Women’s Rights and Political Islam
The following is part of a speech given by Donna M. Hughes, Professor and Carlson Endowed Chairperson of the University of Rhode Island Women’s Studies Program, at last night’s feature for Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week
Is Christian fundamentalism the same as Islamic fundamentalism?
Frequently, when I speak about Islamic fundamentalism, someone suggests that Muslims may have Islamic fundamentalism, but the U.S. has Christian fundamentalists. The implication being that they are the same. This equivalency is flawed thinking.
The U.S. is a democracy that guarantees fundamental freedoms and rights. The Christian Right is a political movement of conservative Christians. They may have political and social views and goals that you may not agree with but they operate within a democratic framework. To influence policy and laws, they use their rights as citizens to form advocacy organizations, lobby, and vote. When adherents to these views resort to violence, such as the bombing of abortion clinics, it is treated as an act of violence, and the perpetrators are arrested and punished. And most leaders of Christian Right organizations condemn these acts of political violence.
I’ve never heard a Christian fundamentalist call for the take over of the U.S. government by radical preachers or priests, or have Christian or Biblical law replace the U.S. Constitution.
That’s the difference between Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism: One respects democracy, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the democratic process, the other doesn’t, and its goal is to destroy democracy, freedom, and the democratic process.
Multiculturalism v Universalism
I want to talk about why this flawed equivalency between Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism has become so popular and why it seems to have become so hard to differentiate between oppressive political systems and practices and democratic political systems and liberal practices.
Today, advocacy for multiculturalism has replaced support for universalism.
Universalism is based universal principles of human rights, equality, freedom, and democracy, as laid out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and before that the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Other democracies have their own constitutions and founding sets of documents.
Today, these visions and commitments to universal equality among people have become secondary to advocacy for multiculturalism. Embedded in multicultural ideology is cultural relativism, the principle that all cultures are equal, must be respected, and cannot be criticized. Or if one does criticize another culture or religious practice, the speaker must immediately point out deficiencies in other cultures and religious practices, or at least those of his or her own, in this case, the U.S.
One cannot advocate for relative rights and freedoms without rejecting universal principles of freedom and rights. If you unconditionally accept and respect other cultural and religious practices, the first group that always loses is women. Most discriminatory attitudes and practices are based on culture, tradition, and religion. Women’s greatest hope for freedom and rights comes with the promotion of universal principles of freedom and rights; then women can claim their equality.
Today, I see students in class being fearful of discussing types of violence against women or the oppression of women. Although they may be horrified by honor killings or female genital mutilation, they feel they have to accept it because it’s someone else’s culture or religion. They think it is unacceptable to advocate for other women’s freedom and rights because it might violate another cultures or religions, and that would be imposing their view on another culture or religion. While at first glance this may sound respectful, it translated into remaining silent and accepting some of the worst human rights violations against women.
Following acceptance of multiculturalism, they withdraw into isolationism. If we must respect all other cultures and religious practices, then there is nothing to do about violations of women’s rights around the world. They often oppose any efforts to improve the lives of women in other countries. They justify this isolationism by saying they have enough work on women’s issues here at home and they should concentrate on that. [..]