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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ida Lichter, an Australian psychiatrist who was based in London for many years. She became interested in the Muslim women’s reform movement after the events of 9/11, and while she lived in a part of London characterized by a large migrant population and increasing Islamization. She is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression.
FP: Ida Lichter, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Let’s begin with what inspired you to write this book.
Lichter: The events of 9/11 created a huge publicity coup for Islamists. At the same time, voices of Muslim women activists were drowned out and further weakened when Middle Eastern countries shut down many dissident websites and blogs. In order to amplify the voices of reformers and bring them into the public domain, a book seemed necessary.
These activists are modern suffragettes. If empowered, they could provide a major social, political and economic resource for their societies.
I also felt inspired and humbled by the courage and sacrifice of those who were killed by misogynist Islamists and my book is dedicated to these heroines.
FP: How can Muslim women reformers be classified by ideology and geography?
Lichter: They are not a homogeneous group and many are still fledgling activists. Some are secular but the majority identify as practicing Muslims. The secular group rejects Sharia law in favor of civil law and a few, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan and Taslima Nasreen, reject Islam outright. These women suffer death threats, and are often branded American or Zionist agents and traitors.
In the religious group, Islamic feminists claim women’s rights can be provided within the framework of Islamic law. In general, they blame the culture of male-dominated tribalism and patriarchy for distorting authentic Islam and giving rise to sharia-legislated discrimination.
The greatest activity in women’s reform has emerged in Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
FP: What are some of the impacts of patriarchy and tribalism on Muslim societies?
Lichter: Control of women through marriage safeguards tribal property, family honor, inheritance and lineage. As men’s self-worth is linked to controlling the sexual behaviour of female kin, “honor killings” and domestic violence tend to be excused. In rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, women are also treated as collateral to settle family and tribal disputes.
Discrimination against girls is ingrained, as boys are favored over girls from birth, and receive better care, education and material goods. Social turmoil or fitna is ascribed to women, who are deemed temptresses capable of jeopardizing community stability, or even causing political corruption.
FP: What changes are Muslim women reformers trying to achieve?
Lichter: Reformers are trying to overturn discriminatory Sharia laws like lenient sentencing for “honor killings,” stoning to death for adultery, polygamy, child marriage, temporary marriage, unilateral divorce, and inequality regarding custody, citizenship, inheritance and ‘blood money’ – the compensation paid by a murderer to the family of the victim. Under Islamic law, payment for the death of a man is twice that of a woman.
Women want freedom to choose their clothing, abolition of male guardianship, and in Saudi Arabia, the right to vote and drive a car.
Some reformers believe education is the best antidote to the ideologies of jihadism, takfir (accusing other Muslims of heresy) and fighting the infidels, and educated women are less likely to provide a role model of the submissive, fearful woman or be cowed into indoctrinating children.
FP: How are women reformers attempting to achieve reform and what successes have they had?
Lichter: Collectively, Muslim women reformers are rising up, even though many are lone voices and their organizations are new.
The majority want to change discriminatory legislation by making changes within Islam, reclaiming the rights they believe women were originally granted in the Koran.
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