Thursday, January 27, 2005

On Domestic Violence and Muslims in Holland

An article well worth reading on honor killings in Holland is this one. It begins:

--With Dutch Muslim extremists threatening her life, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali dove into hiding last November.

Days earlier, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had been ritually slaughtered in Amsterdam by extremists angered by his film, "Submission," about the abuse of Muslim women. Hirsi Ali, who wrote the film, the killer declared, would be next.

Now, two months later, she has returned to work, resuming her role as a beacon of hope for thousands of Dutch Muslim women. For in the shadows of the famously tolerant and peaceful Netherlands has long lurked a secret it took Hirsi Ali's courage to lay bare: Honor killings.

Because these killings long were kept hidden and unspoken in the Muslim community, the actual number of such murders that occur in Holland every year is unknown, though Hirsi Ali believes it could be as many as 50, possibly more. While Muslims account for less than 6 percent of the Dutch population, Muslim women are 60 percent of those in battered women's shelters. The government was reluctant to talk about the situation, Hirsi Ali says, because they believed tolerance required respecting different cultures and traditions.

Things are not quite as uncomplicated as they might seem from these beginning paragraphs. But the article brings to light the many problems that Holland faces in trying to negotiate multiculturalism on the one hand and women's rights on the other. The common feminist response to these problems is to empower the women within a specific subculture and to let them decide what equal rights they wish to achieve first, rather than have such rights determined from above or from outside. But in practice the empowerment of women who are isolated from the mainstream culture and sometimes even physically isolated is not an easy matter. And then there is the whole problem of how to persuade individuals who equate women's rights with Western imperialism and the gaining of such rights with the loss of cultural traditions.

For me human rights come first, and women's rights to be free of honor killings are part of human rights. Those parts of any tradition that dishonor humans should go.