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Why do feminists turn a blind eye to Islamists?

From Israel to Iran to Afghanistan, women are being brutalised by Islamists. Where’s the anger?

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan
Columnist

Topics Feminism Politics World

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Contemporary feminism has long been rife with double standards. Western feminists will eagerly express their outrage over trivial or non-existent instances of sexism, while remaining curiously silent about actual abuse – particularly if it is politically convenient to do so.

Feminists’ unwillingness to condemn violence against women in the Middle East is arguably the most shocking example of this double standard. On 7 October, Hamas raped and mutilated Israeli women as it stormed through southern Israel. Yet Western feminists barely raised a murmur of complaint, at least not immediately.

In fact, weeks passed before women’s rights organisations were willing to release statements condemning the rape and murder of Jewish women. UN Women took almost two months to release a statement addressing Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October. Its lacklustre declaration read: ‘We reiterate that all women, Israeli women, Palestinian women, as all others, are entitled to a life lived in safety and free from violence.’ It was hardly the most stern rebuke to a movement that had systematically raped and murdered so many women in Israel.

Self-styled ‘progressive’ journalists have been equally reluctant to speak out against Hamas. Worse still, some have even questioned whether Hamas fighters really did rape women on 7 October. Guardian hack Owen Jones was not fully convinced by the footage of brutalised bodies of women with their underwear removed. Apparently, this wasn’t enough evidence that these women had been raped by Hamas.

The hypocrisy here is off the charts. The very same activists who are all too keen to shout ‘Believe women!’ when Hollywood actresses claim a movie mogul felt them up once now shout ‘Show us the rape’ when Israel says its women were brutalised by terrorists – a claim corroborated by reams of eye-witness evidence.

Other professional feminists and ‘thought leaders’ have been similarly silent on Hamas’s actions. A widely circulated open letter, entitled ‘Feminists for a free Palestine. Stop the genocide. End the Occupation’, neither mentions Jewish women nor condemns Hamas. By early November, over 1,200 ‘scholars who work in feminist, queer and trans studies’ had signed the letter.

Two things are at play in the warped response of Western feminists to the atrocities of 7 October. Firstly, their embrace of the ideology of ‘decolonisation’ and their view of Israel as a ‘settler-colonial’ state has prevented them from standing in solidarity with Israeli women. They see them as part of an evil occupying force and therefore as less than human. Secondly, they are unwilling to criticise Islamist terror and violence, largely for fear of being labelled Islamophobic.

Indeed, Western feminists’ unwillingness to condemn Islamist violence against women extends beyond Hamas’s rape and mutilation of Jews. They have also shown themselves incapable of standing up for women persecuted by Islamist regimes in Iran and Afghanistan.

It is over a year since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed by Iran’s religious police for violating Iran’s hijab law and failing to wear the veil ‘properly’. Amini’s killing may have prompted mass protests by brave, hijab-free women in Iran. But it has prompted very little in the way of solidarity in the West. In November, the death of teenager Armita Geravand, also apparently at the hands of Iran’s morality police, passed by with even less comment or outrage. It seems that Western feminists are too frightened of appearing Islamophobic to do what Iranian women have bravely been doing – challenging a misogynistic state that compels women to wear a veil.

Western feminists have shown a similarly curious reluctance to criticise the Taliban. After all, the Taliban ought to be an obvious target of feminist ire. Since it regained control of Afghanistan in 2021 it has banned Afghan women from any form of political participation, prevented them from dressing how they choose and banned them from education and most forms of work. Yet you will struggle to find much condemnation of this medieval sexism from Western feminists and ostentatiously ‘progressive’ organisations this year. After reports emerged that the Taliban has been imprisoning survivors of domestic abuse ‘for their own protection’, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan meekly said that the Taliban’s handling of ‘gender-based violence complaints’ was ‘unclear and inconsistent’. Which is one way of describing a movement that systematically degrades and oppresses women.

There does seem to be a massive Islamist-shaped blindspot here. Feminists and their progressive apologists are only too happy to call out relatively trivial acts of sexism in the West. Yet they show a repeated unwillingness to stick up for women suffering at the hands of Islamists, from Iran to Israel to Afghanistan.

If we want to advance women’s freedom around the world, then we cannot ignore the misogyny of the Islamists.

Ella Whelan is the author of The Case For Women’s Freedom, the latest in the Academy of Ideas’ radical pamphleteering series, Letters on Liberty.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Feminism Politics World

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