Friday, March 7

Plucky activists score a small but telling victory in honor of International Woman's Day

I'm trying to imagine how they did it without getting caught. But sometime in the dead of night on March 6, in cities in Finland, Germany and Russia, members of the understandably anonymous Anonymous Group of Democratic and Free Thinking managed to drape a total of eight public female statues with a burqa or hijab.

Instead of bounding away with the ladder after each escapade they stuck around long enough to affix an arm band and signboard to the statue.

The armband reads "Gender Equality!"

The signboard carries two quotes:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." -- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, Art. 1

"To those (women) on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them." -- Quran, Sura 4,34

More news to celebrate on International Women's Day comes from the journalism profession. In developing countries around the world, more and more females are learning to use the news media to publicly discuss sensitive or 'taboo' subjects such as rape and forced marriage.

Internews reports on women who are pushing the male-dominated news media in their countries to report more on female issues and gender equality.

And the World Opinion polling organization has released encouraging data on women's rights. Before you smirk at some fairy tale answers given to pollsters in countries such as Iran, keep in mind that women's rights around the world have come a very long way from a century ago. There's a long way to go but the poll underscores the progress and indicates that a tipping point has been reached.

The idea that women do not deserve the same rights as males has been "denormalized," to borrow Ezra Levant's interpretation of the term, and this has happened worldwide. Today, governments that suppress women's rights have to engage in fancy footwork to rationalize gender inequality, and they're aware that their excuses ring hollow on the world stage. There is now widespread consensus in the majority of nations that it's important for "women to have full equality of rights," as the World Opinion organization puts it.

However, the fight is not just to gain ground but also to keep it. The Anonymous Group of Democratic and Free Thinking points out on their website that democracy is not a God-given right. The same holds true for laws that protect women from discrimination. In many countries, including Western liberal democracies, Muslim women are being been coerced and intimidated to give up hard won rights.

All praise for the statue drapers! Yet if Western governments don't wake up, more of their citizens will have to creep around under cover of darkness if they want to make a public stand for freedom:
For Islamists, the imperative to veil women justifies almost any means. Sometimes they try to buy off resistance. Some French Muslim families, for instance, are paid 500 euros (around $600) per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab.

This has also happened in the United States. Indeed, the famous and brave Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan recently told the Jerusalem Post that after she moved to the United States in 1991, Saudis offered her $1,500 a month to cover her head and attend a mosque.

But what Islamists use most is intimidation. A survey conducted in France in May 2003 found that 77 percent of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups.

A series in the newspaper Libération in 2003 documented how Muslim women and girls in France who refuse to wear the hijab are insulted, rejected, and often physically threatened by Muslim males.

One of the teenage girls interviewed said, "Every day, bearded men come to me and advise me strongly on wearing the veil. It is a war. For now, there are no dead, but there are looks and words that do kill."

Muslim women who try to rebel are considered "whores" and treated as outcasts. Some of them want to move to areas "with no Muslims" to escape. However, that might not be a solution, as Islamists are at work all over France.

The Communist newspaper L'Humanité in 2003 interviewed two Catholic-born French women who said they had converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab after systematic indoctrination by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In light of this, wearing the hijab may or may not be a manifestation of the free exercise of religion. For any individual, it may reflect the very opposite -- religious coercion.

In fact, millions of women are forced to wear the veil for fear of physical retribution. And the fear is well founded. According to Cheryl Benard of RAND, every year hundreds of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan alone are killed, have acid thrown in their faces, or are otherwise maimed by male fanatics.

Given the Islamists' ferocious determination on this point, it is worth asking: Why exactly is covering the female so important to them? The obvious answer is that it is a means of social control. Not coincidentally, it is one of the only issues on which Sunni and Shia extremists agree. It's not by chance that use of the hijab really took off after Iran's Islamic regime came to power in 1979. Some Shiite militias in Iraq have actually started forcing women -- Muslim or not -- to wear the veil or face the consequences. [...]

Professor Iqbal Al-Gharbi, from the famous Islamic Zaytouna University in Tunis, explained: "The veil is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the veil, there is the regressive interpretation of the sharia [Koranic law]. There are the three essential inequalities which define this interpretation: inequality between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, between free man and slave."(1)
1) The Veil Controversy: Islamism and liberalism face off by Olivier Guitta;
12/04/2006; Weekly Standard.

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