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Not This Again...

It's been awhile since someone published one of those articles about how Western feminists "don't care" about the subjugation of women in the Islamic world. But now Christina Hoff Sommers has a cover story in the Weekly Standard about how womens' rights groups all stay silent on the issue. It took Garance Franke-Ruta about thirty seconds of Googling to show that that claim was baseless. (Also, read Katha Pollitt's excellent response back when Nick Kristof leveled this charge on the New York Times op-ed page.)

Now, sure, some academic feminists say egregious things. And many feminist organizations could stand to do more to help those Muslim women who are working to change their societies. But everybody could do more. The question is: What would Sommers propose? She calls for a "full-scale mobilization against gender oppression in the Muslim world." Fair enough. But it seems worthwhile to recognize that many NGOs have to walk a fine line here.

As Iason Athanasiadis reported in this recent piece for TAP, Iranian activists do welcome some international pressure on Tehran, which can often help improve conditions in the country. But they're also "leery of supporting openly Western help because in doing so [they] open [themselves] to government opprobrium." When a number of women's rights activists were arrested recently (and interrogated about their ties to the West), international supporters of the female detainees decided to launch a relatively low-key media campaign, so as not to provoke a backlash from Tehran. That jibes with what Laura Secor recently wrote in The New Republic-- a "full-scale mobilization" by Western groups can sometimes prove counterproductive.

That's just to say it's a rocky shore, and it would be useful to see more articles about how various Western rights groups can better navigate it. Then again, that sort of article wouldn't get published in the Weekly Standard, let alone make the cover. Dredging up wacky quotes from a few lefty academics is so much more satisfying...

--Bradford Plumer