I am woman, hear me roarIn numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman
—“I Am Woman” by Ray Burton and Helen Reddy
No one who was living in the 1970s can forget this song, the way Helen Reddy sang it, and the impact it had on the young girls who heard it.
It was an anthem, something that dovetailed perfectly with Mary Richards (aka Mary Tyler Moore), who we watched launch a successful career as a single woman. Or Anne (aka Marlo Thomas) living alone in New York City and having the audacity to end her series, “That Girl,” without marrying Don Hollinger, her ever-present fiancé. Finally, women had real choices.
Someone once said, “Culture is the memory of the food you ate when you were very young.” For most girls growing up then, freedom to live our own lives and be whatever we wanted to be was the food we were nurtured on. We embraced the fact that each girl’s future was dependent on only one person — herself.
This thought came to me as I marveled at the tremendous numbers of women and their families who showed up across our country — and the world — at the Women’s March on January 21. And though there has been much discussion from all kinds of media outlets about what this march really meant and what will happen in the future, it delivered one message that no one can deny. Women are empowered and determined to keep it that way.
Helen Reddy was right. “No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.” No, never.
And so I was filled with great sadness and trepidation when I saw that one of the march’s key organizers was Linda Sarsour. Some of you may recognize Sarsour as the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, as a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and as a strong supporter of Keith Ellison as chair of the Democratic National Committee. She also was an Obama White House “champion of change.” What is not so well known, however, is that she is a champion of sharia.
My first memory of hearing the term sharia law was in 1989. On Valentine’s Day, the Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran declared a religious edict, known as a fatwa, demanding that death be imposed on the author Salman Rushdie and all involved with his book “The Satanic Verses,” for its perceived blasphemy against Islam. What most of us recall is Mr. Rushdie going into hiding for many years, only seen on rare occasions, with bodyguards in tow. What many people do not know is the fate of others who were involved with the publication of his novel.
According to a piece in Vanity Fair by the late Christopher Hitchens, in addition to Iranian attempts on Rushdie’s life over the years, Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was stabbed to death on the campus where he taught. The novel’s Italian translator, Ettore Cariolo, was knifed in his apartment in Milan. And that was not all. William Nygaard, “the novel’s Norwegian publisher, was shot three times in the back and left for dead outside his Oslo home,” Hitchens wrote. The fatwa is still in force today, although it is said not to be actively supported — but no one really knows.
What was perplexing for many of us at the time was that there didn’t seem to be any tremendous outcry against this fatwa by the world community. Shock, yes. A chill in the air, definitely. However, I don’t recall any rallies, and there was definitely no sustained movement decrying this evil measure, focused on killing those whom the ayatollah deemed unfit. After all, Rushdie was no warlord but a writer of fiction.
Since that time, we have become increasingly familiar with the impact of sharia law, especially when it comes to killings of women who shamed the family honor by simply living their own lives. Remember Noor Almaleki? Her father intentionally killed his daughter in Arizona in 2009 because she had become too Westernized, he said, and brought disrespect to the family. He now is serving time. Or the 2008 murders of Anna and Sarah Said, Texas teens who were shot many times by their father because they would not agree to forced marriages. This case is still open, because their father left their lifeless bodies in a car and ran.
And what about the case cited in Sarsour’s 2012 CNN piece, called “My Hijab is My Hoodie”? Sarsour asserted that the murder of Shaima Alawadi in San Diego that same year was a result of Islamophobia. However, the facts found that her husband killed her after finding out that she was going to divorce him. He is now serving a 26-years-to-life sentence.
And what about female genital mutilation? This is when a girl’s clitoris is cut so that she cannot have any sexual pleasure in order to keep her honor. Though the figures are not completely reliable, because of the sensitivity of the subject, this heinous ritual is happening in America. It even was dramatized in an episode of “Law and Order.”
Sarsour is not only a supporter but a cheerleader of sharia. One tweet from 2015 says, “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans & credit cards become interest free. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?” Another interesting tweet from 2014 seems to imply that following sharia is simply about following a certain diet. “@RobertWildiris I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat pork, I follow Islamic way of living. That’s all Sharia law is.”
Yet she avoids mentioning the basic fact that women are not free under sharia. Dissent is not tolerated. Women are not even allowed to leave their house unaccompanied by a male family member. It is not about a diet, loans, or credit, it is about the subjugation of women. As Pakistan-based journalist Khadija Khan writes, “How come she forgot to mention that in Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim states, her kind of activism would cost a woman her family, her honor and probably her life?”
And don’t think that Sarsour believes in civility toward those with whom she disagrees. A particularly cruel tweet focused on Brigitte Gabriel and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, both fighters for freedom and against sharia. Sarsour’s desire? “I wish I could take their vaginas away — they don’t deserve to be women.” For those who don’t know, Ayaan is a victim of female genital mutilation. Definitely no sisterhood here.
“I’ve been down there on the floor, no one’s ever gonna keep me down again.” This lyric keeps ringing in my ears as I ponder why a march dedicated to the empowerment of women would embrace a woman who believes in and is actively working to subjugate them to the men in the world. Let’s debate those like Sarsour, but let’s not lend them the spotlight in events that are antithetical to their mission so they can fool the uninformed in an effort to return to the Dark Ages.
And why not a woman’s rally against honor killings and female genital mutilation? As Helen sang, “I am woman, hear me roar.”