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The Feminist Politics of Islamic Misogyny

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Posted on November 14 2010 2:30 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Studying honor killings is not the same as sensationalizing them — but Columbia University professor Lila Abu-Lughod disagrees. Moreover, she believes that indigenous Arab and Muslim behavior, including honor-related violence, is best understood as a consequence of Western colonialism — perhaps even of “Islamophobia.”

On October 25, 2010, at the American University of Beirut, Abu-Lughod admonished feminists who ostensibly sensationalize honor killings, a position which, in her opinion, represents “simplistic, civilizational thinking.” She “warned that an obsessive focus on the so-called honor crime may have negative repercussions” and that “people should be wary of classifying certain acts as a distinctive form of violence against women.” (Her remarks are summarized in a press release published by the university. According to the university, the article on which the speech is based will be published early next year in Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.)

Abu-Lughod opposed the “concept of clear-cut divisions between cultures, which she viewed as a form of imprisoning rural and immigrant communities,” and suggested that focusing on “honor crimes” allowed “scholars and activists to ignore important contexts for violence against women: social tensions; political conflicts; forms of racial, class, and ethnic discrimination; religious movements; government policing and surveillance; and military intervention.”

What kind of feminism does Abu-Lughod represent? She is a post-colonial, postmodern, cultural relativist, a professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studies who does not believe in universal standards of human rights. However, her allegedly feminist work primarily serves the cause of one nationalism only — Palestinian — and of one tradition only — Islam/Islamism.

Abu-Lughod has long held the positions she expressed in Beirut. According to her 2002 article in The American Anthropologist, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” Abu-Lughod believes that wearing the Islamic veil signifies “respectability” for Muslim women. More, it can be “read as a sign of educated, urban sophistication, a sort of modernity.” She writes,

Why are we surprised that Afghan women do not throw off their burqas when we know perfectly well that it would not be appropriate to wear shorts to the opera? If we think that U.S. women live in a world of choice regarding clothing, all we need to do is to remind ourselves of the expression “the tyranny of fashion.”

According to the photo which accompanies the Beirut press advisory and her Columbia biography, Abu-Lughod does not wear a burqa.

In fact, Abu-Lughod herself and her professor parents are all products of an American academic establishment: Her Palestinian-American father, Ibrahim, taught at Northwestern University for 35 years; her Jewish-American mother, Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod, did so for twenty years. Their daughter was raised a Muslim — but in America, not the Middle East. She attended Carleton College in Minnesota and received her Ph.D. from Harvard. Abu-Lughod is married to another Columbia professor of Middle East studies, Timothy Mitchell, who shares her views about Palestine, Israel, and America. They and others represent an academy which has also sacrificed most real feminist values and curriculum for a hard-left agenda which masquerades as “feminism.”

Abu-Lughod suggests that there are many reasons that a woman might veil — and, if she’s talking about hijab (a headscarf), I can agree with her. However, wearing a face- and body-covering that obscures identity, peripheral vision, and all normal social interaction — that functions, in effect, like a sensory deprivation isolation chamber — is not an empowered “feminist” choice or even a feminist way of rejecting sexual objectification. The growing Islamist pressure to veil is enormous, and women fear being beaten, never obtaining a husband, or being divorced, jailed, or even killed for their failure to do so. Face- and body-covering is a forced choice, not a free one. Muslim girls and women are punished, and sometimes murdered, for refusing to wear a face veil.

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