By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Phyllis Chesler, the author of classic works, including the bestseller Women and Madness, The New Anti-Semitism, and The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom. Her website is www.phyllis-chesler.com.
Dr. Chesler will be chairing the opening panel in the upcoming Secular Islamic Summit Conference of Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents. The Conference will be held on March 4th and 5th in St Petersburg, Florida at the Hilton Hotel. The dissidents are planning to issue a Declaration for freedom throughout the Islamic world.
FP: Dr. Chesler, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Chesler: As ever, it is my pleasure to be with you.
FP: Tell us about the upcoming Secular Islamic Summit Conference of Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents.
Chesler: As you stated in your introduction Jamie, this landmark Islamic Summit Conference will take place on March 4th and 5th in St Petersburg, Florida at the Hilton Hotel. The conference is being sponsored and co-organized by The Center for Inquiry-Transnational and by the eminent scholar, Ibn Warraq.
As you know, I was once held captive in Afghanistan as the young bride of a very westernized Afghan Muslim man who I met at college. I therefore learned not to romanticize Third World countries, nor to confuse their tyrannical leaders with liberators. I also learned that Islamic religious and gender apartheid and jihad are indigenous to Muslim lands and not due to any European or American crimes. Therefore, this conference of like-minded thinkers is truly stirring my imagination. In many ways, I feel closer to the views of such dissidents than I do to the views of so many of my American intellectual colleagues. I view these dissidents as among the bravest and most enlightened people in the world.
FP: So who will be attending?
Chesler: Delegates from Egypt, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, and exiles from a number of Muslim countries who now live in Europe and North America will assemble for this meeting. Speakers include: Mona Abousenna, Nonie Darwish, Fatemolla, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Nibras Kazimi, Irshad Manji, Wafa Sultan, Amir Taheri, and others whose names also cannot be released for security reasons.
This conference plans to issue a Declaration and to launch a global, humanist movement for “reason, pluralism, and freedom of conscience.” They will call for a new “Enlightenment” in Islamic culture and will release the Declaration at a press conference on Monday afternoon, March 5th, 2007, in English, Arabic, Farsi, and Bengali to the world media.
In my opinion, this is the time for intellectuals who claim to be anti-racists and committed to human rights, to stand with these dissidents. To do so requires that they adopt a single, universal standard of human rights and abandon their loyalty to multi-cultural relativism which essentially justifies and even romanticizes indigenous Islamist barbarism, totalitarian terrorism, and the persecution of women, religious minorities, homosexuals and intellectuals.
FP: Indeed, our western left/post-colonial academics and feminists are hypocritical to the extreme when it comes to their deafening silence about Islamic barbarism. In terms of your own courageous personal battle Dr. Chesler, have any of these individuals become any more tolerant or respectful of your views about cultural relativism, Islamic terror, and the need for universal standards of human rights? Have any of them heard you out, invited you to speak, changed their views? Or are they just continuing in their totalitarian ways?
Chesler: A few souls have contacted me to congratulate me on my bravery and clarity but they have not begun to speak out themselves. Thus, I have been embraced by a handful of Second Wave feminists—but mainly privately. We go way back and their personal respect and affection matters to me very much. It is, however, politically irrelevant. I have also received very enthusiastic support from pro-Israel Jewish activists and Christian Zionists. I have also just been approached by feminists who work for a major British newspaper to write a truly uncensored article about Islam, women, and dissent. And, Women’s Studies at a California university is co-sponsoring my upcoming talk there. This is all quite wonderful. They are also the exceptions to the rule.
FP: How have our feminists been treating you and your battle for the victims of Islamic gender apartheid?
Chesler: The major feminist magazines and newspapers and feminist journalists at mainstream media have not reviewed my last two books about anti-Semitism or about the “death” of feminism in relation to issues such as jihad and Islamism. There have been some hilariously scathing reviews in some small very left newspapers. I still have no European, South American or Asian publishers for these two books.
And, as you know, the working conditions for pro-American, pro-Western, and pro-Israel truth-tellers on western campuses remain very hostile. We are shunned or, harassed. For example, Nonie Darwish was recently invited, then dis-invited, then re-invited to speak at Brown University. Former PLO terrorist, Walid Shoebat lost more than half his audience at Columbia for dysfunctional “administrative” reasons. Both Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz have been routinely jeered, heckled, and drowned out on campuses.
I have also been demonized by certain left-feminists (and by Democratic party operatives) as a reactionary, racist “Islamophobe” for arguing that Islam, not Israel, is the largest practitioner of both gender and religious apartheid in the world and for demanding that Westerners stand up to real apartheid, morally, economically, and militarily. I have been confronted, menaced, never-invited, or dis-invited for such heretical ideas—and for denouncing the epidemic of Muslim-on-Muslim violence.
The absence of invitations where appropriate amount to political blackballing but the dis-invitations are discouraging as well.
FP: Can you give us an example of a dis-invitation in your own experience?
Let me give an example of a dis-invitation, an outright attack, and a non-invitation.
First, I was invited by Cambridge (UK) to deliver a keynote address at an international feminist conference to be held on March 9th of this year. (2007). One of the other keynoters is on record calling for the abolition of the state of Israel; a second is well known for staging anti-American demonstrations at the American embassy in London about every six weeks; a third has signed every conceivable petition in favor of boycotting Israel.
My “responder” was unknown to me but I was told that she was something of an apologist for both Islamism and for the Iranian regime. This may or may not be true and she may actually be quite a nice person—which is, however, irrelevant. Since I had recently debated the veil on Middle Eastern television and since a prominent Muslim advocate in Britain had threatened to have a million terrorists on the streets in Britain if this subject was merely debated, I wrote to Cambridge and noted the utter absence of kindred spirits among my keynoter peers and I asked whether they had thought about the need for security given what I would be talking about. Although I stressed that neither factor would keep me away—I was nevertheless summarily dis-invited. These feminists subsequently invited me to lecture alone, to a smaller British-only group; however, as yet, nothing definite is planned. For a variety of reasons, I am not betting the farm that this second, smaller lecture can happen.
I am a founding member of a group known as the Veteran Feminists of America. They had two conferences in 2006, one at NYU, the other at Barnard. They did not invite me to speak—their right of course, but their loss as well. I offered to speak at the first conference but was turned down. I may have been the only feminist in New York City who was not allowed to speak since, based on the program, I saw that at least 50 feminists spoke, many of whom were more in touch with the past and with their own personal career agendas than with the pressing realities of the day (at least as I see it).
I did not offer to speak at the second conference. However, I suggested that they have someone—anyone—speak about jihad and about Islamic gender apartheid on the panel that addressed the future of the world’s women from a feminist point of view. The feminist-in-charge responded that “two women of color would be speaking so there was nothing to worry about.” I did not attend this conference either but I was told that neither “woman of color” addressed issues of national security, terrorism, or jihad, or spoke about women’s rights and human rights violations under Islam. One, I was told, castigated the mainly all-white group (who were activists who are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s) for ‘still not having more African-American members.”
I have, over the years, worked with the National Organization for Women (NOW) and, in my opinion, NOW has been good on certain issues. However, I must note that NOW’s website does not condemn—actually it does even mention–the assassination of Pakistani female minister Zilla Huma Usman because she was not veiled. Her murderer, Mohammad Sarwar, had previously been held in connection with the mutilation and murders of four prostituted women in 2002 but was never convicted due to lack of evidence. Subjects that it does cover include a “Women’s ‘Surge for Peace,’” against the war in Iraq and various domestic issues including reproductive and economic rights.
FP: Thank you Dr. Chesler for your valiant and courageous work on these issues and for standing up for the victims of Islamic gender apartheid and,of course, for the victims of Islamist barbarism in general.
Before we go, tell us, what or who sustains you in your work? Who are you allies?
Chesler: My views have found favor with some leading secular Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents who have honored me by inviting me to chair the opening panel, to participate in the work of the Secular Islamic conference and to sign the Conference Declaration. This is sustaining and they are my allies. However, I have also found support among neo-conservatives and religious Jews and Christians for my views about American and Israeli security, anti-Semitism, Judaism, Islamic apartheid, and about the nature of terrorism. However, while these new allies respect me, some also fear or oppose many of my feminist views. Interestingly, the Muslim dissidents are all strong feminists as well as anti-jihad and anti-totalitarian.
FP: Dr. Chesler, as always, an honor to speak with you. Keep up the good fight and I wish you and the upcoming conference great success. Let’s hope the Declaration will light a spark for liberty throughout the Muslim world.
Chesler: Thank you Jamie.
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