The Censored Women's Film Festival, which is coming to the George Washington University campus, November 19-20, may sound like something that would have you donning a black turtleneck for an evening of French cinema. It sounds like something that would be feminists’ ideal cup of tea.
But it is not. In fact, it’s something else entirely and much more important.
The films to be shown all deal with the desperate situation of women in many Muslim societies. And that’s why that all have also previously been banned from other screenings.
"Honor Diaries," for example, features women such as the controversial former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Dr. Quanta Ahmed, who has written about her experiences as a female doctor in Saudi Arabia; and Canadian citizen Raheel Raza, a progressive activist, who is president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. They all talk about the beatings, genital mutilation, and honor killings inflicted upon millions of women in Muslim societies.
Showings of the "Honor Diaries" were shut down last year at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, Dearborn, after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) waged a campaign against the film. (The university also cancelled a showing of "American Sniper" after protests by Muslim students.)
"Anytime that the 'Honor Diaries' film is shown in a context other than in examining its propagandistic nature, we would be concerned," stipulated CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper in an interview with the Examiner.
Another of the festival's offerings, "Persepolis," based on a novel about a girl during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, was scheduled to be shown in Chicago public schools but was banned after protests. Another film was banned in India. Entitled "India's Daughter," it focused on a gang rape there, and was banned after a member of the film team interviewed one of the rapists in prison.
These films have more in common that just being the target of censors. They are censored because they touch on a subject—the horrific mistreatment of women in too much of the world—that makes many people uncomfortable.
Plenty of students, however, do want to take on these topics and are interested in witnessing these films. A chapter of Young American for Freedom previously hosted a showing of "Honor Diaries" on the University of Michigan's main campus–about a year after the expulsion of the film from the Dearborn campus—and reportedly attracted a standing room only crowd.
"What we're talking about here is not just censored films. We're talking about the concept, the taboos, the ideology," Raheel Raza, who spoke after the U-Michigan screening, told the Examiner. "So this is women who have been shut up. These are issues that have been shut up, issues that have been shut down."
“This event will raise awareness and encourage action against oppression and violence against women throughout the world,” said UM-Ann Arbor sophomore Grant Strobl, chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, told the campus newspaper. "It is our responsibility as Americans to promote freedom and equality in societies that currently treat women as second-class citizens.”
University of Michigan feminists, concerned about women's rights around the world, flocked to the showing and indeed offered sponsorship of the event.
Okay, I made that up. “Zero feminist groups and Muslim groups accepted our invitation to cosponsor this event dealing with honor killings and systematic abuse of women (we sent out invitations to twenty groups)," YAF's Strobl told The College Fix, a conservative student newspaper.
This is an incredibly sad eulogy for the feminist movement. The feminist movement once was in the business of raising awareness about the systematic mistreatment of women. Yet today, American feminists devote themselves to phony or trivial "issues," and their indifference to women who genuinely suffer from oppression is truly stunning.
Phyllis Chesler, who has been a longtime critic of Western feminism on this score recently wrote, at the Middle Eastern Forum, "Feminists are the first and only ones who exposed sexual violence towards girls and women in the late 1960's and 1970's and who have condemned the misogyny of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists.
"Has their quota of wrath been exhausted? Is there none left for fundamentalist Islam, which hopes to bomb us all back to the 7th century and envisions face-veiling and isolating Muslim women, and gang-raping and trafficking all other women?," she asked.
"The feminist movement has not been friendly to Honor Diaries,” Raza was quoted saying at the U-Michigan screening. “Western feminism has gone off the rails.”
I’ve written extensively about the excesses of the feminist movement, and have argued that America doesn’t need organizations fighting an imaginary patriarchy. But if there is a genuine women’s movement, surely one of its priorities ought to be fighting actual injustice and suffering of so many women in societies that can actually be described as patriarchal. Supporting this worthy festival at George Washington would be an easy and worthwhile first step in rehabilitating a feminist movement that has lost its way.