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Women and Islam


One of our WAISERs whose profession involves wide travel, is also an outspoken feminist. Her reaction to the status of women in Islamic countries is rather like that of the Frenchmen of the Enlightenment who said of Spain "Africa begins in the Pyrenees". Here are her observations:
     Many good Muslims will tell us that polygamy and a "firm hand" were (originally) intended to protect women (somehow), and that the Koran has been misinterpreted, etc, etc.........The truth is that women in most Islamic nations are treated worse than blacks were treated in pre-Civil War America. Islam's attitude towards Western women is that "they're all whores". The educated Western World (and especially us women) can take concrete measures to reverse this terrible situation. I am delighted to expose it as best I can. The force we are dealing with is (I hate to say) evil (not very politically correct).
     My first direct exposure to Islam came through two of my students (at the Parsons School of Design in Paris, where I chaired the Dept of Interior Architecture & Environmental Design)--notably the daughter of the Saudi Arabian ambassador here, and the sister of Salem Bin Laden (now deceased but previously the eldest brother in a family of 54 siblings all having the same father, and of the "terrorist" Bin Laden who has been based in Afghanistan most recently). My experience directly involves the Bin Laden and Bin Mahfouz (National Commercial Bank) families of Saudi Arabia, and the Dehlavi family of Pakistan.
     As an architect, I have also traveled widely for my work and have been exposed to the daily living of women in Islamic countries via site visits, as well as through high echelons of Islamic government. Films ("Not Without my Daughter") and books ("Princess") have exposed the subject without much response in terms of international intervention. Unfortunately this kind of maltreatment is not limited to the Islamic nations (I might add); recently we have seen presidents of Western nations like the U.S. and France set examples of appalling cruelty and disrespect (in France, President Mitterrand moved his mistress and illegitimate daughter into the Elysees palace, where he lived with his wife without so much as a "boo" from the general public). So the apathy is not surprising.


     My comment: In Islamic countries there is a generation gap, especially in Iran, where Khatami leads a moderate reform movement. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most benighted country, but for political reasons Iran, not Saudi Arabia, is the target of U.S. criticism. How to approach this problem is a tricky business. A death warrant was issued by the Iranian ayatollahs against a rather silly London-based novelist who ridiculed Islam. There are risks.

Ronald Hilton - 10/21/99


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