Western Feminists AWOL in Supporting Abused and Dissident Muslim Women
by Phyllis Chesler
Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and dissidents have been risking torture and death in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and the Far East by refusing to wear the hijab and by adopting other Western ways.
Bizarrely, Western feminists and accomplished and powerful women, including diplomats and politicians, are donning the hijab as a gesture of culture “sensitivity” and as a symbol of resistance to alleged racism.
For example, the American female lawyers defending the jihadists in Guantanamo Bay, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are wearing hijabs and abayas so they will not “offend” their clients, and as a way of gaining their trust.
“Women on Mr. Mohammed’s team mostly wear long skirts and other loose-fitting clothes topped by a variety of colorful scarves, shawls, head coverings and, in at least one instance, a one-piece, pull-on hijab,” the New York Times reported Dec. 27.
Something is radically wrong with this picture, and I’ve been writing about it for more than 20 years in book after book. My strongest allies are brave Muslim and ex-Muslim women and men, as well as other tribal feminist activists (Sikhs, Hindus). With exceptions – like Eleanor Smeal’s campaign against the Afghan burqa in the 1990s – most liberals, leftists, and feminists support Sharia-compliant customs of all kinds. Westerners support barbaric behaviors due to the influence of multi-cultural relativism, a commitment to tolerating even the intolerant, and as a statement against Western racism. In doing so, they betray their own feminist and humanitarian principles.
The hijab is a symbol of female subordination. When Western feminists fetishize it, they also cover for the extreme and barbaric abuse of women that often is hidden beneath the Islamic veil.
Ex-Muslim Yasmine Mohammed, a Canadian citizen of Egyptian and Palestinian ancestry, just published a dramatic and heartbreaking memoir, Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam. In it, she describes a childhood of horror, one in which as a girl, “you are taught to be ashamed of everything you do, everything you are.”
Daily beating, strangling, slapping, hair pulling, death threats, and domestic servitude are normalized, as is the most extreme verbal abuse, mainly from her mother: “I pissed you out,” she said. “You are my urine…You are a turd that I should have flushed…You are nothing.”
Yasmine Mohammed’s childhood reads like a page taken from my book, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, a book that major feminist leaders in the West cautioned me not to publish lest the “men use it against us.”
But Yasmine understands:
“Quite often, unfortunately, in misogynistic societies, mothers are vicious to their daughters. Exerting power over their (female) children is the only domain where it is acceptable.”
Yasmine is taught to bow to her mother every morning, to literally kiss her mother’s feet. She is sleep-deprived, forced to rise before dawn to memorize the Qur’an. Yasmine’s mother ignores the fact that her husband (Yasmine’s stepfather) is “molesting” Yasmine and participates happily in her daughter’s being beaten, hung upside down from a hook “like a dead animal” so that the soles of her feet could be whipped. Yasmine dealt with the pain inflicted by the torturous punishments by escaping her body, “disassociating” is the word currently used in psychiatry.
Like other victims of torture, and prisoners of war and combat, such extreme childhood abuse leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is rarely valorized or viewed compassionately when the sufferer is a woman.
Eventually, Yasmine’s mother forces her into an arranged marriage with a man – whom the mother herself covets and endlessly tries to seduce – who turns out to be an al-Qaida operative who rapes and beats her. He flees—but is ultimately jailed in Egypt as a jihadist.
If I had not read at least 50 other memoirs published mainly by Muslim and ex-Muslim women, but also by or about Sikh and Hindu tribal childhoods, all of which detail similar childhoods, I would probably view Yasmine’s tale as a one-off. However, it is a terrifying typical account of growing up in a tribal family, trapped with a mother whose only power resides in tormenting, breaking, controlling, and destroying her daughters.
For similar examples of normalized extreme child abuse, we have Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s InfidelVeiled AtrocitiesWingsShamed, Aruna Papp’s Unworthy Creature, Jasvinder Sanghera’s Shame, Soraya Mire’s The Girl with Three Legs, and Souad’s Burned Alive.
Sunny (Sunita) Angel, a UK-based Hindu, is stalked and kidnapped by a sadistic Muslim man who has told her he is a Hindu. Her family thinks so little of her that they do not try to find or rescue her. Daily, he beats her “black and blue,” locks her in, day after day, does not allow her to use a bathroom, starves her, sometimes “knocks her unconscious,” and keeps her in darkness for “days on end.” He also forces her to watch pornography so she can learn how to “please him.” Sunny is soon covered in “hundreds of scars (from) cuts, burns, or whip marks.”
This man knew Sunny was vulnerable because he’d observed how her family had demeaned, bullied, abused and “treated (her) with contempt” even in public. When Sunny escaped and returned home, she “went to hug Mum but she recoiled. ‘I don’t want you, I don’t want you.’ My mother’s hostility left me empty.” Finally, Sunny, similarly abused in a face-saving arranged marriage, turns to her father for help. He tells her: “You belong to them now. They can do whatever they want.”
In The Girl with Three Legs: A Memoir, Somali-American Muslim, Soraya Mire writes about her mother’s insistence that she be genitally mutilated and about what happened when the butchering went south. Doctors wanted to open her scar but her mother refused, thus sentencing Mire to a lifetime of pain caused by edema, inflammation around the scar, a permanent urinary tract infection…a vaginal obstruction, blood clots, and a swollen abdomen.” Her mother refused surgery: “Tell these doctors I respect their opinions but they have to show respect for our life.”
The scar sealing her vagina was proof of Soraya’s virginity.
Then, Soraya was married off to a first cousin who happened to be a sadistic drug addict. He torture-rapes her on their wedding night. Soraya turns to her mother for help—to the woman whose values Soraya herself has internalized.
Thus, for years, Soraya herself refuses to open her scar. She finally does so.
Many abused victims, both Muslim and non-Muslim, often return to their families for help. In the West, abused women tend to marry men who abuse them. Tribal women are forced into arranged marriages in which they are routinely abused. Too many face honor violence from relatives if they step out of line even slightly.
Soraya begins to help other genitally mutilated African women. After receiving a Winnie Mandela Award for the Upliftment of African Women at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, she rushes to call…her mother! “Mother listened calmly, then said: ‘You would win all the awards and become famous but you will always be nothing to me.'”
Like Soraya, no matter how extreme the abuse, both Yasmine and Sunny continued to cling to their mothers, unable to give up the illusion of connectedness. All three return again and again to the mothers, who continue to express nothing but hate for their daughters.
Girls who have suffered such extreme abuse also have identities which are defined only as that of a daughter, sister, cousin, and wife; they would have a hard time breaking free, even to save their own lives. They do not exist, psychologically, as individuals and have been taught that they do not really deserve to live. This is what got me interested in studying the variables associated with successful escapes from honor violence.
Yasmine tried to escape when she was still a child but a politically correct Canadian judge sent her back into an abusive home despite the evidence of physical abuse. “The judge ruled that corporal punishment wasn’t against the law in Canada,” she wrote, “and due to our ‘culture,’ sometimes those punishments can be more severe than the average Canadian household.”
Yasmine wonders: Had she been “white,” would the authorities have removed her and sanctioned the parents/step parents who believed in practicing child torture?
What Yasmine does not understand is why Western feminists have refused to stand with feminist dissidents such as herself. In addition, “(the Western authorities) only see the skin color or the ethnicity of the perpetrator, not the acts they commit.”
Lost in all these politically correct narratives are the fates of girls and women of color who are being tortured or slaughtered by their families for “honor’s” sake and/or who are being jailed, tortured, or murdered for refusing to wear hijab, marry their first cousins, and for adopting other Western ways.
When some fundamentalist/Islamist Muslim parents or husbands enter a family, they may force women and girls to “cover” and excessively monitor female behavior. Zeyno Baran’s The Other Muslims: Moderate and Secular, and Samia Labidi’s essay in this collection strongly illustrate this fact.
Some years ago, the London based Centre for Social Cohesion posited that such ownership, coercion, and forced “covering” of women could be correlated with support for, or even the perpetration of, violent jihad. Common sense suggests that this might be the case but hard evidence eludes us. At the very least, such Sharia-compliant family control of women may function as a breeding ground for infidel hatred and for blood libels against Jews.
Therefore, I very much look forward to Abigail R. Esman’s forthcoming book from Potomac Press on this very subject. Here is Esman, in a personal interview about this work:
“The oppression of women is closely related to a tendency towards violence … Since the abuse of women and a warrior-hero view of masculinity are inherent to honor cultures such as Islam (and often as well in Latin America), there tends to be a good likelihood that men who grow up witnessing the abuse of women — and especially those who are abused themselves as boys — will grow up to be violent and to associate their manliness and honor with violence and conquest. This makes them easily radicalized by jihadist recruiters who promise them eternal honor, eternal admiration (love), confirmation of their manliness, and power.”
First published in the Investigative Project on Terrorism.