Women Say No

The Times notices something that astute, attentive readers of B&W (and you all fit that description) have known for a long time.

Sitting in the airy living room of the spacious modern [house] where Sultan and her husband live, it is hard to believe this small, neatly dressed woman could be at the centre of an international firestorm. Just as improbable is that the most important and controversial critics of Islamic fundamentalism, violence and intolerance are, like Sultan, women, mostly from Islamic countries.

Well it’s not very improbable to us, is it; we’ve known that for years. Years.

They include Ayaan Hirsi Ali…Irshad Manji…Amina Wadud, an African-American convert to Islam and Muslim academic and author, who has infuriated traditional Muslims by leading Friday prayer for Muslims in New York, a role traditionally taken only by male imams. Other Muslim women in the front lines of the clash with Islamic governments are as diverse as Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani village woman who was brutally gang-raped in 2002 as reprisal for an alleged transgression by her 14-year-old brother [which he didn’t commit – OB], and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2003 for her defence of the rights of women and children in fundamentalist Muslim Iran.

Yes; and there are many many more, as you know. Maryam Namazie, Azam Kamguian, Homa Arjomand, Azar Majedi, Marjane Satrapi. The women of ‘Ni Putes ni Soumises’. Mimount Bousakla, the Belgian MP. Serap Cileli, Necla Kelek and Seyran Ates in Germany.

When a broader German public began concerning itself with the parallel Muslim world arising in its midst, it was primarily thanks to three female authors, three rebellious Muslim musketeers: Ates, who in addition to practicing law is the author of “The Great Journey Into the Fire”; Necla Kelek (“The Foreign Bride”); and Serap Cileli (“We’re Your Daughters, Not Your Honor”). About the same age, all three grew up in Germany; they speak German better than many Germans and are educated and successful. But they each had to risk much for their freedom; two of them narrowly escaped Hatun Surucu’s fate…Taking off from their own experiences, the three women describe the grim lives and sadness of Muslim women in that model Western democracy known as Germany.

Of course it’s not really improbable at all that the most important critics of Islamic fundamentalism and violence should be women, since they’re so often at the sharp end of it. Not always. The turning point experience for Wafa Sultan was not gender specific –

…her life changed in 1979 when she was a medical student at the University of Aleppo, in northern Syria. At that time, the radical Muslim Brotherhood was using terrorism to try to undermine the government of President Hafez al-Assad. Gunmen of the Muslim Brotherhood burst into a classroom at the university and killed her professor as she watched, she said. “They shot hundreds of bullets into him, shouting, ‘God is great!’ ” she said. “At that point, I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point.”

But most of them are. Women have every reason to join the resistance.

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