Shari'a - Islamic
There’s Never a Feminist Around When You Really Need One
April 2, 2004
“Feminists – to your scattered enclaves, go!”
Someone must have said that recently, and it seems feminists have heeded
the call. Surely the gods haven’t reached down and gathered them all
into some Herlandian heaven. Surely not. More likely they are safely
tenured in university enclaves, in Women’s Studies programs, or in
English departments where women’s studies courses masquerade as
It’s not that women who believe in some form of feminist philosophy
aren’t around, but when was the last time your heard from them?
They have been reduced to annual and ultimately hollow gestures like
“Take Back the Night” marches where men generally are not welcome, and
celebrations (if that’s the word) of the Montreal massacre where men –
all men – become the enemy. The media pay lip service, life goes one, no
Feminists have become ghosts in their own time, the deserved butt of a
twist on the old pop culture slap in the face – there’s never a feminist
around when you really need one.
Well we need them now, and not just because I miss them. I do miss them,
those loud, demanding, politically adept second wave feminists, and not
because I am feeling particularly nostalgic. I miss them because we need
them, and we need them because a 1400 year-old malignant presence is
stirring in the peaceable kingdom, a presence called Shari’a.
Following a campaign that has been in the works for years, some Canadian
Muslims are poised to gain a toe-hold in the Canadian legal system, to
establish the legal authority to apply Shari’a – Islamic law – to civil
disputes in Canada.
This scares me. It should scare you. I thought it would scare the
Canadian feminist movement, too, but I was wrong. I hadn’t been paying
close enough attention, and I was still thinking of feminists as those
of the so-called second wave, only to discover that in Canada the second
wave has faded into memory.
Before they fell off the cultural radar in Canada, second wave feminists
fought and lost a civil war, one in which white, middle class feminists
and their demands for equality in education and work and treatment
before the law were unceremoniously thrown aside in favour of third wave
feminists focused on personal sexual power and identity politics – the
politics of race and culture.
The victors were loud for a while; they seemed vigourous, intense and
unwavering, but they weren’t, at least not in the public arena. In the
detritus to be swept away after their victory is included NAC – the
National Action Committee on the Status of Women – which has essentially
Once a powerful political lobby, an umbrella group representing local,
regional and provincial groups at the federal level, NAC is at last
report close to bankrupt.
Judy Rebick, one time head of NAC and one of those cast aside second
wave feminists, now safe in her own university enclave, surfaced briefly
recently, on CBC Radio to talk for a few minutes about the end of NAC.
The interviewer was polite. Rebick was polite. It was all very polite.
Still, Rebick at least surfaced. Where, I wondered, are her successors,
successors like Sunera Thobani?
I tried to find Thobani, a former president of NAC and one of those
identity politics focused, third wave feminists who tossed Rebick and
her ilk aside. I didn’t anticipate difficulty because Thobani didn’t
used to be shy.
In the wake of 9-11 and America’s Afghanistan response, Thobani made a
fiery speech denouncing Bush and company and suggesting that women had
all the freedom and power they needed. They were women, after all.
(Veiled, yes. Stripped of access to education, yes. Buried to their
waists and stoned to death, yes. But they are women; they have power;
hear them roar. Hear Helen Reddy weep.)
For a while it seemed Thobani would make a career out of that speech.
Attacks on her were vitriolic to say the least, and many of the attacks
were personal, not arguing her points, just denigrating her. This
allowed her to cast herself as a victim, if not a martyr.
But Thobani is gone now, or at least has retreated deeply into her own
ivory enclave. Thobani is a UBC professor, but she’s really hard to
find. She is not simply unlisted in the e-mail addresses, she is so
deeply buried she is one mouse click away from invisibility.
Still, others do have their e-mail addresses listed, others like Rebick
and Irshad Manji. Manji is a feminist, lesbian, Canadian Muslim
journalist, an intoxicating mix, and one that suggests someone who would
have an opinion on Shari’a in Canada. Manji recently published a book
called The Trouble With Islam. Clearly she’s not shy discussing Islam.
Yet Manji hasn’t answered a request for comment on the implementation of
Shari’a in civil law. Nor has Rebick. In fact, of nearly a dozen
requests for comments sent out, most of them to professors in women’s
studies or related programs, only one prompted a response.
The response: “Thank you for your email. I'm afraid I cannot help you
with your research as I'm not familiar with your topic of interest. I
wish you success in your
I won’t say her name. She was, after all, polite in her response and
polite enough to respond. And it’s not that I don’t believe her – I do.
She says she isn’t familiar with this topic, and that is what’s
worrisome. In her own words she describes her field of interest this
way: “I am interested in studying the process of adjustment when people
make a transition from one culture to another. I study cultural
identity, social support, coping strategy, and personality factors in
examining intercultural contact.”
Yet this educated, Iranian born (remember that) woman, a PhD, a student
of “transition from one culture to another,” doesn’t know anything about
the initiative to implement Shari’a in Canada.
If individuals are unaware or invisible, institutional feminism is in
perhaps even worse shape. NAC is gone. The Ontario Women’s Justice
Network (OWJN) is similarly disabled. The OWJN’s web site contains this
note dated from September 2003 (the capital letters are theirs: “No new
material will be posted to this site for the rest of 2003. We do not
have adequate funding and are no longer able to keep the site current.
WE ARE ALSO UNABLE TO RESPOND TO EMAIL AND TELEPHONE INQUIRIES.”
An enquiry to a friend (a feminist, also unaware of the Shari’a
initiative) about LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, an
organization in which she is active, was similarly fruitless. LEAF, it
seems, doesn’t make comments on things like this, or maybe on anything.
The group’s primary job, according to its web site, is to act as
intervenor in “selected cases that it thinks will have a significant
impact on the equality rights of all women.”
That’s fair, too. No one group can be involved in everything; no single
person can have a grasp of everything. Still, you might think that
surely someone, somewhere, has both heard of the initiative to establish
Shari’a in Canadian law and is willing to comment on it. You would be
The International Campaign for the Defense of Women’s Rights in Iran has
heard of it, and they don’t like it. In fact their web site is obsessed
with it at the moment, and the principals in the organization were quick
to respond to enquiries.
It doesn’t surprise me that those familiar with the malignant aspects of
Shari’a, those who have lived in or have ties to lands where Shari’a is
practiced, are vehement in their denunciation of the practice.
What does surprise me, even scares me, is the stunning silence of
By J. D. Sturtridge