[guest post by Dana]
Last week I posted about a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing in which two of the four witnesses invited to testify about political Islam were female scholars with unique insights and real-life experiences to offer: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani. This in spite of New Republic’s Sarah Jones notifying readers from her perch that they were unreliable witnesses and should be disqualified from giving testimony. When the hearing was held, it was clear that the two women of color, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani, in a “strategy of deflection and demonization,” were pointedly ignored by the four female Democratic senators, and instead chose to turn their attention to the two white males on the panel.
Given that the report in the New York Times about this generated an unbelievable amount of comments, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani have responded to a few of the many questions posed by readers. Both women noted, after not being asked relevant questions about political Islam, that it was “an experience…emblematic of a troubling trend among progressives to overlook the brutal reality of Islamist extremism”.
Perhaps Kamala Harris, one of the four Democratic women who ignored Ali and Nomani, and who has fundraised off her belief that women, herself included, are unable to be simultaneously courteous and courageous, might want to take note of the elegant display of both courtesy and steely resolve in Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s and Asra Nomani’s interaction with readers.
FDR ASKS: Fellow progressives, hear me out …
These ladies have a point. The left in general has given a pass to Islamism. We need to be able to criticize Islam’s worst without fear from political correctness. We need to demand from Muslim friends and colleagues the same, as well as verbal acceptance of basic Western and Enlightenment values such as women’s equality. Let’s recapture the discourse and this banner from the right.
AYAAN HIRSI ALI ANSWERS:
I think this is a good way to approach the subject of Shariah and in particular the attitudes of many Muslims to the rights of women, the L.G.B.T. community, blasphemy laws, apostasy and dissent.
First, what is needed is critical self-reflection on the morals and agenda to which people on the left say they are committed. Look squarely at the real consequences of that agenda, both good and bad. Second, apply the idea of equality to all individuals regardless of their identity. Human rights are universal. And human rights are held by individuals, not by groups. The left today has a growing tendency to prioritize group rights over individual rights, partly driven by “intersectionality.” This is often what gets them in a moral bind. The rights of individual human beings should always come before those of the tribe or the collective.
If one finds white male sexism intolerable, then one should by definition find all male sexism just as intolerable. Excusing men of color, Muslims, immigrants or men living in non-Western societies for bad behavior toward women is an expression of the bigotry of low expectations.
The result of this mindset is that Christianity — still “the white man’s religion” in the eyes of many — is criticized for every misstep against women but Islam is protected from the glare of scrutiny. In its extreme form, relativism excuses Muslim men from universal standards because they are said to be victims of colonialism and of recent military invasions; because they are new immigrants who face cultural alienation; and because they cannot be deprived of their last source of pride: their domination over their women in their communities. I reject this line of reasoning. Anyone who believes in human rights should too.
In Europe, and in the United States, we need to defend universal women’s rights. Thorny religious and cultural problems need to be addressed, and discussed openly. There is no reason why this should be, or be viewed as, a partisan issue.
I have taught English in Brooklyn for a number of years to immigrant women from all over the Muslim world, and I have ties to the community. So I was bothered by your article. Progressives abhor those abuses of women — F.G.M. (female genital mutilation), honor killings, etc. — that you mention. However, what Americans are fighting against here is the blanket vilification of Islam by everyone from the president to Republican congresspeople. None of us progressives favor extremes of Islam, or of any other religion for that matter. In this country (and in Congress) we have extreme right-wing Christians who want nothing more than to take away the rights of women. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have allies in Republican men (or women). You don’t.
ASRA Q. NOMANI ANSWERS:
Thank you for your service helping immigrant women build their bridges to the United States. Just as you speak so passionately about the threat of “extreme right-wing Christians,” we argue that progressives would be well-served to be equally passionate about “extreme right-wing Muslims.” As long as progressives refuse to isolate “extreme right-wing Muslims,” as readily as we do “extreme right-wing Christians,” we will continue to face a situation in which the ill-informed will conflate “extreme right-wing” Muslims with those who are not. In the same way that we should not judge all Muslims by the actions of extremist Muslims, it’s not appropriate to judge Republicans by the actions of the far right. If progressives truly want to challenge the “blanket vilification” of Muslims, it would be helpful to rip off that blanket and differentiate “extreme right-wing Muslims” from those who are not. Just as we oppose white supremacists, we should oppose Muslim supremacists.
Please take the time to read the rest of the Q&A’s. They are insightful and provocative.
Perusing Twitter responses to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani’s writing in the NYT, I thought this, albeit sadly, and yet amusingly sums up the idiocy. And this coming from a woman who describes herself as a filmmaker for a “more just society for women”:
Thankfully, there are those willing to gently correct such ignorance:
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)