Views From Kennewick

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How my eyes were opened to the barbarity of Islam

From The Times
March 07, 2007

How my eyes were opened to the barbarity of Islam

Is it racist to condemn fanaticism?

Phyllis Chesler

Once I was held captive in Kabul. I was the bride of a
charming, seductive and Westernised 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 US passport. "Don't worry, it's just a
formality," my husband assure d me. I never saw that passport
again. I later learnt 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
and 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 21 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
or visiting female relatives, or having new (and very
fashionable) clothes made.

In America, my husband was proud 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 forced to sit at the back of the bus and had
to keep yielding their place on line in the bazaar to any

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 that led to wife-beating, marital
rape and to a rampant but hotly denied male "prison"-like
homosexuality and 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).

Individual Afghans were enchantingly courteous - but the
Afghanistan I knew was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty,
treachery and preventable diseases. It was also a police
state, a feudal monarchy and a theocracy, rank with fear and
paranoia. Afghanistan had never been colonised. My relatives
said: "Not even the British could occupy us." Thus I was
forced to conclude that Afghan barbarism was of their own
making and could not be attributed to Western imperialism.

Long before the rise of the Taleban, I learnt not to
romanticise Third World countries or to confuse their
hideous tyrants with liberators. I also learnt that sexual
and religious apartheid in Muslim countries is indigenous
and not the result of Western crimes - and that such
"colourful tribal customs" are absolutely, not relatively,
evil. Long before al-Qaeda beheaded Daniel Pearl in Pakistan
and Nicholas Berg in Ir aq, I understood that it was
dangerous for a Westerner, especially a woman, to live in a
Muslim country. In retrospect, I believe my so-called
Western feminism was forged in that most beautiful and
treacherous of Eastern countries.

Nevertheless, Western intellectual-ideologues, including
feminists, have demonised me as a reactionary and racist
"Islamophobe" for arguing that Islam, not Israel, is the
largest practitioner of both sexual and religious apartheid
in the world and that if Westerners do not stand up to this
apartheid, morally, economically and militarily, we will not
only have the blood of innocents on our hands; we will also
be overrun by Sharia in the West. I have been heckled,
menaced, never-invited, or disinvited for such heretical
ideas - and for denouncing the epidemic of Muslim-on-Muslim
violence for which tiny Israel is routinely, unbelievably

However, my views have found favo ur with the bravest and
most enlightened people alive. Leading secular Muslim and
ex-Muslim dissidents - from Egypt, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq,
Jordan, Pakistan, Syria and exiles from Europe and North
America - assembled for the landmark Islamic Summit
Conference in Florida and invited me to chair the opening
panel on Monday.

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 conference issued a declaration calling for such
a new "Enlightenment". The declaration views "Islamophobia"
as a false allegation, sees a "noble future for Islam as a
personal faith, not a political doctrine" and "demands the
release of Islam from its captivity to the ambitions of
power-hungry me n".

Now is the time for Western intellectuals who claim to be
antiracists and committed to human rights to stand with
these dissidents. To do so requires that we adopt a
universal standard of human rights and abandon our loyalty
to multicultural relativism, which justifies, even
romanticises, indigenous Islamist barbarism, totalitarian
terrorism and the persecution of women, religious
minorities, homosexuals and intellectuals. Our abject
refusal to judge between civilisation and barbarism, and
between enlightened rationalism and theocratic
fundamentalism, endangers and condemns the victims of
Islamic tyranny.

Ibn Warraq has written a devastating work that will be out
by the summer. It is entitled Defending the West: A Critique
of Edward Said's Orientalism. Will Western intellectuals
also dare to defend the West?

Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and
Women's Studies at the City Un iversity of New York


Post a Comment

<< Home