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Is It Racist to Condemn Fanaticism?

Is It Racist to Condemn Fanaticism?

How my eyes were opened to the barbarity of Islam.


Once I was held captive in Kabul. I was the bride of a charming, seductive and Westernized Afghan Muslim whom I met at an American college. The purdah I experienced was relatively posh but the sequestered all-female life was not my cup of chai -- nor was the male hostility to veiled, partly veiled and unveiled women in public.

When we landed in Kabul, an airport official smoothly confiscated my US passport. "Don't worry, it's just a formality," my husband assured me. I never saw that passport again. I later learnt that this was routinely done to foreign wives -- perhaps to make it impossible for them to leave. Overnight, my husband became a stranger. The man with whom I had discussed Camus, Dostoevsky, Tennessee Williams and the Italian cinema became a stranger. He treated me the same way his father and elder brother treated their wives: distantly, with a hint of disdain and embarrassment.

In our two years together, my future husband had never once mentioned that his father had three wives and 21 children. Nor did he tell me that I would be expected to live as if I had been reared as an Afghan woman. I was supposed to lead a largely indoor life among women, to go out only with a male escort and to spend my days waiting for my husband to return or visiting female relatives, or having new (and very fashionable) clothes made.

In America, my husband was proud that I was a natural-born rebel and free thinker. In Afghanistan, my criticism of the treatment of women and of the poor rendered him suspect, vulnerable. He mocked my horrified reactions. But I knew what my eyes and ears told me. I saw how poor women in chadaris were forced to sit at the back of the bus and had to keep yielding their place on line in the bazaar to any man.

Western intellectual-ideologues have demonized me as a racist "Islamophobe" for arguing that Islam, not Israel, is the largest practitioner of both sexual and religious apartheid in the world.

I saw how polygamous, arranged marriages and child brides led to chronic female suffering and to rivalry between co-wives and half-brothers; how the subordination and sequestration of women led to a profound estrangement between the sexes -- one that led to wife-beating, marital rape and to a rampant but hotly denied male "prison"-like homosexuality and pederasty; how frustrated, neglected and uneducated women tormented their daughter-in-laws and female servants; how women were not allowed to pray in mosques or visit male doctors (their husbands described the symptoms in their absence).

Individual Afghans were enchantingly courteous -- but the Afghanistan I knew was a bastion of illiteracy, poverty, treachery and preventable diseases. It was also a police state, a feudal monarchy and a theocracy, rank with fear and paranoia. Afghanistan had never been colonized. My relatives said: "Not even the British could occupy us." Thus I was forced to conclude that Afghan barbarism was of their own making and could not be attributed to Western imperialism.

Long before the rise of the Taliban, I learnt not to romanticize Third World countries or to confuse their hideous tyrants with liberators. I also learnt that sexual and religious apartheid in Muslim countries is indigenous and not the result of Western crimes -- and that such "colorful tribal customs" are absolutely, not relatively, evil. Long before al-Qaeda beheaded Daniel Pearl in Pakistan and Nicholas Berg in Iraq, I understood that it was dangerous for a Westerner, especially a woman, to live in a Muslim country. In retrospect, I believe my so-called Western feminism was forged in that most beautiful and treacherous of Eastern countries.

Nevertheless, Western intellectual-ideologues, including feminists, have demonized me as a reactionary and racist "Islamophobe" for arguing that Islam, not Israel, is the largest practitioner of both sexual and religious apartheid in the world and that if Westerners do not stand up to this apartheid, morally, economically and militarily, we will not only have the blood of innocents on our hands; we will also be overrun by Sharia in the West. I have been heckled, menaced, never-invited, or disinvited for such heretical ideas -- and for denouncing the epidemic of Muslim-on-Muslim violence for which tiny Israel is routinely, unbelievably scapegoated.

Our abject refusal to judge between civilization and barbarism endangers and condemns the victims of Islamic tyranny.

However, my views have found favor with the bravest and most enlightened people alive. Leading secular Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents -- from Egypt, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria and exiles from Europe and North America -- assembled for the landmark Islamic Summit Conference in Florida and invited me to chair the opening panel on Monday.

According to the chair of the meeting, Ibn Warraq: "What we need now is an age of enlightenment in the Islamic world. Without critical examination of Islam, it will remain dogmatic, fanatical and intolerant and will continue to stifle thought, human rights, individuality, originality and truth." The conference issued a declaration calling for such a new "Enlightenment". The declaration views "Islamophobia" as a false allegation, sees a "noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine" and "demands the release of Islam from its captivity to the ambitions of power-hungry men".

Now is the time for Western intellectuals who claim to be antiracists and committed to human rights to stand with these dissidents. To do so requires that we adopt a universal standard of human rights and abandon our loyalty to multicultural relativism, which justifies, even romanticizes, indigenous Islamist barbarism, totalitarian terrorism and the persecution of women, religious minorities, homosexuals and intellectuals. Our abject refusal to judge between civilization and barbarism, and between enlightened rationalism and theocratic fundamentalism, endangers and condemns the victims of Islamic tyranny.

Ibn Warraq has written a devastating work that will be out by the summer. It is entitled Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Will Western intellectuals also dare to defend the West?

This article originally appeared in the The Times.

March 10, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 31

(31) Rafael, July 20, 2014 11:59 AM

Let that culture drown in its own stupidity

After reading this article, how could any woman live there in her right mind! The men of this culture were raised by women... yet it exist.
You must interview a Muslim woman who believes in this arrangement . The Muslim woman are every bit responsible for this culture as the men.

(30) Laura, July 28, 2008 12:36 AM

islam is evil

Sama, you do not fool anyone here. We know full well how evil islam is and that to be a wife of a muslim man is a life of imprisonment and slavery and physical and emotional abuse. In fact even before they become wives, life for muslim girls is just as horrible. It is mindboggling why a free western woman would subject themselves to such a life as the wife of a muslim man and living in an islamic country at that. Of course back when Phyllis Chesler married her Afghan husband, western women at the time were not privy to the reality of islam. So she can be excused for her naivete. However any western woman in this day and age who would marry a muslim has got to have a screw loose. She must really have low self-esteem.

(29) K.Katapodi, March 28, 2007 2:36 PM

Racism and Fanatism are synonymous..but not of course exactly same significance

Modestly of course speaking, as ideas, therefore meanings are at first sight subjective,by being racist may be at first a kind of, say so ''nation fanatism'' or just a tribe fanatic which is general,so in these terms racist is a kind of fanatism, unless its sufficiently justified. Fanatism, must be also justified when it has to do with dogmatism, in this meaning its under consideration and research..unless it has to do with standards..and values of basic law.The way from fanatism, to dogmatism is the correct way, in my point of view, and this the vice versa could just confirm or cancel the initial belief-dogma, always by means of research taken into account that dogmatism deprives from contemplation, when we have to do with ideas or theories, contradictions, and the differences that arise from these ''comparisons'', it's just a matter of being able, to proove what you believe with arguments of course, and so must do other's of course

(28) Violet, March 21, 2007 6:13 AM

Thank You

I am constantly hearing Western women comment on life in a "Harem" as if it is right out of Hollywood...thank you for speaking frankly. This should be required reading,along with "Not without my Daughter". How soon people forget.

(27) sama, March 21, 2007 1:52 AM

it is not true

I love Islam, and there is no doubt that this article was written by man who does not know fully all the teaching of this beautiful religion.
yes we kill people, but we do it just to protect our countries from false occupation of pro-american countries and "israel" itself... please don't be confused who is doing evil and who is protecting the motherland!!!
those who refer for september 11 (which is real evil) i am suggesting to search for documentary movie "Loose Change Second Edition" where is proove that the terracts where not made and planed by muslims...
thank you...

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