Muslim misogyny met by feminist "jihad"?

A push toward Muslim extremism is greeted with talk of women's empowerment and, yep, feminism.

Published November 7, 2006 4:14PM (EST)

You know, maybe misogynistic rantings have gotten a bum rap. The ability of madcap tirades to force rational feminist thinkers to speak up is sadly undervalued. It took a minute, but now moderate Muslims are speaking out against Australian Sheik Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly's assertion that unveiled women are responsible for rape and akin to "uncovered meat."

"We have to do something to tackle these sort of medieval views about the women, which is not good in a country like Australia," said Ameer Ali, a leading cleric in Australia. Also, in a seeming nod to Hilaly, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf blamed "semiliterate clerics" for the rise of Muslim extremism and called repeatedly for the empowerment of women in the Islamic world. "They constitute 50 percent of the population, generally," Musharraf said at a meeting of the World Islamic Economic Forum on Monday. "We must empower them politically and economically, but it's easier said than done. We need to develop their capacity, first of all." (Recent cuts in literacy programs for neighboring Afghan women are none too encouraging.)

Enough pressure has been brought to bear that Hilaly has lamely admitted his original comments were "inappropriate and unacceptable for the Australian society and the Western society in general." Still, this admission was a noncapitulation similar to his clarification that he condemns rape while carefully skirting the issue of just whom he condemns for the crime. This is the "whoops, I got caught" defense -- he never meant his comments for public digestion. Next time he'll be more careful. That's the kind of claptrap that we hope will find less and less of an audience as Australian Muslims establish a formal pecking order that elevates moderate leaders and diminishes the crazies. For his part, Ali was clear about the need for such rejiggering: "We have to have more liberal-minded people taking the leadership in Islam." Amen.

There's also encouraging buzz about the so-called jihad for equality of the sexes. (A strange slogan choice considering that the movement is fighting Muslim extremism, but, hey, sensational sloganeering is an excusable offense.) Recently the, um, jihad took the form of a three-day-long Islamic feminism conference designed to "support women who are fighting for recognition of their rights in the Islamic world." There, Muslim women from around the world caucused on everything from sharia law to polygamy.

Given the recent level of media attention to Islam, it seems that any day now MTV will come out with "True Life: I'm a Muslim Mufti," or Anderson Cooper will report live (on the scene!) from a Muslim country, donning a niqab to detail what it feels like to be a Muslim woman. But thankfully, it seems the increasing attention to Muslim issues is being answered with debate by real, live Muslim men and women.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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