There’s no question that women in the Islamic world are suffering. Beheadings, honor killings, female circumcision, rape, beatings, polygamy, they cannot go outside without being accompanied by a male relative (though those same relatives may rape them and cause them to be victimized a second and third time), child brides, and in some of the Arab countries, women cannot vote, cannot drive, and cannot show their face in public.
This behavior is not just happening in the Arab countries; it is also happening (though in smaller numbers) here in the United States and the western world. The question has been raised, why don’t more feminists open their mouth about the constant and continual abuse of women in the Arab world (or anywhere)?
Eleven years ago, Kay S. Hymowitz wrote an excellent article on this very topic, Why Feminism is AWOL on Islam. She argued that, in essence, if Western feminists were to focus on the plight of Muslim women, they would realize that women in the US don’t have it so badly and the ‘fight for equality’ would be over. Since publication of her article in 2003, sadly, not much has changed. There aren’t public protests against the unethical treatment of Muslim women, there are few ‘petitions’ that circulate about it, and honor killings rarely make the news, even when it happens in the United States. When it does happen in the US, people, including feminists themselves, are hesitant to identify it as an ‘honor killing.’
“Former National Organization for Women (NOW) President Kim Gandy compared the battered and beheaded Aasiya Hassan to the battered (but still living) pop star Rihanna and further questioned whether Hassan’s murder was an honor killing … At the time of the Hassan beheading, a coalition of domestic violence workers sent an (unpublished) letter to the Erie County district attorney’s office and to some media stating that this was not an honor killing, that honor killings had nothing to do with Islam, and that sensationalizing Muslim domestic violence was not only racist but also served to render invisible the much larger incidence of both domestic violence and domestic femicide.” – Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010.
Ms. Hymowitz might have deduced several reasons for why feminists don’t speak up for their sisters, but I propose another, more logical and straightfoward reason. Feminists are too fearful of Islam and radical Muslims to open their mouths.
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
The truth is that most people are too fearful to speak up. I’ll be the first to admit that radical Muslims, ISIS, Hamas, and the like, are a scary bunch. They promote a religion of death, hate and murder the Infidel, intentionally strike fear into the hearts and minds of innocent people with terror attacks, and then happily raise their children with these ‘morals.’
Perhaps we think that if we don’t say anything, they will ignore us and focus on their victims (Muslim women) instead of us. Learned helplessness (going back centuries) and political correctness prevents us from speaking out, speaking up, and protecting those girls and women who are being beaten, mutilated, and murdered.
If anyone were to be counted on to speak up on behalf of these battered women, it should be the feminists. But where are they? Where are the feminists who are afraid of no man? Where are the radical feminists who call every act of sex ‘rape?’ Why don’t the multiculturalist and postcolonialist feminists speak up for the Muslim women, all the while blaming the West? Why are the classical, liberal feminists, who claim that the fight isn’t over, so deathly and dangerously silent?
Fear of being the next target of the Muslims is a legitimate and powerful motivator. To some, fear of being labelled a racist is a motivating factor as well. Despite this, we cannot let either one prevent the rescue of the repressed Muslim women. They need us. They need our assistance in regaining control over their lives.
The truth is, the radical Muslims are going to come after us regardless of how quiet and meek feminists (and others) can be and regardless of how frantically we point the finger at other countries and groups. They already are.
If we truly consider ourselves an enlightened society, where men and women can both be feminists, where everyone is entitled to freedom and equality of opportunity, where all women should be given the basic freedoms of choice, then we must act in spite of the paralyzing fear. The fear is real. The threat is real. But that is what true courage is.
Feminists like to think of themselves as the leaders in the forefront of gender equality. We pride ourselves on taking strides and making changes that open doors and break glass ceilings. We take credit for achieving great things — but with this self-imposed responsibility comes an even greater one, that of protecting our sisters around the world. If we fail them, if we haven’t even tried, then it is our fault it continues.
And it is.