Leaving Islam




Double Dose of Intolerance

But it is her forays into critiquing Islam that have garnered Manji the most attention. As a lesbian, she faces a double dose of intolerance within Muslim culture, but she has never backed down. Instead, she founded the Web site Muslim-Refusenik.com and authored the groundbreaking book "The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith."

More recently, Manji joined Salman Rushdie and 10 other journalists, writers and public intellectuals in signing the "Manifesto of 12: Together Facing a New Totalitarianism," a "call for resistance to religious totalitarianism." This show of solidarity came in response to a specific death threat from an Islamic Web site in Britain frequented by radicals.

Another signatory to the manifesto and one of the bravest of the bunch is Ayan Hirsi Ali. Born in Somalia and raised a Muslim, Hirsi Ali escaped from an arranged marriage and made her way to Holland . Embodying the immigrant success story, she eventually became a member of Parliament.

From the very beginning, Hirsi Ali set out to expose the oppression of women in Muslim culture in a society that tended to look the other way due to the self-censorship of multiculturalism. A longtime critic of the practice of genital mutilation in Muslim North Africa, Hirsi Ali also collaborated with the late Theo Van Gogh on the taboo-shattering film "Submission."

For daring to address the oppression of Muslim women, Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist and Hirsi Ali was threatened in note left attached to his body. She was forced to temporarily go into hiding and has employed round-the-clock bodyguards ever since. But far from being cowed by those who would seek to silence her, Hirsi Ali has continued her quest to bring Muslim women's rights into the spotlight. 

Fallaci Recognized Dangers

Lest it be thought that only Middle Eastern women have tackled Islam, Western women have also chosen to speak out. One of them is Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist, war correspondent and author who now resides in New York .

Although fiercely independent, Fallaci leaned leftward in the early days of her journalistic career. Yet she recognized the dangers of Islamic aggression early on. Her epic novel "Inshallah," which told the bloody story of the Lebanese civil war, opened with the 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombing that killed 400 American and French marines.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on her adopted home, Fallaci, shaken to the core, penned "The Rage and the Pride," a blistering statement on the collision between the West and the Muslim world. The second book in what promises to be a trilogy, "The Force and the Reason" expounds on the Islamic demographic and cultural takeover of Europe . For daring to express such opinions, Fallaci has received death threats and is currently being sued in Italy for "defaming Islam."

Instead of coming to her defense, the left has largely rejected Fallaci for her criticism of Muslim culture. Her opponents are fond of dismissing her work by labeling her a "racist."

Indeed, if one is searching for Fallaci's books in one of San Francisco 's venerable institutions of leftist intellectualism, City Lights Bookstore, one is likely to be disappointed. It seems City Lights has banned Fallaci's books because, in the words of a bookstore clerk, they "don't carry books by fascists." For a career spent fighting fascism, Fallaci has now been labeled a fascist. Perhaps City Lights, once a bastion of Beats and banned books, should look in the mirror.

Chesler's Break With Movement

Another woman who broke from the crowd to take on Muslim culture is professor, author and activist Phyllis Chesler. Chesler was a prominent figure in the American feminist movement, but when she began to reject the anti-Americanism and anti-Israel sentiment that had subsumed her colleagues, she was cast out of the garden. Chesler has since become one of the feminist movement's strongest critics and her latest book, "The Death of Feminism: What's Next in the Struggle for Women's Freedom," is a searing indictment of her former cohorts.

Chesler also provides a powerful voice in the battle against Islamic sexism. As described in her latest book in a chapter titled "My Afghan Captivity," Chesler learned through personal experience that all was not well for women in the Muslim world. Having married her college sweetheart, a young Muslim man originally from Afghanistan whom she believed to be moderate, she received a rude awakening. When they visited his family in Afghanistan , she was suddenly shrouded in a veil, had her passport confiscated and was turned into a virtual prisoner. Only with outside help was she able to escape and get back to the United States . She has since devoted herself to exposing such uncomfortable truths, even if the feminist movement doesn't want to hear them. 

In addition to the brave women referenced above, there is another group that deserves mention. While some merely talk the talk, it is the women warriors of the U.S. military who are on the front lines bringing justice to the Muslim world. They face challenges in Afghanistan , Iraq and beyond, but this does not diminish their accomplishments. If just one girls' school is reopened, one woman goes back to work, one burka is discarded or one stoning is prevented, we have made a concrete difference in the lives of Muslim women. Restoring freedoms and providing medical care, humanitarian aid and protection, women in the military are the true feminists. So are the valiant men who work and fight alongside them.

Unfortunately, one will rarely catch a self-proclaimed feminist willing to admit as much. To do so would be to acknowledge that the United States can be a force for good, and this must be avoided at all costs, even at the expense of women's rights. What they don't seem to realize is that the war they oppose is a battle against the very forces of fascism they routinely decry.

The oppression of women in Muslim culture and the threat it poses to women's rights all over the world is clearly the next frontier for the feminist movement. Either feminists will rise to the occasion or be rendered meaningless by their hypocrisy.

Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco writer. She can be reached at [email protected] 



See the death threat Muslims sent Cinnamon Stilwell after she published this article.







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