February 2nd 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: TRANSPORT: End of the line for rail freight?

FINANCE: Sub-prime mortgage crisis paralyses credit system

EDITORIAL: East Timor's new beginning

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Economic storm facing new government

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: A stern test for multiculturalism

CULTURE AND CIVILISATION: Family values overlooked in the market-place

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Reading the signs for the New Year (Through a hedge backwards...) / Hijacking foreign aid / Sub-prime lending crisis / Was Hitler's defeat inevitable?

AFGHANISTAN: Confronting terrorists and the drug trade

WOMEN UNDER ISLAM: Silence of the "sisterhood"

EDUCATION: The threat to our literary heritage

OPINION: Who is the real Kevin Rudd?

Global warming? Stop and think! (letter)

Flaws in our voting system (letter)

Who is running the country? (letter)

Barack Obama on foreign despots (letter)

Alternative to capitalism and communism? (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Juvenile crime in Britain / Feminist magazine's anti-Israel bias

GOD AND CAESAR: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society by Cardinal George Pell

BOOKS: CULTURAL AMNESIA: Notes in the Margin of My Time, by Clive James

THE TORCH AND THE SWORD: A History of the Army Cadet Movement in Australia, by Craig A. Stockings

Books promotion page

Silence of the "sisterhood"

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, February 2, 2008
Benazir Bhutto should be remembered both for being a positive role-model for Muslim women and for championing the rights of the unborn, writes Babette Francis.

All murders are tragic, but the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was particularly so because she was the last hope for some time for the emancipation of Muslim women.

She was by no means perfect - her stints as Prime Minister were riddled with corruption, and in the 1990s she had apparently co-operated with Afghanistan's Taliban movement, thus proving that he who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.

Nevertheless, Benazir was a brave and articulate woman who risked her life to bring improvement to the political life of Pakistan. It was an affront to Islamic extremists that she dared show her unveiled face - the scarf over her head was worn well back and showed her hair; it was an adornment, not a covering. That she was beautiful was a further affront to the "guardians of morality".


Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for her assassination. They don't like unveiled women; they don't like women being educated or participating in public life - actually, they just don't like women. They regard women only as essential but degraded objects for breeding children, and, more recently, as suicide-bombers.

I have an abiding memory of Benazir at the UN's Fourth World Conference for Women in Beijing, 1995. While Hillary Clinton, then First Lady and head of the US delegation, arrived with an entourage of 300 and argued for the rights of women to abort their babies, Benazir Bhutto argued for the protection of human life.

At the opening of the conference she said: "To please her husband, a woman wants a son. To keep her husband from abandoning her, a woman wants a son. And, too often, when a woman expects a girl, she abets her husband in abandoning or aborting that innocent, perfectly formed child."

Both in Beijing and at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 1994, Benazir Bhutto stood firmly with the Vatican in opposing the Clinton Administration and UN agenda of imposing abortion as a solution to the problems of women in developing countries. Bhutto called the practice of gender-selected abortions "tragic", and said it "still haunts a world we regard as modern and civilised".

So an odd thing happened when Benazir died. Even though she was a role-model for the liberation of Muslim women, liberal feminists seemed not to notice this aspect of her character, just as they have failed to acknowledge the oppression of women under Islam.

There is a deeper issue at work. Feminists hate President George W. Bush so much that they would rather remain silent about Islamist oppression of women than applaud him for promoting democracy.

Benazir Bhutto was an ally of the West. In contrast, feminists detest Western traditional values while being committed to "multiculturalism", which apparently includes Islamist oppression of women.

In her book The Whole Woman (1999), Australian-born radical feminist Germaine Greer compared female genital mutilation, which is forced on young girls who have no right of refusal, with breast enhancement, which is an adult woman's choice. For Greer, an operation that robs a woman of the right to enjoy sex is justifiable as a part of "culture".

In Saudi Arabia, where women are forced to wear black head-to-toe burkas, they are banned from driving. Greer comments: "I get a bit worried about certain heavily-veiled ladies driving because they have no peripheral vision at all. You can understand why in some countries they are not allowed to drive."

Greer has previously suggested that as a protest against the (Afghan) war, women should wear burkas - even though in Afghanistan the burka was forced upon women by men who would use sticks and electrical cable to beat those who did not comply.

Naomi Wolf is another feminist who has condemned Islamist terrorism, but seems more concerned to promote her theories that America is becoming a fascist state than to champion the causes of women trapped in Islamic societies.

Why is the Canadian Commission on the Status of Women silent about the murder of a 16-year-old Canadian schoolgirl, Aqsa Parvez, who was strangled by her father for wearing "non-Islamic" clothes?

In Britain, with its estimated 109 cases of honour killings and around 250 young British Muslim girls annually forced into arranged marriages, British feminists have bought the myth that women in veils and headscarfs who submit to arranged marriages are "liberated" because they are evaluated on their abilities and not their body image.

Muslims are big on "martyrdom". I hope Benazir Bhutto's martyrdom will spark a movement for emancipation by Muslim women. Perhaps they could use a teddy-bear named Mohamed as a symbol of resistance.

May Benazir Bhutto rest in peace.

- The author Babette Francis is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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