Op-Ed: Arab Women: Harassed and Hurt
Dr. Phyllis CheslerThe writer, a Fellow of the Middle East Forum and recipient of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award, is the author of fifteen books, including Women and Madness, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, and The New Anti-Semitism. She has published three studies about honor killing and is at work on a fourth. Her new book, An American Bride in Kabul, (Palgrave Macmillan) has just been published to great acclaim. Professor Chesler may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com
In Palestine, more specifically, in Gaza, the territory that is currently most adored by western artists, “free” thinkers, and flotilla “activists,” any woman who refuse to wear hijab, the headscarf, faces new punishments.
In the fall of 2010, Asmaa al-Ghoul, a Palestinian journalist whom I interviewed here, and who has written about honor killings among Palestinians, was literally arrested for not wearing hijab and for wearing jeans; perhaps she was also arrested due to her work which exposed honor killings. In any event, Asmaa now writes that a friend who “refuses to wear the hijab has not been allowed to graduate from university.”
It is not clear whether Asmaa is writing about the Islamic University of Gaza, about al-Azhar University in Cairo or about both universities.
In any event, in the past, women in Gaza, and for that matter, in Egypt, wore modern and western dress. Arab feminists fought for and won the right to be naked-faced, to feel the sun on their cheeks. With the rise of Khomeini in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, coupled with the increasing influence of both Khomeiniism andSaudi Wahhabism, worldwide, especially on Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, freedom for women ended.
Asmaa writes: “In Gaza, you will come across repressive rules, hurtful comments, stupid words and contemptuous looks, and scorn for the women not wearing hijab. In the small world of Gaza, we need someone to defend the rights of women who don’t wear hijab, or the jilbab, or the niqab. It’s a system that establishes the idea that women should be treated as bodies.”
Asmaa goes on to explain that, in Gaza, Christian Arabs are required to wear hijab as well as Muslim Arabs.
Although the head of Al-Azhar University recently snatched the niqab from a girl’s face and said that face-covering is not religiously required by Islam—Asmaa decries the fact that the university still demands that female students wear the hijab, headscarf, if they are to graduate. And, they must take their official photo wearing hijab, not bare-headed, even if they are bare-headed in their daily lives.
She writes about how young girls are being forced to wear hijab in secondary schools. When they resist, as her younger sisters did, they were forced into the blazing sun “in an attempt to force them to wear the hijab…the headteacher at the time said to me,
‘I want to receive God’s reward because of them.’”
And in Australia, a Muslim woman leader and member of Hizb ut-Tahrir also defended the right of Muslim women to both face-cover, body cover, and head-cover. Yesterday, in Sydney, a Muslimfemale speaker addressed a 2000-strong rally which opposes a proposed burqa ban. She said that a ban is ‘un-Australian” and that Islamic values are “superior” to “flawed” western, secular values. According to Fautmeh Ardati,
“The western secular way of life, robs a woman of her dignity, honor, and respect, where she is considered little more than a commodity to be bought and sold…I feel empowered by the knowledge that I am in control of displaying my beauty to whom I choose.”
Although some Muslim women will defend their “choice” to wear the Islamic veil, it is a “forced” choice, not a “free” choice. Girls and women have been honor murdered in the Islamic world and by Muslim immigrants in the West for refusing to do so; they have also been harassed, insulted, beaten, fired from their jobs, and forced into permanent spinsterhood in Muslim communities, world-wide. They have also been misinformed about Islam and believe, wrongly, that the Qur’an requires them to cover their faces, their bodies, and their heads. However, like men, women are merely told to dress “modestly.”
Lately, there are more and more women in burqas and niqab on the streets of Europe and North America, women wearing tight headscarves and long, heavy coats in the hottest weather—and they are walking right besides their husbands who may have beards but who are wearing light-weight, summery western-style clothing.
Something is terribly wrong with this picture—especially since obediently wearing the Islamic Veil does not protect Muslim women from being raped and beaten within their own families, harassed on the streets, sold into sexual slavery.
It is ironic that so many western “progressive” activists are willing to sign petitions to “free Gaza.” But free Gaza from whom? From Hamas, from rigid Islamist misogyny, or from the Israelis who long ago, left Gaza and who are not now imposing such restrictions on women.