These cultural issues and customs have nothing to do with Islam. A careful reading of the Koran shows that just about everything that Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available to Muslim women 1,400 years ago. Women in Islam are considered equal to men in spirituality, education and worth, and a woman's gift for childbirth and child-rearing is regarded as a positive attribute.
When Islam offers women so much, why are Western men so obsessed with Muslim women's attire? Even British government ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid have made disparaging remarks about the nikab -- and they hail from across the Scottish border, where men wear skirts.
When I converted to Islam and began wearing a headscarf, the repercussions were enormous. All I did was cover my head and hair -- but I instantly became a second-class citizen. I knew I'd hear from the odd Islamophobe, but I didn't expect so much open hostility from strangers. Cabs passed me by at night, their "for hire" lights glowing. One cabbie, after dropping off a white passenger right in front of me, glared at me when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, "Don't leave a bomb in the back seat" and asked, "Where's bin Laden hiding?"
Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, though a few prefer the nikab. It is a personal statement: My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously. And, especially among converts to the faith like me, the attention of men who confront women with inappropriate, leering behavior is not tolerable.
I was a Western feminist for many years, but I've discovered that Muslim feminists are more radical than their secular counterparts. We hate those ghastly beauty pageants, and tried to stop laughing in 2003 when judges of the Miss Earth competition hailed the emergence of a bikini-clad Miss Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, as a giant leap for women's liberation. They even gave Samadzai a special award for "representing the victory of women's rights."
Indeed, it probably takes a "Western feminist" to be so completely clueless (and indifferent, I might add) about the real issue here.
You can take your hijabs, nikabs, burkhas or whatever and put 'em on where the sun don't shine for all I care, sister. If that's what turns you on, far be it from me to point out how ridiculous you sound. It's your life.
The fact that 1,400 years ago, Muslim women had a great deal of liberty within their religion is hardly an argument to justify the religious police in Saudi Arabia who preferred to let little girls burn to death rather than rescue them because they were not fully clothed. It doesn't justify the thousands and thousands of acts each day that are religiously sanctioned, whose only purpose it to subjugate, humiliate, and oppress women in the Muslim world. The truth is that most women under Islam have about as much freedom as a slave, unless they are fortunate enough to live in a westernized country.
Just because Yvonne Ridley chooses to delude herself about modern-day Islam ("A careful reading of the Koran shows that just about everything that Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available to Muslim women 1,400 years ago.") doesn't mean that I intend to.
See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here-- I could go on like this, but hopefully, you get the point. Over the centuries, Arab culture and Islam have become one entity, each supporting and justifying the psychopathology of the other. This is particularly true when it comes to women's rights.
I wrote in an earlier post:
It is astonishing to me that there are women who justify Islam and even describe it as "liberating" because it "frees" women from having to worry about issues like fashion or looks. By that line of reasoning, you could say that Death "frees" people from having to worry about Life.
When I started my career in psychiatry, one of my earliest and most difficult cases was a woman--I'll call her Alice--who was seen frequently in the ER because her husband used to beat her fairly regularly. She had been hospitalized several times because of internal injuries from these beatings, but despite our trying to convince her to get help, Alice vehemently refused, claiming that she loved her husband and that he loved her. Her hospital room would be filled with flowers and cards from the repentant spouse. Both Alice and her husband would have nothing to do with us, and denied they even had a problem.
The last time I saw Alice, she was unconscious and being wheeled into the operating room after a particularly savage beating from her loving husband. She never made it off the operating table. I thought of how we tried desperately to warn her that the violence would not stop unless something changed. We literally had pleaded with her to let us help her the last time she was discharged from the medical unit.
Rarely since then have I felt so helpless or impotent as a professional. Rarely have I felt so angry about the kind of psychopathology and lack of insight that lead to situations like Alice's.
Since then I have come to realize you cannot force someone to change psychologically. The professional part of me understands that Alice had many opportunities to make a change in the toxic relationship she had with her husband. She had the opporutnity to get help; she could have stopped accepting his way of expressing his "love". She could have faced the reality of her situation. But she didn't, and now she was dead. The husband was convicted of her murder. And Alice, who was without doubt a tragic victim of domestic abuse, was at the same time a willing accomplice to her own murder.
Alice might have chosen differently. Most women in Islam cannot choose their fate. From birth to death they are ruthlessly oppressed and subjected to the medieval, misogynist attitudes of their religion and culture. In many Muslim countries they have as many rights as the family dog--perhaps less. I have little sympathy for apologists of this situation, whether they are male or female; religious or fanatic.
To those who claim that Islam is compatible with women's rights and self-determination, I say: DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE INSTITUTIONALIZED ABUSE AND OPPRESSION OF WOMEN UNDER ISLAM.
Individual cases of domestic violence clearly cannot be prevented in every case; and there will always be women like Alice and men like her husband in every culture or creed. But Muslims can stop justifying this psychpathological behavior as compatible with and sanctioned by their religion. Until that religious sanction is withdrawn, claims that Islam is a religion of peace--or even that it is civilized--are laughable.
How Islam was practiced in the 1400's is totally irrelevant to how it is practiced today. Today, anyone who doesn't have their eyes shut (even a former Western feminist) sees a religion that has found much in its religious writings to justify the institutional acting out of male fantasies of superiority, potency and power at the expense of women.
The key to moderating the current Islam lies precisely in empowering women who have been routinely subjugated and made into second-class citizens.
One prisoner of Islam has been outspoken with her criticisms; and because she has dared to question this wonderful religion that, according to Ridley "offers women so much", she has now been marked for death. But Ridley, who is either completely brainwashed and a product of identification with the aggressor; or who is deliberately and malignantly choosing to ignore the facts for her own personal gain and status is only able to summon up ridicule for any Muslim woman who courageously attempts to escape the prison of shar'ia and Islamic law. She appears to think she is somehow morally superior to them simply because of the clothes she chooses to wear.
One can only imagine the contempt she feels for non-Muslim women.
"...some people just seem to have a deeper integrity than others, and feel driven to speak out no matter what the personal consequences may be. They are heroes of a very special sort"--whether it is to enter a beauty pageant, or go on al-Jazeera and debate Muslim clerics on women's rights and the primitive practices of Islam.
Yvonne Ridley is no hero. Nor does she have much integrity. She has willfully and cravenly become exactly what her Western feminist buddies are fond of calling "an oppressor." Only, unlike the imaginary oppressors the ideologically pure feminist/marxists rage against, Ridley is the real thing.
UPDATE: Reason's Nick Gillespe has more, as does Merle Yourish, Dinocrat, Shot in the Dark, and Flopping Aces.
UPDATE II: The Anchoress:
Ridley makes a heady defense for the veil and - in fine Western feminist fashion - she lashes out at the Western men who dare to critique the mandatory wearing of it. She conveniently forgets to mention that Western men have been trained over decades - by women like herself - to find this Muslim garb objectionable. She also seems not to realize that one of the first Western voices raised against enforced coverage was a woman’s voice, as Mavis Leno, wife of Jay Leno, worked for years to bring attention to the subjegation of Muslim women.
Her piece is a fascinating hodgepodge of past and present prejudices all jumbling about as Ridley works to justify her conversion from a feminist standpoint.
And, of course Siggy doesn't hold back:
In a culture that prides itself on faith and morality, many think nothing of rape as a mode of religious expression. On the one hand, they insist that women dress modestly- and if they refuse, violent sex is the weapon of choice to instill religious punishment...
What Ms Ridley and others fail to see is that what goes in the head is far more important than what goes on the head. After a number of years, we know what has gone into the head of Yvonne Ridley.
Ms Ridley is a propagandist pig- and nothing less. Soliciting her opinion on the 'morality' of the veil is as relevant as soliciting the opinion of a whore on family values.