Do Muslim women believe and desire what Western women believe and desire?

Consider: if it were natural for women to cover their bodies, they would not need so many laws and sticks commanding them to do so. Women would not have to be tempted into it by carrots of immortality, men’s love, or God’s love. Like so many men, to paraphrase Phyllis Chesler, “women follow orders– to their own detriment, to their very deaths–when they are given by male dictators, by father-figures on earth and in Heaven.”

The question is: Do Muslim women believe and desire what Western women believe and desire? Following Virginia Woolf’s model of sexual equality, the internationalist feminists are convinced of the universality of women’s needs and rights beyond national boundaries. As Woolf once said, “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the world.”

But, according to professor Shahrzad Mojab, some postmodern feminists defend the use of veil in the guise of respect for other cultures and denouncing critics of the veil as cultural imperialist. For example, professor Fadwa El Guindi goes as far as claiming that for women, veiling in contemporary Arab culture fulfills many functions. It can signify privacy, kinship, status, power, autonomy, and political resistance, she says. Boiled down to its essence, this view is a cultural relativism, which render nations or individuals with authority to (mis) use culture as a basis for justifying human rights abuses.

Professor Mojab is right when she says that “Stoning a woman to death in Bangladesh should and can be seen as an assault against women everywhere, and it should and can spur us to think and act in North America.” Disciplining the woman’s body through Islamic dress codes also should be regarded as a humiliation of women everywhere by Islamic theocracies. She correctly insists that it is necessary and appropriate to denounce and criticize the veil even if all Muslim voluntarily wear it.

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