Farzana Hassan writes in the Toronto Sun:
Phyllis Chesler’s book, Islamic Gender Apartheid: Exposing a Veiled War Against Women, analyses some pervasive gender inequities in parts of the Muslim world that are enabled by culture and laws. The book comprises essays, columns and articles written over decades, from the time the author was a captive bride in Kabul in the 1960s to the present day.
The book, therefore, shows the historical progression of these injustices and confirms that they have become worse as fundamentalism continues to grow in many parts of the Islamic world. Some of this deterioration can be seen in the introduction of draconian legislation such as the adultery laws of Pakistan.
The author also notes with disdain that criticism of such practices has become taboo in some Western circles and that “with some precious exceptions, Second, Third and Fourth wave feminists are silent on the subject of Islamic gender apartheid.”
Feminist silence is deafening on all the gender issues that prevail in countries like Pakistan, such as the segregation, marginalization and forced marriages of underage girls, honour killings, polygamy, wife battery, confinement of women to homes, brutal laws on adultery, rape and sexual violence, and the exclusive right of a man to divorce his wife by simply pronouncing a divorce three times. These are issues the book discusses candidly.
The author concedes that “the subordination, marginalization and disenfranchisement of women may be a problem in all religions. However there is a difference between an evolved diversified and pre-modern Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism Sikhism and Hinduism as compared to a medieval and barbaric version of Islam.”
This comment points to the dire need for a change in social and cultural attitudes and related law reform in Islamic countries.
But the required reformation can take place only if individuals with a conscience are allowed to question these practices and to come up with solutions and ways of implementing them.
The truth is that in most parts of the Islamic world, any questioning of the status quo is summarily shunned. Even what Westerners would consider moderate dissent is punished severely, as in the case of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia. Draconian laws, such as those on blasphemy, slow the momentum needed to bring about social change in society.
Similar but subtler obstacles to freedom of speech have crept into Western society. Chesler notes with dismay that the left’s extreme liberalism and modern feminism have prevented healthy debate. Even legitimate concerns about certain cultural practices associated with orthodox Islam have come to be shunned as Islamophobia.
About feminists, Chesler notes: “They consider it “racist” to condemn gender apartheid of the most savage sort. And “racism” trumps their concerns about gender. Incredibly, those same Western feminists who condemn as patriarchal Western institutions of marriage, biological motherhood, heterosexuality and religion, now view Islamic face- and- body veiling, the hijab, purdah [seclusion of women], arranged marriage, and polygamy as sacred rights.”
The book is an incisive account of many of these pressing issues. It tends to be a little repetitive at times, as it is a compilation of essays written over many decades. However, the issues need to be reiterated in the present context as clearly and forcefully as Chesler has done in her book. A misguided notion of racism must not obstruct the welfare of Muslim women and girls.
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