As a young bride, I once lived in a harem in Afghanistan. It was a nearly fatal adventure but I survived, escaped, and learned about gender and religious apartheid long before the Taliban. My firebrand American feminism was probably forged in purdah in the early 1960s. However, something called me Eastward and I have remained involved with the Islamic world.
Today, decades later, I work with Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents and feminists. They do not understand why Western feminists do not stand with them as they oppose normalized honor based violence, extreme state violence (think Iran, Saudi Arabia), and utter lawlessness when it comes to the torture and murder of girls and women.
Most recently, a law has been proposed in Afghanistan that will make it impossible for a woman whose family has beaten, tortured, or tried to kill her, to lodge a complaint of any kind. Such complaints are seen as endangering family unity. Orwell would understand this.
But why would intelligent and educated Western feminists remain blind to such crimes in America?
To their credit, American feminists exposed and opposed violence against women and championed a woman’s right to bodily integrity and have done heroic humanitarian work in war zones, including Afghanistan. Some have critiqued the Afghan burqa (a sensory deprivation isolation chamber and ambulatory body bag) as a symbol of barbaric misogyny.
But feminists have been taken in by the false campaign against “Islamophobia,” (which does not really exist), and have backed President Obama’s approach to the Muslim world: Appeasement, flattery, a refusal to back the bravest Muslim dissidents who are fighting against barbaric totalitarian regimes, and a wholesale acceptance of Muslim women’s subordinate status in the United States.
Like Islamists, they believe that American tolerance and separation of religion and state mandate acceptance of face veiling and non-interference with close family monitoring, normalized daughter-beating, forced marriage to a first cousin, polygamy, and female genital mutilation (FGM) which exist in America, under the radar.
According to Archi Payati ,Deputy Director of Sanctuary for Families/Immigration Intervention whether they are done here or abroad, “the New York metropolitan area is the capital for (women who have had) illegal FGM procedures.”
Some Western feminists insist that the Islamic veil (niqab and burqa) is sexy, mysterious, and comfortable; others view the veil as a religious or privacy right.
Many Muslims do not.
While it is potentially perilous to involve the state in mandating what a woman cannot wear i.e. banning the burqa -- feminists do not realize that women are honor killed for refusing to veil properly and that for nearly a century Muslim women fought for or were granted the right to be naked-faced in Egypt, Turkey, Persia, Jordan, Lebanon, the Maghreb, and Afghanistan.
In addition, some Western feminist academics and activists are reluctant to take a stand against honor killing in the West lest they be accused of racism or “Islamophobia”—even though the victims are women of color.
Their alleged anti-racism trumps their concerns with women’s rights. They are multi-cultural relativists who have sacrificed universal standards of human rights on the altar of “political correctness.”
As the author of three studies about honor killing, I know that this crime is rarely reported and even more rarely prosecuted. It is pandemic in Muslim countries and in parts of Hindu India. The United Nations continues to use statistics from the year 2000 which cite that “5,000 women are honor murdered each year.”
A Pakistani Human Rights Commission documents that 943 Pakistani women were honor murdered in the year 2011 alone. Statistics are elusive for North America but, in Middle East Quarterly, I have documented an escalation of such crimes based on media reports, public trials, and interviews.
Over the last quarter-century, high profile honor killings have taken place in Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida, New York, Arizona, and Texas, and in Canada, from coast to coast. The majority are Muslim-on-Muslim crimes, a minority are Sikh-on-Sikh crimes.
I have worked with American and Canadian detectives, prosecutors, judges, and juries who have been warned they will be labeled “Islamophobes” if they describe the crime of honor killing as such.
North American social workers and teachers have allowed young girls to return to dangerous home environments because they did not believe that parents or siblings would actually kill them.
I have submitted affidavits in American courtrooms on behalf of women in flight from being honor killed.
Sophisticated Western feminists resist understanding that western domestic violence is not the same as an honor killing. Western families do not routinely conspire to murder a teenage daughter who steps out of line nor do they participate in the murder of a married mother who wants a divorce or who has committed adultery.
Still, Western feminists who work with sexual and domestic violence victims are uncomfortable singling out one group of perpetrators.
Honor based violence and honor killing cannot be justified in the name of anti-racism, diversity, or political correctness.
The battle for women’s rights is central to the battle for Western civilization against a terrifying Islamist totalitarianism.
We cannot allow barbaric intolerance to flourish under the banner of Western tolerance.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies. She is the author of 4 studies about honor killings and 16 books.