“Hineni” (I am here) – Prof. Dr. Phyllis Chesler: Struggling for Women’s freedom, against Islamism
On October 19, 2010, Prof. Dr. Phyllis Chesler published an article, “Anti-Semitism cannot be equated with Islamophobia”. Chesler is an outspoken critic of Islamic Jihad, “Islamic
gender apartheid,” the burqa and the veiling of women, of Muslim anti-Semitism and anti-Western ideology in general. Chesler wrote a book about the “new anti-Semitism” in 2003.
She is a leading voice in the ‘war of ideas’ against Islamism.
Chesler has been a world famous feminist since the 1960s/1970s; her book “Women and Madness” has sold some 2.5 million copies so far. She has published twelve other books and a huge number of articles, and she is often on TV, radio, interviewed and invited as a speaker.
Talking to Phyllis Chesler is a wonderful, heartwarming, inspiring experience – strongly recommended.
Particularly fascinating and encouraging is her criticism of the Western failure to analyze, decode and fight anti-Semitism, anti-Westernism/anti-Americanism and Islamism after the Second Intifada in 2000 and 9/11.
In her book, “The Death of Feminism,” Chesler writes about her personal experiences with Islam. She was captured in 1961 in Afghanistan. She has an inside view of Islam, gender, and violence. A passionate Zionist, Chesler is very much concerned and shocked about the Western world and its ignorance to understand the threat deriving from Islamic Jihad and Muslim anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism.
Chesler writes in “The Death of Feminism”:
“For example, according to what Professor Leanna Keith told me, on August 30, 1945, on his flight to Tokyo to accept Japan’s surrender, General Douglas MacArthur handwrote his agenda as follows: ‘First destroy the military power. Punish war criminals. Build the structure of representative government. Modernize the constitution. Hold free elections. Enfranchise the women. Release the political prisoners. Liberate the farmers. Establish a free labor movement. Encourage a free economy. Abolish police oppression. Develop a free and responsible press. Liberalize education. Decentralize political power. Separate the church from the state.’
Mac Arthur’s list might well apply to the Arab and Muslim world of today.”[i]
This is an interesting argument. And now have a short look at German mainstream ‘feminists.’ Christina von Braun (born in 1944) is a full professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, a leading Gender Studies scholar. In one of her books, co-written by Bettina Mathes, she compares the invention of the Bikini in 1946 with the atomic bomb – because of the Bikini atolls, where atomic tests have been made at the very same time! Read: for a German cultural studies and gender studies professor like von Braun, the Bikini is a symbol of Western power and violence. She literally says that the Bikini is just a symbol of a “coercion of denudation,” the Western world forces women to show their body in their view. Western freedom to show hair or to wear a Bikini is equalized with Islamist violence. What a cultural relativist ideology, though – mainstream. Blaming the West and Israel, the only democracy in the entire Middle East, and embracing political Islam is fashionable.
For von Braun and Mathes unveiled women sometimes are even much worse than veiled women. They embrace Muslim women around the world who wear the headscarf with “pride.” Of course they attack moderate Muslims who are critical about Islamic Gender apartheid like Necla Kelek, Seyran Ates, or Ayan Hirsi Ali. Von Braun and Matthes go so far as to claim that Hirsi Ali lied when applying for Asylum in the Netherlands in the early 1990s. They say it was not true that Hirsi Ali was threatened by a forced marriage – while in fact she was. Several authors have criticized von Braun and Mathes, though these two gender studies superheroes, who defend the veiling of women and make fun of Western scholars and feminists who are critical about Islamism, are representing a majority in this field of pro-Islamist, pro cultural relativist, post-modern and anti-feminist scholarship and activism. Bettina Mathes was Associate Professor at Pennsylvania State University; she now lives in Manhattan.
What was Chesler’s experience with the Bikini and the Islamic world in Afghanistan in 1961?
“One day I was sunning myself on a private family terrace in my pink-and-purple bikini when a ruckus began below. It seemed that some men who had been building or repairing a house a mile away were able to see a near-naked woman on her own private balcony. I was forced to go indoors and ordered never to do anything like that again. It is no accident that Osama bin Laden chose Afghanistan to train his al Quaeda suicide killers. It is one of the most inaccessible and backward countries in the world and the easiest place for a criminal to hide himself in; as such, the routine crimes perpetrated against women in the name of Islam or Islamic custom are also least visible here.”[ii]
Chesler’s book on death of feminism could be a great tool for those interested in analyzing Islamic Jihad, Islamic misogyny and anti-feminism, including criticism of Western scholars, gender studies activists who support Islamism and make fun of true moderate Muslim women who detest Islamic gender apartheid. Equating the veiling of women with Western lifestyle like the Bikini is a denial and an affirmation of Islamist ideology at the same time.
Bettina Mathes and Christina von Braun are typical German examples of academics appeasing or even supporting of Jihad, denying Islamic gender apartheid, and displaying anti-Western resentment.
This is related to a statement by Wolfgang Benz (the head of the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) at Technical University Berlin, he will retire on October 21, 2010, though remaining the head of the ZfA until next year) made two days after 9/11 (!).
Scholar and Journalist John Rosenthal writes in 2008:
“As noted by Henryk Broder in his 2002 book No War, Nowhere [Kein Krieg, nirgends], in a panel discussion that took place merely two days after the September 11 attacks in 2001, Wolfgang Benz described the twin towers of the World Trade Center as “symbols of pride and wealth and arrogance.” And he continued: ‘To put up such buildings is the most extreme sort of arrogance, and vulnerability is thus built into them. And the attacks against these buildings — by way of these attacks, one can erase one’s own feelings of powerlessness and one’s own humiliations and transform them into the powerlessness and humiliation of one’s opponent.’ “
Taking this statement seriously, it was not at all by accident that Benz and his institute, ZfA, organized a conference on December 8, 2008, equating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
I was among the first to criticize this equation with this article in the Jerusalem Post on December 3, 2008.
Thanks to Chesler, the equation of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia is now a topic in the international debate about Islamism. There is still much to be done.
With the power, courage, and spirit of scholars, activists and public intellectuals like Phyllis Chesler victory in the war on ideas against Islamism and its Western fans will be ours.
Picture: Phyllis Chesler and Clemens Heni in New York City, Manhattan, October 2010
[i] Phyllis Chesler (2006): The Death of Feminism. What’s next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 183. This is the paperback edition, the same book was published by the same publisher in 2005 as a hardcover, too.
[ii] Chesler 2006, 83.