by Harry Onickel
Recently the practice of female circumcision, better described as female genital mutilation (FGM), has been thrust into our collective consciousness. We are shocked to find out that this hideous procedure has been happening in Livonia Michigan. We are outraged. We demand that it be prosecuted. We are also, depending on that day’s newspaper article, being told that the practice is mostly confined to a small sect from India, or that it happens across many diverse cultures. Sometimes authorities insist it is done in a certain “religious and cultural community.” We are not supposed to ask, “which community?” because that would make us guilty of a certain phobia. We’re not supposed to notice that the practice is increasing in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Since FGM has no health benefits, but is only practiced in order to control women’s sexuality by denying them sexual pleasure in order to keep them pure for their future husbands, shouldn’t all feminist and human rights organizations be up in arms over the practice and vociferously protesting it? This is a practice mandated by men in highly patriarchal communities. The fact that some of these communities have migrated to the United States should, it seems to me, make it incumbent upon feminists and all supporters of women’s rights to help put a stop to it.
Fortunately there are women’s rights groups fighting that battle. The most visible group is the AHA Foundation, founded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA), herself an FGM victim. She endured the procedure as a child in her native Somalia. Later, she escaped an arranged marriage by seeking asylum in the Netherlands. While living there, she helped other women refugees, many of them having previously abused. She gained prominence and eventually was elected to the Dutch parliament. She’s written four books, and in 2004 she and Theo Van Gogh made a movie critical of the treatment of women in Islam, called Submission. In response to the movie, Van Gogh was murdered in the street, and Hirsi Ali was threatened with the same fate. In response, she went into hiding. Living under armed guard already, she was moved to the United States, to Germany, and back to Holland. Later, due to lying about her name and date of birth when applying for Dutch citizenship, her citizenship was revoked, and she moved to the United States, where she married and was made a fellow at The American Enterprise Institute.
She still lives under tight security because there are still fatwas against her for her film and her politics. She was disinvited from receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University after pressure from various groups who accused her of being “islamophobic”. Yes, she has made some negative comments regarding Islam, which have been taken out of context by her opponents in order to malign her. In general, she has been mostly rejected by feminists and human rights groups.
Linda Sarsour, on the other hand, has been embraced by the current feminist movement. She was a national co-chair for the anti-Trump, Women’s March on Washington. Feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, who wrote an article condemning female genital mutilation in 1979 (but hasn’t said much about it lately), stood proudly with Sarsour at the March, but has ignored Hirsi Ali. Steinem and Sarsour were photographed giving a (fill-in-the-blank) power salute. Following the March they were also interviewed together on NBC News.
But is Sarsour really as interested in women’s rights as she claims? While Hirsi Ali has formed an organization to battle FGM, forced marriages, child brides, human trafficking and other crimes against women, Sarsour seems to be battling Hirsi Ali. In 2011, she tweeted: “Brigitte Gabriel=Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s asking 4 an a$$whippin’. I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.” The tweet, of course, has been deleted. Recently, when asked about it, rather than answer, she attacked the questioner, a (gasp!) white male, who in her words “ . . . is not directly impacted by any of the issues I mentioned.”
She has also strangely tweeted: “How many times do we have to tell White women that we do not need to be saved by them? Is there code language I need to use to get thru?” Does this mean, in her seeming obsession with race, that she is pulling a “Rachel Dolezal”? Is she jealous of Ayaan Hirsi Ali for being black and actually being subjected to real human rights violations, the kind she ignores to promote herself and be in the rarified company of women in pussy hats?
In 2013 Sarsour also came down strongly against The Honor Diaries, a movie about “gender inequality and honor-based violence.” The movie featured Hirsi Ali and eight other women’s rights activists who had been subjected to various forms of gender-based violence. According to a Sarsour tweet: “Honor Diaries is #DisHonorDiaries because it’s disingenuous when it’s funded by representatives and organizations labeled hate groups”
So not only is Sarsour unwilling to take a stand on issues related to the most vulnerable members of humanity, she attacks and demonizes those who do, preferring name-calling to reason. Let’s face it, for some people a “hate group” is any group with differing politics.
Sarsour wears a hijab. She encourages other women to do the same, while promoting Sharia law. Some non-Muslim women followed along and donned hijabs at the Women’s March. A number of these hijabs were made from American flags. This was supposed to be a further demonstration of anti-Trump resistance and a display of religious freedom.
OK. But after the march and the photo opportunities, when these women headed for home, did any of them stop to think about the women for whom the hijab, or the chador, or the burkha is not a choice? Long after the marchers have forgotten about it and moved on to their next big cause, millions of women will still be forced, by their countries’ laws and male rulers, to be covered every day, whenever they leave the house. In some countries, not even a woman’s eyes may be visible in public.
Women have been arrested or killed for not being covered. Women in Iran, where the hijab is a requirement, have protested this infringement of their freedom. Late last year in Saudi Arabia, another country in which women must be veiled, a woman was arrested after tweeting a photo of herself unveiled, that is, without a hijab, in public. She too was resisting the forced covering of women. In 2002, 15 Saudi schoolgirls died when they were prevented by Saudi “virtue” police from leaving a burning school building because they weren’t properly covered. And Linda Sarsour pretends the hijab empowers women?
Female genital mutilation and the forced veiling of women are two manifestations of the control of women by men and the denial of women their basic human rights. Even though I am guilty, guilty, guilty of being a white male, I reject anyone who calls themselves a feminist while refusing to denounce both of these misogynistic practices.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, ignored by feminists, fights to end these practices and allow women their full, deserved equality. Linda Sarsour, current darling of feminists, sows hatred for Hirsi Ali, and favors Sharia law, under which women are second-class citizens, subject to discriminatory laws, and under its most extreme form, are treated like men’s property.
Who is the real feminist?
I’m Harry Onickel. I am a reader. I always have been. I like to think that between reading for all these years, fiction and nonfiction, high and low culture, classics and trash, the acceptable and the dangerous, and just being around for a bit, I’ve learned one or two things and perhaps gained a bit of perspective. In addition to learning, reading makes me wonder. Lately, I’ve been wondering – what lies behind the mask? My blog, occasionally updated, is The Teacher That Exploded.