Saturday, January 31, 2004

An incredible article from Steven Vincent inFrontPage, a right wing site that I generally don't frequent (via Nathan Newman).

Becoming a Feminist in Baghdad
By Steven Vincent | January 12, 2004

...privately, "women's lib" always made me feel defensive and I sought to avoid the topic if I could. Besides, as a freelance journalist, I wondered: where, exactly, were the advantages I enjoyed as a member of the oppressive patriarchy?

Then I went to Iraq. During my five weeks "in country" this fall, I witnessed a social, political and humanitarian disaster consume Iraqi women. Frightened by rampant crime, bullied by religious fundamentalism, pressured by increasing tribalism, they are losing their rights and freedoms before the eyes of the world. It's an unnerving spectacle, like watching people fall prey to a police state-but in Iraq's case, the despotism consists not of storm troopers and fuehrers, but customs, traditions and beliefs that command the hearts and minds of millions of people, including their victims. post-9-11 interest in Afghanistan's Taliban introduced me to anti-feminist Islamic law, or shari'a. But what I hadn't considered was the centrality of women's rights in the war against Islamofascism. It seems obvious now: if America democratizes Iraq, we will gain a huge victory against our enemies. But democracy is unthinkable without the emancipation of Iraqi women. As Abdul Mashtak, a director of the Baghdad-based National Association for Human Rights, told me, "Women are our most underdeveloped resource. If Iraq is to create a new society, women must be equal partners with men."

I didn't grasp Mashtak's point right away. Instead, I watched women walk in searing Baghdad heat wrapped in black robes, read that the female illiteracy rate is skyrocketing, with 35 percent of girls now dropping out of school...

Once you link women's rights with the country's democratization, it's a short step to connecting the issue with freedom throughout the entire Middle East-and, by extension, victory in the war against terror. In this context, cultural mores take on enormous significance: no longer an exotic foreign custom, hejab now appears as fundamentalist's weapon that oppresses women and retards the spread of democracy. Even more unacceptable are "honor killings"- the tradition of murdering females who have somehow disgraced their families. (I am writing this essay in Amman, Jordan, where a 22 year-old man just received a suspended one-year prison sentence for brutally killing his sister because she persisted in leaving home without parental permission.) In short, what befalls Middle Eastern women affects the security of America.

Oddly enough, I'm feeling isolated in my neo-con feminism. I'm sure I'll sooner hear NOW President Kim Gandy discuss Michael Waltrip's chances in the Daytona 500 than Rumsfeld & Co. denounce honor killings or shari'a. Not only because the right maintains a reflexive opposition to feminism, but, more importantly, Shi'a Muslims represent some 65 percent of Iraq's population. As Ahmed Darwish al-Kinani-head of the Baghdad-based Islamic Iraqi Movement, told me, "Islam is specific on men's authority: man leads and woman follows. Under shari'a women are treated like precious gems in a jewel box." When I asked the cleric what would happen if Iraq's new constitution violated shari'a by endorsing women's rights, al-Kinani looked unhappy. "Then there could be violence." Will the White House push gender equality and risk alienating a crucial component of Iraqi society? I doubt it...

Leftists are of little help, either. Although they denounce Middle Eastern sexism, they rarely posit the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as pro-feminist. Instead, they profess a multiculturalism that renders them incapable of criticizing foreign customs...