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Where are the feminists? by Robert Fulford (National Post)

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Jun. 13, 2015

Also called “Fighting the insanely misogynist Islamic State will require enormous public support” in the on-line edition

A year ago this week, time stopped for most of the million people living in Mosul, the second city of Iraq, when the Islamic State took control.

As one of the residents said, there was suddenly nowhere to go home to. Fear paralysed every move. American-trained Iraqi soldiers hid their uniforms and their gear while the rest of the people resigned themselves to their new status as prisoners. Their enemies had become their jailers.

They often call the invaders Daesh, an unflattering Arabic acronym for “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Overwhelming Mosul was the biggest Daesh victory so far and the worst loss of the U.S.-led alliance. It won’t soon be reversed: Washington’s most optimistic plans call for an offensive against Mosul sometime in 2016.

This week the BBC and other news services marked the anniversary of the conquest by releasing interviews with refugees from Mosul who have provided moving accounts of intimate life under Daesh. And Phyllis Chesler, a feminist psychologist and author in the U.S., has responded by lamenting the fact that Western feminists have offered no support to the women who are Daesh’s victims.

This is not a new theme for Chesler. A few years ago, in her book The Death of Feminism, she argued that feminism had abandoned women in Muslim-majority countries. Kate Millett said that Chesler was “sounding a warning to the West that it ignores to its peril.” But it was largely ignored.

Chesler now says, in a statement issued by the Middle East Forum, that feminists have lost their way. They need to rekindle their original passion for universal justice. Fifty years ago, they launched a campaign for freedom and equality. That inspired a revolution in the West and a fresh vision for girls and women everywhere.

But today feminists ignore the ISIL crimes against women. “An astounding public silence has prevailed,” Chesler says. “The National Organization for Women (NOW) apparently doesn’t think ISIL is a problem.” NOW’s upcoming annual conference doesn’t list ISIL or Boko Haram on its agenda. The most recent conference dedicated to women’s studies dealt with foreign policy but considered only Palestine.

Today’s feminists, she adds, are disproportionately focussed on Western imperialism, colonialism and capitalism while ignoring Islam’s long history of imperialism, colonialism, anti-black racism, slavery and forced conversion.

Since ISIL is insanely misogynist, it calls out especially for attention from anyone especially concerned with the female half of humanity

Her arguments make sense. The struggle against the Islamic State and its caliphate will need enormous public support. We can’t expect that to be given easily by citizens and politicians who believe they have more pressing problems. Since ISIL is insanely misogynist, it calls out especially for attention from anyone especially concerned with the female half of humanity.

The Khaleej Times, a United Arab Emirates newspaper, reported on Wednesday that enslaving women and girls continues to be standard IS practice. Zainab Bangura, the UN envoy on sexual violence, recently interviewed girls and women who had escaped. She says that IS soldiers regularly auction captured teenage girls for several hundreds or thousands of dollars. She mentioned teenaged girls from the Yazidi minority in Syria: “Some were taken, locked up in a room — over 100 of them in a small house — stripped naked and washed.” Before the bidding they were exhibited to a group of men who debated what they were worth.

Captured girls have become part of the way ISIL recruits foreign fighters, Bangura said. “This is how they attract young men — We have women waiting for you, virgins that you can marry.” In Syria and Iraq foreign fighters make up a large part of the IS armies.

What’s ordinary life like under ISIL? It’s a tyrannical form of shariah law in matters large and small. A woman told the BBC: “One day I felt so bored at home that I asked my husband to take me out, even if I had to wear the full khimar” — a long veil covering hair, neck and shoulders, leaving the face clear. Then he told her she should wear a niqab, covering all but her eyes. After they were seated in the restaurant her husband suggested she reveal her face, since no ISIL soldiers were in evidence. As soon as she did, “The restaurant’s owner came over, begging my husband to ask me to hide it again because Islamic State fighters made surprise inspection visits and he would be flogged if they saw me like that. We had heard stories of men being flogged because their wives didn’t put their gloves on.”

The Islamic State has become a terrible affliction for large numbers of human beings. Many have fallen under its malignant power already, and more may fall in the near future. It’s a new form of society, governed by madmen with guns. It’s a cause that calls out for help.

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