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Naomi Wolf finds support in Debate About Women's Rights in the Muslim World

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Posted on September 9 2009 4:00 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf

No, the debate between Naomi Wolf and Phyllis Chesler isn’t dead yet.

Quick link summary for those just jumping in:

On August 31 Phyllis Chesler wrote a piece at Pajamas Media challenging an article Naomi Wolf wrote about veiled Muslim women for the Sydney Morning Herald. Jamie Glazov, FrontPage’s managing editor and a blogger for NewsReal, wrote a post in support of Chesler here. Wolf didn’t care for either Chesler or Glazov’s characterizations of her position. She left a comment demanding that David Horowitz, NewsReal’s Editor-In-Chief, remove Glazov’s blog. She also contacted Chesler. Glazov had an additional rebuttal here, Horowitz weighed in here, Robert Spencer commented here, and the other day Salon sided with Wolf here, prompting further rebuttals from Chesler here, and Glazov here. (And there are two feminists in support of Chesler here.)

Now to this summary one can add two defenses of Wolf and one somewhat neutral observer who takes some shots at both side:

AltMuslim claims that Wolf’s defense of the veil is “rational culture”:

Finally, there is an unusually vociferous face-off over the veil occurring in the blogosphere – but it’s not among Muslims. Celebrated author and activist Naomi Wolf (who we interviewed at the start of the economic crisis) penned an article entitled, “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality” in which she documented her experiences in Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. She found that in typical Muslim households, “It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling — toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.” There was “demureness and propriety” outside of the home, “but inside, women were as interested in allure, seduction and pleasure as women anywhere in the world.” When walking through a bazaar with a Pakistani-style shalwar kameez and headscarf (hardly a burqa), she “felt a novel sense of calm and serenity” and even, “in certain ways, free.” That was too much for conservative activist Phyllis Chesler, who is rallying the troops (including David Horowitz and Ann Coulter) to savage Wolf, saying that “most Muslim girls and women are not given a choice” about covering “and those who resist are beaten, threatened with death, arrested, caned or lashed, jailed, or honor murdered by their own families” (though Wolf had said along, “Choice is everything”). It’s a sign that women’s Islamic (or not) clothing – like the abortion issue in the US – is being appropriated as the battle ground in the ongoing culture wars between, let’s say, the rational and the irrational. May rational culture win.

A blogger named “DaisyDeadHead” comes down on Wolf’s side and takes some shots at Chesler and Horowitz:

It’s always a very nasty, immoral act to publish someone’s email. To me, a pretty LOW thing to do. Chesler takes the LOW ROAD, then. Automatically. And she brought her crew, too! That famous radical feminist David Horowitz has jumped into the fray. (Caution, extremely unpleasant and noxious link.) And Chesler responds to the Salon piece, angry, of course. (And we wonder why Second-Wavers have such bad reputations?)

“Unpleasant and noxious link”? Jeez. I wonder what Daisy would say about her fellow deadhead Ann Coulter’s joke about how burkhas aren’t “such a bad idea for liberal women.”

One of Daisy’s friends, Natalia Antonova, has some more measured commentary taking some shots at both sides. She admits that Wolf was out of line in her defense of the veil:

The problem with the Taliban is that they argue, via a barrel of a gun, that women are not human beings. I don’t believe it’s actually possible for an outsider to “demonize” the Taliban either, as they do a pretty good job of that themselves.

Of course, I agree with Wolf about the aspect of choice. I don’t care what Phyllis Chesler, or anyone else, feels about the veil, the burkini, the hot-pink catsuit I saw a woman wear on the bus today… You don’t get to tell anyone how to farking dress. I don’t care what you may think their reasons for dressing this or that way are.

Chesler’s attacks on Wolf framed the issue of “Burqa as ultimate feminist choice,” which was a smear tactic if I’ve ever seen one (could it be because I’ve experienced something very similar once upon a time?). Wolf may be a lot of things, but an idiot she is not.

Chesler does, however, have a point when she says that the Muslim world can be just as “debauched” as anything you’d ever see in the West; people just hide that sort of thing better, they don’t flaunt it, it’s all very surreptitious, but it happens. Closed societies deal with repression in all sorts of colourful ways. Considering the amount of so-called Muslim men that regularly tried to solicit sex from me while I was in Jordan, I just don’t buy Wolf’s insistence that society is somehow purer and human interaction is less explotative when most of the women are veiled. I found Wolf’s own wearing of shalwar kameez and headscarf in Morocco to be touching. Personally, I’ve worn the veil to escape sexual harassment, and no, it was not a “calming” or “serene” experience, it was an “oh crap, now I get to pretend to be someone else just for a scrap of respect around here” kind of experience.

So who’s going to jump in next? If you write a blog or article commenting  on this debate (or come across someone else who has) then please email it to me, NewsReal’s assistant managing editor at DavidSwindle AT Gmail Dot Com.

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