Phyllis Chesler is somebody I admire because she has been outspoken about the rights of women in the Middle East, often critical in the days after 9/11 of U.S. feminists who’d rather complain about perceived injustices in our society, while giving the real oppressors of women a pass.
Now, Chesler is coming to the defense of another of my heroines, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch member of parliament who now lives under a fatwa because of her work to expose the plight of women in the Middle East. She was working on a film about this with Theo Van Gogh when the Dutch filmmaker was slain. Attached to his body was a note of warning for Hirsi Ali.
Specifically, Chesler is defending Hirsi Ali against a reportedly vicious portrayal of her in a book, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui, by Deborah Scroggins. I haven’t read the book, but I was interested in what Chesler had to say.
Siddiqui, also known as “Lady Al Qaeda,” is in prison for attempting to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. She is a Brandeis-educated Muslim who is believed to have the distinction of being Al Qaeda’s only female operative.
Which of the two women do you think Scroggins prefers? The brave feminist freedom fighter Hirsi Ali, or the pro-Islamist and terrorist Siddiqui? Scroggins finds a “weird symmetry” between the two. Of all the false moral equivalents with which I am forced to live, this rankles quite a bit. But Scroggins sees them both as “rebels,” as sister-equivalents.
Siddiqui became a rabid antisemite. And a terrorist. This does not bother Scroggins as much as Hirsi Ali’s “imperiousness” and “egomania” does — that, and the fact that Hirsi Ali accepted a perch at the (conservative) American Enterprise Institute. From Scroggins’ point of view, the fact that Hirsi Ali has embraced universal human rights, outlined a pro-Western critique of political Islam, and supported the war in Iraq renders her something of a war criminal.
Maybe Scroggins even views Siddiqui as the true freedom fighter.
I don’t know Hirsi Ali but I’ve met her a couple of times, and she didn’t seem imperious—in fact, she seemed quite lovely, absolutely gorgeous, and a crusader for women. She has worked to support Muslim girls in the U.S. who face threats of violence from their own families.
Chesler speculates that the genesis of Scroggins’ new book may be a 2005 article she wrote for The Nation magazine. Funded by the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, the essay was titled “The Dutch-Muslim Culture War: Ayaan Hirsi Ali Has Enraged Muslims with her Attacks on their Sexual Mores.” It portrayed Hirsi Ali as a reactionary who exited the Left Labor Party to join forces with the political “center right” in Holland.
One of the things I like so much about Hirsi Ali is that she unabashedly appreciates the achievements of Western civilization, including advances for women that she didn’t see in her native Somalia. Chesler thinks that might be the very reason Scroggins doesn’t like her:
[A]ccording to Scroggins, Hirsi Ali’s main thought crime is her refusal to blame the West for its history of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and racism.
Chesler’s piece uses some pretty flamboyant language but it is well worth a read for those of us who admire Hirsi Ali and know how important it is to advocate for women in the Third World.