Monday, June 14, 2010


          Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book presents a powerful portrayal of how women's equality suffers under Muslim rule and rules. Hirsi Ali travels with personal bodyguards because her life is under constant threat due to her criticism of Islam. Explaining how little Muslim girls are "rendered voiceless"by Islam, she loudly calls for a new alliance of feminists and Christians to combat Islam's opposition to equality. 
Among Hirsi Ali's interesting arguments are the following:
          It happens here. Honor killings of Muslim girls for perceived sexual misconduct happens in the United States and not only in Muslim countries. So does cutting girls' sexual organs so that their virginity can be assured: Muslim families "will cut off the clitoris and cut the lips of the vagina so that it scars shut, to create a built-in chastity belt."
          American Liberals "appear to be more uncomfortable with my condemning the ill treatment of women under Islam than most conservatives are." A wrongheaded multiculturalism has kept American liberals from speaking out against abuses of power by men of color. According to the author, "when well-meaning Westerners, eager to promote respect for minority religions and cultures, ignore practices like forced marriage and confinement in order to 'stop society from stigmatizing Muslims,' they deny countless Muslim girls their right to wrest their freedom from their parents' culture. They fail to live up to the ideals and values of our democratic society, and they harm the very same vulnerable minority whom they seek to protect."
          American Feminists receive especially strong criticism for failing to defend the universal value of women's equality. The author says feminists must abandon their "dreary cultural relativism" and recognize that cultures that defend women's rights are superior to those that do not.  Hirsi Ali even charges that some American feminists are more concerned about racism than sexism, again emphasizing that men's oppression of women must be criticized in all cultures.
          Individual v. Group Rights. The Constitution should protect individual rights, and not be used to give special protection to groups so they can mistreat individuals. "All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not." It is the worst kind of condescension to think immigrant groups deserve lesser legal protection than other groups.
          Vive le pope. In a surprise finish the atheist author urges Westerners to join forces with the pope and other Christian leaders to reclaim Western civilization. This "strategic alliance" is necessary to confront the antiegalitarian forces of Islam. Christianity is more "open to criticism" than Islam and should be an ally for enlightenment principles. She concludes: "So long as we atheists and classical liberals have no effective programs of our own to defeat the spread of radical Islam, we should work with enlightened Christians who are willing to devise some. We should bury the hatchet, rearrange our priorities, and fight together against a much more dangerous common enemy.
          It is hard for me to believe that Pope Benedict will be much help in defending women's rights. But there is a shrewd point in thinking that it is better to put Christianity at feminism's service than to let Christians and Muslims join to defeat women's rights. 


1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting perspective on Muslim [feminist] culture. I've heard arguments from Muslim women that both support (for example) hijab as being empowering and deride it as degrading. As a privileged white western woman, I very often feel that my personal feelings on it are (a) immaterial and (b) possibly offensive. As one of the "American Liberals", "American Women", and 'cultural relativists' that Ali rails against, my only defense is that my voice as a non-Muslim is necessarily less important than her voice. I would like to stand with her on the patriarchalism of Middle Eastern cultures and Islam, but the reality is that I cannot stand by myself.

    I applaud her for standing by herself, and I hope that more supporters (from all countries, genders, and races) join her.