By: Fern Sidman
DR. PHYLLIS CHESLER SPEAKS OUT
On July 15th, I had the pleasure of covering the address delivered by Dr. Phyllis Chesler at the 2010 Aspen Counterpoint Summer Symposium. Aspen Counterpoint which is an independent project founded by three residents of the Aspen Valley: Alan Altman, M.D., Elaine Sandler, and Judith King. Dr. Chesler could not personally attend the conference in Colorado, but she participated in a live teleconference that was recorded in a Manhattan studio.
Phyllis Chesler is currently an express blogger with Pajamas Media and is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York and is the best selling author of “Women and Madness” (1972), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003) and “The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom” (2005).
Focusing on the issues of Islamic gender and religious apartheid, the incessant demonization of Israel and the West and the pervasive multi-cultural relativism phenomenon of the Western academy and the feminist and progressive movement, Dr. Chesler was introduced by Elaine Sandler. Referring to Dr. Chesler as “a major commentator on today’s issues,” Ms. Sandler lauded her seminal scholarly exegesis on “honor killings” of Muslim women that appeared in both the 2009 and 2010 issues of The Middle East Quarterly.
Concerning the deafening silence of the Western feminist movement in the face of Islamic barbarism, Dr. Chesler intoned, “Unlike my former feminist colleagues, I am not a multi-cultural relativist who refuses to take a stand against such brutal misogynistic Islamic practices as female genital mutilation, stoning and immolation of women, beatings, forced marriages, child marriages and polygamy.” As a result of her maverick positions on these issues and more, Dr. Chesler has been labeled a dissident in the feminist enclaves she once inhabited and has been subjected to the attendant acrimony and ad hominem attacks by her feminist peers.
“While I still consider myself a radical feminist, I am shunned by my feminist colleagues,” she ruefully observed, adding that, “I am on longer invited to speak at their conferences of functions and when I do speak I require bodyguards and my work is no longer reviewed in the mainstream media.” Dr. Chesler attributes the reluctance to condemn Islamic atrocities against women among those in the Western feminist movement to being caught in the quagmire of political anachronisms. “They are terrified at the thought of being called a racist or being thought of as ‘politically incorrect’ and as such many of them are merely conformists. They still stand in staunch opposition to the Vietnam War and speak out against imperialism and colonialism. Issues that are no longer relevant,” she said.
Rather than confronting the stark and frightening realization of the burgeoning growth of radical Islam and the existential dangers that it represents to Western civilization, Dr. Chesler says that her former colleagues project their bellicosity on Israel and the West. “My ‘comrades,’ if you will, have become Stalinized and Palestinianized. They demonize Israel as a Nazi-like, apartheid state and hurl invectives against Israel for doing everything that the Palestinians and the Muslim world are doing to women, homosexuals and anyone who practices a religious faith other than Islam.”
Dr. Chesler recollected that her fervent feminism was forged decades ago when she married a Westernized Muslim man that she met as an undergraduate student at Bard College in upstate New York. “I was only 20 and married my first love. He took me on a grand adventure to European cities and then we arrived in his birthplace of Kabul, Afghanistan where we stayed with his family. Upon arrival, my passport was immediately confiscated and I was forced to live in a “posh, European-type purdah existence.”
Her narrative includes a plethora of overt examples of oppression of women including ghastly memories of women who could not leave the house without a male guard and were forced to sit apart from men on buses. She also spoke of women who had to wait until men were served first and those living dank lives under the mandated hijab. Women and children were routinely persecuted and no health care was available to them, she said, including access to an OB/GYN. After experiencing the increasing abusiveness of her ostensibly Westernized Muslim husband and his devoutly Muslim family, Dr. Chesler recalls that she tried to escape several times but to no avail. A bout of hepatitis would lead her to finally depart from her Afghan captivity as she gratefully made her way back to the United States.
“In the sphere of Islamism, where they claim a political position and not a religious position, boys and men are considered guardians of female chastity and women are perceived as shameful sex objects and breeders. Homosexuality and pedophilia among males is a ubiquitous presence in the Muslim world and always has been,” she declared.
Speaking of the “wilding sprees” perpetrated by men against women in such Islamic countries as Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Dr. Chesler said that just about any woman in the Muslim world could be targeted for an honor killing by their men folk including their own husbands, brothers and fathers. She also addressed the egregious reality of collaboration of Islamic women in the persecution of their own gender. She recounted examples of mother-in-laws tormenting their daughter-in-laws as they had been barbarically tormented as young brides and the actions taken by these older women to lead the younger women to their death at the hands of the male hegemony.
“If your head scarf slips off, if you bring non-Muslim friends home, if you wear makeup, if you learn to drive a car, if you marry a non-Muslim, if you choose your own spouse without family approval, you can become a primary target for an honor killing,” she said. Clearly, women who have been raped, those who commit adultery or those who are considered insubordinates by their families, have also met their end at the hands of male relatives who believe the family honor has been shamed by the actions of these women.
Honor killings are not limited to Islamic countries in the Middle East, says Dr. Chesler as she spoke about the alarming rise in such gruesome murders in Europe and North America. “The average age that a young girl will be honor murdered is only 17 and the average age of a woman who will be honor murdered is 36,” she said. Having meticulously studied over 230 honor killings with the inclusion of detailed statistics about the perpetrators, their locations and ages, Dr. Chesler concludes that most of these women experience draconian tortures and are gang raped by their male executors prior to being stabbed to death and then burned. “54 percent of these women were tortured before being murdered and 83 percent of girls under the age of 18 in Europe were viciously tortured before being put to death,” she intoned.
Before taking questions from the audience, Dr. Chesler concluded her presentation by saying, “Gender apartheid cannot be justified under any circumstance. The police and the media must accept their own refusal to deal with this,” adding that this issue is “the greatest battle of the 21st century.”
The Aspen counterpoint conference also featured such other speakers as Bostonian Charles Jacobs, the founder of Americans for Peace and Tolerance. Mr. Jacobs addressed the issues of human rights and slavery in the Sudan while providing significant insights into the use of “lawfare” to manipulate our democratic institutions and basic freedoms of speech.
R. James Woolsey, director of the CIA and Under Secretary of the Navy during the Clinton administration, spoke of the power of petro dollars in permitting human rights abuses and reasons of national security for the campaign to move away from fossil fuels. The afternoon session saw such luminaries take the podium as former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor and syndicated columnist Caroline Glick and journalist and documentary filmmaker, Khaled Abu Toameh who is an Arab Citizen of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and New York News and World Report.