Islamic Fundamentalism's War Against Women

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Islamic Fundamentalism's War Against Women

In April 1991, a 22-year-old Saudi student arrived at Montreal's Mirabel Airport and requested asylum on the unprecedented grounds of gender persecution. The woman, who has asked that she be identified only as Nada, told authorities that if Canada forced her to return to Saudi Arabia her life would be in danger. Her crime, she said, was walking outside her home without being fully veiled - that is, enveloped from head to toe in a black chador.

Initially, Nada's request for asylum was rejected, Canadian officials being reluctant to believe that women in Saudi Arabia today live at best as second or third-class citizens. They are not allowed to drive, to marry whom hey want, or to travel without written permission from a male guardian, and they are the target of frequent and random searches by the mutawah, the dreaded religious police.

In January of 1993, following an international outcry, Canadian immigration finally granted Nada's petition.

However, it was made thunderously clear that this was an "exception." One Western official, who requested anonymity, put it this way: "Consider that there are one billion Muslims in the world, so we're talking hypothetically about 500 million women who might want out."

Though this is an absurd exaggeration of the problem, his meaning is unambiguous. As Islamic fundamentalists seize the power or the social agenda of one country after another, there has been a steady flight of the affluent and the educated as well as the poor. Although there are fundamentalists operating within virtually every religion, no others have achieved the stunning political successes of their Islamic counterparts.

Even such countries as Egypt and Algeria, which have-ferociously resisted the fundamentalists, have tightened the screws considerably in an attempt to mollify the religious right. While fundamentalist regimes restrict...