Maybe it’s indicative of our Western liberal culture, or maybe it is just extreme apathy, but only when a crime has been committed multiple times, and on an extreme scale, do we take notice. And then, only for a fleeting moment. The latest example of this being the global outrage at the kidnapping of hundreds of young girls by Nigerian terror group Boko Haram. Boko Harams leader, Abubakr Sheku, has declared his intention to sell these girls, prompting global condemnation among Western leaders–particularly on Twitter. Which seems to be the alternative to actually taking action against Boko Haram.
Boko Harams acts of terror have been appalling and outrageous on a consistent basis. However, the act of kidnapping and selling young girls has pushed the boundaries of barbarism and has drawn the capricious attention of the world. In this brief moment when the eyes of the world are draw to this outrageous act, I would like to draw attention to an underlying issue that has been overlooked. Globally, even with it’s reaches now touching the West, the treatment of women in Muslim societies has at best been ignored, and at worst silenced. This is a taboo subject that we don’t talk about. Even Western governments don’t condemn the crimes perpetrated against women in this context. And you certainly don’t see this issue getting its own Twitter hash-tag.
Whenever anyone tries to highlight the subject of the treatment and perceptions of women in Muslim communities, they’re branded as Islamphobes. A reaction recently seen in response to the film ‘Honor Diaries’. This reaction, however, comes from those who have their own nefarious agendas and particular disdain for free speech and genuine human rights. This issue has been too long in the shadows and this conversation should have happened long ago. We must take this opportunity to bring it to the fore now.
Looking at the Muslim world, the situation of women varies from bad to horrendous. The fact that four worst countries for women ranked by the global gender index countries in 2013, were all Muslim majority states highlights this. Yet we see very little action from the UN and other so called defenders of human rights to rectify this. But I want to concentrate more on the situation in Western Europe and North America, as this is something that poses unique challenges to our societies.
Drawing on statistics in the last 14 years, there have been multiple instances of so-called “Honor killings” in families from Muslim backgrounds in almost every nation in Western Europe, Canada and the United States. In many instances a female member of the family was seen to have brought shame on her family by either being to ‘Westernized’ or engaging in a taboo relationship, thus deserving to be murdered at the hands of family members. A horrific practices that make it not surprising that in 2013, the BBC reported on the high demand for housing at a Muslim Women’s Hostel. The charity that run the hostels were planning a 3rd building to meet with the demand for safe housing. The article stated, “The charity said many of the women who had contacted it – ranging in age from 18 to 72 – were victims of mental and physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse and forced marriages.” Also, in recent years, we’ve seen the high profile cases in the UK of Muslim men grooming young venerable, mainly white girls, for sexual exploitation. Now we’re seeing the issue of female genital mutilation has made the news in recent months. Again, the issue, as seen with the other examples I’ve mentioned above, is that these stories fall out of the public conscious so quickly and nothing is done. Governments lack the will to confront these issues and hold those responsible for such heinous crimes to account.
While I have personally heard numerous clerics dehumanize non-Muslim women and express misogynistic views towards all females from the pulpit, I have also observed an appalling lack of effort in reversing this trend. If these issues are raised, they are met with organizations that work to frame the debate as anti-Muslim propaganda or Islamaphobia. Western liberal society becomes alarmed at being labeled racist or xenophobic and the conversation disappears into the ether while the real issues remain. Contributing to the lack of staying power to this topic is the lack of prominent female Muslim human rights activists. Both disappointing and troubling is the fact that more women are not speaking out against the disparities that occur. The brave few that do speak out, such as the courageous Qanta Ahmed and Raheel Raza, have been rewarded with numerous death threats from their co-religionists. The inspirational Raquel Evita Saraswati is regularly subjected to misogynistic abuse through social media from Muslim males.
We have shied away from this very serious issue for far too long. So while we are on the subject of the exploitation of women brought to our attention by the actions of Boko Haram and the Sudanese governments intention to execute a Christian woman for not converting to Islam, we must seize this opportunity to discuss the wider issues that are emerging from some Muslims communities in the West. I will be the first one to point out that those committing these awful acts of abuse are a minority. However, for me, one innocent girl murdered in the name of ‘honour’ is one too many. Action needs taken now. Governments must combat the spreading of misogynistic preaching and propaganda. Harsh penalties must be imposed on those using culture or religion to justify the demeaning of an entire gender. Many will accuse me of being an Islamaphobe. They will say you’re giving ammunition to those who hate Muslims. They will scream that Christians and atheists’ rape and abuse women too. And so and so forth. No one is denying that gender based abuse is a global problem spanning many cultures. What I am doing is providing the facts and raising awareness to what is happening NOW with little to no global outcry. One is compelled to stand up against such acts for moral and human rights reasons, not out of a hatred of Muslim—these are Muslim women and girls of which we are speaking of after all. But the fact remains that gender inequality is a serious issue in the Muslim community on a global scale. From rape in Syria, Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, to honour killings in Canada, we have to address these issues. We can not constantly hide behind the statement “this is not Islam” do nothing and expect the world to believe us. Acts like those of Boko Haram are being committed by Muslims thats the reality, so surely if these do not represent us, we should be at the forefront of speaking up and ridding ourselves of these evils.
If my speaking out against murders prompts you to call me an Islamaphobe, go right ahead. I will not keep silent while the innocent suffer. If not wanting to see any more innocent victims like Shafeila Ahmed, murdered by her parents in the UK for refusing an arranged marriage, Tulay Goren, murdered by her father for being with a boy he disapproved of, Samaira Nazir, murdered by her family for wanting to marry a man of her own choice, the Shafia sisters, drowned by their father in a ‘honour’ killing in Canada and many many others, shamefully murdered in the name of ‘honour’ makes me an Islamaphobe, then so be it.