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D'Souza Knows Not

D'Souza Knows Not

Author:
Publication: Private Paper
Date: February 13, 2007
URL: http://victorhanson.com/articles/lettertoauthor021307.html

A Letter to Dinesh D'Souza from the Traditional Muslim World

[Editor's Note: Dinesh D'Souza's recent work on Muslim culture and the decadent West has received a great deal of criticism, but not quite like the letter below recently sent to the website.]

Dear Mr. Hanson,

I greatly appreciated your just and thoughtful critique in "The Enemy at Home." As a woman from South Asia, originally from a "traditional Muslim" community, and now domiciled in the U.S., I have much to say to Mr. D'Souza - but feel there's no use in doing so. I have seen him on TV and believe he will not be open to a differing opinion, not even if it comes from a Muslim woman from one of the cultural groups at the heart of his thesis. So I address this to you.

My first question to Mr. D'Souza would be: "whom do you mean when you speak repeatedly of traditional Muslim societies, how many women from these societies did you interview in your research for this book?" This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer to it already - hardly any. Women in traditional Muslim societies are not prone to spending time alone with unrelated men, freely expressing opinions on matters central to their community.

If Mr. D'Souza thinks he has had such interviews he is mistaken. He may have spoken to women from more liberal Muslim communities who do not as yet represent the majority of women in Islam. That he has spoken to men is clear, of course. This analogy is a stretch, but I am going to use it anyway to make my point. It is as though Mr. D'Souza, in writing about the Holocaust, bases his conclusions on conversations he has had with the guards at concentration camps because he had no access to the prisoners.

That being said, I would like to tell Mr D'Souza that he is wide of the mark - not completely without an insight or two, but so wide that his thesis has no value to Muslim or non-Muslim. Mr D'Souza believes that it is not freedom but the abuses of it that threatens patriarchy in Islamic societies: the clothes that Britney Spears wears, same sex marriage, pronography etc. A classic example of not being able to see the woods for the trees.

What threatens patriarchal Muslim communities are not the excesses of Western societies but its very norms. Individualism and the relatively equal position of women manifest themselves in the opportunities females have to pursue education and economic independence. And these principles of individual freedom and equality, even Mr D'Souza will agree, are neither Right nor Left, but simply American. There is no way that Muslim women, in great numbers, can be granted similar opportunities without it eventually shaking their societies at their very foundations. Whatever else the Taliban is obtuse about, they understand perfectly the concept of the slippery slope - allow a girl child to be educated at all, and you never know where she will end up - perhaps like me, with only tangential ties to some of the core values of the conservative Islamic community I was raised in.

When I go back home to my country of birth, as I frequently do, I see the changes that education and economic independence have wrought in a once very orthodox community, which slowly allowed its women a more Western lifestyle. Women are waiting longer to get married, having fewer children (going against the Islamic obligation to increase the "Umma" - the community of Muslims), going out of the home to work, often choosing a spouse against the wishes of the family, and initiating divorce in numbers that were unthinkable in the past. The great strength of Muslim societies, the stability of its families, and the cohesiveness of its communities, is beginning , in some places, to fray at the edges and the anxiety provoking question for those who care about this, as I do, is -how much can the foundational thread of conservative Islamic societites, -women's submissiveness, and their economic and social dependence on men - be pulled out, without it unraveling the entire fabric?

In the face of this challenge there are those who believe that the solution lies in reverting to fundamentalist Islam, and among such people could well be some future terrorists. There are others who know there is no going back. To do so would be to tolerate, for instance, some of the rules that governed my mother's life. No leaving the house without a chaperone, no signing your own marriage certificate, and most tragic of all, no going to school, no matter how much you love to learn. Or it could mean, as it did with a schoolmate of mine, a seventeen year old girl would be forced to marry a fifty six year old man, because her family forced her to. If she could have fended for herself, she may have fled her family. But she could not, and went through the marriage ceremony tears pouring down her face.

How can Muslim societies strike a balance between the needs of the individual and the need of the community so as to stay true to some of its better traditions and avoid the breakdown of family and society that has taken place in the West? There are no easy answers to that, and certainly none so easy as staying as far away as possible from pornography, or even making it more difficult for a woman to get a divorce. If Mr D'Souza has any advice to give on this issue, I would like to hear it. Turning the TV off when Britney Spears appears, I know to do on my own.

Thank you for your time.


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