Glenn Greenwald’s dishonesty on the rights of women and gays in the Mid-East


In Glenn Greenwald’s latest column at ‘Comment is Free’ (Sam Harris, the New Atheists and anti-Muslim animus, April 3) he attacks the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens for promoting what he claims is “Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism”.  

Greenwald lambasts Harris – and, to a lesser extent, Dawkins and Hitchens – for suggesting that the threat posed by Islamic traditions and doctrines to Western political freedom is greater than that of Christianity and Judaism.

Greenwald’s response includes the following passage, which accurately sums up the gist of his narrative.

One can legitimately criticize Islam without being bigoted or racist. That’s self-evident, and nobody is contesting it. And of course there are some Muslim individuals who do heinous things in the name of their religion just like there are extremists in all religions who do awful and violent things in the name of that religion, yet receive far less attention than the bad acts of Muslims Yes, “honor killings” and the suppression of women by some Muslims are heinous, just as the collaboration of US and Ugandan Christians to enact laws to execute homosexuals is heinous, and just as the religious-driven, violent occupation of Palestineattacks on gays, and suppression of women by some Israeli Jews in the name of Judaism is heinous. That some Muslims commit atrocities in the name of their religion (like some people of every religion do) is also too self-evident to merit debate, but it has nothing to do with the criticisms of Harris.

If you’re wondering how Greenwald backs up his rhetorical inference – that there is moral parity between Muslim countries and Israel regarding the oppression of women and gays – his first link opens to a July 1, 2005 report about a Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade (the previous day) in which one ultra-orthodox man stabbed and lightly wounded three gay participants.

Gay rights in Israel

First, it’s telling that in researching attacks on gays in Israel he had to go back nearly eight years, and chose to focus on one isolated incidence of violence in a country which is – certainly by Mid-East standards and even in comparison to European countries – decidedly gay-friendly. Whilst even in Jerusalem, since the mid 2000’s, the gay pride parade has grown, and has been staged without incident (see CiF Watch’s coverage of last year’s  parade here), in Tel Aviv, as many within the LGBT community knows, they hold one of the most prominent and raucous annual gay pride parades in the world.  In fact, the city was recently voted ‘best gay city’ on a LGBT travel website.  

Additionally, Israeli laws guarantee equal rights for gays.  Israeli gays have represented their country in the Knesset and have been serving openly in the IDF since 1993 (years ahead of the US on such laws). And, in 1994, an Israeli court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to the same common law benefits as opposite-sex couples.  Israel is also the only country in the Middle East with legal protections for gays from discrimination and hate crimes.

Gay rights in the the Arab and Muslim Middle East

In contrast to Israel, merely engaging in same-sex acts is illegal in most Muslim and Arab countries in the Middle East (including in Gaza), with sentences for such proscribed sexual activity including imprisonment and (in countries like Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia) even state execution.  Additionally, gays in some Arab countries are murdered due to their sexuality by extra-judicial “vigilante squads”.  Even in Middle East countries where homosexuality isn’t explicitly outlawed (like in the PA), gays often face harassment, arrests, beatings and even death.

Greenwald’s other link, from the passage cited above, opens to a report on protests by women in Jerusalem over gender based restrictions on davening (praying) at the Kotel (Western Wall).

Women’s rights in Israel: 

Though such issues are of course a legitimate cause for criticism (see our report on the row over praying at the Kotel here), no reasonable person could seriously take issue with the fact that women in Israel enjoy a level of freedom which not only surpasses non-Jewish Middle Eastern countries, but are on par with that of other Western democracies.

Israel codified gender equality within their basic law in 1949 and was the third country in the world to be led by a female prime minister, Golda Meir.  Further, Israeli women continue to be represented in all levels of Israeli society.  They have served as Supreme Court justices, as government ministers, and, in 2013, 23% of the nation’s 120-member Knesset are women.    

As Freedom House reported: “Women have achieved substantial parity at almost all levels of Israeli society“.

Women’s rights in the Arab and Muslim Middle East:

In contrast to Israel, in the Arab and Muslim Middle East discriminatory laws and misogynistic customs are pervasive.  Here are some examples:

In Egypt, spousal rape is not illegal, the penal code allows for leniency in so-called honor killings, and female genital mutilation is still widely practiced.

In Iran, women cannot obtain a passport without the permission of her husband or a male relative, do not enjoy equal rights under Sharia-based statutes governing divorce, inheritance, and child custody, and “a women’s testimony in court is given only half the weight of a man’s”.  

In Saudi Arabia, women are almost completely excluded from the political process, are not allowed to drive a car, and cannot travel within or outside of the country without a male relative. The religious police “enforce a strict policy of gender segregation” and often use physical punishment to ensure that they dress “modestly” in public. 

In the Palestinian territories, due to laws and societal norms derived (or inspired) in part from Sharia, women are also at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape and domestic abuse are pervasive, and even “honor killings” are not uncommon and are rarely prosecuted. Under Hamas, “women’s dress and movements in public have been increasingly restricted by the so-called morality police”, who are tasked with enforcing orthodox Islamic customs.

A 2010 Freedom House report on systemic gender discrimination in the Middle East noted that the overall conditions for women have actually worsened (since their previous report in 2005) in three places: Iraq, Yemen, and the West Bank and Gaza.

Finally, though most essays published by Greenwald contain serious distortions, the suggestion in his recent post that there is anything resembling moral equivalence between Israel and its Muslim and Arab neighbors in the rights afforded to women and gays is an out-and-out lie – and effectively illustrates the propagandistic style constantly employed by such Guardian Left activists. 

Map of political freedom in the Mid-East, per the human rights group ‘Freedom House’. (courtesy of CAMERA)

UPDATE: Read a great post on Greenwald’s egregious misrepresentation of Sam Harris’s views here.

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