Is Islam Bad for Women?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has made a name for herself recently with her memoir, "Infidel". In it she describes growing up in Somalia to Muslim parents, undergoing ritual female genital mutilation and then, later, as an adult moving to Europe and becoming a critic of Islam. She first gained notice as the writer of the script for Theo van Gogh's film "Submission"--in which women's bodies were shown with verses from the Koran written upon them. Van Gogh was later brutally murdered and a death threat to Ali was nailed to his chest with a knife.
In this interview with Ali, she talks about Islam as a culture or civilization that is inherently violent and brutal towards women. For too long, she claims, the West has failed to call Islamic socieites on their immorality and abuse of human rights for fear of being racist or colonialist and warns that Muslims don't share that same good will toward the West. She calls for a kind of Enlightenment critique of Islamic culture from within--including a willingness to critique the Prophet as a provincial product of a tribal society whose teaching may not be compatible with a modern society.
The interview is good in asking Ali about her employment with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that also employs the man who thought up the term "axis of evil" and others who seem to accept the "clash of civiliations" thesis, first made popular by Samuel Huntington.
Ali's views on Islam are challenged by this interview with Yanar Mohammed, founder of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq. Mohammed argues that there is less freedom for women now in Iraq than there was under the reign of Saddam Hussein. Part of the reason is that Iraq had very progressive secular law under Hussein that gave women many rights and urban women, such as Mohammed, experienced quite a bit of personal liberty in terms of dress and lifestyle. All this changed with the new Iraqi constitution which gave a cornerstone to Islamic law.
Mohammed is just as critical about aspects of fundamentalist Islam as is Ali. However, Mohammed's account doesn't generalize to the entirety of Islamic culture--she points out that Islam can be compatible with a secular, pluralist state (as it was in Hussein's Iraq--even if there was not democracy) and even in some cases where there might be the beginnings of democratic rule (as in Kurdish Iraq), Islam is not necessarily a complete barrier.
Is it possbile to make judgments about cultures in the way that Ali does? Are some cultures "better" than others for women?