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Why The Arab World Needs a New Wave of Feminism -- and Who Could Lead It

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An article in a Hamas daily accused women for spreading a recent outbreak of Swine flu. The columnist blamed women for being transmitters of epidemics, due to their predilection for congregating in groups to exchange news and rumors. He suggested that outbreaks could be averted if men imposed more limitations on women's movements.

These claims might be dismissed as laughable but they are not isolated allegations of female culpability. Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi, a leading Iranian cleric, warned that women who did not dress modestly could promote adultery, which in turn increases earthquakes. A Nigerian woman was brought before a sharia court and accused of initiating a girl into witchcraft. An influential Saudi cleric believes that women who wear a full veil with slits for the eyes still look too seductive with eye make-up, and he ordered that they cover one eye.

Claims that women are blameworthy also serve as pretexts for Islamist extremists who wish to strengthen gender restrictions based on religion. Furthermore, the tribal culture favors boys over girls from birth. Women must be contained to curb their potential for causing social strife, and undermining the reputation of men. As men's reputations are linked to the sexual behavior of their wives, mothers and sisters, "honor" killings and domestic violence tend to be treated leniently.

Widespread discriminatory laws give men privileges through polygyny, forced marriage, child marriage, temporary marriages, unilateral divorce, segregation of women in the public space, regulated clothing, male guardianship and court testament worth half that of a man's, to name a few. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, where religion is the principal source of law, "morality police" have the power to enforce Islamic dress and sexual segregation.

Misogyny is evident in the Islamist and culture-based oppression of women in rural areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Women are bartered like land or animals. In Afghanistan, they are targets of attack by warlords and the Taliban. Stoning to death for adultery, assassinations of reformers and acid attacks on girls attending school still occur in Taliban-controlled areas.

Under Islamist occupation, women in Mali have suffered flogging and gang rapes for not wearing a face covering. In Indonesia, the Council of Ulema, one of the largest Islamic organizations, has rejected a U.N. resolution to ban female circumcision, and in Aceh province, strict Islamic regulations demand that women are fully covered in public.

No similar discrimination in laws and cultural practice would be acceptable in the West even though sexism is far from eradicated there. The litany of restrictions would seem an obvious cause for feminist campaigners. However, the Western feminist movement that was once an inspiration for human rights has become a shadow of its former luminous self, and in its post-modern form, third generation feminists are silent on Muslim women's rights. Instead, they are preoccupied with issues dear to the far left, like radical versions of moral relativism, post-colonialism and anti-Americanism.

The movement has sunk into hypocrisy and double standards. It has allowed an alliance with the far left to trump women's rights.

Sadly, feminists have ignored the victims of shameful patriarchy, and abandoned the courageous reformers who are battling to reinterpret religious texts in favor of sexual equality.

Choosing to share their bed with Islamist misogynists, feminists are betraying their Muslim sisters. At the same time, they forgo historic feminist ideals based on absolute values and guarantees provided by international protocols.

Hillary Clinton has pledged to continue her support for Afghan women's rights. Perhaps she could also lead a new wave of feminism.