Why Don't Feminists Fight for Muslim Women?

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Jun 27, 2016

Are women oppressed in Muslim countries? What about in Islamic enclaves in the West? Are these places violating or fulfilling the Quran and Islamic law? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an author and activist who was raised a devout Muslim, describes the human rights crisis of our time, asks why feminists in the West don't seem to care, and explains why immigration to the West from the Middle East means this issue matters more than ever.

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If Western feminists truly embrace equality, they must stop excusing unequal treatment of women in Islamic cultures.

  • Muslim women in Middle Eastern and North African countries are fighting for their rights: Egyptian women are fighting against sexual harassment; Afghan women are fighting against lynch mobs; Saudi Arabian women are fighting for the right to drive cars. Western feminists, argues human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need to “get their priorities straight” and unapologetically support Muslim women.View Source
  • Related reading: “Why do Muslim feminists turn a blind eye to Islamist misogyny?” –Emma-Kate Symons, ABCView Source
  • Related reading: “The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam” – Ayaan Hirsi AliView Source

Feminists who insulate Muslim cultures against legitimate criticism for their treatment of Muslim women are the real anti-Muslims. 

  • Many feminist leaders are reluctant to call out the mistreatment of women that is commonplace in many Islamic cultures.View Source
  • Human rights activist and feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female circumcision, has been attacked by Western feminists as being “Islamophobic” for criticizing fundamentalist Islam.View Source
  • In 2014, Brandeis University reversed plans to award an honorary degree to Ali due to her “offensive” criticism of Islam, the religion in which she was raised.View Source
  • Read Ali’s response to Brandeis withdrawing its honorary degree for her “offensive” critique of Islam.View Source
  • WATCH: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the need to “reform Islam to save it from extremists.”View Source

Islam’s influence is growing rapidly in Western culture, making it even more crucial to have honest dialog about cultural differences.

  • Due to a surge in immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, demographic changes in Europe have happened very rapidly, resulting in a population that is 7-8 percent Muslim as of 2015.View Source
  • According to the Pew Research Center, America’s Muslim population is projected to increase by 2030 to 6.2 million, larger in absolute terms than the entire Muslim population in any country in Western Europe other than France. The U.S. Muslim population is also projected to have a higher growth rate than any European Union member state.View Source
  • WATCH: Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the convergence of Islam and western culture.View Source

Politically incorrect fact: Many immigrants from the Middle East come from countries where a majority want Sharia law imposed.

  • Two-fifths of all projected Muslim immigrants will come from three countries: Iraq, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.View Source
  • In Iraq, 91 percent of Muslims believe that Sharia should be the official law of the land. In Pakistan, 84 percent of Muslims believe the same, as do 82 percent of Muslims in Bangladesh.View Source
  • WATCH: Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali on political Islam and Sharia law.View Source

Extreme practices from Islamist cultures—including honor killings, forced marriages and female circumcision—are happening in America.

  • Between 2000 and 2008, the United States experienced at least 8 so-called “honor killings.” Such violence can be prompted by behavior which includes premarital relationships, dating a person not accepted by one’s family, or wearing clothes considered immodest or “too American.”View Source
  • As immigrant populations rise, honor killings will likely increase.View Source
  • Research estimates show that between 2010 and 2011, there were approximately 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the United States.View Source
  • Since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the US who have undergone or are at risk female genital mutilation has more than tripled.View Source
  • WATCH: Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali on “why the Left ‘blames the victim’ when it comes to Islam.”View Source
  • Related reading: “The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam” – Ayaan Hirsi AliView Source

Since 1990, the number of females in the U.S. subjected to or at risk of female genital mutilation has more than tripled.

  • CNN reports on the alarming rise of female genital mutilation: “Since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the US who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled. The increase is due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest. These girls and women are concentrated in California, New York and Minnesota. … Girls and women most at risk in the US come from or have relatives who come from the African nations of Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia, where three-quarters or more of all girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation.”View Source
  • WATCH: Human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of female circumcision, discuss her memoir “Nomad: From Islam to America.”View Source
  • Related reading: “Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations” – Ayaan Hirsi AliView Source

On New Year’s Eve in 2015, hundreds of women in Cologne were sexually assaulted by Muslim immigrants. Authorities tried to cover it up. 

  • An official document leaked in 2016 states that an alleged 1,200 women were sexually assaulted by around 2,000 men, a vast majority of whom were immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. Authorities initially tried to cover up and then downplay the heinous series of crimes, which included dozens of rapes.View Source
  • WATCH: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on “the Left’s alliance with Islamists.”View Source
  • Related reading: “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society” – Pew Research CenterView Source
  • Related reading: “Infidel” – Ayaan Hirsi AliView Source

Muslim women are fighting for their rights in various countries. Western feminists need to unapologetically support them.

  • Muslim women in Middle Eastern and North African countries are fighting for their rights: Egyptian women are fighting against sexual harassment; Afghan women are fighting against lynch mobs; Saudi Arabian women are fighting for the right to drive cars. Western feminists, argues human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, need to “get their priorities straight” and unapologetically support Muslim women.View Source
  • WATCH: Ayaan Hirsi Ali on “fake feminists” who refuse to honestly critique Islam.View Source
  • Related reading: “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now” – Ayaan Hirsi AliView Source

Culture matters. It ‘s the primary source of social progress or regression. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the status of women. The Judeo-Christian culture—and perhaps a more apt word is civilization—has produced over time the law codes, language and material prosperity that have greatly elevated women's status.  

But this progress is not shared everywhere.

There are still hundreds of millions of people that live in a culture—the Islamic, for instance—that takes female inferiority for granted. Until recently, these cultures—the Western and the Islamic—were, for the most part, separated. But that is changing. Dramatically so.

Large numbers of immigrant men from the Middle East, South Asia and various parts of Africa have brought a different set of values to the West, specifically Europe.  More than a million arrived in 2015 alone. More are on the way.

As a result, crimes against girls and women—groping, harassments, assaults and rape—have risen sharply. These crimes illustrate the stark difference between the Western culture of the victims and that of the perpetrators.

Let me be clear: not all immigrant men, or even most, indulge in sex attacks or approve of such attacks, but it’s a grave mistake to deny that the value system of the attackers is radically different from the value system of the West. In the West women are emancipated and sexually autonomous. Religiosity and sexual behavior or sexual restraint is determined by women's individual wishes. The other value system is one in which women are viewed as either commodities (that is, their worth depends on their virginity), or on the level of a prostitute if they are guilty of public "immodesty" (wearing a short skirt for example).

I do not believe these value systems can coexist. The question is which value system will prevail. Unfortunately, this remains an open question.

The current situation in Europe is deeply troubling: not only are Muslim women within Europe subject to considerable oppression in many ways, such norms now risk spreading to non-Muslim women who face harassment from Muslim men.

One would think that Western feminists in the United States and Europe would be very disturbed by this obvious misogyny.  But sadly, with few exceptions, this does not appear to be the case.

Common among many Western feminists is a type of moral confusion, in which women are said to be oppressed everywhere and that this oppression, in feminist Eve Ensler's words, is "exactly the same" around the world; in the West just as in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

To me, this suggests too much moral relativism and an inadequate understanding of Sharia law. It is true that the situation for women in the West is not perfect, but can anyone truly deny that women enjoy greater freedom and opportunities in the United States, France and Finland than they do in Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia?

Other feminists have also argued that non-Western women do not need "saving" and that any suggestion that they "need" help from Western feminists is insulting and condescending to non-Western women. 

My perspective is a practical one: any efforts that help Muslim women—whether they live in the West or under Islamic governments should be encouraged. Every effort to pressure these governments to change unjust laws should be supported.

Western feminists and female Western leaders have a simple choice to make: either excuse the inexcusable, or demand reform in cultures and religious doctrines that continue to oppress women. 

Nothing illustrates this better than what happened in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve, 2015. That night, during the city's traditional celebrations, numerous German women (467 at the last count) reported being sexually harassed or assaulted by men of North African and Arab origin. Within two months, 73 suspects had been identified, most of them from North Africa; 12 of them have been linked to sexual crimes. Yet, in response to the attacks, Cologne's feminist Mayor Henriette Reker issued an "arm's length" guideline to women. Just “keep at an arm's length” distance between you and a mob of Arab men, she advised Cologne's female population, and you will be fine.

Mayor Reker's comments underline the seriousness of the problem: a culture clash is upon us. The first step in resolving it is to unapologetically defend the values that have allowed women to flourish. Feminists with their organizations, networks and lobbying power need to be on the front lines on this battle. Their relevance depends on it. And so does the well being of countless women, Western and non-Western.

I'm Ayaan Hirsi Ali of Harvard University for Prager University.

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