In a new 90-second video ad, a Muslim-focused political action committee rightly slams Donald Trump for his sinister proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
While Trump is wrong-minded as he pounds the drumbeat of "us vs. them" with the Islamic world, I also hope liberals can move beyond blind defense of the Muslim religion and assess it with greater nuance. I say this as someone who has endured considerable alienation by challenging the premises of Mormonism, my childhood faith (even after facing discrimination growing up because of my religion). While initially painful, thinking about Mormonism objectively has broadened my worldview and allowed me greater ability to analyze any institution, religious or otherwise.
I wish many Muslims and liberals would be so objective when looking at the brutally misogynistic behavior associated with some Muslims’ interpretations of sharia and reject the knee-jerk reaction that paints anyone who questions the modern Muslim world as Islamophobic. The refusal to do so is chilling those of us who unequivocally believe in women’s rights, who believe in freedom of expression, who believe in rationality and critical thinking. Last week in a #SalonTalks interview, author Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, who is otherwise incredibly talented and articulate, essentially said that the horrible French move to ban the "burkini" is essentially on par with an anti-woman acid attack; this is as false equivalency.
Bill Maher often wisely points out the hypocrisy of liberals and feminists whose calls for equality stop at the borders of Islamic thought and Muslim-majority countries. Liberals often take shots at Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a heroine who has risked more to dismantle the patriarchy than any American woman like Al-Khatahtbeh, who is lucky to be an American and not subjected to the obscenely anti-woman practices of genital mutilation, arranged marriage, acid attacks and more that many Muslim girls not living in the West are forced to endure.
Then there is the issue of the veil. There is broad disagreement among Muslim-majority nations about whether women have the choice to remain uncovered or be forced to wear a veil, a textbook definition of patriarchy.
As Ida Lichter, author of "Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression," points out:
“Defenders of women’s rights have been thwarted by the U.S. Administration’s disregard of reformers, and backing for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, despite Egypt and Tunisia deposing their Brotherhood affiliated governments. Women’s rights were also hindered in the UN when Iran was elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), and Islamist Sudan was nominated to join the UN Human Rights Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which elects members of CSW. Although the UN does important humanitarian work, it is overgrown with the weeds of a dysfunctional bureaucracy and spineless leadership, and has become a watering hole for states that are prepared to sanction sex discrimination and extremist ideology without fear of serious challenge by the world body.”
Some liberal observers have argued that global misogyny is agnostic; it can exist in any country dominated by any religion. For them, the Muslim world's misogyny is not inherently Muslim, but rather a twisted interpretation of Islamic law. And for this I am proud of liberal, rational Muslims: for being powerful voices calling for a reformed, moderated and pro-woman interpretation of Islam. Their voices must be bolstered and amplified.
Even while speaking out and defending against the persecution of Muslims, non-Muslim observers should be able to point out that women receive subhuman treatment in many Muslim-majority countries without being accused of attacking Islam. We are simply saying that there are major problems in these countries and let's do something about it rather than defending Islam or attacking Islam. We are not anti-Muslim simply by being 100 percent pro-woman.