by Joshua Holland
Before 9/11/01, the media relegated stories about women in Islamic societies
to page B27, below the fold. Ever since 9/12/01, those same stories have
screamed from the front pages in 100-point type. The shift in discourse
coincided with the launch of Bush's global "War on Terror," when various
hawks began using the plight of women in Islam to illustrate the supposed
perfidy of our "enemies," and to justify a series of military
"interventions" -- invasions -- by Western powers. . . .
But I've seen no empirical data to suggest that an Islamic majority itself
correlates with the subordination of women better than other co-variables
like economic development, women's ability to serve in government, a
political culture that values the rule of law or access to higher education. . . .
Support for equal rights is robust in all Muslim countries. Large majorities
say it is important in Iran (78%), Azerbaijan (85%), Egypt (90%), Indonesia
(91%), Turkey (91%) and the Palestinian territories (93%). . . .
Like the promotion of human rights during the Cold War, there is a
geopolitical goal being served. The United States has been in a state of
permanent war since the 1940s . . .
We had a
seamless transition from World War II to Cold War to Drug War to War on
Terror, and in every instance, the unadulterated evil of our opponents has
been a consistent theme, as has been our ability to turn a blind eye to the
same offenses when perpetrated by the United States or our allies.
And now our existential enemies are the spooky brown people of the Muslim
world, with their frightening and alien habits and supposed tendency towards
"Islamofascism." The problem with that storyline is clear: the Western,
predominantly Christian world has far more economic and political influence
than the "Muslim world" -- much of which escaped the yoke of colonialism
just in the past 50-75 years -- and, more significantly, it has hundreds of
thousands of troops on the soil of several predominantly Muslim countries,
whereas the reverse does not obtain. In other words, the "threat" of an
Islamic takeover of the West is as realistic as the threat of my sweet
grandmother beating the Hell out of Mike Tyson. . . .
The truth is that universal suffrage came to Iran in 1979, five years before
women in Liechtenstein got the vote. It came to Bahrain in 2002, 12 years
after the Swiss Supreme Court ordered the stubborn Canton of Appenzell
Innerrhoden to accept women's suffrage. Portuguese women got the vote in
1976, Swiss women in 1971 -- both in my lifetime -- and in my baby-boomer
mother's lifetime, women in Italy, Belgium and Japan first got the
franchise. . . .
And when comparing apples and apples -- among economically developed Western
democracies -- the United States has very little standing to criticize
anyone else about the status of women. We rank 71st in the world in terms of
the proportion of women serving in our legislature, with just 16 percent.
That's significantly worse not only than the European countries, it's also a
poorer showing than Sudan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and
Uzbekistan. . . .
According to Harvard's Project on Global Working Families, the United States
is one of only five countries out of 168 studied that doesn't mandate some
form of paid maternal leave. The only other advanced economy among those
five was Australia's, where women are guaranteed an entire year of unpaid
leave. That puts the United States -- the wealthiest nation on the planet --
in the company of Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. . . .
"Women in Islam," The Wisdom Fund
Michael Neumann, "Has Islam Failed?,"
The Wisdom Fund, May 15, 2003