Wasting their victory on “trivial bullshit”

More about that Daily Beast interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The interviewer is Cathy Young, who writes for Reason magazine among others and is great buddies with Christina Hoff Sommers – in short, she’s a conservative and she takes a very jaundiced view of feminism. She asked Ayaan HA questions carefully shaped to elicit the politically correct (in conservative terms) answers.

Her introduction, for instance, helps to set the tone.

Never one to shy away from battles, Ali has also made a foray into America’s gender wars: Last November, in a speech before the right-of-center Independent Women’s Forum, she declared that feminism in the West has “won” and that feminists were wasting their victory on “trivial bullshit”…

Yes, and this is the very thing we take exception to.

But to be fair, she also says some good things.

So you’re very hopeful about what’s happening right now.

I just want to remind the free world that there was a time when they were not free—Europeans and Americans were not free. There was a time when Christian theology and Jewish theology was used to commit atrocious acts. Remember the witch hunts, remember the Protestants. I think Americans associate religion with something positive. In Europe, Protestants were killing other Protestants, Catholics were killing Protestants, Protestants were killing Catholics, just as the Sunni and the Shia are doing now. That is now in the history books. I look forward to a time when atrocities committed in the name of Islam will be in history books and museums and movies, but not happening to real people in real time.

I have no quarrel with that.

But then they move on to feminism.

You’ve had some reactions from Western feminists to your statements about Islam that you’ve found a bit disconcerting.

We are seeing that Western feminists are shy about pointing out the misogyny that’s committed in the name of the religion of Islam, because they feel we can’t impose our ethnocentric or Eurocentric or American-centric ways. If you read the [faculty] letter at Brandeis, that’s the core of it. Which is—don’t be ridiculous. It doesn’t matter where you are as an individual human being; freedom is freedom. Nobody likes to be oppressed. Human rights are universal. Individual rights are universal. This is the message to American feminists and other Western feminists: the best thing to share is the outcome of the emancipation.

Yes but that’s not feminism per se, and it’s not all of feminism. Much of the left is like that, but not all of it, and feminism is mostly on the left, so some feminists are squeamish about criticizing Islam, for a mix of good and bad reasons. But it’s only some. Yes I know; notallfeminists; bite me.

One women’s issue that you write about and work on is honor violence. Do you think it’s less of a problem in the United States than in some immigrant communities in Europe?

It is a huge issue, and we see—at my foundation, the AHA Foundation—more and more girls and young women coming to us with the exact same problems that we’ve been seeing in Europe. The minute they reach puberty, they are stopped from going to school, their movements are controlled. There are honor killings and there is honor violence. Honor violence is when you’re not allowed to get out of the house. When you have a boyfriend, you’re beaten until you give him up. You’re over 18 years old and your parents don’t allow you to go to college; they get someone from the country of origin and force you to marry that person, and if you speak against it you are threatened with death. I don’t think the story of honor killings and honor violence in the United States has yet been told. And that’s because of the honor brigade. Because every time you start talking about these things, you get these people clamping down on everything—[slams hand] on the press, on the government—saying it’s not Islamic, or it’s Islamophobic even to discuss it, or that you’re racist if you talk about honor violence. Unbelievable.

Once again, you get an argument from some Western feminists who will say that it’s not that substantially different from domestic violence and sexual assault, which also happens in our society, so it’s unfair to single out [Muslim cultures].

What’s feminist about a woman who makes a statement like that? A person who makes that statement is basically saying, let’s change the subject, there’s nothing wrong. And so they are completely letting down that victim who cannot speak for herself, who is voiceless, who has to deal with the entire family, male and female, who are silencing her. It’s for those of us who have the platforms and the voice, and can articulate what’s going on, to talk about it. And the woman who sits there on her faculty saying, “Oh, yeah, this and that”—what’s so feminist about it, honestly?

Nothing, but again, it’s not feminism as such, and it’s not a reason to tell feminists here that feminism has “won.”

Presumably, they would say that we should take all violence against women more seriously, whether it’s honor violence or not.

They can chitchat as much as they like, but they shouldn’t call themselves feminists.

What? Feminists who say we should take all violence against women more seriously shouldn’t call themselves feminists?? That’s an outrageous thing to say – so outrageous that I wonder if she misunderstood what Cathy Young said, or lost the thread. I agree with her that feminists over here should not ignore violence against women in the rest of the world, but that doesn’t rule out also agreeing that we should take all violence against women more seriously. She seems to be saying we should take violence against women over here with scorn and belittlement, and that can’t really be what she thinks. She must be letting her indignation run away with her and let her say things she doesn’t actually think.

The feminist project was a struggle for the rights of women. And now we have those equal rights by law, and most of us are enjoying it and most of us are able to take advantage of it. But we have a large immigrant community—and, by the way, not only Muslim—who are being denied these rights here in the United States. Let’s not silence it.

No. We do not have “those equal rights” by law, not all of them – because it’s not that simple. Having good laws doesn’t just magically fix all problems. She’s right to say let’s not silence immigrant women who are denied right, but she’s dead wrong to say feminism here has done its work.

You’re giving the keynote speech at the American Atheists National Convention [on April 3]. Are you going to talk about Islam primarily?

I am. And I think I have the same message as I have for feminists and for other groups who are addressing various issues in the world we live in today. For atheists, it’s: You address the issues of organized religion and atrocities committed in the name of organized religion. And I want them to focus on Islam today, because it’s in the name of Islam that most lives are taken, that most subjection, most intolerance is spread around the world. So for my fellow atheists, it’s a matter of: Listen, it’s one thing to protest about Christmas trees on December 25, but it’s quite another to witness fellow human beings in cages and burned alive, and women taken as slaves, again, in the names of this religion. So it’s very much a matter of organizing our priorities.

Sigh. That’s just insulting. It’s not only Christmas trees. It’s enormously more than that. And I don’t think she lost the thread in that answer, because it’s about her speech, which she’d had time to think about.

And she does more belittling. Young asks about prejudice against atheists. AHA says there is some, but it’s not like the kind she faced.

There is a massive difference. Same thing with the feminists. Listen, if you’re not allowed into a golf club, that doesn’t sit well with me, but if I were to prioritize, I would say: This girl, she’s just been denied her right to school, she’s just been forced into marriage, she’s just been genitally mutilated. That’s the sort of thing that we need to be, as women, signing up against—and as atheists. And by the way, the LGBT community—I think it’s awesome, and it’s taken some great steps. But in the name of Islam, gay men, or men who are accused of being gay, are put on the roofs of buildings and thrown down by a mob shouting “Allahu akbar!” doing this in the name of their faith. And it’s time that the gay community stood up to this. HIV is no longer the biggest killer of the gay community; it’s [violence] in the name of Islam, and no one’s talking about it.

So that’s feminists, atheists, and LGBT people who all need to stop paying so much attention – or maybe any attention – to local issues, and pay attention to violence in the name of Islam instead.

The American Enterprise Institute would like that, wouldn’t it.


  1. jedibear says

    I keep hearing about left-wingers being reluctant to criticize Islam, but I have to admit that it’s a phenomenon I have yet to see in the wild, at least here in the US. Left or right, the tendency here is to err on the side of uninformed xenophobia.

  2. says

    Yes, I’ve seen it, too. I think that the perception by people on the left who are afraid of criticizing Islam is the fear that they would be branded as racists, in the manner that Sam Harris was when he suggested “profiling muslims” at airports. However, that is based on the false premise that Islam corresponds to some fixed racial characteristics. (A premise which, for all I know, Harris agrees with, since he coyly never got around to clarifying exactly how to profile such a diverse group of people other than on appearance, and which is why accusations of racism were leveled at him.)

  3. iknklast says

    She manages to say not being allowed into a golf club as though it’s trivial; it isn’t. It’s part of the same pattern that keeps women around the world down. Whenever women are successfully prevented from participating in one sphere, it limits their participation overall. This is a worldwide problem, and it isn’t just about golf clubs.

    At least Dawkins admitted women were being groped without their permission. That is closer to the truth, but still a bit simplified.

  4. says

    A premise which, for all I know, Harris agrees with

    Well, since Harris offered that idea and followed it with a quip referring to his own looks, I think it’s pretty clear that Harris was thinking that there’s an islamic physiognomy or something stupid like that. After he was thoroughly and deservedly thrashed for that bit of stupidity, he successfully redirected the discussion by saying even dumber stuff about security practices. So, yeah, Harris not only appeared to agree with that premise, he was helping promote it as possible public policy.

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    Isn’t it widely considered a jerk move to presume to tell others what they are and are not allowed to be upset about and disturbed by, and to describe others’ concerns as “trivial bullshit”?

  6. Lady Mondegreen says

    For atheists, it’s:…I want them to focus on Islam today….Listen, it’s one thing to protest about Christmas trees on December 25, but it’s quite another to witness fellow human beings in cages and burned alive, and women taken as slaves, again, in the names of this religion. So it’s very much a matter of organizing our priorities.

    I do appreciate the fact that she’s consistent on this point. As opposed to Dawkins, who Dear Muslima’d Rebecca Watson and snipes at feminists, but so far as I can tell holds a double standard. He’ll enthusiastically tweet “Western feminists, shut up, look how bad these Muslim women have it.” Yet I’ve never heard him “express irritation” or call local church v. state struggles petty because atheists have it much worse elsewhere.

    HA clearly wants us all to focus on defeating Islamism. Which is a fine goal. Now for the pesky question of how to do that–I don’t trust her friends at AEI and among the Thought Leaders to come up with palatable answers to that one.

  7. says

    So. This is interesting…

    Going through my old files, I came across the actual, physical articles that first alerted me to what was happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were from an anarchist news service (I don’t have those printouts at hand, but they sent communiques from RAWA), women’s magazines, and Amnesty International. I have them today because I cut them out and filed them.

    The women’s magazine article doesn’t have a date or identifying information, but the title is “Women Jailed for Being Raped,” then: “When three men raped a 23-year-old nurse, she was the one sent to jail. In Pakistan, THAT’S THE LAW. The prime minister is the most powerful woman in the world, but she has yet to change this law.” It interviews activists in the country like Hina Jilani and encourages readers to protest to the Pakistani ambassador.

    The AI piece is extremely interesting. It’s a 1997 Interact: A Bulletin about Women’s Human Rights called “Women in Afghanistan.” “The situation for women in Kabul under the former Mujahideen leaders was never ideal,” it says. It discusses the murder of Meena Keshwar Kemal, one of the founders of RAWA, in Pakistan, and then notes that “Although each armed faction has perpetuated the ill-treatment of women, the Taleban appear to be more successful at enforcing restrictions on the livelihood of women than Mujahideen governments were in the past.” It goes on to describe “Cruel Punishments,” “Professional Women Attacked,” and the response of “International Agencies.”

    Here’s the most interesting part (remember: 1997): The two last sections are “International and Regional Responsibilities” and “US Corporate Support.” From the first:

    Women in Afghanistan have continued to work and study outside their homes. They have demonstrated in the streets to protest the denial of their rights. But they are also attacked, beaten, detained, raped, and tortured because of these activities. Afghan women, as well as the rest of the civilian population, are in desperate need of an environment in which their human rights are respected. All warring factions in Afghanistan are responsible for the cycle of abuses and lack of respect for humanitarian law. The international community is responsible for finding and implementing solutions to end the suffering of Afghan women. The powerful countries supporting the Taleban include the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Amnesty International believes that governments who support these warring factions, particularly those who have supplied arms to the conflict, have a responsibility for their conduct in the field of human rights. They are answerable for the policies and practices of these groups which violate fundamental human rights. AIUSA and other NGOs have forcefully raised these human rights concerns with top officials of the Clinton administration and continue to warn against legitimizing the women’s human rights setbacks represented in the Taleban policies. [emphasis added]

    The next section, on US corporate support, is even more interesting:

    Unocal, which has consistently done business with the military junta (SLORC) in Myanmar, dismayed the human rights community by publicly endorsing the Taleban. On Oct. 3, 1996, Reuters reported that ‘the U.S. energy company Unocal Corporation which is seeking to build a gas and an oil pipeline across Afghanistan from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, said that the Taleban victories were a positive development. Chris Taggart, Vice President of Unocal International Energy Ventures Ltd., said ‘we regard it (the current situation in Afghanistan) as very positive. I understand Pakistan has already recognized the Taleban government. If the USA follows, it will lead the way to international lending agencies coming in’.

  8. says

    In that 1997 report, Amnesty International offered a model letter to send to Roger Beach, CEO of Unocal, and an address for their report “Afghanistan: Grave Abuses in the Name of Religion.” Here’s the letter:

    Dear Mr. Beach:

    I was distressed to see in an Oct. 3, 1996 Reuters report that Chris Taggart, VP for Unocal International Energy Ventures, Ltd., made a public statement of support for the Taleban in Afghanistan, calling on the USA to recognize this group as the official government of Afghanistan. The Reuters report stated that Unocal is seeking to build oil and gas pipelines across Afghanistan from Turkmenistan to Pakistan.

    Are you aware, Mr. Beach, that Amnesty International has recently reported that in Taleban-controlled areas, thousands of women have been physically restricted to their homes under Taleban edicts which ban women from going to work or from leaving home unaccompanied by a close male relative and which ban girls from going to school? Scores of women we know of (and certainly many who have been unable to report it) have been brutally beaten in the streets for not wearing a burqa or for exposing their ankles. In addition, women have been turned away from their jobs in hospitals and female patients have not been admitted or have been left unattended because male doctors are not allowed to treat women.

    A number of relief agencies have suspended their programs in areas under Taleban control. In 1995, UNICEF suspended its educational programs in Taleban-controlled areas on the grounds that Taleban’s opposition to education for girls violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which prohibits such discrimination. In March 1996, a number of non-governmental organizations, including Save the Children, also suspended their operations because the ban on female staff made it impossible to communicate with women or monitor programs.

    Corporations have a moral responsibility to the communities in which they invest or plan to invest. Such responsibility includes promoting the fundamental protections of human rights, including women’s rights to non-discrimination and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The world’s governments agreed in 1993 at the 2nd World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna that regardless of differences in political, economic or cultural systems, international human rights are universal and must be protected. Any armed opposition group wishing to become a government needs to demonstrate that it will uphold women’s internationally recognized human rights. Unocal’s public statement reveals blatant and callous disregard for the fate of thousands of women. I urge you to make it clear to the Taleban that Unocal will not tolerate these grave and tragic violations of the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Please let me know that Unocal has done this.

    In news that should surprise no one, the pipeline seems to be in progress. So those were the people advocating for the rights of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan: anarchists, women’s groups inside and outside those countries, Amnesty International. The US government and the corporations – like Unocal/Chevron – whose bidding it does don’t give a flying fuck about women anywhere. You would have to be pathologically naïve to believe that they do.

  9. Anthony K says

    Yes, I’ve seen it, too. I think that the perception by people on the left who are afraid of criticizing Islam is the fear that they would be branded as racists

    Nope. As an actual leftist, being branded ‘racist’ is the least of my fears. I’m reluctant to criticize Islam only when I’m in the company of likely racists (ie the province in which I live, the atheist community) because I’m loathe to give racists ammunition, because inevitably they hear ‘Islam is bad’ and start stroking their nuke ’em all boners, or start suggesting we single out Muslims for extra security or restrict their immigration (this one always seems to come from immigrants and the children of immigrants).

    For the record, I got branded as a racist for calling out a white appropriator in high school, he went around telling everyone I called him a ‘n***** lover’, and I got jumped several times by several people at a time, so I’ve some experience with the wages of being called ‘racist’. I’m not kidding when I tell you that’s not what I fear.

    Because what’s more likely, here in Texas north, where our Jesus is oil, is that someone will immediately start talking about how all Muslims need to be shot on sight, or First Nations people should be left to starve to death on reservations with no medical care, or black people blah blah blah, and that’s the conversation I don’t want to have. (I don’t think I need to explain how the atheist community is similar, with all the Bell Curve fanatics running around rooting for the cops in Ferguson).

    So, while all the other leftists I’m sure are just afraid to be called racist, and that’s why they’re the useful idiots who invented Daesh in the name of cultural relevatism, but this leftist is actually aware of the cultural matrices in which I move.

    However, that is based on the false premise that Islam corresponds to some fixed racial characteristics.

    No fucking shit. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the leftists who can’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh, and it wasn’t leftists who told my African friends to go back to Pakistan.

    And yes, Islam sucks, and it’s the worst thing in the world, and we’d solve it in a minute if leftists would just grow a pair of testes, and if you see someone who looks like they could be a Muslim, be sure to harass them within an inch of their lives so they don’t terrorism you. For the record.

  10. says

    However, that is based on the false premise that Islam corresponds to some fixed racial characteristics

    For what it’s worth, in some circles, “Muslim” is standard code for “brown person”. It’s a way for people to provide cover for their actual racism.
    Thus, it can sometimes be difficult to tell apart the racist assholes from the people with legitimate criticism of Muslim practices, because the racists are quite deliberately trying to blur the distinctions.

  11. Deepak Shetty says

    I keep hearing about left-wingers being reluctant to criticize Islam,
    Well it sort of depends – the same thing is said by people who have different motivations. For e.g.
    1) Some people see the conflicts as political . So you might find someone saying Israel is the problem (and Palestine playing the role of the oppressed is justified in using violence). you don’t know whether the person who is saying this is merely making a political statement or is actually trying to minimise atrocities committed by muslims.
    2) Some people see it as a culture thing – e.g. Honor killings happen in India and happen for inter -caste marriages, happen for Inter- religious marriages and are not purely an Islamic phenomenon. Is someone trying to point out the way women are treated as property transcends religion? or is it a tu quoque to minimise problems in Islam
    3) Some people sometimes point to for e.g. in India , a good number of *terrorist* activities are not really connected to Islam (e.g. Maoists in the northeast , naxalites etc) – but the one that gets press is when some Islamic fundamentalists bombs something. Is the motive to point out other issues or to minimise problems in Islam
    4) Some people are genuinely racist or Islamophobic. Does using the term Islamophobia actually apply to the case or is it one more attempt to turn off criticism of Islam
    5) Some people see different causes e.g. USA interference in matters that usually cause everything to get worse. Is it a genuine evaluation of the situation or an attempt to blame the west for all issues in the Islamic world?

  12. Deepak Shetty says

    And I want them to focus on Islam today
    I still dont get what she wants us to do (assuming I ignore everything else I know and be really really charitable)
    Does she for e.g. want bloggers to focus on Islamic issues (I’d love to see her tell Coyne to stop his cat posts and focus on the latest islamic extremism!)
    Does she want us to only vote for people who will not support fundamentalist Islamic regimes (ha ha)
    Does she want me to stop donating to Plan and donate to some anti_islamic movement?

  13. Hj Hornbeck says

    S.C. @9:

    In news that should surprise no one, the pipeline seems to be in progress. So those were the people advocating for the rights of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan: anarchists, women’s groups inside and outside those countries, Amnesty International. The US government and the corporations – like Unocal/Chevron – whose bidding it does don’t give a flying fuck about women anywhere.

    Funny you should bring that up. I recently did a quick dive in the history of anti-feminist movements, and found to my shock that the “religion is the greatest opponent of women’s right” assertion isn’t as simple as all that. Corporations and private businesses have not only been strong opponents of feminism, before Second Wave broke they were the dominant opponents in the US and UK! The recent moves to extend religious beliefs to corporations in the USA, combined with the gradual decline of religion, may be a sign the power balance is transitioning back.

  14. sathyalacey says

    Can anyone fact-check her claim that the biggest killer of gay men is Islam, not HIV?

    It sounds like complete bullshit, but I’m not sure how to get and compare those numbers.

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