Last week Brandeis University withdrew its offer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak at its commencement ceremony and receive an honorary doctorate degree. As a child growing up in Somalia in a strict Muslim community, Ali endured genital mutilation, a forced marriage, and horrific beatings. In 2007 she founded The AHA Foundation, whose purpose is to “protect and defend women and girls in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.” Ali has been speaking out against the subjugation and abuse of women and girls within Muslim communities growing in the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, and Canada. As a public figure Brandeis University must have known about her background.
Ali is executive producer of the documentary film Honor Diaries released this year that has been the subject of heated debate. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been very vocal in their opposition to the movie and was behind the decision of Brandeis University to rescind their invitation. I was curious about the documentary and what “lies” about Islam representatives of CAIR said were being propagated by the film.
In the documentary Honor Diaries nine women’s rights activists come together to discuss the abuse of women within Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh communities. They have experienced or seen first-hand the horrors of growing up as girls under the honor codes within these faiths. One woman explains they are taught as young girls that they have the power to dishonor their family. This concept of honor centers on how women behave within society and on the sexuality of women. They are taught not to shame and dishonor their family. In many of these societies, women are guarded and controlled by men. In Saudi Arabia women cannot go anywhere outside of the home without being accompanied by a male family member or guardian. In Iran, a woman’s testimony in the courts and the value of her life is exactly one-half of a man. In Sudan every man has the right to stop a woman and take her to court if he feels she is not dressed modestly, although the language of the law is vague. Women’s lives and bodies are not their own.
One young woman, a UK citizen of Pakistani descent, speaks of a sister who was sent to Pakistan for a forced marriage at the age of fifteen. She returned to the UK nine months later and never dressed in Western apparel again. She was abused and unhappy in her marriage, but instead of divorcing her husband she set herself on fire and died. She chose death instead of dishonoring her family.
One little girl spoke of being forced into marriage at the age of six and was repeatedly raped by her husband. A ten year old girl divorced her husband, although according to the law he was not charged with abuse. Instead the family was ordered to compensate him.
Some staggering statistics were presented throughout the film.
- In Afghanistan 85% of women and girls are illiterate, 40% in Egypt
- 125 million girls have suffered female genital mutilation (FGM) since 1989 in Africa and the Middle East according to the UN.
- 500,000 European women are victims of FGM according to Amnesty International
- 150,000-200,000 of women and girls in the US are at risk of FGM according to the CDC
While Muslims prefer to call it female circumcision, FGM is nothing like male circumcision. FGM involves cutting off of the clitoris and often the labia, and the vagina is sewn shut. The women explained it is not in the Quran but is occurring everywhere the Muslim Brotherhood is.
Female genital mutilation is about controlling female sexuality and has been imported into the West as a cultural practice. It is being done here secretly or the girls are taken to other countries, some as young as 5 years old.
- It is estimated there are nearly 8000 forced marriages in the UK every year, 1500 in the US.
- The UN estimates there are approximately 5000 honor killings a year, although it is more like 20,000 according to the BBC
In the West, most women and girls who have been honor killed have had many encounters with law enforcement with domestic violence calls, but they do not seem to realize the real threats these women and girls are facing.
The message of the women in Honor Diaries is that this abuse and violence against women does not come from the Muslim, Hindu or Sikh cultures. They asserted that calling it a person’s culture is racist. It is “systematic institutionalized misogyny.” It is a case of human rights, and cultural relativism has no place when a woman’s rights are being abused. It is not a part of anyone’s culture for women to be abused.
The human rights of Muslim (and Hindu and Sikh) women are being ignored because we are afraid to question. Muslim women are being ignored not only by Muslim men, but by the entire world. Although it is hidden in America this abuse of women is growing here. In Tampa I covered the case of Fatima Abdallah, who was brutally beaten to death in August of 2009. Whether it was an honor killing or domestic violence, she was murdered and the City of Tampa Police Department and the coroner’s office ruled it an accidental death. If our own law enforcement agencies will not pursue prosecution of the murder of a Muslim woman, are any of us safe? Where are the feminists? Where is NOW? Why does the left continue to ignore the brutality committed by men against women every day in the West and all across the globe?
In a recent interview with Megyn Kelly on The Kelly File, CAIR communications director Ibrahim Hooper called Ayaan Hirsi Ali hateful, extremist, and bigoted. He said the message of Honor Diaries is to hate Muslims and hate Islam. Hooper said he supports our Constitution and says this hateful bigoted speech seeks to deny Muslims their religious rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Megyn Kelly shot back that Hooper and CAIR try to shut down the message every time they hear something they do not like. She told him “You don’t want to respond, you want to silence.”
The women in this documentary are calling for a whole army of women to help our oppressed sisters. We can’t be afraid of being called racist, bigoted or islamophobes. The term “islamophobe” is new and is being used to silence people. The root word phobia means fear. These women are far from fearful of Islam. Most still practice and observe the tenets of their faith. These women are threatened with death, mutilation, and rape every day for speaking out in defense of women’s rights. They said we must not be afraid to speak out, we must be courageous. If we are afraid to speak, they win.