Jun 15
Her eye on the news
'Unacceptable violence'

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a candidate up for election in Sunday’s second round of legislative elections, was left unconscious on Thursday in Paris after a frightening encounter with a protester, according to The Guardian. Kosciusko-Morizet, a former government minister who once ran for mayor of Paris, was handing out flyers in anticipation of the coming election. An angry protester, described as a middle-aged man, then reportedly approached her screaming insults before snatching the stack of flyers from Kosciusko-Morizet’s hand. Kosciusko-Morizet, fearing the man was about to hit her, got into a defensive stance and braced for impact, according to witness. Instead, he threw the flyers in her face. However, in trying to protect herself, she lost her balance and fell to the ground, hitting her head.

News photos in the seconds after the incident showed a harrowing scene as she lay lifeless on the sidewalk and people rushed to her aid. Kosciusko-Morizet, 44, was on the ground unconscious for several minutes until medics were able to revive her and take her to the hospital, where she received further treatment. She also got a visit from France’s new Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who spoke out against the assault. “I condemn this act of unacceptable violence,” said Philippe, who, like Kosciusko-Morizet, is a member of the Les Républicains party.

Police have reportedly opened an investigation and witnesses said they heard the man call her a “crappy bobo” before running off.

Read the full story at The Guardian and the BBC.

On Capitol Hill

On Wednesday, Democratic senators appeared to ignore Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani after they gave brief testimonies on the ideology of Islamism at a U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, sparking a social media outcry.

It was the first time a Senate hearing was devoted to discussing the ideas motivating both violent and nonviolent Islamist movements around the world, but, through a strategy of deflection and demonization, the Democratic senators — mostly women — ignored the scholarly and lived expertise of Hirsi Ali and Nomani.

Viewers in the Twittersphere took immediate notice as they watched the live stream on C-SPAN.

The hearing came on the heels of brutal attacks in London, Manchester, Kabul and Tehran by Muslim extremists.

Tensions were high even before the hearing began. A Muslim man wearing a prayer cap attempted to disrupt the event by yelling at Hirsi Ali, an ex-Muslim and Somali-born human rights activist, a witness who was in the room said.

The contentious atmosphere carried on to the committee members themselves as Democratic committee leader, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, expressed her disagreement with the premise of the hearing, called by Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

“Anyone who twists or distorts religion to a place of evil is an exception to the rule,” she said. “We should not focus on religion.” McCaskill proceeded to lecture the panelists on “freedom of religion” in the United States.

“No evil should ever be allowed to distort these premises,” she continued. “I’m worried, honestly, that this hearing will underline that.”

Hirsi Ali, who was the first witness to speak, stated clearly that her testimony and evidence was focused solely on the threat of Islamism as a social-political totalitarian ideology.

“The part [of Islam] that is a political doctrine consists of a worldview, a system of laws, and a moral code that is totally incompatible with our constitution, our laws, and our way of life,” she testified.

Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Women in the World contributor, echoed Hirsi Ali. “The ideology of Islamism contradicts the constitutional values of this country,” she said. “The elements of Islamism are very clear.”

However, Michael Leiter, the former director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center, rejected the core of Hirsi Ali and Nomani’s testimonies. “Muslims honoring of sharia is not inherently in tangent with living in constitutional democracies anymore than it would be for Christians or Jews who also seek to honor their religious traditions while still complying with civil authority,” he said.

Leiter was invited to testify by the committee’s Senate Democrats.

“Muslims are not synonymous with terrorism or repression or misogyny,” Hirsi Ali later emphasized. “What we’re dealing with is this other group who are taking out of context the historical and civilizational Islam, and accentuating the political and military [dimensions].”

Hirsi Ali indirectly responded to McCaskill’s statement that the hearing was a threat to religious freedom.

“We haven’t paid as much attention to those people who get into the hearts and minds of vulnerable people and turn them toward the idea that it’s OK to run your car over people, to kill homosexuals, to kill apostates,” Hirsi Ali said. “I came and accepted [Ron Johnson’s] invitation to only talk about that group, not to vilify or stigmatize those Muslims who accentuate their spirituality.”

Hirsi Ali emphasized that the fight against Islamism must involve dismantling the networks of da‘wa, or Islamist proselytism, in the United States and abroad.

“We must stop not only the violent entities like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and others,” she warned. “Above all, we must challenge the principles of sharia.”

Nomani later shared a narrative of how she and Hirsi Ali have been personally affected by violent Islamism.

“Our hearts are indeed gripped with the horror of this morning’s shooting,” Nomani said, referring to the targeted shooting of Republican lawmakers in a Washington, D.C., suburb a few hours earlier.

“This day takes me back to a day 15 years ago when I felt the same gripping of my heart,” she said. “I learned that day that my colleague and friend Danny Pearl had been kidnapped.”

Pearl was a journalist with the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and beheaded by jihadist militants in Pakistan shortly after leaving Nomani’s rented home in 2002.

“Ayaan lost a friend, I lost a friend,” Nomani said. In 2004, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was shot and killed by a violent Islamist on the streets of Amsterdam after directing a short film with Hirsi Ali that was critical of women’s rights in Islam.

“There was one value that connected the 27 men involved in Danny’s kidnapping and murder,” Nomani testified. “They had all absorbed the da‘wa, the evangelism, of an ideological interpretation of Islam.”

In the days and hours before the hearing, both Nomani and Hirsi Ali were targeted in social media campaigns and news articles that attacked their character.

Jordan Denari Duffner, a researcher at the Bridge Initiative, a project of the Saudi-funded Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, criticized the “anti-Muslim voices” that have “co-opted” Islamic terms.

“We also face a network I call the ‘honor brigade’ that wants to silence this conversation,” Nomani said. “Ayaan and I are under attack constantly. Between us, I don’t know how many death threats we have faced.”

When the witnesses completed their brief testimonies, Democratic Senate committee members, including four women senators — McCaskill, Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Maggie Hassan and Senator Heidi Heitkamp — ignored Hirsi Ali and Nomani during the question-and-answer session, never once directing a question to them — about half the duration of the entire hearing.

Most questions were about terrorism and security, not Islamist ideology, directed at Leiter for most of the hearing by Senate Democrats. Leiter recommended Islamic education programs done in conjunction with Muslim organizations for state and local officials as a counter-extremism strategy.

At one point, when Nomani shared examples of violent preachings on “women beating” she had received through Amazon, McCaskill turned the conversation to book banning.

Democratic Senator Gary Peters later criticized the “anti-Islamic sentiment” in some of the written testimonies.

“I became concerned about a recurrent theme of anti-Islamic sentiment,” Peters stated. “The perpetuation of anti-Islamic attitudes undermine our collective values and it contributes to the undercurrent of xenophobia.”

Senator Johnson pushed back on his colleague’s accusation.

“I think the witnesses were very careful to distinguish between Muslims who practice their faith peacefully as opposed to political Islamists,” Johnson said. “They are bending over backwards to make that distinction.”

Viewers also responded, one of them referring to the fact that Hirsi Ali is a victim of female genital mutilation.

The hearing was adjourned after almost two hours. Video of the hearing as well as the written testimonies can be accessed at the U.S. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website. Because of the strategy of deflection by Democratic senators, Hirsi Ali and Nomani spoke for about 15 minutes combined.

Andy Ngo is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University, specializing in Islamist political movements and their intersection with women’s issues. Follow him on Twitter here.


What the fatwa? 2 women activists testify on Capitol Hill about the extremist ideology ‘within the House of Islam’

Ayaan Hirsi Ali says controversial Women’s March organizer is a ‘fake feminist’

Asra Nomani explores a hostile phenomenon she calls ‘hijab shaming’

‘They didn’t listen’

There’s a way of preventing mass shootings that has nothing to do with gun control, according to Nancy Leong, an associate professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. The answer, Leong posits, is simple — crack down on perpetrators of domestic violence.

On Wednesday morning, a man named James T. Hodgkinson shot Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others in an apparently politically motivated shooting aimed at injuring Republican politicians. In the wake of such shootings, much effort is made at understanding the motivation of the attackers. But on the whole, the ideologies and circumstances of mass shooters vary widely — except, perhaps, in one respect: In recent years, a large number of mass shooters have a history of violence toward women.

Writing for The Washington Post, Leong noted that analysis from mass shootings from 2009 through 2016 showed that 54 percent of mass shootings involved a current or former intimate partner or family member as a victim. Seung-Hui Cho, the student who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech, had previously been investigated for stalking his female classmates. Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the Pulse nightclub massacre, had been physically beating his wife for years. And Elliot Rodger, the man who killed six people in the small California town of Isla Vista, posted videos online in which he raged against women for rejecting him and threw coffee on two women at a bus stop for not smiling at him shortly before he began his killing spree.

While Hodgkinson’s ideologies and motivations differ from many other mass shooters, his issues with violent behavior toward women was, sadly, typical. According to police records, Hodgkinson had allegedly damaged his neighbor’s door and forced his way into her home in 2006 while looking for his teenage foster daughter, according to a report by The Daily Beast.

In a 2006 photo provided by authorities, James Hodgkinson, the suspect in the June 14, 2017 mass shooting at a baseball practice for congressional Republicans. Hodgkinson, a southern Illinois home inspector who was reportedly distraught over the election of President Donald Trump, died after a shootout with police; he wounded four, including Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip. (St. Clair County Sheriff’s Dept. via The New York Times)

According to witnesses, Hodgkinson then grabbed his daughter by the hair. When she escaped and tried to hide in the neighbor’s car, he brought out a knife and cut off a seatbelt from the car while trying to pull her out. When the neighbor told him she was calling 911, police records said, he punched the 19-year-old woman in the face in an attempt to prevent her from doing so.

When the case came to trial, however, the judge abruptly dismissed it because a witness had failed to appear at a hearing.

“I tried to tell the court that this guy’s crazy, that this a big deal, but they didn’t listen to me,” the neighbor said at the time.

In Hodgkinson’s case, and that of many others, violence toward the women in their lives was the first warning sign of what was to come. It’s too bad no one in power was listening.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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Tough decision

After more than 30 hours of deliberations, the jury that heard Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial in Pennsylvania informed the judge in the case on Thursday morning that it is deadlocked, according to NBC News. “We cannot come to a unanimous consensus on any of these counts,” the jury, which has been sequestered, said in a note to the judge, Steven O’Neill.

Cosby’s defense attorneys used the opportunity to file a motion for a mistrial. But instead of granting one, O’Neill ordered jurors to continue deliberating. He invoked what’s known as an Allen charge or a Spencer charge, reminding the jurors of their duty to try their best to reach a verdict. O’Neill also reportedly cautioned jurors not to “feel compelled to surrender your honest belief” just to reach a unanimous decision.

Cosby has been on trial for the alleged 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee. While Cosby’s lawyers celebrated the news of the deadlocked jury as “justice,” several of Cosby’s other accusers were in the courtroom and were visibly shaken by the development, NBC News reported. Gloria Allred, a lawyer who represents some of Cosby’s accusers and was on hand, said, “This is not a vindication of anybody. It’s not over yet.” For more on the story, watch the video below.

Read the full story at NBC News.


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Long time coming

More than four decades after the release of John Lennon’s iconic 1971 song “Imagine,” Yoko Ono is finally being awarded the co-writing credit that Lennon himself admitted he should have given to her.

David Israelite, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers Association, announced on Wednesday that “Imagine” had won the organization’s “Centennial Song” award — and that work was underway to officially credit Ono on the song as a co-writer. Wheelchair bound due to a flu-like illness, Ono was pushed onto the stage in a wheelchair where she accepted the award with her son, Sean Lennon. Ono thanked the crowd, explaining that she appreciated the song and the award deeply. This moment, she said, “is the best time of my life.”

Speaking nine years after the production of “Imagine,” Lennon admitted in a 1980 video interview that the song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it — the lyric and the concept — came from Yoko.”

On Thursday morning, Ono shared a portion from a recorded interview with Lennon in which he explained that the inspiration for the song had come from Ono’s 1964 poetry collection, “Grapefruit.”

“I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn’t man enough to let have credit for it,” Lennon said. “I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take that contribution without acknowledging it.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.


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In attendance at the Women in Film Los Angeles’ Crystal + Lucy Awards on Tuesday, actress/director/producer Elizabeth Banks shared a story from the beginning of her career. Unfortunately, it was a recollection of how she had to learn to deal with misogyny in the entertainment industry — starting from her very first meeting with an agent.

“The first agent I ever met in this industry told me to get a boob job,” said Banks during her acceptance speech, according to People magazine. “I was so grateful that I didn’t have enough money at the time to follow his advice. I also did not sign with him despite that.”

Actresses aren’t alone in suffering from the consequences of Hollywood sexism. In an essay written earlier this year, Smash creator Theresa Rebeck revealed that the “misogyny” in writing rooms “is beyond anything that people believe.”

Writers, she revealed, would task her with writing the “girl scenes” and subject her to sexually-charged jokes — before castigating her when she told them they were being inappropriate.

Read the full story at The Wrap.


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'Kingdom of men'

Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif has written a heartbreaking Op-Ed for The New York Times in which she recounts the fallout of having broken the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, al-Sharif posted a video on YouTube of herself operating a car. The backlash that followed was swift and fierce.

“I was arrested and spent nine days in prison. At the time, I was a working, divorced mother. As a result of my protest, I was threatened — imams wanted me to be publicly lashed — and monitored and harassed,” al-Sharif writes in the Op-Ed. “I was pushed out of my job. After that, I had to move from my home. Without a safe place to work or live, with other Saudis calling for my death, I had no choice but to leave the only country I had ever known. The hardest part was leaving behind [her son] Aboudi, who was then 6 and a half years old.” She moved to Dubai.

Because of Saudi Arabia’s strict male guardianship rules, Aboudi stayed behind and al-Sharif’s ex-husband stipulated that if she wanted to see her son, she had to do so by returning to Saudi Arabia — which she did, every other weekend. But doing so presented major challenges. For instance, many hotels in Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif writes, won’t rent a room to a woman who’s alone and doesn’t have permission from a man to be there. When she returned to visit her son, she ended up staying at the home of her mother-in-law, the woman who ended up raising Aboudi when her ex-husband remarried.

Three years after fleeing Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif remarried and gave birth to another son. In her piece, she laments that the two boys have never met one another, “never tickled, giggled, wrestled on the floor, thrown a ball, or played a prank or peek-a-boo.”

And she worries that they might never meet at all because Saudi Arabia refuses to issue her son a travel visa.

“In kingdoms of men, there are few — if any — choices for women,” she writes. “Or the choices are such that there is no greater pain than having to choose.”

Read the full Op-Ed at The New York Times.


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Hang 10

After years of participating in various Moroccan surf contests, Meryem El Gardoum, 20, and Fatima Zahra Berrada, 37, recently competed in the Agadir Open surf contest’s first-ever women’s final, and traveled to the World Surfing Games in France, becoming the first ever women representing their country in a surf competition abroad. El Gardoum hails from a small, traditional village near Agadir, which has long been a hotbed for surfers — but still, many local men don’t approve of Moroccan women taking part in the sport. “They say if you go to surf, you’re gonna drink alcohol, you’re gonna smoke, you’re gonna go with the boys,” El Gardoum told PRI. Even local women would tell her mother she should not let her surf. “But she told me, ‘Just go to surf. Don’t care about what they said.’ And then I keep surfing, you know? Like if I keep thinking about what they said, I’m never gonna’ do like, nothing,” she said. Berrada added that money forms an additional barrier that keeps Moroccan women from entering the sport. “It’s an expensive sport,” she said. “It’s not open to everyone. Unfortunately, there are a lot of talented young people who don’t have a way to make living off of their passion.” This is why the two would like to see more international surf brands sponsor Moroccan women, as they already do with the male surfers.  “People all over the world think there aren’t girl surfers in Morocco,” El Gardoum claimed. “That’s why I want one or two girls in the World Surf League — to tell everyone that, ‘Yeah, there are girl surfers in Morocco.’ That’s what I want to say.”

Read the full story at PRI.


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