Politics & Policy

The Conservative Vanguard of the Feminist Movement

A response to a Right challenge.

Feminist Katha Pollitt of The Nation blog boldly heralded last month “A Campaign to Stop Stoning” to protest the ongoing practice of stoning in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in particular the sentencing of two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, who were recently sentenced to be stoned to death for “adultery.”

Indeed, it is a remarkable initiative. And to whom should the credit go for this landmark shift in feminist gaze from the perceived ills of American society, to the oppression of women in the Islamic world? Perhaps, to an article published by frontpagemag.com just four days before Pollitt unveiled her protest of stoning: “Two Women Stoned: Feminists Mum,” by David Horowitz, Janet Levy, and me.

Of course, the Horowitz Freedom Center didn’t become the ideological vanguard of the American feminist movement overnight. The controversy began last October with the Center’s first Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, during which we protested the silence of feminists over the oppression of women in Islam on campuses all over the country,. The week included organized sit-ins at a dozen Women’s Studies Departments to protest the absence of courses and department-sponsored events confronting the issue, and brought national discussion and debate to the matter. Pollitt responded by attacking David Horowitz in The Nation, quoting Columbia University anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod’s assertion that “the Islamofascist Awareness people aren’t interested in what’s actually going on in the Muslim world. They just use the woman question as an easy way to target Muslims.”

We responded by sticking to specifics. In “Islamic Misogyny,” published on January 4, I challenged the feminists’ claim that we didn’t really care about women, but were only using them to “target Muslims,” by surveying the Left’s response to the honor killing of the Canadian Muslim girl Aqsa Parvez, who was strangled to death by her father for refusing to wear an Islamic headscarf.

Pollitt’s response was not an expression of concern for Aqsa Parvez or for other Muslim girls who have suffered and continue to suffer in similar ways. Nor was it a challenge to Muslim leaders to examine the cultural attitudes inculcated all over the Islamic world that led to her murder. Rather, she and 700 feminists responded with an Open Letter on January 21, complaining that “columnists and opinion writers from The Weekly Standard to the Washington Post to Slate have recently accused American feminists of focusing obsessively on minor or even nonexistent injustices in the United States while ignoring atrocities against women in other countries, especially the Muslim world.”

But the targets of this weren’t really The Weekly Standard or the Washington Post or Slate. Evidence of the intended target is their complaint that “ ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ was not a slogan dreamed up by David Horowitz or Christina Hoff Sommers”; the pointed critique calls specifically on two Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week speakers.

In response, we repeated our challenge to the feminists to express concern for those Muslim women who really suffer, rather than simply indulging in unsupported assertions about their concern for them. In “A Response to Feminists on the Violent Oppression of Women in Islam,” David Horowitz and I wrote:

On New Year’s Day, Amina Said, 18, and her sister Sarah, 17, were shot dead in Irving, Texas. Police are searching for their father, Yaser Abdel Said, on a warrant for capital murder. The girls’ great aunt, Gail Gartrell, told reporters, “This was an honor killing.” Apparently Yaser Said murdered his daughters because they had non-Muslim boyfriends.

The signers of the Open Letter say that they are against honor killing. Here is an honor killing in the United States. Where are these feminists on this issue? Why are they not supporting the hunt for Amina’s and Sarah’s killers and organizing a campaign in the Muslim community to stop such practices?

And in our new capacity as the intellectual trend-setters of the feminist movement, we repeat that challenge. In following our lead and protesting the stoning sentences given to Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, Katha Pollitt and her colleagues have done well. Now, by standing up for the memories of Amina and Sarah Said, and challenging Muslim leaders to confront the reality of honor killing within their communities, they can do something worthwhile for women.

Ultimately, the dispute was about recognizing a simple matter of justice and human rights. Congratulations to the feminists for getting on board.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and author of the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), and The Truth About Muhammad.

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