Knight in Shining Armor or Idiot in Tinfoil?

Knight in Shining Armor or Idiot in Tinfoil? March 1, 2011

Dear Bill Maher,

Hey there, Billy. I’m pretty sure I can call you that now, since you have taken a personal interest in saving my life. Recently, you made the statement that Muslim lands will not get democracy without a “sexual revolution.” Muslim men, in your opinion, are sexist demons, which are an extension of states that crush the rights of women.

Let’s be clear: a lot of screwed up things happen “over there,” and some of those things are “far worse” than “here.” You’re right about that. But, unsurprisingly, as a Muslim woman, I have quite a few problems with you and your shining armor.

First and foremost, the ignorance disguised as “straight talk”-shtick is getting old. This is not about being a slave to some deranged version of “cultural relativism.”  If Western nations can “deal” with Muslim women better, than why do we have things like niqab and headscarf bans being put in place? Such bans show that nations don’t actually understand the hardships faced by Muslim women.

This is not a matter of clothing. Perhaps this is a large part of the problem. People like you think that Muslim women aren’t trying to stick up for themselves, make their own decisions and fight for their rights. In actuality, you are exploiting Muslim women for your own agenda, to serve as further proof that the Muslim world is the last evil empire.

So let’s say we go with your plan. We go into those oppressive Muslim places and we free those women. We let them loose, call them “Sugartits,” and give those of them who don’t have them cars. Problem solved? I am not saying that women aren’t being robbed of their rights. In actuality it is their right to determine what those rights should actually be. You cannot decide for someone else.

Also, as a side note, Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are all very different from each other. This goes for much of the Arab world.  The point is that we’ve tried, as the United States, to simply impose democracy on other nations, it did not work. Not because Muslims are ogres that thrive on the blood of their wives, but because your vision of democracy is influenced by your culture and history, not theirs. Democracy does not start with a McDonald’s drive-thru, nor does feminism start with placing women in mini-skirts. And Billy? We tried going to war to liberate women already. That was called Afghanistan. Oh, and Iraq. And the condition of women in those countries has drastically reduced since we came to town.

You see, Billy, where these revolutions are occurring, feminism and equality do need to be a part of the new agenda, and many women and men are advocating for this. Being able to express one’s voice, being able to push for one’s rights, these are all things that require a free and representative government. Whether you like it or not, the specific culture of a region plays a huge factor into how this plays out. Just as with democracy and revolution, the fight for equality and feminism in “that part of the world” must occur organically, and make no mistake: such a movement is more alive now than ever before.

Seeing the United States as the golden standard of women’s rights is problematic for American women as well. The fact of the matter is that the feminist movement in the United States is alive, and thriving, and still has a long way to go. While the Western world has made wide strides for women, acting as though it is a finished project ignores the work that we still have to do as American feminists and treats feminism and equality like a video game. You are right to say that there are human rights violations and dangers within the Islamic world. What is wrong is the way that you address it, and ultimately, your lack of knowledge about what is being done about it.

You stated that women are already civilized, and that men are the ones that need civilizing. Other than serving as a shield for your weak arguments, it pulls on some pretty problematic concepts. Assuming that women are naturally civilized implies that women are naturally obedient to the state, calm and docile. To make it simple: my vagina does not automatically make me a force of gentle democracy. Therefore, while attempting to flatter women, you spout a pretty sexist idea: the classic “boys will be boys” tripe. In actuality, gender inequality is perpetuated by a system furthered by both men and women, which is why it is all of our duty to fight against it.

You say you want democracy for these nations, but depicting Muslim men as blood-thirsty savages sure makes you sound like an imperialist. I am starting to think that you are not really interested in changing the world that you so vehemently complain about. After all, without those sinister Muslim men, you might not have anything to talk about anymore.

The point is that you behave as though we don’t acknowledge the bad things that are committed in the name of Islam, and that we all stand back and accept it as Muslims. We are discussing such things, and most importantly, many of us are standing up and fighting it. Ironically, it is people like you that take away attention from the dialogue surrounding such battles.

I want to propose something: bring progressive Muslim activists and feminist scholars to your show, and discuss the way forward for women’s rights in “that” part of the world. The only caveat is that you would have to listen, you would have to actually use coherent sentences, and most importantly, you might have to actually learn something. Then, I might believe that you actually want to see the promotion of women’s rights.

Finally, you know that whole thing about Muslim men having a trademark sense of entitlement? Many men perpetuate sexism and inequality, but women can also perpetuate these things.  Let’s leave the broad statements about men to Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of us embittered single women.


Sara Yasin

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