Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama's Cairo Address - Obama Calls For Womens Rights While Glossing Over Discrimination & Violence

A credit to Obama - he at least went as far as to call for some improvement in the rights of women in the Middle East. He called for women to be afforded education, the right to work, and the right to wear a hijab. That goes further than the complete absence of any calls by most American feminists. That said, to call Obama's statements on women's rights tepid, if not in many respects harmful by omission, would probably be an overstatement. He wholly ignored any discussion of the key factors subjecting Muslim women to discrimination and violence. And then there was his ridiculous equation of the problems facing Muslim women with the problems faced by women in the West.

The true subjugation of women in Islam begins with institutionalized discrimination in Sharia Law. Beyond that are the insidious practices of honor violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Obama simply glossed over all of this, giving them a patina of acquiesence by his ommission. Instead, he played up his approval of the hijab as an applause line.

Obama failed to make any calls for Sharia law to be evolved so as to allow for equal rights for women. Sharia law is used to discriminate against women in family law and other legal proceedings and to justify violence against women. Sharia allows for a husband to beat his wife. In its most extreme forms, it can lead to results such as last year's Saudi judgment against a woman who was brutally gang raped - that she should be whipped for 200 lashes and then imprisoned for being outside of her home in while unaccompanied by a male guardian.

Besides ignoring Sharia, Obama failed to challenge other true horror for Muslim women - honor violence. As a detailed report on honor violence in Britain made plain, it is a practice both wide spread and insidious:

This study shows that honour killings, domestic violence, forced marriage and FGM are not isolated practices but are instead part of a self-sustaining social system built on ideas of honour and cultural, ethnic and religious superiority. As a result of these ideas, every day around the UK women are being threatened with physical violence, rape, death, mutilation, abduction, drugging, false imprisonment, withdrawal from education and forced marriage by their own families. This is not a one-time problem of first-generation immigrants bringing practices from ‘back home’ to the UK. Instead honour violence is now, to all intents and purposes, an indigenous and self-perpetuating phenomenon . . .

This is a scourge of Islam, both inside and outside the Middle East. If a woman is perceived to have somehow dishonored her family, then relatives may well beat her and perhaps even kill her. Indeed, the poor girl who was gang raped in Saudi Arabia and whose story I linked above was in fact beaten by her brother for the dishonor of being gang-raped. Additionally, Muslim women are prevented from marrying outside of their faith. To do so is often interpreted as an act brining dishonor on the family and any relationship with a man not Islamic is met with violence. How Obama could address women's rights and ignore these grotesque practices is simply beyond comprehension. And by failing to mention them, he gives them a degree of acquiesence where only clear condemnation and scorn are necessary.

Obama also made two comments on the hijab and other clothing women in traditional Muslim societies are required upon pain of punishment to wear. According to Obama:

it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism. . . .

I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, . . .

Great, except for two things. One, if there is freedom to wear a hijab, or even a burkah, how about the freedom not to wear one? In most Muslim societies, if such coverings are a part of the culture, then they are enforced with violence. Obama pushing this as a woman's right is dangerous, for it will now be an excuse to continue a practice that can be clearly degrading to women. And two, Obama's call for freedom to wear a burkah cannot be going over too well amongst the secularists in Turkey and Tunisia, both of whom have laws banning a woman from covering her head in public buildings or if she is a member of government. Those laws exist to try and keep religion separate from their government. Is Obama that clueless not to realize that?

Lastly, there was Obama's utterly vacuous suggeston of moral and actual equivalence between the mistreatment of women under Islam and the "the struggle for women's equality . . . in many aspects of American life." This is not merely ridiculous, it also has to be disheartening for Muslim women who have never been to the West but who now are being led to believe that their own mistreatment is the norm in America also. Instead of holding up the U.S. as a model for the Islamic world to strive to emulate, Obama lied in a way that will decieve a substantial portion of women in the Middle East and harm their fight for equal rights and freedom from violence.

Summary - Obama's Cairo Address: What We Needed, What We Got
Part 1 - Obama's Cairo Address: Hiding From The Existential Problems Of The Muslim World
Part 2 - Obama's Cairo Address: A Walk Back From Democracy & Iraq
Part 3 - Obama's Cairo Address: Obama Calls For Women's Rights While Glossing Over Discrimination & Violence
Part 4 - Obama's Cairo Address: Nukes, Iran & Weakness Writ Large
Part 5 - Obama's Cairo Address: Israel & Palestine – A Little Good, A Lot Of Outrageousness
Part 6 - Obama's Cairo Address: Islam's Tradition Of Religious Tolerance?
Part 7 - Obama's Cairo Address: The Dangerous Whitewashing Of History

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