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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

American Feminists and Malala Yousufzai

It may not have been reported -- many things aren't, these days -- but I've heard nothing about any American feminist organizations expressing outrage at the Taliban attack on Malala Yousufzai.
Malala, a fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl, became famous -- or from the Islamic extremist point of view, notorious -- three years ago when she blogged, and later spoke publicly, about extremist attacks on girls' schools. Last year, she received a national peace award from the Pakistani government, and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize. Yesterday, the Taliban boarded a school bus and shot her in the head.
American feminists have been conspicuously silent about the Islamist desire to keep women powerless, subservient and uneducated. For essentially historical reasons, our feminist organizations tend to be left-wing in character, and leftists are nothing if not respectful of other cultures -- even those whose values they should, according to their own fundamental values, abhor. And of course, it's safer not to criticize homicidal zealots.
I would guess that American feminists feel (without necessarily having examined the feeling) that they can afford to stay away from the vexing subject of Islamist misogyny, even its murderous variant, because there is no danger of this ideology becoming powerful in the United States. I also think it unlikely that American public schools will start excluding girls or requiring them to wear burqas, or that our courts will give American men -- in general -- carte blanche to beat and confine their wives and daughters. I do not expect to see these trends even in Europe, with its growing and increasingly militant Islamic population. However, I consider it a good deal more likely that in Europe and the United States, there will be growing pressure to accommodate Muslims by allowing them to apply sharia law within their own communities.
Our constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and our equally longstanding respect for the freedom of contract, arguably allow a Muslim woman to enter into a marriage agreement that severely limits her rights during marriage and in the event of divorce. However, one needs freedom to contract freely, and we should not hold anyone to a contract she was coerced into making. Similarly, parents have a constitutional right to determine the upbringing of their children -- but that right has limits, and if the parent 's decision greatly reduces the chance that a girl will be prepared for full citizenship, those limits may have been reached. These issues need attention and discussion -- and feminists should take part in that process.
Meanwhile, at the time I write this, Malala is still alive. She may be flown to the United Arab Emirates or to London for further treatment. If she survives, it might lift her spirits if those women in our country who claim to value women's freedom most highly would acknowledge what Malala has done for that cause. Perhaps they will find the courage to acknowledge hers.

1 comment:

Danusha V. Goska said...

Karen, thank you. There are ideological reasons for the silence you mention, and those reasons are not pretty.