By Phyllis Chesler:
Editor’s note: The following is adapted from a speech delivered on March 8 by the author in observance of Women’s History Month to theGender Fairness Committee of the New York City Supreme Court.
When my Second Wave generation of feminists started out, Gender Fairness committees did not exist nor did as many women lawyers and judges or the number of feminist lawyers, both male and female, whom I see here today. As many of you know, my or should I say, our generation had the privilege of changing all that.
We also named and exposed the hidden epidemic of physical and sexual violence towards women and children.
Second Wave feminists challenged sexism in advertising, (we still do), the pornography industry, (which has grown), and prostitution which now includes human sexual trafficking.
We also challenged corporations for economically discriminating against women; that work continues. We took on drug companies whose medications caused women to die from cancer. We championed women’s reproductive and sexual rights but we also challenged birth control. We waged a war to save women’s lives. The work continues.
Courtesy of Second Wave feminist activism, more women entered previously all-male professions, and some men became feminists.
Before the Second Wave began making waves, mothers received little child support and less alimony—that has improved although custody battles have, in some ways, gotten harder, more terrible. The 25th anniversary edition of “Mothers on Trial” will be published this summer with eight new chapters.
Our generation had a universalist vision of human rights—one standard for all. I still do. While I believe in cultural diversity, I am not a multi-cultural relativist. Therefore, I have taken a strong stand against the persecution of Muslim women and dissidents. Thus, I now submit expert courtroom affidavits on behalf of Muslim girls and women who have fled being honor murdered and are seeking asylum here.
Those of us who expose the plight of such women, and this includes Somali-born feminist hero Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as well as myself, have been demonized as “Islamophobes” and racists because we do not, in the same breath, blame America, the West, or Israel for their suffering.
In my view, western academic feminists, including gay liberationists, are so afraid of being condemned as “colonialists” or “racists” that this fear trumps their concern for women’s rights in the Arab and Muslim world.
What is Islamic Gender Apartheid? Islamic gender apartheid is characterized by normalized daughter- and wife-battering, forced veiling, female genital mutilation, polygamy, purdah, (the segregation or sequestration of women), arranged marriage, child marriage, first cousin marriage; girls and women are honor murdered if they resist such practices, if they wish to divorce a dangerously abusive husband, and if they are viewed as too independent, too modern.
Today, at its most extreme, Islamic gender apartheid is characterized by acid attacks, public stonings, hangings, and beheading of women in Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia—countries in which girls and women who are raped are further victimized: jailed, tortured, and executed.
Feminists should be crying out from the rooftops against these practices. Some are. I am. Yet, many Muslim men and women, as well as many intellectually “progressive” western infidels, are not. They are demanding or welcoming the imposition of Islamic religious law, Sharia law, not only in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but also in the West.
I have published two academic studies and nearly 100 articles about honor killings both in the West and in the Islamic world. How is an honor killing defined? An honor killing is a collaborative conspiracy carried out against one victim, usually a young girl, by her family of origin. Both her male and female relatives believe that their “honor” demands her death; that her “impure” behavior has shamed and destroyed her family’s reputation and community status. A battered wife—or one who dares leave her tormentor—may also be “honor murdered” by both her husband, assisted by his relatives, and to an extent, the wife’s relatives as well.
In the West, honor killings are a mainly Muslim-on-Muslim crime. Hindus and Sikhs perpetrate such killings but mainly in India, not in the West.
An honor killing is not the same as western domestic violence or western domestically violent femicide. Many honorable feminists disagree with me. They believe that honor killings are the same as western domestic violence. Understandably, such feminists fear that by singling out one group for behavior which may be common to all groups they will stigmatize the token group and minimize the suffering of all the other groups. They have a legitimate fear—and yet if, for reasons of “political correctness,” we fail to understand a crime, we will never be able to prevent or to prosecute it.
Honor killings are shameful, secretive; they are allowed to flourish and fester precisely because the perpetrators and their collaborators do not want them exposed. Instead, they blame the victim, and they blame those who expose it.
I began writing about honor killings in the United States, Canada, and Europe in 2004. My first study about such honor killings first appeared in 2009 in Middle East Quarterly, the second appeared there as well in 2010. In the most recent publication, I studied 230 victims who were honor—or “horror” murdered on five continents over a twenty year period in 172 separate incidents. (More than one person was murdered in some of the incidents).
A murder is a murder and must be treated as such. However, honor killings are not like western domestic violence or domestically violent femicide.
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Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of fifteen books, including “Women and Madness,” and “An American Bride in Kabul.” She archives her articles and may be reached through her website:www.phyllis-chesler.com.