Why do feminists and those of the Left seem so indifferent about Islamic extremism? Why are radical women who often have been part of the anti-war movement so willing to get into bed with jihadists? Why is the sisterhood so silent about the abuses of women within Islam? These questions are asked by a British feminist, leftist and former anti-war protester, Sarah Baxter.
Writing in The Sunday Times (August 13, 2006), she asks why so many of her long-standing colleagues are delusional regarding Islamic extremism. In her article, “Wimmin and War,” she does two things: she discusses and quotes from many of these feminists, and then she interacts with other women who have seen more clearly the threat of Islamism.
Baxter was an early participant in the Greenham Common anti-war protests twenty-five years ago. So she has been there and done that. But she is puzzled by why so many of these same protestors are ignorant about the dangers of Islamic extremism.
“As a supporter of the peace movement in the 1980s, I could never have imagined that many of the same crowd I hung out with then would today be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with militantly anti-feminist Islamic fundamentalist groups, whose views on women make western patriarchy look like a Greenham peace picnic. Nor would I have predicted that today’s feminists would be so indulgent towards Iran, a theocratic nation where it is an act of resistance to show an inch or two of female hair beneath the veil and whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not joking about his murderous intentions towards Israel and the Jews.”
Instead of denouncing the way women are treated in radical Islam, and how human rights are violated, many of today’s feminists instead consider the West to be the real enemy: “On the defining issue of our times, the rise of Islamic extremism, what is left of the sisterhood has almost nothing to say. Instead of “I am woman, hear me roar”, there is a loud silence, punctuated only by remonstrations against Tony Blair and George Bush – “the world’s number one terrorist” as the marchers would have it.”
She continues, “Women are perfectly entitled to oppose the war in Iraq or to feel that Israel is brutally overreacting to Hezbollah’s provocation. But where is the parallel, equally vital debate about how to combat Islamic fundamentalism? And why don’t more peace-loving feminists regard it as a threat?”
Baxter has, like many others (myself included), undergone a change of heart and mind on these issues. Her youthful idealism has been tempered by seasoned realism: “Looking back I think I was wrong about Reagan and too sympathetic towards the Soviet Union. There were plenty of fellow travellers in the peace movement who were cheering on the Soviet Union under their breath. I can remember making a lot of silly excuses about it myself.”
Baxter then discusses a number of woman who think more soberly about the Islamic challenge in particular, and international relations in general. These voices are warning us to take the threats of Islamism seriously. One woman has written a whole book on the subject (cited in my article on the top 20 books on Islam). Phyllis Chesler penned The Death of Feminism last year. In it she recounts her time living in Afghanistan. She was a founding feminist in the 60s, but has experienced the hardships of Muslim patriarchy first hand.
Says Chesler, “The Afghanistan I knew was a prison, a police state, a feudal monarchy, a theocracy rank with fear and paranoia”. She continues, “I fear that the ‘peace and love’ crowd in the West refuses to understand how Islamism endangers our values and our lives, beginning with our commitment to women’s rights and human rights.”
Says Baxter, “Chesler has fallen out with many old friends in the women’s movement. They have in effect excommunicated her for writing in right-wing publications in America, but she has found it impossible to get published on the left. There are whispers that she has become paranoid, mad, bonkers, a charge frequently levelled against the handful of women writers who are brave enough to tackle the same theme.”
Another writer cited by Baxter is Julie Burchill. Burchill argues that Islamic terrorists desire to commit their awful acts “not so that innocents may have the right to live freely on the West Bank, but so that they might have the right to throw acid in the face of innocent, unveiled women”.
Or consider Italian writer Oriana Fallaci (whom I also mention in my top 20 list). Says Baxter, “the 77-year-old journalist famous for interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini, recently went on trial accused of defaming Muslims. It is true that many of her comments about Islam – “a pool that never purifies” – are undeniably offensive, but no more so than comments routinely made by Muslim extremists about “the Jews”. In her cancer-stricken twilight years, the once glamorous Fallaci has been written off as a deranged old bat.”
Baxter mentions other women who have seen the dangers Islamism poses to women, to freedom, and the West, and how they have been blacklisted by those on the Left. She argues that we need to wake up to the real dangers in the world. She says “the 1980s peace movement must take some of the blame with its overbearing emphasis on the evil Reagan empire and soft-pedalling of the Soviet Union. But I am surprised, all the same, by the persistence of the ideological blind spot that has led women who are so quick to condemn the failings of the West to make transparent excuses for the behaviour of some of the world’s most anti-feminist regimes.”
She concludes, “The Middle East is engaged in a titanic struggle between modernity and theocracy. Whatever one’s views about the Iraq war or the conflict in Lebanon, it deserves more than slogans about ‘We are all Hezbollah now’ and fury against Bush and Blair. I don’t agree with Chesler that we are witnessing the death of feminism, but for now it is MIA: missing in action.”
Quite right. It is time for women – and men – on the Left to wake up to the real human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Islamic extremists, and stop blaming the West for all our ills.