Ayaan Hirsi Ali at her best!
Ayaan Hirsi Ali at her best!
Recently I finished reading Nomad by one of my idols, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. While the book is not focused on feminism, per se, it does go into what I agree is the major problem with modern Western feminism — in a word: egoism. However, I, being a white male, have no right to comment on this, or so the modern Western feminist reasoning goes. So, fine, I won’t comment on this. I will let Mrs. Ali, a non-white female, comment. Below is an excerpt from Nomad which I think demonstrates the wasted energy and selfishness of modern Western feminism:
“Feminists began to define white men as the ultimate and only oppressors. White men had engaged in the slave trade, apartheid, and colonialism as well as in the subjugation of women. Nonwhite men were, almost by definition, seen as members of the oppressed….
My colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, Christina Hoff-Sommers, calls this “the feminism of resentment.” This is the position of “feminists [who] believe that our society [read, Western society] is best described as a ‘male hegemony,’ a ‘sex/gender system’ in which the dominant gender [read, white male] works to keep women cowering and submissive.” These feminists of resentment refuse to appreciate the progress Western women have made, from the right to vote to the punishment of those who try to harass women at work. They see only the iniquity of the white man and reduce such universal concepts as freedom of expression and the right to choose one’s own destiny to mere artifacts of Western culture….
Western women have power. They are now firmly established in the workforce. They have access to contraception, to their own bank accounts, to the vote. They can marry the men they choose, or choose not to marry at all, and if nature allows it, they can have as many or as few children as they want. They can own property, travel wherever they choose, and read any book, newspaper, or magazine they wish. They can have an opinion on the moral choices of others and express that opinion freely, even publish it….
If feminism means anything at all, women with power should be addressing their energies to help the girls and women who suffer the pain of genital mutilation, who are at risk of being murdered because of their Western lifestyle and ideas, who must ask for permission just to leave the house, who are treated no better than serfs, branded and mutilated, traded without regard to their wishes. If you are a true feminist, these women should be your first priority.”
I’ve believed exactly this for many years now, but being a white male, of course whenever I asserted something like this, every feminist would just shout down my argument because I couldn’t understand how tough life is for a woman growing up in a Western country.
When I lived in Canada, to be honest, I just accepted this line of reasoning because, perhaps there are many things that I don’t notice in the lives of women in Canada.
However, I’ve now lived in South Korea now for about 6 years. When I first arrived here, within a couple months I could see the subtle and not so subtle discrimination against women here. Me! A white male! I was able to notice this! How is this possible?? I am supposed to be blind to the suffering of women, right? Wrong. I realize now that the belief that men are oblivious to the suffering of women is simply a kind of prejudice, like all other prejudices. Further, I now believe that many feminists in developed Western countries are using feminism not as a way to elevate women and women’s rights, but as a way to say, “Oh, my life is so hard! Feel pity for me! You should be ashamed white male!” This is, in a word, egoism. These women are empowered in ways their ancestors and sisters in undeveloped countries would have trouble fathoming. It’s time for empowered feminists to work on empowering truly repressed women around the world!
I remember watching a YouTube clip in which Richard Dawkins interviews a Muslim guy, seen here. In this clip, there was one quote that was particularly annoying. I will paraphrase to make the statement neater since it was a back and forth discussion. Essentially he stated that Western men dressed their women as whores. I assume he meant, we let them dress like whores; regardless, it’s still a ridiculous statement.
This statement is rude and offensive due to its sexist slant; however, I will let feminists attack this point. I am more concerned with something more overarching: it is an ignorant and unfair comparison.
Ignorant because Muslims who make these kinds of statements don’t realize why it is an unfair comparison.
The explanation of its unfairness of this comparison may not be intuitive; however, once dissected, it is quite easy to notice. There are many aspects of culture, and for this reason, it is quite easy to compare apples and oranges without realizing it.
In this instance, the Muslim being interviewed is comparing modern Western culture with traditional Islamic culture. This is not fair. Of course there are traditional Western women who never reveal their bodies in a sexual manner. Of course there are Islamic women who dress provocatively and behave sexually (there are brothels in Islamic countries).
Now, of course women in Western countries are more likely to dress provocatively, but why is this? Is this what Western culture was like traditionally? No. Not at all. The reason why more Western women dress this way is because they can. Specifically, it is because of the continuous fight against the oppression of women in Western culture. In modern Western societies, women are free to dress as they please with little risk of being given dirty looks and no risk of being imprisoned or beheaded.
This same fight against the oppression of women has not happened in Islamic countries. This is not something to brag about. This is something to be ashamed about.
The same advancement of the rights of homosexuals and religious minorities has not occurred in Islamic countries either and we see the same desire by many Muslims to be proud of this lack of advancement. This can be illustrated by the infamous quote by the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “Our country doesn’t have homosexuals.” Again, was this always the case in Western societies? Have Westerners always loved homosexuals and religious minorities? Again, no. The acceptance of the rights of these aforementioned groups are not Western ideals: they are universal ideals.
So, when a Muslim compares Western and Islamic cultures, they should either compare modern Western women and modern Muslim women or traditional Western women and traditional Muslim women. Muslims have no reason to be proud of comparing traditional Islamic culture with modern Western culture. This is an unfair comparison.
Moreover, this is desire to brag about how “modest” Muslim women are in Islamic countries is actually something to be ashamed of, not proud of, since it illustrates how backward the rights of women are in their country. That is, Islamic countries have failed to discover these universal ideals.
There is no evidence that women in Islamic countries innately desire to cover themselves more than any other women. They are products of the society in which they live and these products have not been taken care of. So, whenever a Muslim asserts that their women are more modest than Western women, it is our duty as global citizens to criticize this behavior for the protection of minorities everywhere.
He describes the reactions of conquered peoples as divided into two groups: Herodianism and Zealotism.
Herodianism is the attempt to mimic the dominant civilization, as happened in Japan (he says post-world war situation — I’m not sure if he means World War I or II. I would argue that before America defeated Japan in WWII, Japan had already been copying the American style for some time, which in turn, lead to its ascendancy). I recently read “The West and the Rest” which delves deeply into this concept and it also uses Japan as the best modern example.
It seems to be Hamza Yusuf’s belief that this would be a bad thing for Islam. However, I suggest people read “The West and the Rest” because it outlines how every country which has taken on Western values has seen a steady rise in their GDPs, standards of living, rights of all its individuals, and so on. So, is Islam a peculiar case? I fail to see why this would be true.
Yusuf states that the problem with Herodianism is that the mimicry is never as good as the original and that it is always destined to failure (that’s a very close paraphrase… YouTube started buffering when I wanted to get a perfect paraphrase). I would ask, is it really fair to state that Japan failed? A relatively small island nation growing from the ashes of war — modern nuclear war — into a global power in less than a century is a failure? Regardless of Japan’s current slow economy, considering the fact that such a small country can out-compete larger countries such as China, Russia, and America in so many ways seems quite remarkable to me, not a failure. The same argument could be made for the so-called “Asian Tigers”.
I find it hard to believe when people come back at me with the argument that, “Economic prosperity and equal rights and things like this are only Western values.” Really? Tell that to a beggar in Karachi or a sweatshop worker in China or a farmer in Siberia or a slave laborer in a North Korean Gulag. The fact is, the term “Western values” is ridiculous. These are human values. They are valuable across cultures, religions and nations.
On the other hand, Hamza Yusuf’s view of Zealotism is positive because it preserves the original teaching of the Koran and the Hadith. In other words, Islamic Reform is something which is to be avoided. I will admit, my interpretation of Yusuf’s perspective in this paragraph may not be precise, and I welcome correction. If this is an accurate portrayal of his opinion, however, I believe that this kind of thinking will keep the Arab world in an economic and intellectual stagnation in comparison to the rest of the world.
In the end, the main question remains: Should Islam become more like the West? For the future of Arabic people, I vote with a strong, “Yes!”
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