Western feminists are NOT silent
Francesca Tronetti, MA Anthropology, Women & Gender Studies
Doctoral Student in Philosophy and Religion at CIIS
While flipping through YouTube videos I came across a segment of the Michael Coren show from May 25th of this year in which he and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch discussed Amina Filali, a young Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being married to her rapist for a year. The marriage was ordered by a judge, a practice which is common in Islamic states if the woman is not killed to redeem the family’s honor.
During the show Spencer said, “We’re absolutely immured to this, the human rights organizations don’t care, the Western feminists don’t care… The Western feminists are really incredible about it. You see all these feminists who are very quick to criticize Christianity, criticize Judeo-Christian values, criticize the West, the United States and Canada and Europe for its alleged mistreatment of women. But when you come to Islam then they suddenly start making excuses and they say women who are wearing burqas and are essentially slaves of their husbands, well their happy and it’s ok. And it seems clear that the idea of multi-culturalism trumps feminism.” Now I had several problems with this segment besides the fact that it only involved two white Western men discussing women in the Middle East.
The idea that Western feminists are passive and forgiving on this issue, that we make excuses and allow women to be subjugated because of multicultural indoctrination, i.e. liberalism, is ludicrous. No woman who heard that story would say to themselves, ‘well it’s their culture so it’s alright.’ In Western culture we had similar practices; though these practices were typically not part of the legal code, instead they were just how things worked. Western feminists, even non-feminists are outraged when women and girls are treated in this manner, not even as second-class citizens but as third-class creatures. I suppose since women did not gather together and march through Washington on national television that Mr.’s Spencer and Coren assume we do not care.
Feminists, male and female do care; but we pick which battles we will make public and which we will keep in secret. Feminists work behind the scenes in global groups to support women. Yes, there are well publicized letter writing campaigns to free rape victims from being sentenced to prison for adultery. But, there is more subtle support such as fundraisers to donate money and resources to women’s groups in Islamic states to create schools, legal defense funds, clinics, and a network of safe houses and embassy staff to help women leave these countries. Women in Great Britain pushed for the creation of the Forced Marriage Unit, a police unit which intercedes on behalf of women and girls who are being forced into marriage to men outside the country, or are already in an abusive forced marriage and protects their rights as human beings. Feminist groups in the United States and Canada work within their local communities to make police and social services aware of the plight of women and girls in forced marriages and help to keep girls in the West from being shipped off the marry strange men in Islamic countries where they will have no rights in court, no protection from abuse, and no support system to help them.
Consider the case of Bibi Aisha, an Afghan girl of 12 who was married to a Taliban fighter to settle her father’s debts. After she attempted to flee his family’s home she was taken before the courts and for dishonoring her husband he was allowed to cut off her nose and ears, while his brother held her down and leave her to die. The members of her husband’s family would not help her, her own uncle turned her away. Finally a member of her family took her to a non-Afghan hospital to save her life. A hospital run by a U.S. Army medical unit. The doctors and nurses there saved her life, taught her some English and with the help of the organization Women for Afghan Women Bibi came to the United States, underwent surgery to have a permanent prosthetic nose and became a symbol of the treatment of women in Afghanistan. Feminists who support groups like Women for Afghan Women and Women Living Under Muslim Law are supporting protections for women in Islamic states.
It simply is not feasible for Western feminists to try to force a change in the status of women in Islamic states. These are not states in which majority rule will decide law. These are states in which a specific interpretation of the Holy Quran has given men complete and total power over women. A state in which a man can rape a woman or young girl without repercussions, where a father can sell a daughter to settle his debts, and where a feud between families does not have to be settle by the men fighting but instead by one group of men raping a woman from the other group. Those in power believe they are right in the eyes of God and no amount of public outcry or petitions by Western women will change their beliefs.
But do no mistake the quietness of feminists for acceptance. We are working to change things for women in Islamic states. We provide money and support for schools for girls, for lawyers to help child brides out of arranged marriages and when specific cases of barbaric treatment of women hit the news we have even forced the king of Saudi Arabia to pardon a rape victim. We publish the biographies of women who have escaped these countries, we make it known how the women are treated in these countries, and we make it known to our own leaders what we will and will not tolerate when it comes to dealing with the countries. But mostly, we have Muslim and Middle Eastern women take the lead on the work in their countries, because they understand better than any well read anthropologist what the true situation is and how to combat it. Western feminists work from behind the scenes, not pushing our immediate agenda for total equality overnight because we know that is not going to happen. Instead, we support our feminist brothers and sisters around the world in a variety of ways, and work to change the lives of Muslim women in our own countries because we know our laws and we know which buttons to push with our governments.
Michael Coren clip: “Michael Coren & Robert Spencer On The Suicide Of Amina Filali” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb1FWUPCIgI