MSNBC’s new golden girl was in a pickle: If someone sees a black person committing rape or domestic violence, should he report it if it makes black people look bad?
Or if Muslims see wife-beating, genital mutilation and childhood sexual abuse, should they just keep it to themselves, because saying something gives ammunition to the “Islamophobes”?
The questions appear to be simple. But they posed a challenge for the host of the new “Melissa Harris-Perry” show when guest Mona Eltahawy talked about her Foreign Policy magazine cover story about abuse of women by men in the Muslim world.
Eltahawy speaks from experience: She had her arms broken in a demonstration in Egypt and was tortured and raped in an Egyptian jail cell.
So she seemed surprised to find Harris-Perry questioning her right to draw attention to “traditions” such as involuntary female circumcision, wife-beating and childhood sexual abuse.
“I start with a little bit of trepidation in this conversation,” the host said, “in part because I know some of the critiques of this. The very idea that Western press, those that are not from these nations, who are not Muslim ourselves, who are not part of these traditions can look at your article and say ‘ahhh, look at how horrible those men, or those societies, or that religion is.’
“And that is part of the reason why, for example, we have an under-reporting of rape and domestic violence in African American communities,” Harris-Perry continued. “Because we know the violence enacted on black men by police, so we often don’t call. Right?”
Then the MSNBC host brought in Harvard professor Leila Ahmed, who questioned whether Eltahawy should have written the article at all. Not because it was false, but because it made Muslims look bad.
“You began, Melissa, by noting that some things in the African-American community are not publicized precisely because of the racism,” said Ahmed as Harris-Perry nodded in agreement on a split screen.
“Mona, I appreciate what you do,” continued Ahmed. “I would love it if – I understand if you want to get your message across. It’s an important message. But if possible [you should not] give fuel, fodder to people who simply hate Arabs and Muslims in this climate of our day.”
See the interview:
Eltahawy seemed taken aback.
“That’s the whole point,” she said. “It’s not me that makes Muslims look bad. It’s those atrocities that make Muslims look bad. And as a writer, it’s my job to poke the painful places.”
Harris-Perry declined to respond to a subsequent email asking if she ever refused to report a violent crime because it would make someone look bad.
Eltahawy point out that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak oppressed the nation for 30 years, until his removal last year. She said “Mubarak” still needs to be removed from Egyptian minds and bedrooms.
The society that emphasizes Islam, she said, continues to “oppress women,” citing a statement from Saudi Arabia on the day her article was released saying that 10-year-old girls are “ready for marriage.”
“That’s outrageous,” Eltawy said.
She explained she wanted to go “straight for the jugular” and reveal misogyny in religion, culture and the law, and demand an answer.
“What are we going to do about that?” she asked.
Life under Shariah
Former Iowa Republican Congressman Fred Grandy, now with the Center for Security Policy, described what life is like for women under Islamic law, or Shariah, in an interview with “PolitiChicks.”
Grandy said there are a number of cases in which Muslim women, even in the United States, have been abused under Islamic law.
They include a case in which a judge concluded it essentially was a Muslim man’s right to beat and assault his wife. In another case, a Muslim woman who had fled Pakistan was forced by a U.S. judge to send her child back to Pakistan, because the father claimed it was his right to have the child.
Further appeals, the judge ruled, would be in Pakistan. When the mother argued that she could be accused of crimes and sentenced to death if she returned to Pakistan to fight for her child, the judge concluded, essentially, that it was her problem.