In Honor of International Women's Day: Phyllis Chesler Unedited
In honor of International Women's Day, it seems fitting to pay tribute to one my feminist heroes - Phyllis Chesler. A professor, author and tireless activist, Phyllis Chesler is one of the few members of today's feminist movement to tackle the oppression of women endemic to the Muslim world. For doing so, she been ostracized by her fellow Western "feminists," most of whom are too beholden to the anti-American/anti-Israel vagaries of modern multiculturalism to take on Islamism, the greatest threat to women's rights today. But Chesler knows from firsthand experience as the former wife of a Muslim husband who took her to Afghanistan and essentially imprisoned her, that politically correctness only allows barbarity to go unchecked.
Most recently, Ms. Chesler chaired the opening panel at the Secular Islam Summit (a gathering of Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents in Florida), a subject she expounds upon in an interview with Frontpage Magazine. Sadly, both Western intellectuals, who claim to stand for human rights, and representatives of the State Department, which claims to be pursuing the ideological arm of the war on terrorism, were a no show.
I first referenced Ms. Chesler in an article for SFGate titled "Today's True Feminists," in which I included mention of her among other women I felt were leading the charge in combating Islamic sexism. The article was timed to coincide with last year's International Women's Day, so this time around, it seems appropriate to feature some of Ms. Chesler's writing. To that end, she has given me permission to reprint the unedited version of her latest article (a shortened version of which was posted yesterday in the Times of London), titled "How my eyes were opened to the barbarity of Islam: Is it racist to condemn fanaticism?":
Unedited Piece for the Times of London
By Phyllis Chesler
Once, I was held captive in Kabul , Afghanistan. I was the bride of a charming, seductive, and westernized Afghan Muslim whom I met at an American college. The purdah I experienced was relatively posh but the sequestered all-female life was not my cup of chai—nor was the male hostility to veiled, partly-veiled, and unveiled women in public.
When we landed in Kabul , an airport official smoothly confiscated my American passport. “Don’t worry, it’s just a formality” my husband assured me. I never saw that passport again. I later learned that this was routinely done to foreign wives—perhaps to make it impossible for them to leave. Overnight, my husband became a stranger. The man with whom I had discussed Camus, Dostoevsky , Tennessee Williams, the Italian cinema became a stranger. He treated me the same way his father and elder brother treated their wives: Distantly, with a hint of disdain and embarrassment.
In our two years together, my future husband had never once mentioned that his father had three wives and twenty-one children. Nor did he tell me that I would be expected to live as if I had been reared as an Afghan woman. I was supposed to lead a largely indoor life among women, to go out only with a male escort, and to spend my days waiting for my husband to return, visiting female relatives, or having new (and very fashionable) clothes made. Some foreign wives enjoyed having servants and an unearned “special” identity. Some enthusiastically converted to Islam and voluntarily wore hijab or fully veiled themselves—this, despite the fact that the King had recently unveiled the women.
Every single day, my mother-in-law tried to convert me to Islam. She ultimately took to calling me “The Yahud,” or Jew. I nearly died at her hands when she secretly instructed the servants to stop boiling my drinking water and washing the fruit and vegetables. Like many others, I contracted hepatitis. Unlike every other foreigner, I lived.
In America , my husband took pride in the fact that I was a natural-born rebel and free thinker. In Afghanistan , my criticism of the treatment of women and of the poor rendered him suspect, vulnerable. He mocked my horrified reactions. But I knew what my eyes and ears told me. I saw how poor women in chadaris were literally forced to sit at the back of the bus and had to keep yielding their place on line in the bazaar to any man or male servant. I saw how polygamous, arranged marriages and child brides led to chronic female suffering and to rivalry between co-wives and half-brothers; how the subordination and sequestration of women led to a profound estrangement between the sexes—one which led to wife-beating, marital rape, and to a rampant but hotly denied male “prison”-like homosexuality and homosexual pederasty; how frustrated, neglected, and uneducated women tormented their daughter-in-laws and female servants; how women were not allowed to pray in mosques or visit male doctors (their husbands described the symptoms in their absence).
My husband was under surveillance. Could he be trusted given that he had arranged his own “love” marriage to an infidel American who had no dowry?
Individual Afghans were enchantingly courteous—but the Afghanistan I knew was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty, treachery, and preventable and treatable diseases. It was also a police state, a feudal monarchy, and a theocracy, rank with fear and paranoia. Afghanistan had never been colonized. My relatives said: “Not even the British could occupy us.” Thus, I was ultimately forced to conclude that Afghan barbarism was of their own making and could not be attributed to western racism, colonialism or imperialism.
Thus, long before the rise of the Taliban, I learned not to romanticize Third World countries or to confuse their hideous tyrants with liberators. I also learned that Islamic gender and religious apartheid are indigenous and not the result of Western crimes—and that such “colorful tribal customs” are absolutely and not relatively evil. Long before al-Qaeda be-headed Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and Nicholas Berg in Iraq, I understood that it was dangerous for a westerner, especially a woman, to live in a Muslim country, even when she was under the protection of a powerful Muslim family—especially if she were. In retrospect, I believe my so-called Western feminism was forged in that most beautiful and treacherous of Eastern countries. Forever after, I was able to see gender apartheid anywhere, even in the West.
Nevertheless, Western intellectual-ideologues, including feminists, have demonized me as a reactionary and racist “Islamophobe” for arguing that Islam, not Israel, is the largest practitioner of both gender and religious apartheid in the world and that if Westerners do not stand up to real apartheid, morally, economically, and militarily that we will not only have the blood of innocents on our hands; we will also be overrun by Sha’ria law in the West. I have been heckled, menaced, never-invited, or dis-invited for such heretical ideas—and for denouncing the epidemic of Muslim-on-Muslim violence for which tiny Israel is routinely, unbelievably scapegoated.
For example, I was invited by Cambridge (UK) to deliver a keynote address at an international feminist conference to be held on March 9th of this year. When I raised questions about security and about the utter absence of kindred spirits, and despite the fact that I had stressed that neither factor would keep me away—I was summarily dis-invited. (These feminists subsequently invited me to lecture alone, to a smaller British-only group; however, as yet, nothing definite is planned). This coming summer, I will be denounced as a white supremacist and a collaborator with “the imperial imaginary” in the pages of the British-based academic journal: Feminist Theory. To their credit, the journal’s editorial board invited me to rebut these accusations which I have done. (Interestingly, the attacker also condemns two other American feminist thinkers. We are all, coincidentally, Jews.)
However, my views have found favor with the bravest and most enlightened people alive: Leading secular Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents who honored me by inviting me to chair the opening panel of a landmark Islamic Summit Conference that took place on March 4th and 5th in St Petersburg , Florida . The site was chosen because an international counter-terrorism conference took place there the next day. The conference was sponsored and co-organized by Austin Dacey of The Center for Inquiry-Transnational, Iranian activist in exile, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, and by the eminent scholar, Ibn Warraq.
Delegates from Egypt , Bangladesh , Iran , Iraq , Jordan , Pakistan , Syria , and exiles from Europe and North America assembled for this unprecedented meeting. Speakers included: Nonie Darwish, Afshin Ellian, Fatemolla, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Nibras Kazimi, Tashbih Sayyed, Wafa Sultan, Manda Zand-Ervin, and others whose names cannot be released for security reasons.
According to the chair of the meeting, Ibn Warraq, “What we need now is an age of Enlightenment in the Islamic world. Without critical examination of Islam, it will remain dogmatic, fanatical and intolerant and will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality, originality, and truth.” The author Irshad Manji says: “This summit if proof positive that we no longer exist in isolation. Those who hate our message of free thought in Islam will keep trying to pick us off individually, but collectively we’re not going anywhere except forward.”
The conference issued a Declaration (which can be found at http://www.secularislam.org) at a press conference on Monday afternoon, March 5th, 2007, in English, Arabic, Farsi, and Bengali. The Declaration views so-called “Islamophobia” as a false allegation, sees a “noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine,” calls for the “elimination of practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women”, and “demands the release of Islam from its captivity to the ambitions of power-hungry men.” With this Declaration, the conference called for a new “Enlightenment” in Islamic culture and hopes to launch a global movement for “reason, pluralism, and freedom of conscience.”
Now is the time for western intellectuals who claim to be anti-racists and committed to human rights, to stand with these dissidents. To do so, requires that we adopt a single, universal standard of human rights and abandon our loyalty to multi-cultural relativism which essentially justifies and even romanticizes indigenous Islamist barbarism, totalitarian terrorism, and the persecution of women, religious minorities, homosexuals and intellectuals. Our abject refusal to judge between civilization and barbarism, and between enlightened rationalism and theocratic fundamentalism, endangers and condemns the victims of Islamic tyranny, most of whom are peoples of diverse skin-colors and ethnicities, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
Ibn Warraq has written a devastating and masterful work which will be out by summer. It is titled “Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’.” Will western intellectuals also dare defend the West? I call upon my western colleagues to divest in an ideology of Islamic gender and religious apartheid which has hijacked, Palestinianized, and “occupied” the western imagination with dreadful and dangerous consequences.
Cross-posted at Kesher Talk.