As feminists, we have to be able to speak honestly about patriarchal systems, and religion is no exception.
I wrote in a recent post that one of the best things in life is basketball. But another one of my favorite things... is critical thought. Debate. Confronting ideas that may be uncomfortable.
Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I hope we can all agree that no idea, ideology, or religion should be exempt from skepticism.
Which is why I'm so stoked to share this amazing guest post by Shruthi Sailesh, who studies biotechnology and economics at the University of Waterloo. She enjoys debating and writing about politics, feminism, and literature. For more of her writing, follow her on Quora.
I know. You probably think I’m hateful and bigoted, and are proceeding to the comments section right now to say so. Before you do, hear me out. Whatever right-wing xenophobic nut you’re picturing in your head, I’m not it. I’m about as socially liberal as they come. Though I disagree with much of third-wave “feminism”, I am passionate about gender equality. That’s why I’m writing this. As feminists, we have to be able to speak honestly about patriarchal systems, and religion is no exception. Organized religion has long been intertwined with the oppression of women, but Islam in particular poses an unparalleled threat to women’s rights at this point in history. Islam is different; and it is intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise.
Let’s get one thing straight right away; I am not attacking Muslims. I do not believe that all Muslims are violent terrorists; I am well aware of the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens. That however, doesn’t change the fact that Islam as an ideology is fundamentally authoritarian, violent, and misogynistic. It isn’t “Islamophobic” to acknowledge that. As the writer Sam Harris so eloquently put it, “We are sold this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry against Muslims as people.”1
You would think that modern feminists would devote more of their time and energy to the plight of Muslim women. Muslim-majority countries consistently rank among the worst countries in the world for gender equality, and it doesn’t take a scholar to realize that the second-class status of women in the Muslim world is inextricably linked to Islamic scripture and doctrine. So why aren’t more Western feminists talking about it? Look at the scathing feminist critiques of fundamentalist Christianity; where is the equivalent for Islam? Where is the feminist outrage at honor killings, forced veiling, female genital mutilation, and Shariah law? Why are feminists, who can expound theses condemning lipstick and dolls, silent when it comes to the oppression of Muslim women?
Let's ignore oppression in the Muslim world. It's much more important to talk about pumpkin spice lattes.
Intersectional feminists are so obsessed with cultural sensitivity, so mired in collective white guilt, that they’ve succumbed to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (to borrow a phrase from the writer Michael Gerson). How utterly hypocritical, to condemn misogyny when its perpetrators are white, but to turn a blind eye to horrific practices like FGM and honor killings, or worse still, defend them so as not to be branded as “racist” or “Islamophobic” (Germaine Greer, anyone?) Worse still, Western feminists actively condemn those who speak out against Islam, accusing them of racism and bigotry and effectively shutting down honest debate.
Take Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example. An ex-Muslim who was a victim of female genital mutilation as a child, she fled an arranged marriage and escaped to the Netherlands, eventually becoming a politician, writer, and fierce advocate for women’s rights. She is by all accounts a feminist hero. Yet, the leftist feminist critique of Hirsi Ali is so widespread that despite her liberal views, she took a position at the conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute. Imagine if Hirsi Ali had been a dissident and outspoken critic of Christianity instead. Is there any doubt that the left would have embraced her?
Of course, intersectional feminists aren’t totally silent when it comes to Islam. They’ll talk about it, but only when they want to make false equivalences and pat themselves on the back for acknowledging how terrible white people can be, too. Who hasn’t seen this image floating around, often accompanied by a sanctimonious caption meant to highlight how the poster is SO open-minded and tolerant?
(Image credit: Malcolm Evans)
It’s a misleading image on many levels, not least because no Western woman has ever been killed or threatened with rape because she refused to wear a bikini. Can the same be said of Muslim women and the veil?
The issue of the Islamic face veil is another article all together, but suffice to say that the erasure of identity associated with the burqa or niqab would be seen as diametrically opposed to standard feminist theory...except when it comes to Islam, because that would be racist/bigoted/Islamophobic (take your pick). According to the left, all of the problems in the Muslim world can be traced back to Western colonialism and imperialism, and not, you know, the Islamic scriptures that are literally at the core of everything groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda do.
The bottom line is that the regressive left’s empty rhetoric is hurting the very people they claim to stand for. By refusing to speak openly about Islam, intersectional feminists are silently condoning the atrocities that Muslim women all over the world face on a daily basis. A fundamentalist interpretation of Islam is incompatible with the fundamental values of Western democracy, and no amount of evasion, obfuscation and cognitive dissonance changes that. If you truly care about women’s rights, stop saying that Islam is a religion of peace.
In the words of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Some things must be said, and there are times when silence becomes an accomplice to injustice.”
Author Bio: Shruthi studies biotechnology and economics at the University of Waterloo. She enjoys debating and writing about politics, feminism, and literature. For more of her writing, visit https://www.quora.com/profile/Shruthi-Sailesh.
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