ISIS Dehumanization of Women: Where is the Feminist Outcry?

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Temperatures are soaring this summer in many parts of the world. But for women living under the thumb of the Islamic State (or Saudi Arabia, for that matter) every day is a suffocating affair. Imagine being swathed in layers of black cloth – a full-length cloak worn over your clothing, two layers over your head covering your face and neck, and gloves on your hands and arms.

Nothing can be more dehumanizing than reducing the totality of a human being to their availability to be used by another. The statement made by this extremist Islamic dress code is that the very sight of a woman evokes her sexuality. It follows that in her male-dominated society, a woman’s sexuality marks the sum total of her value.

The Islamic State’s worldview of women goes beyond the traditionalist “modesty doctrine” which contends that immodestly dressed women are an invitation to men to act out their most base desires, that if a woman’s body is visible, it must be available for sex.

Ironically, making women invisible by forcing them to cover their entire bodies in burqas and veils serves to dehumanize women one step further. Once a person (or entire class of people) is considered sub-human, there is no sin in abusing them.

And if this sub-human class is defined solely by their sexuality, it doesn’t take much to figure out where and how the abuse will come.

“The woman does not have any agency in this model of male sexuality. What she wants or doesn’t want is either erased or subordinated to what he wants,” writes a blogger called Sierra.

While feminists began decrying the objectification of women by men in the sixties, they have either been noticeably silent about Islamic abuse of women through veiling or weighing in on the wrong side of the issue.

As commentator Marissa Semki writes, “[Canadian] Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the niqab [the Islamic face veil] “anti-women” in the House of Commons. This “anti-women” remark gave rise to the hashtag #DressCodePM, started by feminist Globe and Mail columnist, Tabatha Southey. She tweeted: ‘As long as the niqab remains an issue for him, it behooves all women of Canada to check w/@pmharper each morn as they dress. #dresscodePM’”

As Semki correctedly observes, “At the end of the day, the victims of [modern Western feminist’s] politically correct mindset are the same people they would claim to be protecting.”

Indeed, this is the case. For women living under the brutal rule of the Islamic State, violating their strict dress code garners a beating with a stick over the head or being dragged to the police station by the Hisbah (the dreaded religious police) for worse.

For example, in one incident last month, a gang of hisbah morality police beat a 17-year old woman to death on the spot for lifting her niqab to look at clothing in a store.

Moreover, when a woman is allowed to go out (is it worth it?), she must be accompanied by her (registered) male guardian.

So strict are the regulations that women being treated at a hospital by other women are all forced to stayed veiled.  

Maha Saleh, 36, a pediatrician, in Mosul, Iraq, relates that, “At the beginning, some female doctors refused to wear veils and went on a strike by staying at home. Hisbah took ambulances and went to their houses and brought them by force to the hospital. One of my colleagues was alone in her clinic in the hospital and thought it was all right to strip off her veil. All of a sudden, two Hisbah broke in her room…” 

Speaking to The Guardian, Salah said she was shocked that women were being turned away at hospitals for not being properly veiled. “When I was in labor, I went to the hospital wearing a veil though it was too hot. ISIS Hisbah were at the front door of the hospital. I saw some women in labor who seemed to be in a panic and did not have time to wear a veil. I was shocked to see that they were denied access to the hospital unless they put veils on their faces,” Salah said.

In Deir el-Zour, a city in Syria, Sali Issam, 15, relates the rules also apply inside (all-girl) schools as well. “Little girls in primary schools have to wear an abaya [cloak] until the 4th class, when they have to wear a veil too,” Issam said. “Though all the teachers in girls’ schools are female, neither students nor teachers are allowed to lift the veil of their faces inside the classroom.”

It is no wonder that, between raids by Hisbah and air strikes by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, many parents have simply opted not to send their children to school.



Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org