How is My Mother to Blame?

By Olivia Haas

Yet again I find myself in the position of pleading ignorance. Because the truth is, I do not live under Sharia law nor ever have. Further, I have yet to actively seek someone who has lived under Sharia or is an expert on the subject. What I have written is most definitely not written from a position of experience, and I am ashamed to say that I have not done extensive research. An un-informed opinion? I suppose. But on that same note, I would like to say that while Mr. Hirshman can spout statistics, there is one major component lacking in his argument: he is neither a woman (let alone a feminist!), nor Islamic. Slightly important. While it is possible, I suppose, to read into the female Muslim response to Sharia as supportive, I maintain that it is absurd to blame so-called “Hollywood culture” and “Western feminism,” a term I believe Mr. Hirshman does not even understand.

From what I know of Sharia, its disregard for human rights is absolutely appalling. I know that not only have I not encountered Sharia first-hand, but I am also not well-versed in its modern practices and the reasons behind why certain demographics support it. I suppose that we have little cause to doubt the Gallup poll that Mr. Hirshman quotes (that 78% of Muslim women in Iran and 88% of Muslim women in Egypt believe that Sharia should either be the source, or at least a source, of legislation in their countries). My only suggestion as to an explanation for this is inspired by Roy Hattersley, a British Labour Party politician, who once said that “Familiarity with evil breeds not contempt but acceptance.”

A very simple, and perhaps naïvely incorrect, interpretation of these poll numbers might be that Muslim women, knowing nothing else, support that with which they are familiar. This, of course, leads to the next issue: Mr. Hirshman’s argument that Islamic women turn towards Sharia and away from Western common or civil law due to something he refers to as “Western feminism” and “Hollywood culture.”

“This phenomenon,” writes Mr. Hirshman in reference to Islamic women’s support of Sharia, “is largely due to the work of feminists in the West and to the sexual licentiousness and immorality of Hollywood culture.” He then goes on to paint a picture of what he believes is “feminism”: the dissolution of the family, and the spread of rampant drugs and free sex. I’m sorry, but the last time I checked, “feminism” simply referred to the belief that women should have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual, and economic rights to men. There are, of course, exceptions to the offered definition of feminism, but they are few. How is this immoral?

To address Mr. Hirshman’s assertion that fertility rates are somehow related to superior morality in the Islamic world, I say the following: who says that lots of children are a good thing? Don’t get me wrong; I love babies. But how do fertility rates correlate with upstanding morality? Is the argument that Muslim women who support Sharia do so because they find Western culture immoral, in part due to the fact that there are fewer children being born in the West? I just don’t see the connection. There is clearly something more entrenched in the minds of Muslim women than a simple dislike for another culture. According to Mr. Hirshman, “Muslim families are much larger than Western families, and this is apparently what they want.” Is it, though? Or is it a culturally mandated practice?

Furthermore, to discuss the issue of divorce and illegitimacy, I once again find myself questioning the integrity of the accusation that “feminists” are to blame. Mr. Hirshman writes, “For many people in Europe, and even a growing minority in the United States, marriage has become outdated. This is true especially among ardent feminists, who often see marriage as an avenue for the oppression of women’s freedom.” Again, I wish you would stop relying on the cliché, untrue image of a “feminist” as an unshaven, wild-eyed woman running around waving a burning bra, denouncing all heterosexual relationships. It is simply untrue, and to blame the so-called “dissolution” of “the fundamental institution which has structured society for thousands of years” is absurd. What, then, is to blame? I honestly don’t know. But it certainly isn’t women like my mother – a FEMINIST! Gasp! – who has remained married to my father for over twenty years and has successfully (Or not. Up to the reader’s discretion) raised three children. Also, Mr. Hirshman writes that “As more children are being born out of wedlock, more families are being dissolved by divorce.” To which I reply: where’s your proof? This opinion on the issues of fertility and illegitimacy is essentially the same as that against gay marriage (that it is wrong, or immoral), to which I have the same response: who are you to say what’s right or wrong?

My favorite claim, however, is that “By breaking the ‘shackles’ of marriage and abandoning traditional morality, many Westerners believe that they are freeing themselves for a life of personal freedom. Sex, drugs, and alcohol provide an opportunity for immediate pleasure and fulfillment.” Woah. I’m sorry…sex, drugs, and alcohol? Where did that come from? This abstract association of marriage and morality, divorce and immorality is quite off and not supported by any concrete evidence. But the best part, the really sound argument is as follows: “Most Muslims, however, see the burgeoning of sex shops and Internet pornography not as the way to liberation but as the way to depravity.” Right, because every Westerner who is either divorced or has a child out of wedlock is engaging in licentious behavior, running a sex shop, and shooting up every weekend. I’m pretty sure it is safe to say that the majority of ALL people, regardless of religious background etcetera, find such practices immoral.

I understand that the messages projected by global images of what Mr. Hirshman is calling “Hollywood culture” – what I’m assuming might refer to the like of Lohan, Hilton & Co. – are quite unattractive to anyone seeking a so-called moral way of life. But these representations do not embody the majority of Western culture, just that which is shown on the news.

To return to the original issue – why so many Muslim women would support a clearly misogynistic body of law – we have yet to come up with a real reason. I do not actually argue with the idea, as Mr. Hirshman writes, that “Sharia, for all its imperfections, upholds a lifestyle closer to their ideal.” However, to write that “Until the West provides Muslim women with a picture of Western culture which is moral and family-oriented, it will continue to encourage them to oppose the West’s values and its way of life,” is to both oversimplify and grossly misrepresent the issue. I do not, as I cannot, offer a solution. However, I think to believe, as Mr. Hirshman does, that “Advocating free sex and women’s ‘liberation’ will only help drive them to support Sharia” is frightening. If female equality, which is the basic principle of the most widely accepted form of feminism, is considered immoral, what kind of cultural practices are you proposing we adopt, Mr. Hirshman?

This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 2, Issue 3, Spring 2009. Bookmark the permalink.

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