Writer Laila Lalami, writing for The Nation, has a lot to say about Western attitudes toward Islamic women. Lalami’s superb article touches on the question of straw feminism in a review of new books by two current Western culture heroes: outspoken Islamic women getting lots of attention in the “first world.”
The first, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is a lapsed Muslim, Somalian by birth, who has been living in the Netherlands for some time, but is now leaving the country under somewhat of a cloud, to come to the U.S. and work for The American Enterprise Institute, a Republican think-tank. Hirsi Ali chosen last year by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Most striking to me in the review of Hirsi Ali’s The Caged Virgin is the unqualified quotation, “Very few Muslims are actually capable of looking at their faith critically.” Really? And a high percentage of Christians and Jews are?
The second book Lalami reviews is The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji, born in Uganda to an ethnic Pakistani family, and living in Canada since she was a young child. According to Lalami, Manji gets many of her “facts” from a nonprofit organization, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), founded by an Israeli intelligence veteran. I’m not familiar wit MEMRI, and I’m very interested in Lalami’s claim that it ” it consistently picks the most violent, hateful rubbish it can find, translates it and distributes it in e-mail newsletters to media and members of Congress in Washington.” This fills in a hole for me, as if I’d been subtly aware for years of a concerted effort to trash Islam in our nation’s political circles, without thinking about it until it was explained.
Lalami ends her article with some thoughtful suggestions for Westerners on how to view the admittedly real problems of Islamic women in a true context. Don’t settle for my summary: read the whole thing.