Barbara Ehrenreich / The Nation – 2007-10-23 21:01:02
(October 23, 2007) — I’ve never been able to explain Halloween to the kids, with its odd thematic confluence of pumpkins, candy and death. But Halloween is a piece of pumpkin cake compared to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, which commences today. In this special week, organized by conservative pundit David Horowitz, we have a veritable witches’ brew of Cheney-style anti-jihadism mixed in with old-fashioned, right-wing anti-feminism and a sour dash of anti-Semitism.
A major purpose of this week is to wake up academic women to the threat posed by militant jihadism. According to the Week’s website, feminists and particularly the women’s studies professors among them, have developed a masochistic fondness for Islamic fundamentalists. Hence, as anti-Islamo-Fascist speakers fan out to the nation’s campuses this week, students are urged to stage “sit-ins in Women’s Studies Departments and campus Women’s Centers to protest their silence about the oppression of women in Islam.”
Leaving aside the obvious quibbles about feminist pro-jihadism and the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which seems largely designed to give jihadism a nice familiar World War II ring, the klaxons didn’t go off for me until I skimmed down the list of Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week speakers and found, incredibly enough, Ann Coulter, whom I last caught on TV pining for the repeal of women’s suffrage. “If we took away women’s right to vote,” she said wistfully, “We’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream; it’s a personal fantasy of mine.”
Coulter is not the only speaker on the list who may have a credibility problem when it comes to opposing oppression of women in Islam or anywhere else. Another participant in the week’s events is former Senator Rick Santorum, whose book, It Takes a Family blamed “radical feminism” for pushing women into the workforce and thus destroying the American family. A 2005 column on that book in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, began with: “Women of America, I hope you look good in a burqa. If Senator Rick Santorum,R-PA, has his way, we will all be wearing the burqas discarded by our recently liberated sisters in Afghanistan…” (This was the before the Taliban re-emerged.)
Not quite in the burqa-promoting league, but close, is another official speaker for the week, Christina Hoff Sommers, who has made her name attacking feminism for exaggerating the problem of domestic violence and eliminating opportunities for boys. These are the people who are going to save us from purdah?
Another disagreeable feature of jihadism–anti-Semitism–is also represented on the list of speakers for Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week, again by the multi-faceted Coulter. Just last week on CNBC, she referred to America as a “Christian nation.” Asked where this left the Jews (not to mention the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans and atheists), she said they could be “perfected” by converting to Christianity.
You might imagine that this view of Jews as “imperfect” would bother Horowitz, who is famously alert to any hint of anti-Semitism on the left. But no, he defends Coulter, writing that “If you don’t accompany this belief by burning Jews who refuse to become perfected at the stake why would any Jew have a problem?” Sure, David and if that’s the threshold for intolerance, Osama bin Laden could probably win an award for humanitarianism.
Maybe none of this should be surprising. When Mel Gibson, who is not known to be a member of the Hollywood left, unleashed a drunken anti-Semitic tirade on his arresting officers, Horowitz also rose to his defense, arguing that ensuing outrage reflected a “hatred”–not of anti-Semites but of Christians.
As for the anti-feminism of Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week: This fits in neatly with the thesis of Susan Faludi’s brilliant new book, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. She shows that, in the wake of an attack by the ultra-misogynist Al Qaeda, Americans perversely engaged in an anti-feminist campaign of their own, calling for an immediate restoration of traditional gender roles. Coulter was part of that backlash, opining in 2002 that “feminists hate guns because guns remind them of men.”
Before you put on your costumes to celebrate Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week, let me set the record straight. American feminists do not condone, defend, or ignore jihadist misogyny. In fact, we were warning about it well before Washington turned against the Taliban and have been consistently appalled by the gender dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
But if the facts don’t fit in with Islamo-Fascist Awareness, they have to go. For example, in a May ‘07 column in The Weekly Standard Christina Hoff Sommers listed me as one of the “feckless” feminists who refuse “to pass judgment on non-Western cultures.” What? If Sommers had even done ten minutes of research she would have noticed, among other things, a column I wrote in the New York Times in 2004 stating that Islamic fundamentalism aims to push one-half of the Muslim world–the female half–”down to a status only slightly above that of domestic animals.”
Yes, feminists tend to hate war and sometimes even guns and this may be why Horowitz and company hate us. They should know, though, that we especially hate a war that seems calculated to inflame Islamic fundamentalism worldwide. If many Muslim women around the world willingly don head scarves today, it’s in part because our war in Iraq has, tragically, pushed them to value religious solidarity above their feminist instincts.
Or maybe I’m missing the point of Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week. Maybe it’s really an effort to show that our own American anti-feminists (and anti-Semites) are just as nasty as the ones on the other side. If so, good job, guys! No need to continue with the trick-or-treating, you’ve already made your point.
Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed (Owl), is the winner of the 2004 Puffin/Nation Prize.
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