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“We Can’t Afford to Look Away”

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“We Can’t Afford to Look Away”

A conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on mass migration and the erosion of women’s rights in Europe May 28, 2021
The Social Order

Few have the courage and audacity of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has consistently challenged both the extremely conservative cultural norms in Islamic societies and the radical leftism rising in the West today. Her background—as a Somali refugee growing up in a Muslim household, as a politician in the Netherlands, and as a citizen and scholar in the United States—has given her a unique perspective in exploring these complex issues. Her new book, Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights, looks at the alarming rise of sexual violence across Europe in the wake of mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. I had the privilege of sitting down with her recently to discuss the arguments she raises in the book.

Rav Arora: What are some of the key geopolitical events in Africa and the Middle East that have caused the influx of migrants to Europe?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The latest influx, starting around 2010 or 2011, began during the events the media labeled the Arab Spring, which in fact wasn’t a spring at all. What happened was that Middle Eastern dictators were chased out of office or resigned before they were chased out of office. That not only led to a breakdown of order in these countries but also to the displacement of large numbers of people.

After the fall of Qaddafi in 2011, Libya became the gateway to Europe for many. Though many of these people do come from Syria, Libya, Tunisia, and the other Arab Spring countries, many also come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Senegal, and even Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The breakdown of Syria in 2015 produced yet another huge influx of people coming into Europe from the Middle East. And the formation of ISIS obviously led to a great deal of mayhem as well.

Rav: So these migrants are not just people fleeing war and persecution; there are others just looking to move to Europe for a better life.

Ayaan: There are about 1 billion Africans, there are huge populations in South Asia and the Middle East, and there is proximity to Europe. Transport has become relatively cheap, and, because of social media connections with relatives who are already here, you get messages. If you’re having a hard time making ends meet in any part of Africa, the Middle East, or South Asia, it’s an exciting opportunity to consider moving to the West.

The ones able to do that are mainly young men. Imagine the crossing, whether across the Mediterranean or through the desert, or just dealing with people-smugglers if you’re coming from places like Nigeria. The people who are capable of actually making that journey and getting to the other side alive are mostly young men.

Rav: In the book, you mention that European data on sexual violence by ethnicity are limited, but you manage to present a number of critical data points illustrating a clear disproportionality in rates of criminal sexual assault among migrant men. Tell us about the problems of data collection and some of your key findings.

Ayaan: It depends on the country. Many don’t collect data based on ethnicity, skin color, religion, and so on. Some countries are more honest than others. And most of these offenses are not reported, because the women victims are very often met with a great deal of resistance from the institutions. If the police do take their case seriously, then it often doesn’t make it to prosecution. If the prosecutors take it seriously, then it doesn’t make it to the courts. If it makes it to the courts, sometimes the perpetrators just get a slap on the wrist: suspended sentences of a few months, community service, or, for things like gang rape, just four or five years—sentences that, to an American, are mind-boggling.

Denmark is an example of a country that is just a touch more honest in recording statistics. The share of immigrants from non-Western countries in Denmark rose from 4 percent to 6 percent. That number jumps from 6 percent to 9 percent when you include the descendants of first-generation immigrants. Non-Western immigrants in Denmark account for a larger share of sex offenses, up to 17 percent in 2017, but if you include the descendants of immigrants, that number jumps to 21 percent. I think that’s a very interesting statistic—probably as honest as they’ll get. Since 2015, non-Western immigrants account for 24 percent to 40 percent of all convicted rapists—33 percent to 45 percent if you include descendants of migrants.

Rav: I want to explore some of the cultural, religious, and social factors that have resulted in disproportionate rates of sexual violence among Muslim migrant men. Let’s take religion out of the equation for a minute. Over the last decade, two-thirds of asylum seekers have been men, many of them unmarried, and approximately 80 percent have been under 35. Doesn’t a large part of this problem just boil down to the fact that young unmarried men are naturally more likely to engage in sexual violence?

Ayaan: Yes. Anywhere you have a cohort of young men aged 15 to 35, and a large proportion of the population belongs to that age group, then yes, you have not only increased sexual violence but potentially all sorts of violence and unruly behavior. Young men, if their energies are not channeled elsewhere, are a destabilizing factor. In failed states, men between the ages of 15 to 35 are responsible for almost all violent acts. That’s a universal characteristic of all young men. It doesn’t matter if you are from Myanmar or from Sweden. That cohort tends to be unruly and sexually violent against women. If that energy is not channeled, it doesn’t matter what their religion is or what their culture is or what their location is. Potentially, they’re a problem group.

But what other factors matter? Economics matter. If you have those young men with absolutely nothing to do and nothing to eat and they are fighting for various scarce resources, then yes, you can count on even more violence and more disruption, because now they are not only fighting to feed themselves, but they are also required to fight to feed their families, clans, tribes, groups, and communities.

Religion is an organizing mechanism, especially when it comes to Islam—and political Islam. In many societies that happen to be Muslim, when you have a large cohort of young men who are economically challenged, the religious elites come out and say, “Let’s organize these young men into militias of God.” Either they send them out into the jihad to drive the spread of the religion or, cynically, some of these leaders use them as their own personal militias. But organizations like ISIS and al-Qaida are religion-driven, and it’s all about organizing that cohort of 15- to 30-year-old males to meet the objectives of these organizations.

Then there is culture. I usually don’t like to separate culture from religion, but in this case I will, because there are some cultural factors, such as the attitude toward women, that are not always justified in the name of religion. For instance, the idea that girls have to be virgins before they are married and the social controls that are put in place to ensure that they remain virgins or chaste or modest. I call it the “modesty doctrine.”

The modesty doctrine is religious-driven, but very often cultural arguments are used without bringing religion into the issue. For instance, Hindus and Sikhs—and by the way Christians and Jews, too—value virginity. Many cultures see it as valuable for young women to enter marriage as virgins. It’s a cultural norm. Even if it’s not attained or enforced, it’s seen as a good thing. In Muslim societies, religion is then used as a tool to ensure that that happens.

So to answer your question, there are cultural, religious, and social forces that build on the biological ones.

Rav: Social conditioning seems to be a big part of it as well. When young men who are conditioned to seeing women covered from head to toe move to a new society where women wear jeans, tank tops, and loose clothing, it seems intuitive that this can lead to unhealthy temptations.

Ayaan: Again, cultural and religious conditioning mix. There are creeds that say there are good women and there are bad women. The good women are chaste, modest, and marry as virgins. They wait in their father’s homes. When they get married, their husbands assume authority over them, and their behavior is prescribed and enforced by society as a whole. The bad women, meanwhile, are the women who think of themselves as autonomous or independent. They dress as they please, they work, they mix with men or want to, and they go about their life. That is the binary attitude that these young men and women are conditioned in.

Alongside all of that, these days you also have media—TV, movies, social media, and so on. The women they see on the screen meet all of the conditions for what they’ve been told are bad women—even worse than those they see on their own streets.

A lot of these men are also exposed to pornography at a young age. The actors and actresses in most pornographic productions, I’m told, are white people. By the time these men make their way to Germany and Sweden and Denmark and other places, their attitudes toward women have been shaped by the good women / bad women dichotomy. On top of that, they have all of these prejudices that the women they see are sluts and there for the taking. It’s only a matter of time before they start behaving accordingly.

Rav: In your book you also mention that men who grow up in polygamous societies can acquire certain prejudices and behavioral patterns toward women that can prompt sexual harassment and other sexual offenses.

Ayaan: I grew up in a polygamous society. My father had four wives. For me, it was part of the subjugation of women because, as a guy, you can have four wives by law, and as a woman, just one husband, and for that you need permission.

I also saw some of the consequences of polygamy. On paper, husbands are supposed to treat their wives perfectly equally, and the children born from those different marriages are supposed to be treated perfectly equally. In practice, husbands have favorites, and there is a lot of jealousy and resentment between the wives and the children. From an emotional health perspective, I’ve always seen polygamy as a terrible institution.

I spoke with MIT’s Dan Seligson, who, with his research partner, told me that, aside from the emotional damage inflicted on the spouses and the children of polygamous men, there is a larger sociopolitical outcome. If you’re a rich man, you can afford to have multiple wives, but because there are a finite number of women, this means many young, poor men will be without wives. Just now we talked about the youth bulge, where you have an excess of young men between the ages of 15 and 35. Some of them may actually want to marry, but there’s no one to marry, because the rich men are holding all the women. So a lot of these young men gang up and go on hunting sprees to find young women, married or unmarried, to kidnap and take as wives.

Seligson and his research partner say there’s not just a correlation but a causal relationship between polygamy and increased violence in societies, and it doesn’t matter whether that society is Islamic or not. Just the sheer fact of allowing polygamy makes these societies more violent than monogamous societies.

Rav: So you’re saying men who grew up in these societies harbor violent attitudes about women?

Ayaan: Yes. I think the word to emphasize here is “commodity.” If you’re a young man growing up in Somalia or Afghanistan or Egypt or Iraq, your attitude has already been culturally, socially, and religiously shaped to view women as either good or bad. Then on top of that, you also view women as a commodity, as property. In Somali poetry, women and livestock are compared all the time—like men lamenting that they have so few camels and so few women. Then the rich men, “I envy so-and-so, he has all these camels and horses and women.” Some of these men are not conditioned to think of women as equal human beings.

Rav: Can you further elaborate on the modesty doctrine and the role it plays?

Ayaan: In the chapter before I get into the modesty doctrine, I compare societies where there is still order to societies where order has broken down. Think about Syria. It was a dictatorship, and now it’s this great big anarchy. It’s Hobbesian—life is nasty, brutish, and short.

In many of those places, even when there was order, life wasn’t perfect for women, and the modesty doctrine applied. Take Jordan. They have some kind of political order, and so they have legislation banning honor killings. I’m not sure the men actually go to prison for them—some may, some may not—but there is some level of order. As a victim, you can go to a police station and at least file a complaint.

But even in countries like Jordan, tribal order or clan order is, for women, much more important, and that’s where the modesty doctrine comes in. If the clan order is that there are women who are modest and women who are not modest, then the modest women are required to behave in a certain way. We talked about obedience. You also have to stay at home, or if you leave the house you have to cover yourself and be accompanied by chaperones, whether that means other women or male relatives. You can’t stay out of the house after dark. You have to justify your reasons for going outside, where you’ve been, and who you’ve been with. That’s the code. You adhere to those rules and you can count on the protection of your male relatives. In other words, if you are assaulted by another male, your male relatives will literally go to war to protect their honor. They will attack the perpetrators, and sometimes they go beyond that and attack anyone from that clan or family or tribe. I know it’s not ideal, but it does offer some kind of protection, and in exchange, you must abide by the modesty doctrine.

But what if, under those circumstances, you don’t have male relatives? My grandmother had nine daughters, for instance. What if you come from a family like that? That type of family has to take extra precautions, because they can become prey for relatives with excess males—the young men we talked about who are looking for wives and don’t have money. This is the kind of family you can easily kidnap girls out of.

What if you break or violate any of those rules? Then you are going to be disciplined by the men of your family. If they refuse to discipline you or they are too modern, you put yourself in a position where you can be hunted—where you’re prey.

Now let’s look at the situation where order has broken down. There is no government, and even the tribal or clan order has broken down, because the men have either gone to Europe, or they’ve gone to fight or been killed. In that case, women are prey.

You see a lot of this in camps for displaced people—at the border between Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, or between Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, and so on. In those camps, women tell of being raped many times. That’s why I say that, in these situations, the modesty doctrine does not hold, and even where it does, it only works if you abide by the rules and there are men from your own bloodline to protect you.

I’m not saying all the men who have traveled to Europe behave this way, but for those who do, they find many opportunities in Europe. No male relatives are protecting these women. They don’t understand the concept of women who don’t know of the modesty doctrine. I have accounts in the book of what the Austrians at one point called a “rape epidemic.” Cases of people pulling a girl off the streets, bringing her into a house and having the entire male family rape her. There’s a real clash of values—a real culture clash. It’s like they’re from a different planet, almost.

Rav: So all of this is a consequence of cultural and social forces and, underneath those, sociobiological and other forces as well, but culture seems to be the impetus. A mix of culture and religion.

Ayaan: I would say it’s the suddenness of the encounter, with little or no preparation, that’s the issue. The main theme of my book is that European countries failed to assimilate the relatively few numbers that came in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Now, you throw into this mix a sudden surge of hundreds of thousands of young men, all coming at the same time and reinforcing the existing ghettos. The real question for European governments and societies is: Now what?

Rav: In addressing the lack of cultural integration and poor economic outcomes among Muslim migrants, many scholars, activists, and politicians on the left have resorted to explanations of discrimination, ethnic marginalization, and Islamophobia. You don’t subscribe to that. Why not?

Ayaan: It flows out of the previous argument about integration. Let me just take Holland as an example, because that’s a country where I spent some 14 years, from 1992 to 2006. In that period, the one conversation that never left the political agenda was the integration of Moroccan and Turkish minorities.

There was a small group of these populations that had fully assimilated and had become businesspeople or were well employed and thoroughly absorbed into the norms and customs of Holland. However, there were also large numbers of them that the Dutch government and society were struggling to assimilate.

Administration after administration, election after election, the question just never left us: how are we going to integrate these people? Now, we’re talking about a time when this was a relatively small part of the population. We discussed values such as the way they treat their own women, pulling little girls out of school, forcing young women into marriages they didn’t want. The school-dropout rate among the young men was high. Many were engaging in sexual misconduct. For instance, they would go to pubs and nightclubs and discos, and they’d be thrown out because they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. Some of them were committing gang rapes, but the scale of the problem was still relatively small at this point.

All of this brings us to your question: what was the leadership thinking when it started opening the gates to even larger numbers? Back when I was there, the thinking was the same in Holland as it was in France, the United Kingdom, and everywhere else: maybe we should just accept that these people will not integrate. They should keep their values, we will keep our values, and everybody should live as they wish, except perhaps when there’s sexual misconduct, homicides, or other crimes. Some were saying: just give it time; we should be patient. A third argument was that it’s our own fault. We colonized them, or they came here as guest workers to do the jobs that we didn’t want to do, so we’ve just got to live with this.

The various Dutch political parties and ideological platforms never agreed on how to tackle this problem. The men and women from those communities who assimilated successfully did it on their own, with no help from the government. I assimilated because I wanted to. For those of us who assimilated and talked about it, the fastest way was almost to cut off your family, your bloodline, because everything I did—taking off the headscarf, going to school—meant that you were taking a job, mixing with men, and violating the modesty doctrine. When young men do the same thing, they’re also guilty of violating a code.

It was very, very difficult to have a top-down, government-run program that would lead to successful assimilation unless the individuals in those programs were separated from their prior value systems—in other words, separated from the ghettos where those values are enforced. Now, with the new waves of immigration, these ghettos are going to get even bigger.

Rav: As a student of psychology and criminology—as well as someone who has experienced racism—I think it is true that talking about the disproportionate crime rates among migrant men can reinforce stereotypes about Muslim refugees and immigrants more broadly. After 9/11, for example, there was a surge in Islamophobic hate crimes across the U.S. Yet in the book you argue that avoiding this discussion will have the side-effect of fueling far-right propaganda. How do you balance these concerns?

Ayaan: Without looking problems straight in the eye, I do not believe you can find effective public policy solutions. When I served as an MP in the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, I requested that the authorities empirically investigate “honor” violence in the Netherlands. Having served as an interpreter for Somali-born women in the Netherlands for several years, I had heard many harrowing personal experiences in which honor / shame was a factor, so I knew this was an urgent issue.

At first, I was told that this type of crime was not prevalent in the Netherlands. But how, I asked, could people be so certain of this without investigating it first? Ultimately, a regional pilot study was set up that found that honor violence was in fact far more widespread than had previously been assumed. Afterward, Dutch officials became aware of what honor violence entails, and now there are more resources to help potential victims before serious violence occurs.

What if the answer to my request at the time had been “Let’s not talk about this, since it will stigmatize certain communities or reinforce stereotypes”? (Indeed, several politicians and senior civil servants insisted that talking about such cultural issues as honor violence would stigmatize all Muslim men.) Who would have been the victims of this inaction? Women. It took not only advocacy but the gruesome deaths of several women before a majority of MPs decided to act.

When it comes to sexual violence in the context of the migrant crisis, the same is true. It will do no good to look away and pretend that this is not an issue. My book aims to shine a light on the rise of sexual violence against women, a rise driven by immigrant men from Muslim-majority countries. My goal is not to cause offense but to implement public-policy measures allowing women to remain in the public square as full persons.

Rav: Can you speak to the subcultures of violence that are growing in what you call “parallel societies” in Europe? What kind of cultural self-siloing is occurring in these areas and what are the causes?

Ayaan: When it comes to parallel societies, there are several interacting factors at work. Certain cultural factors figure prominently: the modesty doctrine as it pertains to women in the public square; the principle of male guardianship of women, frequently justified in the name of religion and culture; and the honor / shame dynamic, with religious and tribal overtones.

Now add a type of multiculturalism that was, in many European countries, deeply reluctant to impose liberal values on communities. Here you have to think of serious human rights violations such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriages, honor violence, and the perpetuation of religious fundamentalism, to name but a few. All of these factors interact with one another. The Yemeni-Swiss political scientist Elham Manea, who recently wrote a very good book about political Islam, coined a good phrase to describe the problem you’ve asked about. In much of Europe, Manea argues, we did not really get multiculturalism in the sense of the word, but rather “plural monoculturalism”: parallel communities existing separately alongside one another.

Rav: One of many culturally taboo problems you explore in the book is the rise of grooming gangs in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. How has political correctness prevented an honest discussion of this problem?

Ayaan: This was a tragedy where early, responsive action by authorities could have prevented additional victims. One investigative report found that officials who were involved in preventing and investigating child sexual exploitation were deeply concerned about being condemned as racists for pursuing these reports and cases. “In some respects,” one British official said, with a real sense of understatement, “calls for help were ignored.”

As of 2021, the scandal has affected numerous towns and regions within the U.K. There were some, including on the British political Left, who did take this scandal seriously and, to their great credit, said so publicly, but they faced serious condemnation for doing so, at least until the full scale of the problem became apparent.

The fear of racism must not prevent us from candidly discussing sensitive issues such as FGM, forced marriages, honor violence, or grooming gangs. I sometimes ask myself whether people truly believe there will be less racism rather than more if these sensitive issues are swept under the rug. It is wrong to hold people from a non-Western background to lower standards. The problems we face are not about race, but about (depending on the context) tribal, religious, and cultural practices, beliefs, and attitudes that are frequently deeply ingrained.

Rav: You’ve claimed that the #MeToo movement has failed to spotlight Muslim women and broadly all women who have been victimized, sexually or otherwise, by migrant men. Have racial issues in our identity-driven discourse taken precedence over gender-related problems?

Ayaan: You touch on a long-standing problem, which is the tension between multiculturalism and liberalism. What is today called “wokeism” or “wokeness” has created a pyramid of victimhood and oppression that makes it difficult to defend universal human rights. Everything is about power dynamics and group identity, as the “woke” interpret structural oppression.

The late Susan Moller Okin wrote a book about this tension before wokeism became so dominant, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? The book also contains responses from those who disagree with her. The late Brian Barry also wrote a good book about this tension, titled Culture and Equality. In the context of mass migration, this issue has become more and more important.

The tension between multiculturalism and liberalism stems in part from what has been called the “minority within the minority” problem: if you favor group or collective rights, how do you deal with illiberal practices that affect minorities within minority communities? What is your approach to little girls who face FGM within a minority community? What is your policy approach to young women who are taken overseas for a forced marriage, if the parents within the community demand this? Do you “impose” your liberal values to protect “the minority within the minority,” or do you defer to the most intolerant members of a minority? These questions frequently put relativists in a difficult position, and they prefer to duck them.

Rav: Another area where progressive interests seem to clash are the attitudes toward the LGBTQ community among Muslim men. Some gay couples in Belgium say walking hand in hand is a safety risk due to harassment by young immigrants. According to one survey you cite in the book, over half of British Muslims believe gay sex should be illegal. Is there a real problem here from immigrants who adhere to traditionalist Islamic values, or is this a minor issue?

Ayaan: The Berlin-based sociologist Ruud Koopmans has done research showing empirically that what you describe is indeed a valid concern. If you step back a little bit, much of this pertains to what Karl Popper called “the open society:” a commitment to pluralism. Are people, in the main, well-disposed toward pluralism, or do they seek to control others? The attacks on gays in European cities, like the attacks on Jews, reflect a society that is becoming more closed, not more open. In general, Islamists are not well-disposed toward the open society and will lash out against it in various ways. Gays within migrant communities face terrible pressures as well. This goes back to the parallel societies challenge discussed above.

Rav: You propose a few policy solutions to aid the cultural assimilation of Muslim migrants, such as repealing the current asylum system, providing sex education to all children, and improving criminal-justice institutions to crack down on sexual violence. Which of these do you think has the most potential for improving cultural harmony in Europe?

Ayaan: First, so-called parallel societies should be countered in every way possible. As a matter of public policy, elected officials must ensure that human rights (usually enshrined in national constitutions in liberal democracies) are extended to all, including vulnerable members of minority communities, with regard to practices such as FGM, forced marriages, and honor violence. This commitment has to come from the top, but it also has to be implemented on the ground: in many countries, there is a disconnect here.

My foundation, the AHA Foundation, has worked to implement best practices on these issues. Certain practices, whether they are based on religion or tribal cultural values, are not compatible with universal human rights. To the extent these practices exist, they should not be swept under the rug. This alone would do a lot of good. We have had much awareness that these problems exist, but much less willingness to actively counter them.

Second, the asylum system such as it exists in Europe today is, in my view, fundamentally unworkable in the modern era. The current asylum/refugee framework is based on laws signed many decades ago and does not reflect contemporary challenges. In terms of crafting a deliberate immigration policy, rather than a legalistic one, Europe has not made much of an effort to make the admission of a possible immigrant conditional on how likely an immigrant is likely to assimilate in society. Here, I am not just talking about economic integration, though in Europe’s increasingly high-skilled economy that is an important consideration. Instead, I am thinking about cultural and social integration: will a potential migrant, refugee or asylum seeker be able to become a part of European society, and embrace norms of the open society, equality between men and women, religious freedom, and a commitment to pluralism? We have to think about these questions in earnest.

Rav: To close, I want to ask you a more personal question about your depth of experience in engaging in debates surrounding Islam and cultural division. Given the predominance of identity politics in our public discourse, has your image as a nonwhite, former Muslim refugee from Somalia aided you in evading accusations of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism?

Ayaan: If anything, I think my identity makes some people more angry rather than less. These accusations are thrown around very easily, and I’m not alone in facing these types of attacks. Think of Maajid Nawaz, Asra Nomani, Seyran Ateş. There are many others.

These terms—Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism—are used as weapons of character assassination to make a public discussion on certain subjects impossible. And there is a second goal: the slurs are used as a warning to potential young voices not to “go there,” because if they do, they will face similar attacks.

In 2015, after the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 12 people who worked for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and another four people in the Hypercacher kosher supermarket, Asra Nomani wrote a fantastic piece called “Meet the Honor Brigade.” It describes how the smears and character assassinations are organized and deployed.

Rav: What’s so remarkable and jarring to me, as noted by Sam Harris and many others, is that you are in the truest sense a feminist hero, but the Left—and by proxy, the broader culture—have not heralded you as such. Given your identity attributes, I can’t help but imagine that you would be the most celebrated feminist icon in mainstream circles and institutions had you as vigorously fought for more politically correct issues such as the gender wage gap and female representation in corporate America.

Ayaan: We now have three groups of feminists in the West. One set is preoccupied with shattering the glass ceiling. A second is also concerned with working women but focuses its attention more on equal pay and finding a balance between work and home life. Somewhere between these two groups of feminists is the #MeToo movement, which is agitating against sexual violence in the workplace.

As you can see, most of this feminist activism is concentrated on women and their careers. The issues I deal with are almost entirely about women’s safety at home (a specific kind of domestic violence that affects Muslim women for instance), and, as I describe in Prey, sexual violence against women in the public square.

And then there are the woke feminists. In this, Phyllis Chesler, a longtime women’s rights activist, saw the writing on the wall many years ago. She described how the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has made the feminist movement in America politically quite one-sided, less focused on women’s rights, and more focused on de-colonization and so on.

Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge warned as early as 1994 that women’s studies departments were being politicized, so this is not a new challenge. It’s easy rhetorically to accuse dissident voices of “neo-colonialism,” “Orientalism,” or “Islamophobia,” but those accusations ring hollow. In a sensible world, issues such as FGM, honor violence, forced marriages, and sexual violence in the context of the migrant crisis would unite a broad political coalition. I do believe that human rights are universal: they belong to each individual. Though these are difficult issues, the potential exists to prevent a lot of people from becoming victims. We can’t afford to look away.

Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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