakhshani was expelled for not covering her hair with the garment – compulsory wear for women since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 – while competing as an independent player in the 2017 Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.

Her brother Borna, 15, has also been banned after competing against Israeli player Alexander Huzman in the same tournament.

The siblings have subsequently been precluded from competing in future international competitions for the Islamic Republic. Dorsa obtained her International Master and Woman Grandmaster titles last year and currently lives in Barcelona, Spain, after taking up the offer of a year’s residency.

The head of Iran's Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, was quoted as saying the Chess Federation will deal with the siblings in the “severest way possible.”

“The first step in dealing with them would be to deprive them from playing in Iran, and they won't have a chance to be in the national team,” Pahlevanzadeh said, Azerbaijani news outlet Trend News Agency reported.

Belgium-based Iranian gender discrimination activist Darya Safai tweeted a negative reaction about the move with the hashtag “forced hijab.”

“Dorsa to me is the true feminist, not the Swedish government parading with the headscarf with [President of Iran Hassan] Rouhani,” Safai said in a Facebook post.

Safai was referring to members of the Swedish government – many of whom self-identify as feminists – who visited Iran in February. 

The Swedish delegation received criticism from many observers who saw the move as a legitimization of an enforced law that violates women’s rights in Iran.

Under Iranian law, women are required to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes when they appear in public and foreigners are obliged to dress modestly when entering the Islamic Republic for whatever length of time.

“By actually complying with the directives of the Islamic Republic, Western women legitimize the compulsory hijab law,” Masih Alinejad, CEO of human rights group UN Watch, wrote on Facebook.

It is the not the first time Iran’s insistence on female competitors to wear the hijab has caused controversy.

In September 2016, female players accused the World Chess Federation (FIDE) of failing to stand up for women's rights after it said competitors must accept local law and wear hijabs during the world championship in Tehran, Iran.

Female grandmasters risked arrest if they did not cover their hair during the tournament, which prompted US women's champion Nazi Paikidze to boycott the event.

Malala earns awards by 'working against Islam': Taleban

October 10, 2013

MIRANSHAH (AFP) - The Pakistani Taleban on Thursday said teenage activist Malala Yousafzai had done "nothing" to deserve a prestigious EU rights award and vowed to try again to kill her.

The European Parliament awarded the Sakharov human rights prize to the 16-year-old, who has become a global ambassador for the right of all children to go to school since surviving a Taliban murder attempt.

Malala survived being shot in the head by a TTP gumnan on October 9 last year and is seen as a leading contender for the Nobel Peace prize, to be announced on Friday.

"She has done nothing. The enemies of Islam are awarding her because she has left Islam and has became secular," Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The courage of Mukhtar Mai

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service

(KRT) - The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Saturday, July 2, 2005

Those who ask whether one person can make a difference in the course of human events need only look to Pakistan's Mukhtar Mai.

Mai, now 33, was gang-raped three summers ago by four men in her hometown of Meerwala, a remote village about 240 miles south of Islamabad. The rape was ordered by a tribal council of the Mastoi clan because Mai's adolescent brother had been seen consorting with a young Mastoi woman. The Mastois hold a higher rank in the village than Mai's people. For that social breach, members of the tribal council kidnapped and sodomized him. Then tribesmen went after his sister.

This brutal crime would have ended there and nobody outside that village in Punjab province would have known that it had even occurred, but for Mukhtar Mai. A local cleric urged her to report the rape. This became just the first of the many brave acts this illiterate but wise woman undertook over the next three years.

Reporting rape in Meerwala, Pakistan, isn't like reporting rape in Chicago. There is social stigma to enduring a crime that rarely can be proven to have occurred. Under that country's Islamic law, rape can only be established if there are four Muslim male witnesses or there is overwhelming physical evidence. Many in her village expected Mai to do what defiled women in remote villages have done for centuries: suffer in silence, die by her own family's hand to avenge its "honor," or commit suicide in despair.

Instead she pursued the case. Against all odds, and certainly because of the international publicity her case generated, six men were convicted and sentenced to death. Eight others were acquitted. Five of those convictions were overturned and those men were released in March. By then, however, Mai's case had caused outrage worldwide. Even within conservative Pakistan, it was seen as an embarrassing symbol of a legal system that ignores violence against women.

Mai then accepted an invitation to travel to the U.S. to speak about her case. President Pervez Musharraf first barred her from making that trip because he feared it would be bad for Pakistan's image. But that made him and the government look even worse. Under pressure from the U.S., he lifted that ban. Pakistan's Supreme Court last week reopened the case, reversed the acquittals and ordered 13 of the original suspects rearrested.

For her part, Mai has pursued this case with quiet determination and an abiding belief that life can, and must, be made better for women in Pakistan.

Brutal cultural habits will not wither away overnight. But, at least in Meerwala, life will never be the same and that's welcome. Mai used money she received from the government in compensation for this crime and other donations to open two schools in her village, one for boys and one for girls. She is now attending her own school - as are 200 girls, including the daughter of one of her attackers.

Mai's courage in the face of family pressure, state intimidation and death threats altered the prism through which Pakistanis view crimes against women. One person making a difference.


Group Promotes Women's Rights Amid Muslim Fundamentalism
By Eva Cahen
CNSNews.com Correspondent
December 20, 2005

Paris (CNSNews.com) - During the riots that rocked France's working-class housing projects last October and November, the recurring images were those of teenage boys rampaging and torching cars.

There were few reports of female rioters, but many stories of mothers and sisters fighting to keep their sons and brothers away from the violence and inside their homes.

This came as no surprise for Ni Putes ni Soumises, a French organization campaigning for equality for women of all social backgrounds, religions and ethnic origins.

In France's suburban projects, inhabited primarily by Muslims, the fundamentalist notion that women should be relegated to the private sphere of the home has gained increasing ground. Women challenging that view are frequently regarded as morally loose.

"Neither Whore nor Submissive" is the English translation of the provocatively named group Ni Putes ni Soumises, a name intended to assert that women should have more options than just minding the home and staying in the background.

"The public space, the neighborhood, has become the sphere of men, the space of men," said Sihem Habchi, the group's vice-president.

"The place of women is inside, or far away, outside the neighborhoods, because that is the only place they have for expression."

Ni Putes ni Soumises was formed in 2003 in response to the immolation of a 17-year old Muslim girl by a young man who had forbidden her to enter a specific suburban housing project in Paris. She was set ablaze outside the building as friends and children looked on in horror.

Despite the group's efforts to create awareness through marches, debates and by setting up local committees in various neighborhoods, it says the situation for women has not always improved since then.

On November 13, an 18-year old Moroccan girl was set on fire in another Paris suburb, after refusing the advances of a young man of Pakistani origin.

A silent protest march two weeks later attracted members of both sexes, although Habchi said the group has been noticing that people appear to be getting used to, and accepting of, that kind of violence.

"In the name of respect for different cultures and freedom of choice, the principles of human rights have been compromised by tolerating violent acts against women such as polygamy, genital mutilation, forced marriages [and] so-called honor crimes," the group says in its manifesto.

With the rise of radical Islam, many residents of poor suburban housing projects have been turning to archaic religious traditions.

Habchi said society was wrong to accept these teachings, which promote the inequality of men and women. Such fundamentalist thought, coupled with France's traditional patriarchal vision of society, have made women victims, she said.

"In abandoned neighborhood ghettos, where there is sometimes no garbage pick-up and where there are ghetto schools and a concentration of the poorest social classes, how can equality of women move forward, especially if the field is then left open to a radical interpretation of religion?" she asked.

With no apparent alternatives available, many women have accepted the role of submission.

"For a 14-year-old [girl] who lives in a ghetto neighborhood, it is easier to wear a veil so that she is not harassed," Habchi said.

"Today, there are many girls who say this is my path, this is my identity. I accept the domination of my brother. I accept to wear a veil because it is my culture.

"Our worry today is that this role has been internalized. This kind of behavior has become a symbol of identity and ethnicity."

The organization blames the increasing influence of Islamic groups on a lack of action by French officials, who it says often found it easier to finance cultural and religious social organizations rather than develop civic projects aimed at achieving long-term integration.

Habchi said France shares the problem with other European countries where there are large groups of immigrants, whose children live astride several cultures. The organization has established contact with groups in countries including Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

"We have to learn to live together," she said. "These are our children. This is the future of Europe."

An English translation of the group's book, also entitled Ni Putes ni Soumises, will be published in the United States next year.


How Afghan Captivity Shaped My Feminism

by Phyllis Chesler

On December 21, 1961, when I returned from Afghanistan, I kissed the ground at New York City's Idlewild Airport. I weighed 90 pounds and had hepatitis. Although I would soon become active in the American civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, and feminist movements, what I had learned in Kabul rendered me immune to the Third World romanticism that infected so many American radicals. As a young bride in Afghanistan, I was an eyewitness to just how badly women are treated in the Muslim world. I was mistreated, too, but I survived. My "Western" feminism was forged in that most beautiful and treacherous of countries.

In 1962, when I returned to Bard College, I tried to tell my classmates how important it was that America had so many free libraries, so many movie theatres, bookstores, universities, unveiled women, freedom of movement on the streets, freedom to leave our families of origin if we so chose, freedom from arranged marriages—and from polygamy, too. This meant that as imperfect as America may be, it was still the land of opportunity and of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

My friends, future journalists, artists, physicians, lawyers, and intellectuals, wanted only to hear fancy Hollywood fairy tales, not reality. They wanted to know how many servants I had and whether I ever met the king. I had no way of communicating the horror, and the truth. My American friends could not or did not want to understand. As with my young college friends so long ago, today's leftists and progressives want to remain ignorant.

From New York to Kabul

My Afghan awakening began in New York in 1961 when I married my college sweetheart, Ali. I was an Orthodox Jewish-American girl; he was a Muslim boy from Afghanistan who had been away from home for fourteen years while studying at private schools in Europe and America.

My plan was to meet Ali's family in Kabul, stay there a month or two, study "History of Ideas" at the Sorbonne for a semester, then return to Bard College to complete my final semester.

When we landed in Kabul at least thirty members of his family were there to greet us. The airport officials smoothly confiscated my American passport. "It's just a formality, nothing to worry about," Ali assured me. "You'll get it back later." I never saw that passport again.

Upon our arrival in Kabul, my Western husband simply became another person. For two years, in the United States, Ali and I had been inseparable. He had walked me to my classes. We did our homework together in the library. We talked constantly. In Afghanistan, everything changed. We were no longer a couple during the day. He no longer held my hand or kissed me in public. He barely spoke to me. He only sought me out at night. He treated me the way his father and elder brother treated their wives: with annoyed embarrassment, coldness, distance.

My father-in-law, Amir, whom we knew as "Agha Jan" or "Dear Master," was a leading businessman and an exceedingly dapper man. In Afghanistan, he was a progressive. In his youth, he had supported Amanullah Khan (1919-29) who had boldly unveiled Afghan women, instituted the country's first educational and health care systems, and introduced European-style trolleys in the capital city. Nevertheless, he did not want an American or Jewish daughter-in-law. I was Ali's desperate rebellion. I was flesh-and-blood proof that, for fourteen years, he had actually been living in the twentieth century.

Ali had not told me that his father was polygamous until just before we had arrived in Kabul. Then he told me that, "actually," his father had two wives. He'd been "tricked" into marrying the second wife, with whom he had only two children, Ali explained, "which says everything. She's more like a family servant." Ali's mother treated the second wife Fauzia so badly that Agha Jan finally moved her into her own house. I would visit and have tea with Fauzia. She was grateful for the gesture of respect and for the company.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Agha Jan actually had three wives. This reality was one that Ali would not or could not discuss. He and his brothers blamed their mother for this third marriage to Sultana, which had jeopardized their inheritance considerably; this was a risky, tabooed subject. This third marriage didn't count because it counted all too much.

Agha Jan was in his sixties and stood six feet tall. His black hair was thick and only flecked with gray at the temples. He had a broad, frank mustache, and velvet black eyes that matched his black Italian handmade shoes. Although he wore the jauntiest and most expensive of Afghan-style karakul hats, Agha Jan also wore European-made suits and coats. As a devout Muslim, he neither drank nor smoked. Agha Jan's grown and married children, both men and women, executed a cringing half-bow whenever they greeted him.

Agha Jan's current home, with his third wife, Sultana, had one great European-style room in which he received visitors and dined. He usually ate alone, in a sitting room hushed by thick maroon carpets and thick, European-style velvet drapes. Rozia, his fourteen-year-old daughter by his third wife, served him each dish, bowing in and out of the room, like a servant.

"How can you justify polygamy?" I'd ask Ali. "It's humiliating, cruel, unfair to the wives, it dooms them to sexual celibacy and emotional solitude at a very young age and for the rest of their lives. It also sets up fearful rivalries among the half-brothers of different mothers who have lifelong quarrels over their inheritances."

When he was being Eastern, Ali would say: "Don't be a silly American. You say you're a thinker, God knows, you're always reading, and I therefore expect more understanding and broadmindedness from you. Polygamy tries to give men what they need so that they will treat their wives and children in a civilized way. In the West, men are serial polygamists. They leave their first wives and set of children without looking back. Here, we do not like the earlier wives to be abandoned, impoverished, and ripped from their social identities. If she is a good Muslim wife, accepts and obeys her husband's wishes, he will support her forever, she will always have her children near her which is all that matters to a woman, her world will remain whole."

When he was being Western, Ali would say, "Our country is not ready for personal freedoms. That's why I'm needed here, to help bring my poor countrymen into the twentieth century. It's my destined role and I need you to help me. Don't leave."

As to the veil, my Western husband would say: "You are too impatient about this damn chadari.[1] Afghan women are not stupid. Give them some time. They will, in time, probably all adopt the more Western, freeing clothing."

But Eastern Ali tried to justify the veil in other ways. He said: "The country is dusty and sometimes dangerous and a woman is better protected in many ways by the chadari. Anyway, country women do not wear chadaris when they farm. This is largely a phenomenon of the city and anyway it's dying out." This was not exactly true. Afghan countrywomen almost immediately turned their faces to the nearest available wall whenever a man to whom they were not related walked by. They tended to cover their heads and faces with their scarves.

We lived with Ali's oldest brother Abdullah, his wife Rabiah, and their two children, who all shared a home with my mother-in-law Aishah, or "Beebee Jan" (Dear Lady). Agha Jan had not lived with Beebee Jan for a very long time.

My life was akin to that of an upper class Afghan woman. My experience was similar to—but hardly as constrained as—that which an increasing number of Arab and Muslim women face today. In this first decade of the twenty-first century, women living in Islamic societies are being forced back into time, re-veiled, more closely monitored, and more savagely punished than they were in the 1960s. That said, I had never expected my freedom and privacy to be so curtailed.

In Afghanistan, a few hundred wealthy families lived by European standards. Everyone else lived in a premodern style. And that's the way the king, his government, and the mullahs wanted it to remain. Western diplomats did not peg their foreign policies to how Afghanistan treated its women. Even before multicultural relativism kicked in, Western diplomats did not believe in "interfering."

The Afghanistan I knew was a prison, a feudal monarchy, and rank with fear, paranoia, and slavery. Individual Afghans were charming, funny, humane, tender, enchantingly courteous, and sometimes breathtakingly honest. Yet, their country was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty, and preventable disease. Women were subjected to domestic and psychological misery in the form of arranged marriages, polygamy, forced pregnancies, the chadari, domestic slavery and, of course, purdah (seclusion of women). Women led indoor lives and socialized only with other women. If they needed to see a doctor, their husband consulted one for them in their place. Most women were barely educated.

In Kabul, I met other foreign wives who loved having servants but whose own freedom had been constrained. Some European wives, who had come in the late 1940s and early 1950s had converted to Islam and wore The Thing, as we called the cloaking chadari. Each had been warned, as had I, that whatever they did would become known, that there were eyes everywhere, and that their actions could endanger their families and themselves.

Afghans mistrusted foreign wives. Once, I saw an Afghan husband fly into a rage when his foreign wife not only wore a Western swimsuit to a swimming party—but actually plunged into the pool. The men expected to be the only ones who would swim; their wives were meant to chat and sip drinks.

The concept of privacy is a Western one. When I would leave the common sitting room in order to read quietly in my own bedroom, all the women and children would follow me. They'd ask: "Are you unhappy?" No one spent any time alone. To do so was an insult to the family. The idea that a woman might be an avid reader of books and a thinker was too foreign to comprehend.

Like everyone else, Ali was under permanent surveillance. His career and livelihood depended upon being an obedient Afghan son and subject. How he treated me was crucial. He had to prove that his relationship to women was every bit as Afghan as any other man's; perhaps more so, since he had arranged his own marriage to a foreigner.

Out and About in Kabul

After two weeks of marathon tea-drinking and pistachio-eating, my polite smile was stuck to my face. I could not understand what people were saying, I was bored, I wanted to get out on my own and see Kabul, visit the markets and the museum, and see the mountains closer-up. I was under a very polite form of house arrest. "It's not done," "People will talk," "Tell me what you need and I'll get it for you," were some of Ali's responses. And so, I began to "escape" from the house every day.

I never put on the headscarves and long coats and gloves pointedly left for me atop the bedroom bureau. I would take a deep breath, go out, and stride at a brisk, American pace. Always, a female relative or servant would run after me, bearing the scarves. I would smile, shake my head "no," and keep on going. Of course, I was also followed by a slow-moving family Mercedes. The driver would call out: "Madame, please get inside. We are worried that you will hurt yourself."

Sometimes, I'd walk faster, or I'd take a bus or a gaudi, a horse-drawn painted cart. The buses were quite colorful except inside, fully sheeted women sat apart from the men. The first time I saw this, I laughed out loud in disbelief and nervousness. In any event, as women moved onto the bus, men would jostle them, and make sneering remarks I could not understand.

My family was right. They knew their country. Barefaced and alone, I looked like an "uppity" Afghan woman and was thus fair game for catcalls, propositions, interminable questions, rough advances. Men would push themselves against me, knock me around, laugh, joke. But, I could easily have been kidnapped and held for ransom, taken to a cave, kept there for days, raped, then returned. Ali finally exploded at me and told me that this exact scenario had happened to the wife of an Afghan minister who had killed himself afterwards.

I had to be brought to heel. Ali's manhood and future depended upon this. A male servant would prevent me from going out. The family would call Ali and he would call me to yell, threaten, plead, or shame. I presented myself at the American embassy, which was located right next door. The embassy rented the property from my father-in-law.

"I want to go home. I'm an American citizen," I said.

"Where is your passport?" The marine guard would ask.

"They took it away from me when our plane landed. But, they told me that I'd get it back."

Each time, the Marines would escort me back home. They told me that as the "wife of an Afghan national," I was no longer an American citizen entitled to American protection.

I did, on occasion, get to speak with diplomats. Not a single foreign voice was heard protesting the condition of women. The Western media didn't care about what Afghans did to one another, or what men did to "their" women. Gin-soaked diplomats told me that it would be "immoral" to preach to Afghans about their tribal violence or their oppression of women; these were sovereign, sacred, local customs. One American diplomat put it this way: "We can't impose our moral or cultural values on these people. We can't ask them about their system of government or justice, their treatment of women, their servants, their jails. These are very sensitive, very touchy, very proud men who happen to own a piece of land that's important to us. If we aren't careful, their kids would be learning Russian—or Chinese—instead of English and German. You've got to remember, we're guests here, not conquerors."

I was under house arrest in the tenth century. I had no freedom of movement, nothing with which to occupy myself. I was supposed to accept this.

Ali knew he was losing me. We fought bitterly every single night. Was he trying to make me pregnant so that I'd have to stay? I was afraid to go to bed. His eldest sister, Soraya, offered to sleep with me in our bedroom—an act of courage and kindness that I have never forgotten. She must have known what was going on.

Yes, my husband "loved" me and wanted to protect me, but I was, after all, a woman, which meant that he believed he owned me, and that his honor consisted of his ability to control me. Ali was also locked into a power struggle with his father and with his culture. I was the symbol of his freedom and independence, a reminder of his life lived apart. He did not want to lose such a valuable symbol. If I became pregnant, I would have to stay. His father would be forced to stop making things so hard for us.

My Escape

I devoted all my waking time to planning an escape. I gave up on the American embassy. I stopped confiding in Ali. I began to contact foreign wives, most of whom would not or could not help me. I could only meet people through Ali or through a relative. I was not allowed to talk privately to anyone. All the public tea-houses were for men-only. I could not drift in and strike up a conversation with a man.

I finally found a foreign wife who agreed to help me. She was the German-born second wife of the ex-mayor of Kabul. She obtained a false passport for me. I had secretly written to my parents. I had also called them. They had agreed to send me a money order in care of this woman. Now, I only had to choose a flight and book a seat.

And then, I fainted. I had come down with hepatitis. I learned later that Beebee Jan had ordered the servants to stop boiling my water. Some Afghans seemed to enjoy the spectacle of Westerners succumbing to such illnesses; they took it as proof of foreign "weakness." I was finally taken to the new hospital and accompanied by at least ten family members. The doctor said:

"Honey, you are very sick and you have to get out of here. Will they let you go? If you are strong enough to sit up and walk a bit, get on a plane, go home."

He gave me a pair of dark glasses to hide my jaundiced eyes from the flight attendants. And, he prescribed intravenous infusions of vitamins and nutrients. He sent a nurse to the house.

And then, Beebee Jan tried to pull out the IV and all hell broke loose. I called Agha Jan and begged him to come over. He was the Master of the Universe as far as his family was concerned.

He came. First, he prayed "for my recovery." Then, he asked everyone else to leave, after which he spoon-fed me milk custard. He was tender towards me; only afterwards did I understand that he could afford to be. My illness and probable departure meant that he had won the battle with Ali. Perhaps he did not want a dead American daughter-in-law on his hands either. And, he'd be glad to see me gone. I only spelled trouble for his family, any foreign wife would, especially one who had tried to escape so many times.

"I know about your little plan with the German woman," he quietly said. "I think it will be best if you leave with our approval on an Afghan passport which I have obtained for you. You have been granted a six-month visa for "reasons of health."

And he gave it to me on the spot. The Kingdom of Afghanistan passport has retained its bright orange color. He also handed me a plane ticket. "We will see you off. It is better this way."

Ali raged and swore—and begged me to stay but I remained adamant.

Thirty relatives dutifully came to see me off. Kabul was hidden in snow. I was booked on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow. The minute that plane took off a fierce joy seized me by the throat and would not let go. I was both jaundiced and pregnant. Had Ali discovered this while I was still in Afghanistan, I would never have been allowed to leave. Given my medical condition, it would have been my death sentence.

It was not the last time I would see Ali, though. In 1979, after the Soviet invasion, Ali escaped by crossing the Khyber Pass into Pakistan, disguised as a nomad. Since 1980, he, his new wife Jamila and their two children, Iskandar and Leyla, have been living near me in America. Oddly, but happily, we relate as members of an extended family.

My Feminist Awakening

I had experienced gender apartheid long before the Taliban made it headline news. I came to understand that once an American woman marries a Muslim, and lives in a Muslim country, she is a citizen of no country. Never again could I romanticize foreign places or peoples in the Third World—or marriage.

Once a Western woman marries a Muslim and lives with him in his native land, she is no longer entitled to the rights she once enjoyed. Only military mercenaries can rescue her. I have since heard many stories about Western women who have married Muslim men in Europe and America but whose children were then kidnapped by their fathers and kept forever after in countries such as Saudi Arabia,[2] Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Iran. The mothers were usually permitted no contact.

Today, women in the Islamic world are increasingly pressured into arranged marriages, forced to veil themselves, not allowed to vote, drive, or travel without a male escort, to work at all, or to work in mixed gender settings. Worse, many are genitally mutilated in childhood, and routinely beaten as daughters, sisters, and wives; some are murdered by their male relatives in honor killings, and stoned to death for alleged sexual improprieties or for asserting the slightest independence. Such violations of women's human rights are increasingly taking place among the Muslim community in Europe and in North America.

Westerners do not always understand that Eastern men can blend into the West with ease while still remaining Eastern at their core. They can "pass" for one of us but, upon returning home, assume their original ways of being. Some may call this schizophrenic; others might see this as duplicitous. From a Muslim man's point of view, it is neither. It is merely personal Realpolitik. The transparency and seeming lack of guile that characterizes many ordinary Westerners make us seem childlike and stupid to those with multiple cultural personalities.

A woman dares not forget such lessons—not if she manages to survive and escape. What happened to me in Afghanistan must also be taken as a cautionary tale of what can happen when one romanticizes the "primitive" East.

Did Ali really think that I would be able to adjust to a medieval, Islamic way of life? Or that his family would ever have accepted a Jewish-American love-bride?

There are only two answers possible. Either he was not thinking or he viewed me as a woman, which meant that I did not exist in my own right, that I was destined to please and obey him and that nothing else was really important. He certainly helped shape the feminist that I was to become.

When I returned to the United States, there were few feminist stirrings. However, within five years, I became a leader of America's new feminist movement. In 1967, I became active in the National Organization for Women, as well as in various feminist consciousness-raising groups and campaigns. In 1969, I pioneered women's studies classes for credit, cofounded the Association for Women in Psychology, and began delivering feminist lectures. I also began work on my first book, Women and Madness,[3] which became an oft-cited feminist text.

Firsthand experience of life under Islam as a woman held captive in Kabul has shaped the kind of feminist I became and have remained—one who is not multiculturally "correct." By seeing how women interacted with men and then with each other, I learned how incredibly servile oppressed peoples could be and how deadly the oppressed could be toward each other. Beebee Jan was cruel to her female servants. She beat her elderly personal servant and verbally humiliated our young and pregnant housemaid. It was an observation that stayed with me.

While multiculturalism has become increasingly popular, I never could accept cultural relativism. Instead, what I experienced in Afghanistan as a woman taught me the necessity of applying a single standard of human rights, not one tailored to each culture. In 1971—less than a decade after my Kabul captivity—I spoke about rescuing women of Bangladesh raped en masse during that country's war for independence from Pakistan. The suffering of women in the developing world should be considered no less important than the issues feminists address in the West. Accordingly, I called for an invasion of Bosnia long before Washington did anything, and I called for similar military action in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

In recent years, I fear that the "peace and love" crowd in the West has refused to understand how Islamism endangers Western values and lives, beginning with our commitment to women's rights and human rights. The Islamists who are beheading civilians, stoning Muslim women to death, jailing Muslim dissidents, and bombing civilians on every continent are now moving among us both in the East and in the West. While some feminist leaders and groups have come to publicize the atrocities against women in the Islamic world, they have not tied it to any feminist foreign policy. Women's studies programs should have been the first to sound the alarm. They do not. More than four decades after I was a virtual prisoner in Afghanistan, I realize how far the Western feminist movement has to go.

Based upon the Death of Feminism by Phyllis Chesler, copyright 2005 by the author, and printed with permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.

[1] The chadari is also known as the burqa', a covering worn by Afghan women.
[2] See, for example, "U.S. Department of State, Marriage to Saudis," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, pp. 74-81.
[3] New York: Doubleday, 1972.


Islamic Gender Apartheid

By Phyllis Chesler

December 16, 2005

A speech for the 12/14/05 Senate hearing organized by the American Committee for Democracy in the Middle East.

According to one Iranian dissident, “being born female is both a capital crime and a death sentence.” Today, the plight of both women and men in the Islamic world, and in an increasingly Islamized Europe, demands a sober analysis and a heroic response. In a democratic, modern, and feminist era, women in the Islamic world are not treated as human beings.  Women in Iran and elsewhere in the Islamic world are viewed as the source of all evil. Their every move is brutally monitored and curtailed. The smallest infraction – a wanton wisp of hair escaping a headscarf – merits maximum punishment: Flogging in public, or worse. This is happening in Iran even as we speak.  In 2005, a hospital in Tehran was accused of refusing entry to women who did not wear head-to-toe covering. In 2002, in Saudi Arabia, religious policemen prevented 14 year old schoolgirls from leaving a burning school building because they were not wearing their headscarves and abayahs. Fifteen girls died.

Today, George Orwell's Thought Police are, rather ominously, everywhere in the Arab and Islamic world. Orwell's Thought Police pre-date the Afghan Taliban or Iran's or Saudi Arabia’s Virtue-and-Vice squads, who arrest men and women for the smallest sign of "individuality", difference, or female-ness.

Women in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and increasingly in Egypt, are veiled from head to toe.  They live in purdah and lead segregated lives. Women are also forced into arranged and polygamous marriages, often when they are children, and often to much older men or to first cousins.

Girls and women are routinely beaten. Woman-beating is normalized and culturally sanctioned and those who dare protest it are shamed, beaten savagely, and sometimes even honor-murdered by their own families. According to the Women’s Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran, two out of every three Iranian women have experienced serious domestic violence.  Eighty one per cent of married women have experienced domestic violence in their first year of marriage.  In addition, every year, millions of Muslim women are genitally mutilated—and this is not only happening in Muslim Africa.  It is increasingly happening in Iran and in Europe and in North America where the procedures are quietly carried out in hospitals.

In many Muslim countries, women are not allowed to vote, drive, leave the house, or leave the country without male permission and a male escort. Most runaway girls in Iran are raped within the first 24 hours of their departure. The majority of such runaway rape victims are rejected by their families after they are raped.  When Iranian girls or women run away from abusive homes, they are also quickly trafficked into prostitution, which has increased alarmingly in the last decade in Iran and which now includes temporary marriages that allow men to “marry for only an hour.”  Rape victims and suspected prostitutes are quickly jailed and repeatedly raped, and often impregnated, by their guards.  In 2004, nearly 4,000 women were arrested in Tehran alone.  Six hundred and forty nine were girls below the age of 14.

Iranian women are worn down every minute and in every way in their private lives.  For example, in the summer of ’05, a court in Tehran barred a young woman from working after her estranged husband complained that she was only allowed to be a housewife.  This woman had been battered and she had fled the marriage two years earlier.  But the court confirmed her husband’s right to bar her from working outside the home.  In November of ’05, an 80-year-old husband clubbed his 50-year-old wife to death, “because he could not tolerate her wearing makeup outside the home”.  In October of ’05, female civil servants at Iran’s culture ministry were forced to leave the office by dusk “to be with their families”. One female journalist, who works nightshifts at an Iranian newspaper said: “This decree means that I will be jobless soon.”

And then there are the public and terrifying atrocities.

Increasingly in Iran, women are publicly hung or are slowly and painfully stoned to death for alleged adultery or for having been raped.  Public amputations, floggings, and executions are “almost a daily spectacle”.  If women (and men) publicly protest such heartbreaking barbarities, they are slandered as “anti-Muslim,” arrested, and often murdered by the state.

The bravery of Iranian demonstrators is therefore heart stopping. They know precisely what can and will happen to them and still they demonstrate.  In Tehran this past summer of ’05, women protested Iran’s clerical rulers.  They chanted “Freedom, freedom, freedom!” and called for a referendum on religious rule.  They chanted “Unequal law means inhuman justice” and “Misogyny is the root of tyranny.”  Earlier in March of ’05, demonstrators at Tehran University demanded that women have a right to choose what they wear; that women must be free to choose their husbands and to marry or to divorce; that any kind of sex trade and human trafficking should be forbidden; that polygamy must be illegal.

Many Muslim women are also honor murdered by their families—yes, by their mothers as well as by their fathers and older brothers for the crime of wanting to go to college, marry for love, end abusive marriages, or go to the movies. Honor murders are usually horrific, very primitive. The girls or women are be-headed or they are stabbed many times, or slowly choked to death.  I write about all this in my most recent book, The Death of Feminism.  What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom

I call this systemic mistreatment: "Islamic gender Apartheid."

If we do not oppose and defeat Islamic gender Apartheid, democracy and freedom cannot flourish in the Arab and Islamic world.  If we do not join forces with Muslim dissident and feminist groups; and, above all, if we do not have one universal standard of human rights for all—then we will fail our own Judeo-Christian and secular western ideals. We will also inherit the whirlwind. If we do not stop Islamic gender and religious Apartheid abroad, be assured: It is coming our way soon. Indeed, it is already here. I document Islamic gender Apartheid in both Europe and North America in my new book The Death of Feminism. What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom.

It is dangerous to say what I have just said on most campuses in Europe and North America. If one describes the barbaric human rights violations being carried out in the name of Islam, one is instantly accused of being a “racist,” a “Zionist,” an American “imperialist,” and, the worse epithet of all, a “pro-war neo-conservative.”   Islamic associations in the West, radical mullahs and Muslim leaders abroad, and culturally relativist western thinkers will sue you, shout you down, refuse to publish you, and refuse to listen to you.

Some personal disclosures are now in order.

First, I am a feminist and an American patriot. Yes, one can be both. I am also an internationalist.  I believe in one universal standard of human rights for everyone.  Finally, I am a religious Jew and am sympathetic to both religious and secular world-views. Being religious does not compromise my feminism. On the contrary, it gives me the strength and a necessarily humbled perspective to continue the struggle for justice.

Second, Afghanistan matters to me, it has touched my life. Once, long ago, in 1961, I was held captive there and kept in fairly posh purdah; some women were exceptionally kind to me. I will never forget them. I believe that my so-called “western” feminism was forged in that most beautiful and tragic of countries. Let me share some details.

I had married my college sweetheart and we traveled to Kabul to meet his family. I had no intention of staying there.  In Afghanistan, a few hundred wealthy families lived by European standards. Everyone else lived in the Middle Ages. When we landed, airport officials confiscated my American passport. I never saw it again. Then, I discovered that my father-in-law had three wives and 21 children.  Finally, like all upper class Afghan woman, I was placed under house arrest.

Individual Afghans were charming, funny, humane, tender, enchantingly courteous, and sometimes breathtakingly honest. Yet, their country was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty, and preventable disease.

I never put on the headscarves, long coats, and gloves.  Instead, I would take a deep breath, go out, and stride at a brisk, American pace. Sometimes, I'd take a bus.  The buses were quite colorful except inside, fully sheeted women sat apart from the men at the back of the bus. The first time I saw this, I laughed out loud in disbelief and nervousness.

There soon came a time when I knew I would have to leave. I presented myself at the American Embassy. They could not help me. They told me that as the "wife of an Afghan national," I was no longer an American citizen entitled to American protection. Each time, the Marines would escort me back home. I came to understand that once an American woman marries a Muslim, and lives in a Muslim country, she is a citizen of no country.  She is no longer entitled to the rights she once enjoyed. Only military mercenaries can rescue her.

A woman dares not forget such lessons—not if she manages to survive and escape. Which I did—though weighing 90 pounds and with hepatitis.

Firsthand experience of life under Islam as a woman held captive in Kabul has shaped the kind of feminist I became and have remained—one who is not a multicultural relativist. I learned, early on, how incredibly servile oppressed peoples could be and how deadly the oppressed could be toward each other. My husband's mother was very cruel to her female servants. I understood that women internalize sexism just as men do. It was an observation that has stayed with me.

What I experienced in Afghanistan taught me the necessity of applying a single standard of human rights, not one tailored to each culture.

Let us now return to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 1990, Iranian journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, published a haunting and carefully rendered account of how, on August 15, 1986, a 35-year-old woman was stoned to death in Kupayeh, Iran.  It is titled: The Stoning of Soraya M.  Soraya, (peace be upon her), was lynched by the villagers with whom she had lived all her life. Her own father, her two sons, and her lying, greedy, heartless, criminal-husband, Ghorban-Ali, all threw the first stones.

When Soraya was only 13, an arranged marriage with the 20-year-old Ghorban-Ali took place. Soraya was docile, obedient, and fertile. She did everything uncomplainingly. Her husband routinely insulted, beat, and then abandoned her and their children; he also consorted with prostitutes and brought them into the marital bed. Soraya dared not say a word. A "complaining" wife is easy to divorce.

On his say-so, she was sentenced to die—on the very day her husband accused her of adultery.  The villagers chanted: "The whore has to die.  Death to the woman." The villagers--who had known Soraya since her birth--cursed her, spit on her, hit her, and whipped her as she walked to her stoning. According to Sahebjam’s account, a "shudder of pleasure and joy ran through the crowd", as their stones drew blood.  Soraya died a slow and agonizing death. Afterwards, the villagers all literally danced on the spot where Soraya had been murdered.

I must emphasize that this ghastly, local stoning cannot be blamed on the alleged crimes of the American or Israeli Empire. Like evil, barbaric customs also exist in the world. The West has not caused them. This is a very important point—as is the question: What can or must we do about it?

Dare to argue for military as well as humanitarian and educational intervention—and you will be slandered as a “racist”—even when you are arguing for the lives and dignity of brown- and black- and olive-skinned people. In the name of anti-racism and political correctness, the Western academy and media appear to have all but abandoned vulnerable people—Muslims as well as Christians, Jews, and Hindus—to the forces of Islamism. Such cultural relativism is, today, perhaps the greatest failing of the western academic and media establishments.

If we, as Americans, want to continue the struggle for women's and humanity's global freedom, we can no longer allow ourselves to remain inactive, anti-activist, cowed by outdated left and European views of colonial-era racism that are meant to trump and silence concerns about gender. The Western academy has been thoroughly “Palestinianized”.  Even feminists have come to believe that the “occupation of Palestine” is far more important than the occupation and destruction of women’s bodies, worldwide.

As I see it, everything is at stake.  This is not the time for ideological party lines. It is a time for action, clarity, and unity.  As Americans, we must acknowledge that Islamic religious and gender Apartheid are evil and have no justification.  I would like us to support Muslim and Arab dissidents in their fight against Islamic gender apartheid and against tyranny.  To fail this opportunity betrays all that we believe in.

I share the vision that Natan Sharansky and Ron Dermer have spelled out in their book The Case for Democracy. The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.  I, too, believe that "democratic nations, led by the United States have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe." Both women and religious minorities in non-western and Muslim countries, and in an increasingly Islamized Europe, are endangered as never before. In my new book, I argue that America must begin to factor both gender and religious Apartheid into our evolving foreign policies.

What must be done? We must combat the hate propaganda against America, Israel, and women that characterizes so much of the Arab and Muslim world today. This is a long educational and cultural process.  We must defeat jihad. We must fight back. And, we must peg every peace and trade treaty with a Muslim country to the status of women in that country. I have a list of ten things that must be done in this regard vis a vis Iran. My esteemed colleague, Professor Donna Hughes, has begun to spell out what an American feminist foreign policy might be towards Iran.

American and Western leaders cannot turn their backs on Muslim dissidents, on the people in the Arab and Muslim world—or on the endangered Jews in Israel or on the Christians in Muslim countries. Our American vision of freedom and equality for women must also become part of American foreign policy. This is the feminist priority of the twenty-first century.

Dr. Phyllis Chesler is the author of fifteen books, including the feminist classic WOMEN AND MADNESS (1972)  and THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM (2003). She has just published THE DEATH OF FEMINISM. WHAT'S NEXT IN THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN'S FREEDOM. She is a Board member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.


Today's True Feminists

Cinnamon Stillwell

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

As we marked another International Women's Day this month, commemorations took place around the world. In the West, the feminist movement held its own events to honor the occasion.

Here in San Francisco, a group called the Radical Women honored International Women's Day with a March 11 "Tribute to Sister Resisters." These included a "playwright, actor, and model for 'Women en Large: Images of Fat Nudes,'" an "abortion advocate," a "labor and anti-war feminist poet" and a "retired socialist feminist educator and revolutionary writer." In other words, the same old tired '60s model ad nauseam.

Meanwhile, the real radical women in the world go largely unremarked by the feminist movement. Today's true heroines are those who do battle with the gender apartheid, violence and oppression practiced against women in the Muslim world. There, women face not just phantom infringements to their civil rights and perceived slights to their sensitivities, but threats to their lives. With the call for reform in the Muslim world come the inevitable requirements of round-the-clock security.

Arab American psychologist Dr. Wafa Sultan is the latest to enter such dangerous waters.

Ever since Sultan took part in a debate on Al-Jazeera with Algerian Islamist cleric Ahmad bin Muhammad in February, the world has been riveted.

The two debated Islamic teachings and terrorism. But instead of the usual excuses, Sultan offered moral clarity. She blasted the Muslim world for being mired in a "medieval" mentality and she dubbed the war on terror not simply a clash of civilizations but "a clash between civilization and backwardness … between barbarity and rationality … between human rights on the one hand and the violation of these rights on the other, between those who treat women like beasts and those who treat them like human beings."

Debate a Hit on Web

Sultan exhorted fellow Muslims to reject this mind-set and join modernity. She also urged Muslims to free themselves from the shackles of anti-Semitism. Perhaps most stunningly, she compared the behavior of Jews and Muslims in the face of oppression. She said, "The Jews have come from tragedy and forced the world to respect them with their knowledge, not with their terror."

Thanks to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which makes Arab media available for a wider audience at its Web site MEMRI.org, the Al-Jazeera debate received over 3 million hits. Sultan went on to do an interview with Rabbi Tovia Singer on Israel National Radio and eventually became the subject of extensive media attention, including from CNN and the New York Times. Her frank appraisal of the problems in Islam has had a huge impact on audiences starving for such voices of sanity.

But along with the acclaim have come numerous death threats and the need for additional security. Sultan was denounced as a "heretic" by the cleric with whom she debated on Al-Jazeera, and he later dubbed her "more dangerous to Islam than the Danish cartoons," thereby unwittingly providing a glimpse into the very mind-set Sultan criticized.

Unfortunately, the New York Times article did not help matters by tipping off Sultan's potential enemies to the Los Angeles suburb in which she and her husband reside, as well as other personal information. A blog called Neocon Express has since started a campaign to get a number of private security firms to donate equipment and services for Sultan's protection.

Religious Beliefs Re-Examined

Born in Syria to a middle-class family and raised a Muslim, Wafa Sultan began to reexamine her religious beliefs after a traumatic incident. A respected medical school professor was murdered before her eyes by two Muslim Brotherhood members shouting "Allahu akbar!" (God is great!). Eventually, she became a secularist and started writing for the Arab American Web site Anneqed.com.  She became a strong critic of the intolerance and violence increasingly associated with the Muslim world. She also tackled the taboo subject of Muslim anti-Semitism, rejecting the hatred with which she had been indoctrinated as a child.

Sultan is now working on a book that she says "is going to turn the Islamic world upside down." Indeed, such upheaval is needed now more than ever. If one woman can have such a great impact, think what hundreds, thousands or even millions could do.

But Wafa Sultan is by no means the first Arab woman to tackle Islamic intolerance. Lebanese Christian journalist Brigitte Gabriel has traveled the world sharing her experiences of persecution at the hands of Islamists in Lebanon. She and her family eventually found refuge in Israel, where she underwent an epiphany and, like Wafa Sultan, rejected the anti-Semitism she had grown up with.

Gabriel has since become a staunch defender of Israel on American college campuses and a powerful voice for restoring Arab-Jewish relations. Now living in the United States, Gabriel founded the American Congress for Truth, an organization devoted to providing information about the Middle East conflict and the dangers of "Islamic totalitarianism." 

Nonie Darwish is another Arab woman who has sought to bridge the gap with Israel as well as defend America's battle against Islamic terrorism. A former Muslim born and raised in Cairo and the Gaza Strip who later converted to Christianity, Darwish has lived in the United States for more than 25 years. In addition to writing articles and speaking in public, Darwish set up the Web site ArabsforIsrael.com

Darwish routinely calls upon her own background to tackle the problems associated with the Muslim world. As she put it in a recent article, "Hundreds of millions of other Muslims also have been raised with the same hatred of the West and Israel as a way to distract from the failings of their leaders."

Irshad Manji is also a woman worth recognizing. A refugee of Pakistani descent from Uganda, Muslim journalist and activist Manji grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. She went on to pursue an impressive career, which now includes being a visiting fellow with the International Security Studies program at Yale University.

Double Dose of Intolerance

But it is her forays into critiquing Islam that have garnered Manji the most attention. As a lesbian, she faces a double dose of intolerance within Muslim culture, but she has never backed down. Instead, she founded the Web site Muslim-Refusenik.com and authored the groundbreaking book "The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith."

More recently, Manji joined Salman Rushdie and 10 other journalists, writers and public intellectuals in signing the "Manifesto of 12: Together Facing a New Totalitarianism," a "call for resistance to religious totalitarianism." This show of solidarity came in response to a specific death threat from an Islamic Web site in Britain frequented by radicals.

Another signatory to the manifesto and one of the bravest of the bunch is Ayan Hirsi Ali. Born in Somalia and raised a Muslim, Hirsi Ali escaped from an arranged marriage and made her way to Holland. Embodying the immigrant success story, she eventually became a member of Parliament.

From the very beginning, Hirsi Ali set out to expose the oppression of women in Muslim culture in a society that tended to look the other way due to the self-censorship of multiculturalism. A longtime critic of the practice of genital mutilation in Muslim North Africa, Hirsi Ali also collaborated with the late Theo Van Gogh on the taboo-shattering film "Submission."

For daring to address the oppression of Muslim women, Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist and Hirsi Ali was threatened in note left attached to his body. She was forced to temporarily go into hiding and has employed round-the-clock bodyguards ever since. But far from being cowed by those who would seek to silence her, Hirsi Ali has continued her quest to bring Muslim women's rights into the spotlight. 

Fallaci Recognized Dangers

Lest it be thought that only Middle Eastern women have tackled Islam, Western women have also chosen to speak out. One of them is Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist, war correspondent and author who now resides in New York.

Although fiercely independent, Fallaci leaned leftward in the early days of her journalistic career. Yet she recognized the dangers of Islamic aggression early on. Her epic novel "Inshallah," which told the bloody story of the Lebanese civil war, opened with the 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombing that killed 400 American and French marines.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on her adopted home, Fallaci, shaken to the core, penned "The Rage and the Pride," a blistering statement on the collision between the West and the Muslim world. The second book in what promises to be a trilogy, "The Force and the Reason" expounds on the Islamic demographic and cultural takeover of Europe. For daring to express such opinions, Fallaci has received death threats and is currently being sued in Italy for "defaming Islam."

Instead of coming to her defense, the left has largely rejected Fallaci for her criticism of Muslim culture. Her opponents are fond of dismissing her work by labeling her a "racist."

Indeed, if one is searching for Fallaci's books in one of San Francisco's venerable institutions of leftist intellectualism, City Lights Bookstore, one is likely to be disappointed. It seems City Lights has banned Fallaci's books because, in the words of a bookstore clerk, they "don't carry books by fascists." For a career spent fighting fascism, Fallaci has now been labeled a fascist. Perhaps City Lights, once a bastion of Beats and banned books, should look in the mirror.

Chesler's Break With Movement

Another woman who broke from the crowd to take on Muslim culture is professor, author and activist Phyllis Chesler. Chesler was a prominent figure in the American feminist movement, but when she began to reject the anti-Americanism and anti-Israel sentiment that had subsumed her colleagues, she was cast out of the garden. Chesler has since become one of the feminist movement's strongest critics and her latest book, "The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom," is a searing indictment of her former cohorts.

Chesler also provides a powerful voice in the battle against Islamic sexism. As described in her latest book in a chapter titled "My Afghan Captivity," Chesler learned through personal experience that all was not well for women in the Muslim world. Having married her college sweetheart, a young Muslim man originally from Afghanistan whom she believed to be moderate, she received a rude awakening. When they visited his family in Afghanistan, she was suddenly shrouded in a veil, had her passport confiscated and was turned into a virtual prisoner. Only with outside help was she able to escape and get back to the United States. She has since devoted herself to exposing such uncomfortable truths, even if the feminist movement doesn't want to hear them. 

In addition to the brave women referenced above, there is another group that deserves mention. While some merely talk the talk, it is the women warriors of the U.S. military who are on the front lines bringing justice to the Muslim world. They face challenges in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond, but this does not diminish their accomplishments. If just one girls' school is reopened, one woman goes back to work, one burka is discarded or one stoning is prevented, we have made a concrete difference in the lives of Muslim women. Restoring freedoms and providing medical care, humanitarian aid and protection, women in the military are the true feminists. So are the valiant men who work and fight alongside them.

Unfortunately, one will rarely catch a self-proclaimed feminist willing to admit as much. To do so would be to acknowledge that the United States can be a force for good, and this must be avoided at all costs, even at the expense of women's rights. What they don't seem to realize is that the war they oppose is a battle against the very forces of fascism they routinely decry.

The oppression of women in Muslim culture and the threat it poses to women's rights all over the world is clearly the next frontier for the feminist movement. Either feminists will rise to the occasion or be rendered meaningless by their hypocrisy.


Despite threats, ex-Muslim speaks out

Because she has dared to speak publicly against the Islamist violence that has alarmed millions, but against which millions of others have kept silent, Wafa Sultan has suffered threats against her life.

But threats like darkly worded e-mails and phone messages might not shake Sultan. She has seen the blood, up close.

While still studying medicine in her native Syria in 1979, she and fellow students watched in horror as gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist group that at the time sought to undermine the secularist President Hafez al-Assad, burst into their classroom and brutally killed their professor.

"They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, 'God is great!’ ” she told the New York Times.

The effect led her and her husband and family to leave the Middle East for America and, eventually, to lead a comfortable middle-class life as a doctor now living outside Los Angeles. But although she had repudiated her Muslim upbringing and would declare herself a "secular human being," the terror of that day at the University of Aleppo had left her with a burden to express her anger.

The Internet gave Sultan her first outlet - a Web site called Annaqed, or The Critic, run by a Syrian who now lives in Arizona. It also features posts by experts on the Middle East, such as Daniel Pipes.

That led to an invitation by the Arab news network al-Jazeera, which asked Sultan to appear Feb. 21 opposite Ibrahim al-Khouli, an Egyptian professor of religious studies, for a debate on "the clash of civilizations."

But Sultan insisted the confrontation had nothing to do with contemporary civilizations.

"It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras," she told al-Jazeera. "It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality."

By available accounts, al-Khouli seemed more or less outgunned. "If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you have blasphemed against Islam, the prophet and the Quran," he countered clumsily.

"These are personal matters that do not concern you," Sultan shot back. "Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me. You are free to worship whoever you want, but other people's beliefs are not your concern."

That was enough to boil the blood of many Islamic hardliners, but she was hardly finished.

"We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church," she said. "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. . . . The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.

"The Jews have come from the (Holocaust) and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror," she told al-Jazeera.

It was not the first time Sultan had appeared on al-Jazeera to denounce violence in the name of Islam. She had been a guest in July for a debate against Algerian religious politics professor Ahmad Bin Muhammad about suicide bombers.

To her pointed questions about the cynicism of sending young men to kill themselves that others might die, Bin Muhammad responded feebly with hyperbolic questions about the misdeeds of other nations. He clearly was unwilling to approach the matters of his own religion's responsibilities; he never addressed them.

But it was the February appearance and her remarks about the example provided by the Jews that escalated Sultan's name on Islamic militants' hate lists.

Among non-Muslims, the response to Sultan's statements has been as mixed as it has been muted. A humanities professor from the University of California-Irvine fretted in a letter to the Times that hers is a "secularist viewpoint rather than one of an engaged, thoughtful and practicing Muslim. This makes her views suspect or worse in the Muslim world."

That is bona-fide hair-splitting. Because she is Arab, was brought up Muslim and said the Jews came off better than Muslims, and did so before one of the largest Arab audiences to be found in the world, her current religious standing instantly became irrelevant, especially where practicing Muslims are concerned.

Those who think otherwise should spend time clearing the death threats from Sultan's e-mail and voice mail boxes.

But the news may not all be dark. The transcript or video of her appearance on al-Jazeera has been viewed more than 1 million times on the Web site of the Middle East Media Research Institute, and a recent profile about her has been one of the New York Times' most e-mailed stories.

Of course, many of these accesses may have kept the pot of resentment and hatred at a boil among hard-liners. But many Muslims who take the difficult path of seeking reform in their religion also might be adding her clear-eyed and unapologetic criticism to their arguments in favor of change.

In either case, Sultan continues undeterred. She told the Times she is working on a book, which she has tentatively titled "The Escaped Prisoner: When God Is a Monster."

"It's going to turn the Islamic world upside-down," she predicts.

Stay tuned.


Where Law Meets Culture: Carnegie Scholar Explores Women and Islam

UC Davis

June 23, 2006

A group of professional women in Malaysia organizes a workshop for journalists to promote the legal rights of women within Islam. Some 4,000 miles away in Iran, human rights workers invite other Muslim women to challenge their cleric's age-old edicts on family.

And more than 7,000 miles from either activity, Madhavi Sunder of School of Law at the University of California, Davis, is watching. Increasingly recognized for her scholarly contributions where law and culture meet, the professor has been named a 2006 Carnegie scholar and will write her first book about Muslim women working to reform their religion from within.

"I want to show everybody these are real women risking their lives," the professor said.

Her book will be titled "The New Enlightenment: How Muslim Women Are Bringing Religion Out of the Dark Ages."

"Islam is stereotyped as regressive, anti-modern, anti-Western and incompatible with democracy," she said. "Too often, the media ignore those people doing the much harder work of exposing Islam's modern side."

Her project, which received the maximum $100,000 award, is one of 20 that the Carnegie Corp. is funding this year to advance knowledge of Islam and of Muslim societies. That Carnegie promotes the communication of research beyond academia to policymakers and the public is in line with Sunder's thinking. "I want to take the ideas to the public," she said.

Reform from within

Sunder's scholarship traverses several legal fields, from intellectual property to human rights and the First Amendment. Her Carnegie project will build on earlier articles in which she calls for the law to accommodate reform from within religious and other organizations.

In her landmark articles "Cultural Dissent" and "Piercing the Veil," Sunder said that without a change in its approach to culture, the law may become complicit in the efforts of traditional leaders to silence dissent within organizations, whether over equality for women or gays.

"Law treats religion and culture as spheres outside of law's domain," she said. "But this view leads to the absence of equality and rights in domains that people hold most dear."

Sunder conceptualizes a "New Enlightenment," based on a woman's right to seek equality, democracy and liberty not only in the public arena but also in the private spheres of religion, culture and family.

Praise from senior scholars

Her articles have appeared in The Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review and the California Law Review, among other publications. She is the editor of "Gender and Feminist Theory in Law and Society," a forthcoming collection of essays chronicling 25 years of feminist thinking on equality and liberty.

Her work has already won the praise of senior scholars in her field. Professor Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago said Sunder is telling the story of women's reforms with "very fine scholarship, intellectual incisiveness, theoretical grasp and with detailed knowledge of cultures."

"That's an extremely valuable contribution," she added, "when people too easily see religion and women's equality at odds."

Education and influences

Sunder received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her law degree from Stanford. After clerking for a federal appeals court judge and practicing intellectual property law in New York City, she came to Davis in 1999 and was awarded tenure in 2003. She has taught classes in intellectual property and next academic year will teach "Women, Islam and the Law."

The professor said she has long been fascinated with the concept of cultural diversity not just across cultures but within them. She was born and raised in the United States by Indian American parents, except for one year in the care of her grandmother in India.

Her grandmother's life influenced the direction of her scholarship. Seetha Mylavarapu was president of her college's student government, played championship college tennis, earned a doctorate in physics and chose her own husband in a time and culture women did not do those things.

"Her story has always inspired me," Sunder said. "It's a reminder to me that in every age there are dissenters and reformers."

Entering the private spheres

A practicing Hindu, Sunder said she was attracted to the work of the Muslim women who are challenging the Enlightenment's abandonment of religion, and at the same time, bringing Enlightenment to religion.

"The Enlightenment took us from a world of Empire to an age of reason and equality in the public sphere. But it left the private spheres of culture and religion in the Dark Ages of imposition and unreason," Sunder said.

"Women's stories show that's a very limited view of freedom. Much of our lives are lived out in the cultural sphere and under its influences."

"The New Enlightenment goes the next mile," Sunder said. "The core values of Enlightenment -- reason, democracy, freedom of expression, and the call, in Kant's words, to 'think for oneself' -- are extended to the private sphere.

"Women reformers in Muslim countries are the Kant and Diderot of our age," she said.



Associated Press
Religion Today
By BRIAN MURPHY 11.09.06

Earlier this year on an Arabic Web site, a Muslim woman scholar posted an open letter to the Islamic world. "Take off the veil, sister," began Elham Manea, a professor of Yemeni descent who now works in Switzerland.

Her opinion was not new - that head scarves and other coverings for women are not mandated by the Quran or Islamic tradition. But the essay's impassioned tone quickly grabbed attention. Supporters hailed it as a timely manifesto against Islam's conservative tide. Traditionalists scorned it as the ramblings of a Muslim blinded by the West.

Both sides could agree, however, that despite all its cultural twists, the question of the veil is a religious one, and one that's stubbornly hard to pin down - just what does Islam demand?

With no central Islamic theological authority - such as the Vatican for Roman Catholics - Muslims are left to interpret Quranic passages, sift through stories about the Prophet Muhammad, known as hadiths, and study competing religious edicts over the various coverings. They range from fashionable head scarves to the shroud-like burqa and the full-face veil called a niqab, which may only show a woman's eyes.

"It's become such a charged topic," said Manea, a researcher on politics and Islam at the University of Zurich. "I received hate mail and e-mails with very threatening tones. But, on the other side, messages supporting my views also were overwhelming."

In the West - particularly Europe - the veil has been drawn into hot-button debates such as immigrant integration and worries about radical Islam. In many Muslim countries, it can represent a potentially life-shaping decision for women in which the veil is increasingly seen as a political statement against perceived injustices to Islam.

"There are so many pressures now to decide whether the veil is right or wrong," said Tarafa Baghajati, a leader of the European Network Against Racism in Brussels, Belgium. "The problem is that it's an impossible task."

Credible cases have been built in several directions.

Those supporting the veil often cite a hadith from Sahih Bukhari, a ninth-century theologian, that urges women to "cover themselves" in public. The Quran, too, contains sections that tell women to seek modesty and "draw their cloaks close around them" (Surah 33, verse 59) and "draw their veils" over their chests and necklines except around their husbands and close relatives (24:31).

Some prominent Islamic voices, including Egyptian-born cleric Sheik Yusef el-Qaradawi, say some form of Islamic coverings is supported by Muslim law and customs. But most don't go beyond advocating some variation of head scarves and body-covering clothing.

Far fewer leaders - outside ultraconservative bastions such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan - believe Islam requires veiling a woman's face and hands, saying that both are exposed during prayer and that a woman's face should not be covered during the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca.

But many other Islamic scholars find flaws in any demands for the veil, which is often called by the Arabic term "hijab."

They believe the phrasing in the Islamic texts are too vague to make it a religious requirement and reflects the cultural norms of the seventh-century life of Muhammad and later centuries - in the same way that the Bible and Jewish sources offer guidance that is now widely considered a matter of personal choice, such as a passage in I Corinthians that says women should cover her head during prayer.

"The hijab these days goes beyond religion into politics, culture and social," said Ahmed Nazeer, American Institute of Islamic History and Culture in Concord, Calif. "These pressures are all coming down on Muslim women - to make a statement in favor of the one vision of Islam or another."

Last week, a Turkish court acquitted a 92-year-old archaeologist, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, who was charged with insulting religious feelings for her book that claimed Islamic-style head scarves were first worn more than 5,000 years ago by priestesses initiating young men into sex.

Turkey offers a vivid display of the modern interplay of the politics and shifting religious sensibilities.

Turkey's strongly secular laws ban head scarves in schools and public offices. But growing ranks of Turkish women favor head scarves in daily life - a trend echoed in some Muslim immigrant groups in Europe and elsewhere.

"There is powerful symbolism associated with the veil in the West," said Dogu Ergil, a professor of social and religious trends at Ankara University in Turkey. "It feeds into the insecurities of our globalized world: the threats to the way we look, the way we live and the fears about the stranger in our midst who may be hostile to our way of life."

Tariq Ramadan, a leading scholar on European Islam, told a London conference last week the veil was part of a deepening "them versus us" attitude.

"So many people can't see anything beyond the head scarf," said Iyman Alzayed, who works with an Islamic education group based in Vienna, Austria, and often lectures about her decision to wear a scarf. "With all the other misunderstandings between Western societies and Muslims, it's as if nothing matters except a piece of cloth."

Even Iran's Islamic regime shows the complexity of the hijab.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution imposed strict dress codes that allowed either a head scarf and formless coat or the billowing black chador, which covers all but a woman's face. Since the late 1990s, however, young women have been continually pushing the limits with the so-called "bad hijab." Now, it's possible to get by with a body-hugging tunic and a scarf that can reveal more hair than it covers.

Iranian religious authorities have been tongue tied. They realize any edict re-enforcing stricter hijab would be likely countered by liberal clerics acknowledging the desires of the young.

Instead, the theocracy has tried a stab at vanity - backing a fashion show in July that displayed their concepts of chic-but-conservative coats, head scarves and chadors.


Critic of Islam finds new home in U.S.

By William C. Mann, Associated Press Writer

February 10, 2007


WASHINGTON --As a child, Ayaan Hirsi Ali fled violence in Somalia with her family. As an adult she fled Kenya to escape an arranged marriage. She left her adopted Holland after she was caught up in political turmoil and had her life threatened.

Now Hirsi Ali -- a brave critic of Islam to her supporters, a bigot to her critics -- has found refuge in the intellectual bastion of leading U.S. conservatives.

Hirsi Ali joined the American Enterprise Institute last September, after a sometimes stormy 14 years in the Netherlands, where she was a member of parliament and became a central figure in two events that jolted the nation.

First, after she wrote a script for a film that depicted naked women with Quranic verses scrawled on their bodies, a Dutch-born Muslim gunned down the filmmaker, Theo van Gogh. A letter threatening Hirsi Ali was left on a knife plunged into van Gogh's chest.

Next, a fight within Hirsi Ali's political party over her Dutch citizenship brought down the government.

These days, Hirsi Ali is promoting her autobiography, "Infidel." It gives a graphic account of how she rejected her faith and the violence she says was inflicted on her in the name of Islam.

"I'm an apostate. That's why the book is called 'Infidel,'" she said in a telephone interview from New York.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations thinks Hirsi Ali's campaign amounts to slander and bigotry.

"We believe that she will bring an increase to the level of anti-Muslim bias in this country that we saw her bring to the situation in Europe," the council's communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, said in an interview Saturday. "Unfortunately her message is one of bigotry, not one of mutual understanding."

Her new colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute laud Ali Hirsi as a brave voice taking on a taboo subject.

"She's very original, a very courageous thinker, and she has independence of mind," said Christina Hoff Sommers, an institute fellow who specializes, among other things, in feminism.

At the institute, Hirsi Ali's studies will involve Islam and women: the relationship between the West and Islam; women's rights in Islam; violence against women propagated by religious and cultural arguments; and Islam in Europe.

Many institute scholars have had a close relationship with the Bush administration. Among its senior fellows are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.

It may seem like odd company for a woman born in a Mogadishu hospital 37 years ago.

"I've been accused of selling out," she said. "I've been told, 'You're hanging the dirty laundry outside.'"

Ali Hirsi's book provides a graphic account of how her grandmother had her subjected to genital mutilation, sometimes called female circumcision, when she was 5 years old. The practice began in Africa, before Islam, but some African Muslim societies still see it as a requirement of religion.

She also describes a time when she was a teenager in Kenya, a majority Christian country with many Muslim Somali refugees, and a Quran teacher cracked her skull after she challenged his insistence that students write Quranic verses on wooden boards and memorize them.

"I started to call him uncivilized and backward and said he lived in the time of ignorance before Islam had come around and this was an outrageous system," she said. The man bashed her head against the wall.

She lied to be accepted as a refugee in Holland, became a Dutch citizen, graduated from prestigious Leiden University and won a seat in the Dutch parliament for a party that was tough on immigration. She became known as a firebrand.

That led to her collaboration with van Gogh on the short television movie, "Submission." In 2004, a man enraged by the movie shot van Gogh seven times and slit his throat on an Amsterdam street, leaving the note threatening Hirsi Ali.

Her lie when she entered the country -- she used an assumed name -- caught up with her last year. By that time her falsehood was widely known, even to her good friend Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister. Because of a notorious similar case in which Verdonk expelled a young woman, she came under pressure to cancel Hirsi Ali's citizenship. She did, and the six members of the government's smallest coalition party resigned in protest. The government fell, although Verdonk had used a technicality to restore Hirsi Ali's Dutch citizenship.

Considering van Gogh's death, and her continuing outspokenness about Islam, Hirsi Ali said she no longer can feel safe without bodyguards in the presence of even moderate Muslims.

Unlike many world leaders, including Bush, who say Muslim terrorists are distorting the peaceful Islamic religion, Hirsi Ali said the terrorists in large part have truth on their side: The violence is in the Quran and the hadith, the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, she said.

Islam today, she said, "is not my grandmother's amulet-wearing, superstitious sort of Islam that is just comforting for the believer." Today's Islam sees the world as its enemy, she said. "And you wage war against your enemies."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Hooper contends that she exaggerates to further her agenda.

"She is just one more Muslim-basher on the lecture circuit," he said.


Muslim girl's metamorphosis into a woman of the West

Now They Call Me Infidel
Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror

By Noni Darwish

Sentinel. 258 pp. $23.95

Reviewed by Leonard Boasberg

Philadelphia Inquirer

I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book. It comes accompanied by a battery of blurbs by several right-wing luminaries, including recently (and involuntarily) retired Sen. Rick Santorum. Still, you can't always tell a book by its blurbistas, and Noni Darwish's Now They Call Me Infidel might, I say just might, indicate something astir in the Islamic world: women in rebellion.

Darwish tells the story of her journey - her hajj, as it were - from the constricted world of Islam to the open society of the West. Her father was a shahid, a martyr. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had chosen him to lead the first fedayeen unit to conduct guerrilla operations inside Israel, in the early 1950s. Two weeks before he was to return to Cairo, he was killed. Darwish, one of four daughters, was only 8 years old.

"As a child," Noni Darwish writes, "I was not sure what a Jew was. I had never seen one. All I knew was that they were monsters. They wanted to kill Arab children, some said, to drink their blood."

Today, some 50 years later, she writes articles and gives speeches against Arab terrorism. She has spoken to Hadassah. She is an American citizen, a Christian, and a Republican. She has visited Israel and is a passionate defender of its right to exist, and its democracy.

What happened to explain this transformation of a Muslim girl, the daughter of a shahid, raised to fear and despise Jews?

It might have had something to do with a natural against-the-grain mentality. Even as a child she could not accept "a culture that was willing to orphan its own children in its obsessive hatred of Jews."

In 1964, at 16, she became a student at the American University in Cairo, where, she writes, she obtained a new perspective - a respect for knowledge and truth that she found lacking in Muslim society. She came to America in 1978 and married her Coptic Christian boyfriend, who converted to Islam, but the marriage foundered. She remarried an American.

Darwish is unsparing in her condemnations of Islamic and Arab culture. She denounces the anti-Semitism propagated in schools, in mosques, in the Arab media and the persecution of Christians, especially Copts in Egypt. She tells of an Arab society infected by the inferior status of women, with polygamy still widespread. Marriages, she writes, are arranged between families; a girl can't even risk being seen with a boy she's not married to, lest her reputation be ruined.

If, as some assert, Islam is a religion of peace, why, Darwish asks, is teaching hatred, violence and jihad tolerated in Muslim schools? Where is the outrage over terror against civilians? Where is the outrage, in the Arab street and media as well as among Arab Americans, over such barbaric acts as the beheading of Daniel Pearl and the murder of Margaret Hassan, the British woman who for 30 years labored to help Iraqi women?

The author's own outrage at Western media is somewhat overdone. Where does she get the idea that reports are "often intertwined with messages of blaming America first" and "smearing Americans who wanted to alert the American public to jihad in America by calling them bigots and alarmists." Examples, please. None provided.

Now They Call Me Infidel is Darwish's personal story - provocative, repetitious, and not too well organized, Still, she asks some pertinent questions:

"Why is the Muslim world threatened by Israel? Why are they obsessed with hating it? What is the Muslim world afraid of? Is it afraid of Israel, or is it that they are afraid of comparing themselves with it and seeing reality?"