An American Bride in Kabul

ch“This is the story of a young and naive Jewish American woman who meant to rebel against tradition—but who found herself trapped in the past, stuck in the Middle Ages, without a passport back,” declared the redoubtable Dr. Phyllis Chesler to the mesmerized audience before her at the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday evening, October 1. The occasion was the debut of Dr. Chesler’s 15th book entitled, “An American Bride in Afghanistan” (Palgrave MacMillan).

As part of the vanguard of the second wave feminist movement, Dr. Chesler is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at CUNY, psychotherapist and most notably an internationally renowned author and lecturer. Among her best selling books are “Women and Madness” (1972), “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” (2001), “The New Anti-Semitism” (2003) and “The Death of Feminism” (2005).

On this evening, however, Dr. Chesler not only celebrated her 73rd birthday, but she honored the often tortuous trajectory of a dark chapter in her life in her new and enthralling memoir. Over the years she had written intermittently about her horrific experiences as a winsome Jewish woman held in marital captivity in Afghanistan in 1961, but it was only recently that she made the decision to detail these harrowing memories in full-length book form.

In a voice reverberating with a profound passion, Dr. Chesler said in a private interview that the reason that her book was published now is because “[t]he material is so rich, so irresistible. The 9/11 plot was hatched in a country that I once lived in – how surreal, how destined is that! How could I remain silent? Wasn’t I obligated to share what I had seen and now know? ” Momentarily rueful, she added,  “The Afghan burqa seems to have followed me to America and into the future. I needed to provide an accounting of what I experienced, witnessed, and the lessons learned.”

Joining Dr. Chesler on stage before a capacity crowd at the Buttenwieser Hall at the storied Y was Mr. Ibn Warraq, celebrated writer and founder of the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society and a senior research fellow at the Westminster Institute, focusing on Koranic criticism. Amongst his scholarly exegeses are: “Why I am Not a Muslim,” “Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out” and most recently, “Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism.”

Also standing beside Dr. Chesler was Ms. Raquel Evita Saraswati, a religious Muslim feminist human rights activist who has worked prodigiously with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).

Introducing Dr. Chesler and the other speakers was the organizer of the evening’s event, Rabbi Paulette Posner, Acting Director of the Center of Jewish Diversity. The panel was deftly moderated by Rabbi David Kalb.

Commencing with a reading of an excerpt of “An American Bride in Kabul,” Dr. Chesler held her book, and with a palpable intensity, read the words that she penned with the help of the indelible memories etched in her mind and her copious diary entries:

“I once lived in a harem in Afghanistan. I am eighteen and I have just met my prince. He is a dark, handsome, charming, sophisticated, and wealthy foreign student. We are in college in America. True, he is a Muslim and I am a Jew. I am very Jewish. But he is the Agha Khan, and I am Rita Hayworth. He is Yul Brynner, and I am Gertrude Lawrence in The King and I.

When we land in Kabul officials smoothly remove my American passport which I never see again. Suddenly, I am the citizen of no country, and have no rights. I have become the property of a polygamous Afghan family and am expected to live with my mother-in-law and other female relatives, wear hijab, and live in purdah. That means that I cannot go out without a male escort, a male driver, and a female relative as chaperones. I am also expected to convert to Islam. I am living in a culture where extreme gender apartheid is the norm and where my reactions to it are considered abnormal,  

Why am I writing this book?

I believe that my American feminism began in Afghanistan. It is a feminism that many Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and dissidents, both religious and secular, welcome and support. We are all anti-Islamists: We oppose totalitarianism, terrorism, and gender and religious apartheid and support individual, human, gay, and women’s rights.

This is an accounting of sorts. A young Jewish American woman once came to this wondrous, Asiatic country and fled harem life. She finally uncovered the history of what happened to the Jews of Afghanistan, and she has told their story in order to redeem her soul.”

At the conclusion of her reading a hush fell over the room. It was then that Dr. Chesler and her co-panelists began fielding a veritable potpourri of questions from audience members. She explained why she married in the first place:

Ah—I was young and I fell in love. My Afghan bridegroom was a Westernized man I had known for nearly three years at college in America. He cooked for me, he was tender and attentive—he just never mentioned that his father had three wives and twenty-one children or that I would be expected to live under a polite form of posh house arrest–or that I would be expected to convert to Islam.”

She added that, “I lived as a member of an Afghan family and as such learned about the Afghan people in a way that the great Western travelers could not. Afterward I was often able to see the West with Eastern eyes.”

When queried as to whether Islam can ever be reformed, Ibn Warraq, an expert in Muslim ideology and the intricacies of the Koran, said that it could not due to the present day extreme influences that guide it.

Eloquently and with great erudition, Raquel Evita Saraswati addressed the paramount issues that swirl around various honor cultures and women’s rights therein. Considered the foremost scholar on the endemic scourge of both Islamic and Hindu honor killings of women, Dr. Chesler also spoke on the same theme, utilizing the plethora of facts she gathered for her articles in The Middle East Quarterly, an academic journal under the aegis of Dr. Daniel Pipes.

Because “An American Bride in Kabul” also provides an in-depth look into the history of Jews in Afghanistan and mentions the present day state of affairs in Israel, an audience member asked Dr. Chesler about the “violations of Palestinians” that purportedly take place there. Her response drew enthusiastic applause as she swiftly and passionately spoke truth to power to what she calls, “The Big Lies,” better known as blatant propaganda aimed at Israel.

Receiving a standing ovation and a rousing round of applause at the evening’s conclusion, Dr. Chesler graciously appeared in the hall’s lobby where she autographed her book for the dozens of people lined up to purchase it.

“I really didn’t know what to expect when I came here tonight,” said audience member Audrey Levinson, 62, of Gramercy Park, as she waited on line to get her copy of the book autographed. “I certainly knew of Phyllis Chesler and had read ‘Women and Madness’ when I was in college, but I must say that my curiosity was piqued when I had read some pre-publication reviews of ‘An American Bride in Afghanistan.’”

She added that, “Hearing Dr. Chesler’s words here this evening really sent a lightning jolt throughout my entire being. To say that it was enlightening and exceptionally informative was an understatement. I know what I’ll be reading in bed tonight.”

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  • Chezwick

    Folks, please use Christmas an occasion to endow female family members, particularly liberals, with ‘An American Bride in Afghanistan’. I haven’t read it yet, but I can certainly attest to Mrs Chesler’s intellectual integrity. A book like this is more likely to change a liberal woman’s thinking far more effectively and profoundly than a hundred conversations with a conservative male family member.

    • Chezwick

      I bought ‘An American Bride in Kabul’ this afternoon for my sister’s birthday next week. I’m already half way through it.

      She was 19 years old and naive as hell when she made the biggest mistake of her life. Her time in Afghanistan was literally hell on earth. But the experience has served her well for the rest of her life. During the feminist “awakening” of the late 60s, she was in the thick of it, but unlike her feminist sisters, she had no inclination whatsoever to romanticize the third world…and for that reason, was always an outsider.

      Through the years, she’s become only MORE pointed in her criticism of feminist double-standards and apologia for Islam’s treatment of women.

    • Chezwick

      Bought it and read it in its entirety yesterday. Phyllis does engage in some unfortunate intellectual gymnastics, particularly her copious use of the qualifier ‘Islamists’. But by and large, the book is a powerful repudiation of the blame-America mentality.

      On page 211, she strikes an absolute 10 in terms of moral clarity:

      “One cannot reason with evil; one must defeat it.”

  • lessthantolerant

    Why buy a book from a liberal idiot like this? She never really recants her liberalism of the evils of Islam.

    • A Z

      We can check the book out from the library. After 3 or 4 years what will stick in the mind of the reader?

      I believe ( I could be wrong) was that a Muslim sweet talked a westerner, lied to her and treated her like crap.

    • Chezwick

      Don’t listen folks. Phyllis Chesler has long been a pariah in the leftwing-academic fold for her politically-incorrect stand on Islam and a number of other issues. She’s the rare feminist who refuses to apologize for Islamic misogyny and gender-discrimination.

      ‘Women’s Inhumanity to Women’, ‘The New Anti-Semitism’, and ‘The Death of Feminism’ are all incontrovertible examples of her principled world-view. Such books are the antithesis to the liberal/left apologia we’re so accustomed to seeing coming from feminists in academe.

    • Seek

      Chesler is far from an “idiot.” In point of fact, she was for a good while a regular contributor to Front Page. And she writes with insight and wit. As for liberalism, it comes in all kinds. Libertarianism, underneath, is simply Old Liberalism.

      • lessthantolerant

        You say “tomato I say tomato”, please tell me where she enlightens anyone on the evils of Islam.

        As for anyone who would move to Afghanistan with a Muslim having intelligence and with, well you call it what you want.

  • A Z

    Dr Chesler could have sold her book in the 1st 3 years after 911 and the invasion of Afghanistan. The profit potential was always there.

    By waiting until now might be quite serendipitous. Obamao will pull America out of Afghanistan in less than 15 months. I disagree with his strategy, but it is for the best. He was not trying to win our troops are getting killed for no gain and the enemy is getting stronger.

    We will have to go back at some point, but it can wait until we have a real Commander in Chief.

    Things are looking bleak. Yemen looks like crap See the map at the link.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yemen#Politics

    We could not enter Somalia with our best spec ops with the rules of engagement ROE) forced upon us by the avaricious left.

    We are treating world wide terrorism spreading like a zombie apocalypse like a law enforcement matter. We mirandized Nazih al-Ragye, Abu Anas al-Liby. BTW he was captured by the British in 1999 and released.

    We have to work on the electorate like Chezwick recommends. The LSM certainly is. They are busy building up Obamao and tearing down the Republicans for daring to oppose increasing the deficit spending.

    • Arf

      AZ: Do you think it’s a Jewish plot – waiting until now to write her book? Is the Illuminati behind it? How does the New World Order fit into it all? What part do alien abductors play in this? (If you think my post sounds crazy, it’s nothing compared to the nonsense you just wrote.)

      • A Z

        I alleged no plot. I said it was “serendipitous.” Maybe you should look up the word. I had to do so many years ago.

        I wrote nonesens? At least 7 people agree with the gist or majority of my post.

        Things are looking bleak. Look at the map of Yemen at wiki

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yemen#Politics

        Is Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya any better?

  • William Richardson

    I don’t know which is worst–feminists or Islamists. They deserve each other.

  • Veracious_one

    a woman who voluntarily rushes off to marry a Muslim is demonstrating a severe form of the clueless feminism that plagues the feminist movement….

    • Raymond_in_DC

      She was young and naive, but was “mugged by reality”. She learned from the experience, which sets her apart from most liberals, who will stick to their beliefs, their causes and their narrative, no matter what.

    • tickletik

      I think that had less to do with politics and a lot more to do with “game”

    • Seek

      Wake up. Phyllis Chesler was recalling her experiences of 50 years ago. Quite obviously, she has changed since then.

    • laura

      that was 40yrs ago, & he didnt tell her the truth. she was 18yrs old.

    • Arf

      V: I certainly think she’s learned her lesson. All of us make stupid mistakes. Chessler at least admits hers and makes up for it by exposing this sick society for what it is.

  • Lookatme

    There are many American Bride’s in America experiencing the same thing now, which is even worse.

  • Abdul Ameer

    This is really going overboard: “Ms. Raquel Evita Saraswati, a religious Muslim feminist human rights
    activist who has worked prodigiously with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of
    the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).” Neither Dr. Jasser nor his AIFD have ever produced much of anything. Dr. Jasser has no influence in the Moslem community which has only contempt for him. He pretense of being a “devout Muslim”, even though he reject fundamental Islamic docrtines, only confuses ignorant non-Moslems about the possibility of salvaging Islam by removing “Islamism”. If Dr. Jasser did not advertise himself as a “devout Muslim”, nobody would listen to him.

    • bribri

      That is it, Islam trains Muslims to dismiss whatever comes from kuffar mouths and minds so we need “moderate devout muslims” to prevent muslims from going even crazier than they already are. Kuffar-racism as invented by brain-damaged muhammad in 7th century Medina, good luck salvaging that.

  • lostlegends

    Young and naive? Try stupid and a leftist. She asked for it and got it. Very Jewish of her.

    • laura

      the boyfriend behaved westernized. she didnt know what was ahead, that was a nasty comment. she is one of the anti left womens rigts activists.

      • lostlegends

        Marriage requires a large amount of due diligence. Basic. Love is not all you need. In my senior high school year we had an Arab AFS exchange student. Some of the white girls were all over him, acted like his harem. We white boys were disgusted with them and wrote them off our short lists. Have seen a number of young white women chase after Arabs. At Cal I used to see white girls throw themselves at anything black with a stick. They’d do anything to apologize for being white and upper middle class. One last comment: Early in the Afghan war we bombed a Taliban bomb factory to rubble. Found in the ruins by Rangers was a US high school chemistry textbook. It was from my high school and stamped with my grad year. I think I knew the rich Arab kid who stole it. Hope he was home when the bomb hit.

        • Arf

          In all honesty, lost, please explain why Arabs are not white? I’ve seen pictures of Saudi sheiks and princes and they all look white to me. I’ve seen loads of pictures of Syrians and they are white, King Hussein of Jordan was also white.

          • laura

            arabs are whiter & darker as well.

  • defcon 4

    I’ll bet Afghanistan was more tolerant and free back then than it is now. I never knew there were Afghani Jews, but I’ll bet there aren’t any now. Ditto for Afghani Hindus and Buddhists.