Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 22, 2007

U.S. Wonks, British Artists and the Saudi Rape Victim: Fear, Silence and Denial

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:02 pm

I’ve been thinking about the horror faced by the 18 year old Saudi rape victim who has been sentenced to to 200 lashes of a punitive whip for her “crime” (of being a victim}. Originally a benevolent Saudi jurist had only sentenced her to a mere 90 lashes for being a rape victim, the penalty was increased because she had the effrontery to appeal.

Perhaps this hideously cruel horror doesn’t have the impact of the stream of Saudi educated suicide bombers murdering people of all ages and genders all over the world. But while the Saudi government officially doesn’t sanction suicide bombers, this sick, perverted verdict is “official” Saudi justice. This insane barbarism is normative in Saudi society’s theocratic, sharia law, state. It is the kind of justice radical Islamists seek to impose through suicide bombers and more targeted murders (Theo van Gogh for instance) on the rest of the world when they succeed in exterminating enlightenment values and the world goes dark.

Why not a peep out of all the the self-styled sophisticates on the wonk blogs about this matter? I’m talking about the think-tank type twerps who take such pride in their profound intellectual discernment which finds it’s most supremely self-satisfied fulfillment in quibbling over the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”.

How would they characterize a movement which wants to impose this kind of hateful, woman-hating theocratic police state law–200 lashes for a rape victim!–on all humankind, by force if necessary? Would they consider it worth fighting whatever name it goes under? Would they consider even a priority in their policy obsessed discourse? No, not a word about the victim, but no loss of words about words like “Islamo-facism”. They’re all exercised about that. It’s a chance to show off their shallow and largely ignorant multiculturalism (at the expense of feminism. or at least any pretense at real concern for the plight of women in these societies, of course.)

Would they consider that system that whips rape victims has as much validity as ours? If not what do they propose to do about it. They don’t have the easy, albeit shameful muti-culti live and let live, out, because this ideology seeks to impose itself on the rest of the world. Precisely because it refuses to live and let live. Maybe they can come up with some ideas, they’re wonks after all.

But no, the real enemy is those who allegedly mischaracterize this noble native cultural tradition as “Islamo-fascism”. No words for the plight of this woman, but finger wagging self-congratulatory wonkish lectures for those who (allegedly) call it the wrong thing. Some of these people seem to have nothing to offer their readers but endless denunciations of Paul Berman and his vision of Islamo-fascism in Terror and Liberalism they’re so superior in their sophistiation!

i commmend to them a recent lecture by Mathias Kuntzel at the University of Leeds to be found on this blog before they embarrass themselves further with their historical ignorance of the connection between fascism and radical Islam.

But is it the wrong thing, Islamo-fascism or is it even too kind? Might theocratic police state enforcement of sharia law, in fact be worse in some respects, at least, than some forms of fascism. I have always argued that there are far more profound similarities to Western fascism in theocratic police state opression of the Islamist variety than there are differences. Equally capable of police state terror and mass murder as fascism of course. But in some respects, especially with regard to women, even more repellantly cruel.

But no, the callow wonks are quick to pipe up, to instruct us that the real danger is not in the phenomenon itself but in what they believe is the use of an inappropriate word to characterize it. Nothing gets the callow wonks in more of a lather than the use of the word “Islamo-fascism”. Oh the outrage! Speaking up about the differences between fascism and Islamo-fascism is far more important, they seem to believe, than the similarities.

They seem to have an endless supply of quibbling, mocking verbiage to make this point. But when it comes to speaking out against the Saudi rape victim verdict or the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist, or “honor killings” of women in Iran, or the persecution of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, they have nothing to say. Silence.

Or worse, in the case of Ayaan Hirsi Ali they hide behind truly vile sophistry by calliing this courageous Somali woman threatened with murder for opposing genital mutilation, “an enlightment fundamentalist’. As opposed apparently to “enlightment sophisticates”, these male feminists who find ways to rationalize their failure to speak out in behalf of a brave feminist woman–to opt out of the struggle for the survival of enlightenment values.

The intellectual cowardice behind the position of such quibblers and the callow wonks who keep silent consists in their fearful focussing on the name “Islamo-fascism” as a way of avoiding confronting the deeds themselves and the Sharia law that threatens the enlightenment. After all Amsterdam (where Theo van Gogh’s throat was slit) is so far off and demonstrating their verbal sophicstication (however misguided) is more important than demosntrating a clear sense of moral outrage.

Why the silence? Isn’t it curious that so many of the wonkish quibblers about Islamo-fascism (you know who you are) are self-styled male feminists and yet so far as I can see have failed to utter a word of condemnation of the treatment of this woman and Ayaan Hirsi Ali? So easy getting feminist cred on the cheap, for being pro-choice if it allows you to avoid expressing a choice about the whipping of rape victims and the “honor killing’ of so called tainted women in other Islamist societies. Has relativism–cultural relativism engendering moral relativism–robbed them of the ability to condemn this horrid soul crushing practice? Is it because if they had to admit that the enlightment civilization that gives them their petty podiums, has real enemies, (among them Islamists who act like fascists) then they would have to admit the bankruptcy of their small, no midget-minded, political positions that don’t take this huge struggle into account.It’s just not on their radar for all their talk of human rights here. They’re blind as bats when it comes to this central question of our time. Couldn’t have this inconvenient woman, this rape victim, lead to recognition of that, right?

In this regard, the silent, shameful impotence of so many American intellectuals, in the face of this hideous gender hate crime, check out this item on Amy Alkon’s blog about the courageous and bold British artists.

It includes a remarkable quote from a story in the Times of London by Ben Hoyle:

“Britain’s contemporary artists are fêted around the world for their willingness to shock but fear is preventing them from tackling Islamic fundamentalism. Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing potter, Turner Prize winner and former Times columnist, said that he had consciously avoided commenting on radical Islam in his otherwise highly provocative body of work because of the threat of reprisals.
Perry also believes that many of his fellow visual artists have also ducked the issue, and one leading British gallery director told The Times that few major venues would be prepared to show potentially inflammatory works.

“’I’ve censored myself,” Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. ‘The reason I haven’t gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat.’

“Perry’s highly decorated pots can sell for more than £50,000 and often feature sex, violence and childhood motifs. One work depicted a teddy bear being born from a penis as the Virgin Mary. “I’m interested in religion and I’ve made a lot of pieces about it,” he said. ‘With other targets you’ve got a better idea of who they are but Islamism is very amorphous. You don’t know what the threshold is. Even what seems an innocuous image might trigger off a really violent reaction so I just play safe all the time.’”

Amy’s conclusion:

“Got it. So, the rest of us will speak out against terrorism, and you can speak out against…cheap gallery opening wine?”

It’s the same thing with the U.S. wonks whose outrage is directed against alleged imprecision of verbiage and yet have nothing to say about rape victim whippings and “honor killings”. They don’t have to fear their throat being slit like Theo van Gogh. I was going to say “yet”. But when you think about it their silence now, portends even more cowardly British artist type silence later.

I think it’s because even more fearful to them is admitting they are wrong. Wrong in getting more worked up about a word like Islamo-fascism while staying silent about the human victims of the phenomenon whatever you want to call it. They lack what Keats and Fitzgerald called the distinguishing characteristic of a first rate intellect: the ability to hold two apparently conflicting ideas in their head at the same time. Bush may have been wrong about the threat posed by Iraq, but Paul Berman may have been right about the threat posed by “Islamo-fascism”.



  1. The response of prominent US based artists to Islam and Islamofascism has been all over the map. The late Jason Rhoades showed an astonishing installation fusing the shrine in Mecca with Western commercial messages at David Zwirner gallery three years ago. Iranian born video genius Shirin Neshat has shown powerful work depicting Muslim women covered from head to toe in naturalistic settings infused with Koranic spirituality. On the other hand, semiotic pioneer Joseph Kosuth was paid millions of dollars by the Saudis to build a billboard festooned with Arabic letters in Riyadh. Leftie ostriches (heads in the Levantian sands) have a not-so-secret sharer in Laura Bush who deflected questions about restrictions on Saudi women after an official visit to Riyadh with the pablum that, “They are just like us, with the same concerns” tacitly endorsing restrictions on women as “difference liberation.” What we are seeing is a Balzacian dance of doubleness: the overt libertinism of the left disguising a Puritan desire to censor and control, the beyond Puritan fascism of the Saudis concealing a culture of libertinism. Above it all is the culture of convenience characterizing American relations withthe foreign other since George Washington: we seduce other cultures to meet our needs, and then abandon them. For the left, foreign “revolutionaries” however oppressive are a stick to which America’s plutocracy. For the right, foreing cultures are one giant United Fruit company. The declining dollar and its attendant vulnerability mean that the falcons have come to our shores to roost.

    Comment by charlie finch — November 24, 2007 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  2. “…have a not-so-secret sharer in Laura Bush who deflected questions…”

    Few people realize that George W. Bush is a politically correct whack job. Furthermore, it has weakened him considerably. He is definitely not an Adolph Hitler employing his own Joseph Goebbels to strengthen his hold on power. On the contrary, he had done exactly the opposite! I am utterly convinced that had he consistently criticized Islamic extremism after 9/11 instead of uttering overgeneralized denunciations against the “terrorists”—John Kerry would have lost the election by at least ten points. The self hating American Democrats would have had little chance in 2006.

    Comment by David Thomson — November 24, 2007 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  3. it’s like the European Jews in 1935: most of them couldn’t believe that Evil was real and hunting for each and every one of them. Our civilization’s leaders are in the same boat. And unfortunately for us, they are our leaders.

    We have to find a viable replacement for oil before it is too late for us.

    But, we won’t.

    Comment by Heather — November 24, 2007 @ 4:12 pm | Reply

  4. Well put Ron. It seems like the bien-pesant take on Ayaan Hirsi Ali is that she is a provacateur and that she’s really more the cause of her problems, as opposed to an alarm bell for the rest of us. Reading the NY Times, the Nation and such, I get the impression nobody wants to talk about this, and it’s tre gauche to bring it up. Let’s get back to sneering at Cheney please.

    Comment by Ed Hawkes — November 24, 2007 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  5. “Wonks” worry about the meanings of words because language is “the dress of thought” and if we speak sloppily we will think sloppily. The question is not whether Saudi evils are “bad enough” to be called “facisim”. “Facism” does not mean “very, very, bad” it refers to a doctrine which is essentially a) secular b) rigidly hierarchal c) nationalistic. No version of Islam is any of these things.

    To see what disasters can follow from abusing words consider how differently thing might have gone if 9/11 had been called “a great crime”, which it obviously was, as opposed to “an act of war” which it clearly was not.

    In any case it is the neo-con’s who are guilty of pusillanimity here. The doctrine that inspired Al Qaeda and 9/11 and is taught in the madras’s that nurse terrorism around the world is not properly called “islasmism” or “islamofacism” or “jihadism”. It’s name is “Wahhabbism”.

    Why do suppose the advocates of the War on Terror are so reluctant to call the enemy by this, its proper name?

    My point is not that Islamism and fascism are the same (never said that), but that the similarities are more important than the differences. I’d suggest you read Hannah Arendt’s On Totalitarianism, which is a widely admired study of how two differently named and avowedly opposed systems are more alike than different. The point of it is that Communism and fascism are (obviously) not the same things, but that what they share–police state dictatorship, extermination of dissidents, intrusion of the state into private life, use of terror and torture against opponents are, instructively similar: totalitarian. While “Wahhabbism” (your spelling) is not the only form of radical Islamism, as you appear to believe, it shares characteristics with other totalitarian movmeents such as fascism and those shared characteristics are more defining and worth opposing by those who believe in Enlightenment values (civil liberties, equality of men and women etc.) than their their differences, and thus the struggles against them are analagous and important. As for fascism being secular, it doesn’t take much study of Hitler’s Germany to see that it promoted a quasi theocratic worship of the state and elevated Hitler to divine/savior status.

    I have no problem with you calling it “Wahhabbism” if you like, but I have no problem with calling Wahhabism a fascist-like theocratic movement in more ways than it’s not. The sad thing is is that quibbliing about words is being used to avoid grappling with a movement that wants to force you and all other infidels to become a slavish acolyte or face death. I don’t detect in your response any empathy for the plight of the woman in question.

    I should note that human rights groups have intervened and succeeded in getting a temprory suspension of he obscene sentence. Perhaps you might think about whether joining in the protest, speaking out in some small way which could make a difference, might be a better use of your time. or maybe I underestimate you and you already have spoken out against the crime of this punishment and the “Wahhabbism” behind it, not merely the language of a blog, in which case I apologize.

    And by the way the perpetrators of 9/11 considered it an act of war, not “a great crime”.

    Comment by Terrance Tomkow — November 25, 2007 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

  6. The knee-jerk left (vocal but not particularly voluminous) will predictably choose the wrong fight and bray about how weak willed liberals keep impairing a real progressive agenda. Right and left, narcissists will see the world only in their own image. (Haven’t heard much about this horrific injustice from the neo-cons either…) This is a fight, not for a Great Society or social security or anything so 20th Century, but against an ancient religious intolerance. Shouldn’t a wide swath of Western political tendencies get fired up over a campaign in favor of the rule of law, freedom of belief and, by the way, in opposition to torture?

    Comment by Richard Schrader — November 26, 2007 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  7. Ron, Bin Laden, however evil he may be, does not operate a totalitarian state whose secret police ruthlessly crush the lives and liberties of its citizens. He doesn’t have a state and he has no citizens. Got it? Not one! Nada! It’s one of the more salient differences between him and Hitler. Mussolini even!

    Misleading argument: I didn’t claim bBin Laden was a state, we’re talking about a world wide movement that goes far beyond bin Lade

    Yes I’m sure that the 9/11 terrorists thought they were committing an act of war. That’s because they were crazed fanatics, Ron. That doesn’t mean we have to be crazy too.

    Yes I know that Wahabism (you prefer that spelling?) is not the only form of Islamism. And yet, oddly enough, all the 9/11 hijackers were Wahabis, and the guys who bombed the Cole, the Nigerian embassy, and the Bali nightclub, and killed Daniel Perl. ln fact all of Al Qaeda and all of the terrorists in Gitmo, and all the crazed mullahs from London to Pakistan preaching Jihad are also Wahabis. Not all Whabbi’s are terrorists, but nine out of ten terrorists are Whabiis.

    But, you say, the Iranians aren’t Wahabi’s and Sadam certainly wasn’t. Indeed! So now why are we invading/planning to invade those “Islamists” rather that the place where all Wahabis are? You see what interesting questions emerge when we use precise language?

    Why not call a spade a spade? Because, Wahabism is the official religion of Saudi Arabia which is the source of the majority of actual terrorists, their core ideology and most of their funding. Calling their cause by its right name would raise awkward questions about our relationship with “our friends” Saudis. Better to say “islamists” and leave it at that.

    So, never mind why western feminists don’t care about Saudi women. Feminism has been a disgrace for a long time. Daniel Pipes ask why, after 9/11, we didn’t invade Saudi Arabia right after Afghanistan? Now *that’s* a good question.

    Here’s another: why when *you* are talking at an actual incident in an actual police state which oppresses it’s citizens do you retreat to empty vaporizing about “islamism” instead of asking tough questions about our specific relationship with that state? You watch the Saudi’s flogging women and call for a round up of the usual suspects (“Facists!”) and mutter about Hannah Arendt. Doesn’t this strike you as a little … well, unfocused?

    But listen, I’m all for invading Saudi Arabia. I’ll go in on the first wave! Maybe George W. will come on board after he finishes pushing the Saudi peace plan down the Israeli’s throats at Annapolis. You think?

    You know i’m glad you replied (although I can’t spend any more time on this argument) but it gives me a chance to make a point I neglected and which you seem curiously unaware of since there’s so much been published about it and since I provided a link to it in my original post (the Kuntzel lecture) and a reference to Terror and Liberalism. Something tells me you haven’t read their scrupolous scholarship which demosntrates the direct Western fascist roots of radical Islamism: thus Islamo-fascism is not a confected phrase but a hsitorical reality. There exists an explicit demonstrable historical link between the two. It’s been well-established the influence of Western fascism on the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Sayd Qutb for instance. And the Grand Mufti; you should read (inthe Kuntzel lecture) about how he broght Hitlerism to the Holy Land. Until you do I don’t think you can speak with any authority to the argument I’m making. Something tells me you have not read these, nor Hannah Arendt’s brilliant comparitive political philosophy.

    And since you seem relatively intelligent I’m disappointed that you would attempt to distort my argument in such a shabby way with that opening ploy that attempts to reduce it to an argument about one man, bin Laden, or one nation, Saudi Arabia. No, they are instances of a rapidly growing worldwide ideology among a billion and a half Muslims which has demonstrably fascist roots. Thus:Islamo -fascism. not all Islam, not all Muslims, by any means, but a significant faction that is increasingly imposing its will on other Muslims and wants to imppose its will on Westerners like you as well, something obvious even if you only read the papers.

    I’m glad to hear you express some revulsion at the Saudi practices, but i’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree on everything else. I’ll never have time to write anything else if I have to continue this. But thank you for the oportunity to expand my argument

    Comment by Terrance Tomkow — November 27, 2007 @ 3:04 am | Reply

  8. “We have to find a viable replacement for oil before it is too late for us.”

    Pure will power is not sufficient in finding a replacement for oil. Also, it will not solve everything. The Islamic crazies would still hate the West. Trying to ignore our existential enemies is not a viable option. We must also be willing to employ violence to defeat these thugs.

    Comment by David Thomson — November 28, 2007 @ 9:45 am | Reply

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