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Western feminists:Ignoring the abuse of Islamic women?

 
 
msolga
 
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 04:16 am
Please do not mistake this for a Muslim-bashing thread. It isn't. I read this article (by a "respectable" woman journalist) in my daily paper today & I've been thinking since ....

I'd like to know what others here think, too. Please, I repeat, this is NOT a Muslim-hate thread, OK?


The silence of the feminists
February 4, 2005/the AGE

http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2005/02/03/wboprhspic_wideweb__430x297.jpg

Why don't left-leaning Western women speak up about abuses in the Islamic world, asks Pamela Bone.

... The great silence by left-leaning Western feminists, and other large parts of the left, to human rights abuses carried out in the name of Islam is, to see it as its kindest, caused by an overdeveloped sense of tolerance or cultural relativism. But it is also part of the new anti-Americanism. Look at American Christian fundamentalism, they say. ...

.. It does not take a lot of courage for people living in Western democracies to criticise aspects of their culture that need criticising (indeed, it sometimes takes more courage to defend the culture). It takes a great deal of courage for people living in totalitarian states to speak out against the injustices done in the name of their religion or culture. The problem with politely ignoring abuses of human rights because "it's their culture" is that it lets down the brave liberals and democrats and human rights defenders who are trying to change things that so badly need to change for the welfare of women and men in their own communities and in the world. ...

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/02/03/1107409981815.html?oneclick=true
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 05:41 am
Hmmm - that is a bit blanket. I personally know no left-wing feminist activists who do NOT condemn the practices discussed here - nor any left men who do not.

I, for instance, sometimes get into trouble with hard-line cultural relativists for doing so, though.

This is not to say that understanding cultural relativism can make critiquing other cultures a fraught endeavour, and that there have not been people (like bloody Greer it seems!!!!) who have lost their way in looking at the realities. (Sort of like the men who claim that circumcision is as bad as female genital mutilation.)

I think one of the dynamics happening with aspects of Islam is that, as denunciations of Islam became increasingly rabid and hysterical on the part of some right extremists (you need only look at some of the stuff here - which is mild compared with what is in the community) - then criticising the oppression of women in many Islamic nations began to feel like joining in with the prejudice.

It is complicated, too, by the response of many politicised Islamic women, that we in the west are the ones oppressed - by being debased and sexualised in the western culture.

I think personally that such responses are part of the fact that, in responding to westernised despots, like the Shah of Iran, many Islamic women saw returning to a traditional form of Islam as a political act - as did the likes of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Radical Islam then becomes as much a political act as a religious one - a stage from which I devoutly hope Islamic nations recover some time soon.

I am also reminded of the dynamic behind, for instance, black women in the African National Congress, during the apartheid years, who lived with disgusting treatment of women, making a clear decision NOT to fight that battle, until the battle of gaining political control of the country had been won.

Or, in Aboriginal activism, the period when raising the brutal realities of physical and sexual violence by Aboriginal men against Aboriginal women and children was not to be discussed - in case it gave more ammunition to white racists.

Ditto with domestic and sexual violence in the lesbian community (at least in Oz) - which was, for a long time, not discussed for the same sorts of reasons.

And the "Asian values" thing - (remember that, Msolga?) which highly controlling Asian governments used to make any human rights criticisms made by the west seem bullying and chauvinistic (problem is that sometimes they damn well ARE - which is the other difficulty - sometimes our criticisms ARE ignorant and arrogant). Asian human rights activists drew our attention to the fact that "Asian values" when it came to human rights ought to be no different from the value placed on freedom anywhere else - and that the term was simply an excuse for despotism in the hands of many using it.

But - I DO think that cultural - and indeed, moral - relativism, in its extreme form, can be used to render us impotent in discussing, and opposing, various forms of bad behaviour. And, for ex-colonial powers, or their scattered progeny, cultural judgments can be a minefied for anyone with any passing knowledge of history.

That being said, what we DO with our condemnations are indeed difficult.

I was looking at lots of stuff on female genital mutilation, for instance - and wandering in saying "that's BAD!" is certainly not going to do anything - opposition to such practices DOES need to be done in a culturally sensitive way - as the women from the culture, who are doing the active opposing, say - these things are genuinely seen by their adherents as the right and "natural" thing to be done. Although, I suspect that nudging aid according to whether the leaders of the countries where these outrages occur are actually ACTING on the laws which have already been made outlawing the mutilation or not could be - and possibly is being - done.

I do think that we ought not to be allowing practices which grossly offend our values to be done when people are living in our countries. I mean, there was once, here, actually a debate about whether doctors ought to be allowed to practice female genital mutilation - the argument being that it would be done far more hygienically and humanely that way. We said no - that this was against core medical and community ethics.

As for sharia law - we would, presumably, not be allowing murder of adulterous women to occur? Or mutilation for stealing etc? I see no harm where there is no intense conflict between it and broad community values - but....I DO think we have the right to have our values broadly adhered to - as we would have to adhere to at least the form of values in a fundamentalist Islamic culture.


The cultural relativism thing, too, in the hands of fools is a dangerous thing - and there is no legislating against fools!

I will give you an example - the welfare department here, in struggling to deal with its former role in stealing the stolen generation, worked hard to develop skills in cultural sensitivity. A fine and dandy thing in the hands of the reasonable.

However, in the hands of fools - well, I will tell one story. Someone from my office was seeing a little boy from an immigrant family. A lot of his behaviour made sense when we discovered that, when he was naughty, he was being tied to the family's Hills hoist and flogged with the garden hose, until he bled.

When this was discussed with the family, they were happy to admit the practice, well satisfied that they were doing the right thing to try and help their son.

The abuse was reported - when contacted by the local welfare office, by a well known idiot, the people working with the family were stunned and appalled to hear that no action would be taken "because whipping children was part of the family's culture."

Of course, we did not rest there - but, well - the issue is a lot bigger than feminists and Islam...

And - here is another article from pamela herself, saying the same - that the problem is a lot bigger than feminists and the left not speaking out about these things:

http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au/pamelabone.htm
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 07:49 am
dlowan,

Very well said.
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panzade
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 08:25 am
I concur bunny breath
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 09:00 am
Very well said indeed.

Quote:
I do think that we ought not to be allowing practices which grossly offend our values to be done when people are living in our countries. I mean, there was once, here, actually a debate about whether doctors ought to be allowed to practice female genital mutilation - the argument being that it would be done far more hygienically and humanely that way. We said no - that this was against core medical and community ethics.


I'll have to look this up for details, but in Minnesota I think there was/is a system that was developed by Somali (?) women to meet cultural requirements but also keep the damage minimal -- rather than full pharaonic circumcision, a very small ritualistic nick would be made in a medical setting. No permanent damage.

I think all of this is one of those things that we talk about here so often, from education to wars, that people often want something NOW when the only realistic way is to do it gradually and with patience. It certainly would be nice to just utterly wipe out the practice and be done with it, but realistically there needs to be steps along the way from the worst version of it to nothing at all.
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shewolfnm
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 09:34 am
One of my very good friends and ex-coworker is Muslim.
Her take on things were a bit diffrent.
Her parents moved here to the states when she was 17. She and her parents were apalled at the behaviors shown in the nation of islam with in the past 20 years.
She and I had many talks about the abuse of women , children and MEN... wich never makes the news... who were Muslim.
She said , and showed me , how her religion DOES not allow for abuse no matter what the sex, origin or location.
( elaborating on the location statement--)
Men of the nation of Islam were being whipped and tortured because they were not allowed certain amounts of people in thier household.. children counted.. in certain parts of thier country. They had an unspoken rule that allowed rich to stay richer and not have to live in crowded cities housing, and streets . Men who allowed thier families to stay in these places that were specified for rich were beaten, shuned and alot of times lost thier homes, jobs etc.
According to muslim tradition and religion, this is NOT allowed.
The women of Islam choose to wear the covers over thier face, or hair, or bodies according to thier own personal feelings about thier religion. Only in the past 10 years has this practice almost become law. Those who dont follow this law have been abused. Thier rights taken away and shunned in thier society.
It has been a shame to the islam nation this behavior, but to paraphrase what DL said... there is no one to speak up about the changes that are happening that holds a good seat in the government. Noone to stand up for the wrongs that are happening. So many leave.

The Muslim relilgion isnt repressive to the women. It is the people who practice it who are. They are bending , folding, and changing cultural rules to allow themselves to do so.
It was fear that drove my friends family here to the states. She and her mother are no where NEAR the repressed , scared females we think of when we hear Muslim, or Islam. Quite the opposite. Her mother is a lawyer, and she herself is a nurse. Thier family , for generations, have all been Muslim. And things have never changed until receintly.

Im sorry that this post is a bit scatter brained.. as I am still quite sick and can not keep a good train of thought. But i hope it helps in the discussion to know that the current affairs are not accepted by people of the Muslim religion and that the government is a HUGE factor in this behavior we see today. It is very true that since there is no help in the government , this behavior is just getting worse and worse.
I am not sure how accurate my friends depiction of her religion is... but the facts she and her mother presented many nights over dinner convinced me that this behavior we see today isnt correct and isnt in the Muslim law.
hopefully things change soon.
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Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 11:04 am
I have a feminist friend who has become involved with the plight of Muslim women in Afghanistan. She and her co-workers have a number of small projects, deliberately low profile, to improve the earning power--and hence the status--of Afghan women.

http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 4 Feb, 2005 11:10 am
"Deliberately low profile" is an interesting point in this context -- I also know of a lot of similar organizations that are imperiled by being too high profile. So there may be much more being done by Western feminists than is generally known -- as part of the strategy to help out.
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almach1
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 04:41 am
All of you people make reall good points. I often wondered how talk to muslim people about this without offending their culture. I think somebody hit the nail on the head when they said that it's going to gradually go away.

I know a muslim male in his early twenties who's only been living her in the US for 4 yrs. He calls all american girls sluts because they were low cut shirts, cuss and and do traditionaly masculin jobs.

I know two sisters who are muslims also who have hardcore muslim parents, yet they are very western in every sense.(no hijab, look men in the eye, and speak loudly)

I also know a cacasian women in her early twenties who converted to Islam 2 years ago. Before that she was a regular, non-virgin, party girl. She now actually wears the Hijab, will no longer date men, has learned arabic and will not look at men in the eye. I met her when she was invited to speak at my international marketing class in college. She had a real hard time defending her choice in religions to the women in our class. The girls in the classroom felt she was taking a step back in terms of the advancement of feminism. She would talk down to other girls in the class by saying she used to dress slutty, and act crazy because she was sexually active.

islam seems to be interpreted differently just as christianity is also.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 05:10 am
"islam seems to be interpreted differently just as christianity is also."


Indeed it is, Almach 1.



Any answers yet, Msolga????
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 06:38 am
Still thinking, Deb. This has been very interesting reading, though. Mulling here.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 07:12 am
Noddy24 wrote:
I have a feminist friend who has become involved with the plight of Muslim women in Afghanistan. She and her co-workers have a number of small projects, deliberately low profile, to improve the earning power--and hence the status--of Afghan women.

http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/



Thank you for that very interesting link, Noddy - I am busy investigating it now.

Everyone here has RAWA. I assume?

I will give it - just in case:

http://www.rawa.org/
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 07:22 am
I have an interesting point to make - I know that one of the reasons that I really try very hard to be fair to Islam, is that I actually am very prejudiced against it!

I find so much of the treatment of women common in some Middle Eastern and African Islamic countries so repellent (and I would like to hear more of the mistreatment of men being discussed) that I have really struggled to become less prejudiced.

I can never forget the experience of mingling with some extraordinary Arab men in Changi - and, though I was very modestly dressed, feeling a sort of hatred and contempt in their constant stares. I also found seeing women in the full, black cover up at Heathrow - even, some, with sort of mesh cages over their eyes - or eyes looking only through tiny slits in their hoods - which were attached to their noses with some sort of metal thing utterly repellent - I was so angry that I felt like kicking the men - well, you know where - and "freeing" the women. How dumb, eh???? Plus that they could practically have bought Australia with their oil money - dripping with gold and jewels and such the men were - and doubtless the women, under all that crap.

Knowing those women cannot drive cars, or leave the country without permission, and all that....


Now - I know much of that is cultural and not actually Islamic - but I actually burn with anger over it.

I wonder if there are other folk who - feeling such ugly prejudice in themselves - bend over backwards to be fair?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Feb, 2005 07:54 am
Here is an interesting - but awful - Marie Claire article on self-immolation of women in liberated Afghanistan...

http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/pdf/MarieClaireMag.pdf

It seems the terrible practice has become something of a craze - (like cutting and such in the west). The article speculates (as I was wondering) that, for women whose lives remain very circumscribed and often awful, seeing western freedoms on newly installed TVs (remember - no TV under the Taliban) gives rise to great frustration.

Let us hope this is a liminal phase....
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almach1
 
  1  
Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 05:51 am
I often take islamic women's opinion of men personally. They think that us men will rape them if we see curves or feminine feautures through their clothing. They are tought sometimes in their religion and culture that men are unable to controll ourselves if we are tempted with any sexual or feminine visions and feautures. islamic women are sometimes tought that women are so beautifull in thier natural form that us men cannot control ourselves. Therefore they must cover up their bodies and never conversate with men without a male escort present to protect them.
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shewolfnm
 
  1  
Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 09:55 pm
dlowan wrote:

I wonder if there are other folk who - feeling such ugly prejudice in themselves - bend over backwards to be fair?


I will raise my hand proudly to that question.
Everytime I see a woman covered from head to toe, I just want to walk up to her, rip it off and tell her to go back to her own country. That women should never bow to a man , woman , or ANY other human for that matter. I feel like it is a form of abuse how they dress and the things they claim they are not allowed to do. AND having my friends family really talk to me and allow me to ask some of the ( probally very rude ) questions I did, I know .... let me restate this... I am POSITIVE that how they are being treated is simply because these women allow it in hopes of staying married and being seen as ' good women '.

Burn with prejudice? That is an understatement in my life.

I HATE... i mean HATE, that I feel this way twords a culture I know nothing about.
My friend who I spoke of earlier, was the hardest person for me to ever accept in my life. And I did it for much the same reasons as you said DL! Simply because it was NOT OK for me to feel this way about an entire group of people whom I knew nothing of. So.. I broke down that personal bridge and look where it has gotten me. :-)

I know how I feel is wrong, and I know that by stating how I feel, I have opened myself for some well deserved bashing.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 6 Feb, 2005 11:18 pm
Tell any bashers to smeg themselves.

Feelings are just feelings - we all have prejudices and bigotries - what matters is how we deal with them - eg examining them with reason and compassion, and refusing to act on them.

It is feelings we dare not admit to, or examine in the light of reason and evidence, that do harm.


Lol - one day - mebbe just before I die - I hope to have dealt effectively with fully half of my prejudices!
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Feb, 2005 01:26 am
My situation is a little more complicated. The more I learn (first hand)about the Muslim culture (here in Oz) the more confused I get. Confused

I have worked in quite a number of northern suburbs schools in Melbourne which have become the chosen areas of residence of large numbers of Muslims. Before I had any contact with (the mainly) Arabic Muslim students I had a rather rosy idea that these students would be just like the many students from other cultures I've taught. I've found them to be a bit more challenging than that. Here are some of my observations:

* An all girls' school where a huge number of the students are Arabic/Muslims. I'd constantly find myself becoming distressed & angry at the attitude taken by their families to their daughters' education. Girls would often be absent from school because of any variety of family commitments: helping mother with the new baby, attending the doctor with a family member to act as translator, Shopping .... Their brothers were never expected to perform such duties. Some of the girls lacked any motivation altogether in own their education ... They'd tell me there was no point in worrying because they were just going to get married, so it didn't matter. I'd sometimes run into girls I'd taught the year before at year 10 or 11, only to discover that they were now wives & mothers.

* The anger these girls would express at their lack of "freedom". I'd hear tales of how they did all the housework, looked after the younger children, be working for ages at night while their brothers weren't expected to anything. The boys went out! Ah, the unfairness, they'd say. To stand up for themselves in their families some of the girls had developed quite aggressive personalities. It was the first time I had seen girls collectively behaving in such an intimidating & violent way to other minorities in the school, usually quiet Vietnamese girls.

* Then I moved onto another near-by school where a number of the brothers & cousins of some of the girls attended. (I know, because they introduced themselves. Very Happy ) Let me tell you it was TOUGH when you were lucky enough to get a whole class of these boys. Shocked It certainly kept me on my toes! The hardest thing was having to work so hard to gain respect. (as a short, not particularly aggressive) woman. Things would be semi-OK until there was some expectation that that didn't suit, or some disciplinary action had to be taken. Then, you'd be accused of "racism". I'd tried so hard to be fair & open minded, this was the first time in years of teaching anyone had ever said that to me, so I was quite taken aback. In a very short time I realized that this was simply a tactic & refused to play along with it. But boy, did those boys give me a run for my money! I would be asked quite offensive things like: Did my husband drink beer? (stereo-type of the typical Australian)

*The interesting thing would be that the girls (in the coed school) would staunchly defend the boys who were sometimes systematically destroying their chances at a decent education by their collective disruptive behavior. I thought it was tough for me till I heard of some of the terrible things that happened when they REALLY didn't like someone. But I'm not gonna get into that .. you wouldn't believe me anyway! :wink:

The thing is, I sometimes run into some of these male ex-students, say like when I'm shopping, & they're quite affectionate & friendly & very pleased to see me! It was nothing personal, Miss, just what they get up to!
Thanks, guys! Rolling Eyes

And the funny thing is, not a mile from that chaotic (now closed) coed school I described is a private Muslim school, where those with money & ambitions send their children. Pillars of the community. Couldn't be as different to the ones I taught. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm ....
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Feb, 2005 01:44 am
.... the thing is, in response what Pamela Bone is suggesting about "western feminists", I've come to the conclusion that it's a culture very hard to understand when it's up front & looking you right in the face. There is so much you don't understand! And it'll take years of us coexisting to understand better. I think I'd feel much more likely to be confident about having an accurate view of the Muslim culture had I just read the right books, or only had contact with the educated elite. And because so many Muslims feel that they're depised by "westerners" since September 11/detained asylum seakers, etc, they tend to react defensively keep to themselves (or that's what I've observed in the northern suburbs, anyway), making it harder for us to know each other's cultures better. <sigh> This is going to take some time.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Feb, 2005 02:43 am
... & then <sigh> with something as odious as female genital mutilation, how do you know, when you're trying to change this practice within another culture entirely, that you're going about it in the RIGHT way? Some way that's not going to make life even worse for these women you so much want to help?

(You can see why I was mulling, Deb ....)
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