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International Socialist Review Issue 35, May-June 2004

Women and Islam


Hijab ban: Racist hypocrisy

ON MARCH 3, the French Senate passed a law banning female students from wearing the hijab, the head covering worn by many Muslim women and girls, in public schools starting in September 2004. The new French law prohibits not just the hijab, but all "signs and dress that ostensibly denote the religious belonging of students." It also bans beards and bandanas that denote Islamic affiliation, the Jewish yarmulka, or skullcap, and "conspicuous" Christian crosses. Nevertheless, few in France, where the press has dubbed the ban "the law against the veil," believe the target is anything but the hijab.1

The French ban has inspired lawmakers in Belgium and Germany to consider following suit. On April 1, the conservative state of Baden-Wurttemberg in Germany banned Muslim public school teachers from wearing headscarves. The anti-hijab trend has even extended to the United States, where a sixth-grade student in the Muskogee, Oklahoma public school district was suspended twice last year for wearing her hijab.2

France’s move to ban the hijab has generated heated controversy–dividing leftists, anti-racists, feminists, and even some Muslims. A founder of the French anti-racist organization SOS-Racisme resigned after it came out in support of the ban. Respected feminist Fadela Amara, president of Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Downtrodden), an advocate group for North African women, supports the law.

Some feminists oppose the law on the grounds that it will strengthen Islamic fundamentalism. In December 2003, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, grand sheikh of al-Azhar University in Cairo, publicly declared that Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are obliged to obey that country’s laws, including a ban on wearing the hijab. But other high-ranking Islamic clerics strongly dispute this assertion, and argue that banning the hijab is a direct attack on Islam.3

Generally speaking, however, French progressives and feminists who support the law view it as a step forward for Muslim women’s rights. On December 5, 2003, for example, sixty prominent French women, including actors Isabelle Adjani and Emmanuelle Béart, published a petition calling for an outright ban on the hijab, as a "visible symbol of the submission of women."4

But whatever the rationale among progressives for supporting the hijab ban, it cannot be judged apart from its role in the rising tide of racism against Muslim populations throughout Europe, and indeed, around the world. In this campaign, as Middle East Report editorial committee member Paul Silverstein argues, "Law-and-order right-wingers, including [French Interior Minister Nicolas] Sarkozy, view the law as an important weapon in their ongoing "war on terror."5

French President Jacques Chirac’s stated motivation for the ban is draped in references to the French Republican secular tradition. "Secularism is not negotiable," he proclaimed when proposing the ban in December 2003. And the Stasi Report, the government commission study on which Chirac based the new ban, defined the public school as a privileged "closed universe" which emphasizes values of male-female equality and mutual respect. The Stasi Report recommended a total of twenty-six measures, some intended to promote cultural diversity–such as adding the Jewish Yom Kippur and Islamic Eid al-Adha in addition to Christian public holidays, and teaching Berber and Kurdish languages to address these ethnic minorities. But only the ban on "ostensibly" religious dress was incorporated into French law.6

There is something profoundly hypocritical in banning Islamic religious symbols in the name of secularism and gender equality while the French government continues to subsidize private education for the globally influential–and reactionary–Catholic Church, as well as Jewish religious institutions. Beneath French officials’ talk of "laïcité" (separation of church and state), the status quo in French society is Christianity. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin even described France as "the old land of Christianity" during the debate. The justice minister of one German state justified banning the hijab by stating that German children "have to learn the roots of Christian religion and European culture."7

It is just a short leap from the (stated and unstated) assumption of Christian religious and European cultural superiority to outright hostility to Islam. One German state designated the hijab "a symbol of fundamentalism and extremism." Former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé argued, "It’s not paranoid to say we’re faced with a rise of political and religious fanaticism." Jacques Peyrat, the mayor of Nice–a far-right stronghold–argued in a speech, "Mosques cannot be conceived of as existing within a secular Republic."8

Chirac’s hostility toward Muslims, France’s largest minority, was apparent when he argued on December 6, 2003, "Wearing a veil, whether we want it or not, is a sort of aggression that is difficult for us to accept." Bernard Stasi, head of Chirac’s commission, was even more forthright in defending the ban: "We must be lucid–there are in France some behaviors which cannot be tolerated. There are without any doubt forces in France which are seeking to destabilize the republic, and it is time for the republic to act."9

Chirac and Stasi are chasing after the voters of France’s second-largest political party, the far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who forced the center-right Chirac into a runoff in the last presidential election. Le Pen argues that France’s five million Arab immigrants bring crime to the streets, and they should "assimilate" into French society or be driven out. In 2002, 27.7 percent of voters from the Provence-Côte d’Azur-Alpes region–France’s third-wealthiest, and a voting base for the National Front–backed Le Pen’s "national preference" measures, including the enforced repatriation of immigrants.10

As Pierre Tévanian argued in Le Monde Diplomatique,

Young Muslim women are being used as scapegoats, a focus of attention to distract France from rampant social inequality and deprivation, to take minds off deregulation, declining job security, encroachments on civil liberty, racial discrimination and gender inequality.11

In an equally racist manner, the French government has also marketed the hijab ban as a strike against anti-Semitism–despite the fact that hate crimes against French Jews have historically been inflicted by forces of the far right. During the hijab debate, Education Minister Luc Ferry argued that the Middle East conflict "has entered our schools" and that France is facing an anti-Semitism "which is no longer of the extreme right, but of Islamic origin." In November–just weeks before proposing the hijab ban–Chirac announced a new government commission to fight anti-Semitism, which will target the residents of North African neighborhoods for education against anti-Semitism.12

In reality, Muslims have been the primary targets of hate crimes in France (and throughout Europe) since the 1960s. Yet France’s ministry of the interior does not even include a category for attacks directed against Muslims or North Africans, as it does with anti-Semitic attacks. Norman Madarasz summarized the targeted communities as follows: "In England, with Pakistanis, in Germany, with the Turkish, and in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, with immigrants from the al-Maghreb North African region: Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians, Berbers, Cabyls, as well as Palestinians and sub-Saharan Muslims, especially from Mali."13

France’s National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) documented hate crimes committed against Muslims in 2002–but noted that these examples "fall well under the real number" of racist attacks committed against Muslims. Below is a list of examples from the CNCDH report, published in Le Monde on November 24, 2003:

While awaiting the 2003 statistics, the study lists several examples of serious violence committed in 2002: Molotov cocktails thrown at the mosques of Mericourt (in the Pas-de-Calais region) and Chalons (in the Marne region), on April 25 and 27, and on March 24 against the Ecaudin mosque (in the Rhône region); a letter bomb was sent to an association seated at the Perpignan mosque (in the Pyrénées-Orientales), on April 9; an Islamic religious sculpture was profaned in Lyon, on April 24; attempted torching of a place of worship in Rillieux-la-Pape (Rhône), on December 27; anonymous tracts distributed during the presidential campaign [held in April 2002 which had set far-right racist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen against the incumbent Chirac]. As for 2003, three facts can be pointed to: profaned tombs in the Haut-Rhin region in July, torching of a place of worship at Nancy, and profanation of an Islamic square in the Meuse region in March.14

In this context, France’s ban on Islamic headscarves can only further inflame anti-Muslim racism. No law reeking of such racist hypocrisy is intended to advance the cause of women’s equality.

Imperialism does not "liberate" women

Wittingly or not, feminists who support measures such as the hijab ban are supporting campaigns designed to exploit the Western symbol of Islamic women’s oppression–the veil–to claim Western imperialism’s cultural superiority, and bolster its domestic and global aims, all under the guise of fighting "Islamic terrorism."

Feminist support for Chirac’s hijab ban in France has a more exaggerated, and therefore more transparent, parallel in the U.S. during the 2001 Afghan war. The Bush administration gained the support of mainstream U.S. feminists for the war on Afghanistan, who echoed his arguments that the war would "free" Afghan women from the tyranny of Taliban rule.

First Lady Laura Bush declared, "The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women." Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal embraced this claim, adding to the general post—September 11 hysteria by putting forward her own version of the "domino theory":

We argued that the Talibanization of society would not stop in Afghanistan. We could see it moving into Pakistan, into Algiers and all through the Middle East to Turkey. We argued that it would lead to regional instability, and that this had much larger world ramifications than just what is happening to women there…. The link between the liberation of Afghan women and girls from the terrorist Taliban militia and preservation of democracy and freedom in America and worldwide has never been clearer.15

The Feminist Majority even circulated a petition thanking the Bush administration for its commitment to restoring the rights of women in Afghanistan. And feminists applauded Secretary of State Colin Powell when he proclaimed in November 2001, "The rights of women in Afghanistan will not be negotiable," as television cameras zoomed in to show smiling Afghan women lifting their veils.16

More than two years after the war, U.S. media outlets have not returned to report on the fate of women in post—Taliban Afghanistan. If they did, they would find that the majority of Afghan women, even in Kabul, continue to wear the burqa–head-to-toe Islamic covering. As Mariam Rawi of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) argues, "the U.S. has replaced one misogynist fundamentalist regime with another."17

The Taliban’s Department of Vice and Virtue has been resurrected under the name of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Warlords responsible for a reign of terror between 1992 and 1996, including the mass rape and murder of women, remain in power throughout the countryside, enriching themselves through opium production. President Hamid Karzai appointed fundamentalist Fazl Hadi Shinwari as the chief justice of the Supreme Court. "Shinwari has packed the nine-member Supreme Court with 137 sympathetic mullahs and called for Taliban-style punishments to implement Shari’a law."18

After visiting Afghanistan, filmmaker Meena Nanji reported,

The litany of laws passed this year governing women’s conduct reads like a page out of the Taliban handbook. They include the banning of co-education classes, restrictions on women’s ability to travel, the banning of women singing in public. The biggest blow yet to women’s rights was dealt in November, when a 1970’s law prohibiting married women from attending high school classes was upheld. This is a major step backwards for women and girls, as many under-age girls are forced into marriage and now have no hope of improving their lives.19

This outcome should have been easy to predict. But in 2001, U.S. feminists never challenged the ridiculous notion that a right-wing Republican like Bush was taking a genuine interest in advancing women’s rights. His presidency already had a track record. Two days after his inauguration in January 2001, Bush reinstated a Reagan era global "gag" rule, denying U.S. funding to any international family planning organization that mentions the option of abortion to pregnant patients during counseling, effectively denying the right to choose to millions of poor women around the world faced with unplanned pregnancies. According to the World Health Organization, 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year.20

Nevertheless, feminist endorsement for the war on Afghanistan helped the Bush administration to promote the fiction that the war aimed to "liberate" Afghan women. This illusion helped Bush gain support among a wide swathe of liberals and even antiwar activists in the U.S.–for the war that launched the "war without end" and led directly to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Furthermore, feminists such as Smeal, a regular guest on television news programs throughout the war, helped ratchet up anti-Muslim racism on the war’s other front: the war at home. While the USA PATRIOT Act sailed through Congress after September 11, thousands of Muslims were rounded up and "detained indefinitely" without charges or the right to legal representation in the name of "fighting terrorism." In a typical rant, Smeal stated, "We have become the bad guys; they are blaming all of their economic ruin on the West. They think we don’t like Muslims, so instead, they become more fundamentalist: ‘We’ll show you, we’ll be more Muslim.’"21

European "cultural superiority" as justification for colonialism

France’s ban on the hijab is not a new phenomenon, resulting from circumstances peculiar to "modern" society. The French government’s current campaign against the hijab as a means to denigrate Islamic culture has its origins in colonial history. Imperialists and their apologists have claimed European cultural superiority as a justification for dominating Muslim societies since colonialism began. The reference points of Egypt’s British colonizers a century ago, for example, bear a striking resemblance to those of U.S. and European imperialists today.

During the British occupation of Egypt, British Consul General Lord Cromer declared that Egyptians should "be persuaded or forced into imbibing the true spirit of Western civilization." Cromer targeted, "first and foremost," Islam’s "degradation of women," symbolized by the veil, as "the fatal obstacle" to Egyptians’ "attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilization."22

Cromer needed look no further than the corseted and repressed women of Victorian England for examples of the "degradation of women." Yet, as Egyptian feminist Leila Ahmed notes,

This champion of the unveiling of women was, in England, the founding member and sometime president of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. Feminism on the home front and feminism directed against white men was to be resisted and suppressed; but taken abroad and directed against the culture of colonized peoples, it could be promoted in ways that admirably served the project of the dominance of the white man.23

Neither could Cromer’s colonial policies in Egypt, which were aimed at developing the country’s economy no further than as a supplier of raw materials for factories based in England, be described as advancing women’s rights. Because he believed that government-subsidized education could foster nationalism, Cromer instituted school tuition fees, even though education was previously provided at government expense. The result: in 1881, the year before the British occupation began, 70 percent of Egyptian students received government assistance for tuition and other expenses. Ten years later, 73 percent of students received nothing. This severely curtailed educational opportunities for girls as well as boys.24

British occupation denied women opportunities for education on another front. Before British rule, Egyptian women had been offered equal medical training with men at the School for Hakimas. But the British limited women’s training to midwifery. Once again, Cromer claimed cultural superiority: "I am aware that in exceptional cases women like to be treated by female doctors, but I conceive that throughout the civilized world, attendance by medical men is still the rule."25

Nevertheless, then–as now–imperialists were able to gain endorsements for their aims, under the guise of advancing women’s rights. Ahmed argues:

Whether in the hands of patriarchal men or feminists, the ideas of Western feminism functioned to morally justify the attack on native societies and to support the notion of the comprehensive superiority of Europe. Evidently, then, whatever the disagreements of feminism with white male domination within Western societies, outside their borders feminism turned from being the critic of the system of white male dominance to being its docile servant.26

Hostility to Islamic culture also found supporters inside the colonized countries, primarily among the rising upper- and upper-middle classes who benefited economically during colonialism. In 1899, The Liberation of Women appeared in Egypt, calling for banning the veil. Its author, Qassim Amin, a French-educated lawyer, was far less in favor of women’s rights than the book’s title suggests. Amin made clear he was "not among those who demand equality in education," instead recommending only primary education as necessary for women to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers. He based arguments on the need for assimilation with European culture, and described Egyptians as "lazy and always fleeing work."27

This phenomenon was by no means restricted to Egypt under colonial rule. During the twentieth century, other countries in the Muslim world imposed "Europeanization" on their own populations–banning aspects of Islamic culture and dress. In 1925, Kamal Ataturk, ruler of post-Ottoman Turkey, imposed the Hat Law, banning the traditional fez cap for men, under the penalty of death. In 1928, Reza Khan, Iran’s shah, passed a law mandating European attire for men after seizing power. In 1936, he banned the hijab for Iranian women.28

Islam and resistance to imperialism

But if much of the upper class benefited from imperialism and aimed to emulate European culture, less prosperous sections of society rebelled–by defending Islam. The result was a strengthening of Islam as an expression of cultural identity, in opposition to the colonizers. Muslim organizations embraced and defended Islamic religious customs as a counterweight to imperialism. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, sought a return to a purified form of Islam–and a rejection of British domination. Its early members expressed that they were "weary of this life of humiliation and domination…. We see that the Arabs and Muslims have no status…and no dignity…. They are not more than mere hirelings belonging to foreigners."29

The growth of Islam, however, was just one form of resistance to colonialism and imperialism. By mid-century, the impact of Islamic movements was supplanted by the growing influence of Pan-Arabism, as secular nationalist–including communist–parties grew in size, and Pan-Arab leaders asserted and finally won independence, breaking the hold of colonialism. Pan-Arabism grew throughout the region after Abdel Nasser seized power in Egypt in 1952. To consolidate his own power, however, Nasser dissolved and banned all political parties in Egypt in 1953, brutally suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.30

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union provided funding and support to a variety of anti-colonial movements and nationalist regimes around the world, including Nasser’s. This support did not reflect a genuine political commitment to national self-determination, but rather resulted from the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and USSR–an imperialist competition to dominate whole regions of the world. Russia’s hypocrisy became most obvious after its 1979 invasion and decade-long occupation of Afghanistan.

But the resurgence of Islam in recent decades also coincided with the relative decline in the strength and influence of Pan-Arab nationalism. Pan-Arabism declined for a number of reasons–among them, its failure to confront either class inequality within Arab societies or to pose a fundamental challenge to imperialism itself. During the 1970s–decades after winning independence–entrenched and corrupted local ruling classes, from Pahlavi’s Iran to Sadat’s Egypt, amassed personal fortunes by continuing to collaborate with imperialist powers–while continuing to emulate European cultural norms.

It is worth noting that the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi regime was preceded by a mass strike wave that raised a broad range of working-class and anti-imperialist demands–women’s rights among them. A prolonged strike by oil workers in October 1978, for example, listed as one of its eleven demands "an end to discrimination against women staff employees and workers."31 The subsequent "Islamic Revolution" involved the consolidation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s repressive regime–and the dismantling of Iranian workers’ organizations coupled with the imposition of reactionary religious law from above. The Iranian revolution was, therefore, far from a fanatical religious uprising.32

The fall of Stalinist rule in the USSR and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s dealt an enormous blow to nationalist movements allied with the Soviet Union, and discredited Stalinism. The fall of the Soviet Union put an end to the Cold War–but the collapse of the USSR allowed the subsequent strengthening of U.S. imperialism, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War. The current Bush administration’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the Bush Doctrine’s assertion of "preemptive war" were not a break from, but an acceleration of, a process that was well under way in the early 1990s, years before September 11.33

Political forms of Islam can gain in strength and influence–as an expression of opposition to imperialism–in the absence of a strong secular alternative. The decline of Pan-Arabism, coupled with a strengthening of U.S. imperialism in the 1990s, produced a widening identification with Islam as an ideological counterweight to U.S. imperialism throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and has grown further since the U.S. launched the "war on terrorism" following September 11.

Moreover, the U.S. and its staunchest Middle East ally, Israel, played a key role in building up the very "Islamic extremists" that their war on terrorism targets today. In the 1980s, Israel provided funding that helped to launch the Islamic-based Palestinian opposition movement, Hamas, in the hope of weakening the extensive influence of the secular-nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) "One can be pretty sure that this strategy received strong encouragement from Washington, which has also seen the advantage of financing and supporting the most vicious and narrow-minded Islamic terrorists on account of their antinationalist and antisocialist credentials," wrote New York Press columnist George Szamuely.34

The U.S. provided $3 million for the buildup of an Islamic fighting force, known as the Mujahideen, to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1980s. As journalist Ken Silverstein noted, "few within the government had any illusions about the forces that the United States was backing. The Mujahideen fighters espoused a radical brand of Islam–some commanders were known to have thrown acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil–and committed horrific human rights violations in their war against the Red Army."35

As BBC foreign correspondent Matt Frei summarized,

The U.S. and its allies plied this country with Stinger missiles and cash to fuel the Mujahideen’s opposition against Soviet occupation. They encouraged the growth of Islamic fundamentalism to frighten Moscow and of drugs to get Soviet soldiers hooked. The CIA even helped "Arab Afghans" like Osama bin Laden, now "America’s most wanted," to fight here.36

In the context of imperialism–and the racism that justifies imperialist domination–it is wrong to view the hijab, or other aspects of Islamic culture, only as symbols of women’s oppression. Today, the hijab is worn voluntarily by millions of Muslim women around the world as a symbol of cultural pride, often in overt opposition to Western imperialism. After Chirac announced the ban on headscarves, tens of thousands of women wearing the hijab marched in protest across France, chanting slogans such as, "Not our fathers nor our husbands, we chose the headscarf." In London, thousands of young women wearing hijabs also marched, chanting against "racist laws." Their voices should not be ignored.37

Veiled or unveiled, women’s oppression is universal

There is no contradiction between supporting Muslim women protesting the ban on headscarves in France and championing Afghan women in their fight against laws mandating the burqa. Women should have the right to dress as they choose wherever they live, without government interference. This should be a basic human right.

Moreover, feminists who allowed the Bush administration to equate the lifting of the Islamic veil with liberation, and those who now argue that the France’s hijab ban is a step toward women’s equality, perform a disservice to the fight for genuine women’s liberation, East and West. Journalist Natasha Walter recently expressed the common view among Western feminists: "Many women in the west find the headscarf deeply problematic. One of the reasons we find it so hateful is because the whole trajectory of feminism in the west has been tied up with the freedom to uncover ourselves."38

But the "freedom to uncover" can bring women no closer to genuine equality in a sexist society. In societies the world over, "uncovering" merely leads to greater sexual objectification. In the U.S., eating disorders have reached epidemic proportions among young women, cosmetic surgery is one of the fastest-growing branches of modern medicine, and Hooters is a national restaurant chain. Jiggle movies like "Charlie’s Angels" and "Tomb Raider" offer some of the best opportunities for career advancement for female actresses in Hollywood. And cartoon shows such as "Stripperella"–starring Erotica Jones, "a stripper by night and a superhero by later night"–target an ever-younger audience. Soon to join the primetime lineup is "Hef’s Superbunnies," a cartoon about Playboy Playmates who fight evil.39

Turkish society illustrates why "secularism" and "Westernization" do not automatically lead to women’s liberation. Although Turkey’s population is overwhelmingly Muslim, its government bans the hijab for women in educational institutions and government offices. But Turkey has imported Western sexist culture as well, including an endless barrage of demeaning sexist imagery. As political economist Behzad Yaghmaian described on a recent visit to Turkey, "Pictures of half-naked women were exhibited on billboards and in daily newspapers."

Yaghmaian described a woman student from Istanbul University, who said, "Hijab sends an important message that a person does not have to see my body to have a conversation with me."40 This sentiment is valid and should not be dismissed by feminists. As a young Egyptian woman told reporters some years ago, she prefers the hijab because, "Many men treat women as objects, look at their beauty; the Islamic dress allows a woman to be looked upon as a human being and not an object."41

Nor is there truth to the common claim that Islam is more reactionary, more violent, or more oppressive to women than Christianity. Indeed, this claim is absurd, considering the 200-year history of the Christian Crusades wreaking death and destruction against Muslims and Jews. Pope Urban II launched the first crusade in a speech in 1095, calling on Christians to wage a "holy war" against Islamic "infidels."42

In more recent history, the practice of burning of thousands of "witches" at the stake was practiced among the most self-righteous Christians in Europe, and in the U.S., as recently as four centuries ago. And in current history, Christian fundamentalists have used the excuse of September 11 to incite hatred and violence against Muslims. Shortly after September 11, evangelist Franklin Graham, now in charge of his father’s organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, declared: "The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." George W. Bush himself frequently invokes his Christian "Almighty" as justification for the occupation of Iraq.43

It is impossible to generalize about the beliefs of Islam any more than about the beliefs of Christianity or Judaism, since there are as many different interpretations of the Koran as there are competing interpretations of Biblical scripture.

Religion, class society, and women’s oppression

It is possible, however, to document that in neither form nor substance is women’s oppression unique to Islam. As Ahmed notes in her carefully-researched book, Women and Gender in Islam, "[A] fierce misogyny was a distinct ingredient of Mediterranean and eventually Christian thought in the centuries immediately preceding the rise of Islam," In addition, "The veil was apparently in use in Sasanian society, and segregation of the sexes and use of the veil were heavily in evidence in the Christian Middle East and Mediterranean regions at the time of the rise of Islam" in the seventh century A.D.44 Egyptian feminist Nawal el Saadawi has argued, "the most restrictive elements towards women can be found first in Judaism in the Old Testament, then in Christianity, and then in the Quran." Furthermore, el Saadawi argued, the "veiling of women isn’t a specifically Islamic practice but an ancient cultural heritage with analogies in sister religions."45

Religions did not create oppressive human relationships in class society, but have functioned historically to enforce ideology that strengthens already-existing inequalities within the social order.

Beliefs in supernatural forces, including male and female gods, preceded the rise of religion–as an attempt to comprehend forces of nature and their relation to human society. But organized religion could only have risen with the existence of settled communities, just as religious scriptures required the technology of writing. Organized religion rose hand in hand with the rise of class society, and its role evolved in tandem with the development of exploitation as the dominant relation of production.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels argued that the shift away from the communal life of earlier hunter-gatherer societies and toward settled agriculture gave way to the rise of class society. Technological developments such as the plow and the domestication of cattle sharply increased the productivity of agriculture–for those owning land, plows, and cattle. For the first time in human history, it was possible for some people to accumulate wealth, creating a division between rich and poor.

It is important to understand that these changes did not take place overnight, or in identical succession across all societies. Nevertheless, large swathes of human society were transformed in similar ways over a period of thousands of years, with the rise of the first class societies some 6,000 years ago (first in Mesopotamia, followed a few hundred years later by Egypt, Iran, the Indus Valley, and China).46

Nor did the rise of class society take place without struggle and extreme brutality. Slavery was common, and the peasantry, robbed of their land and livelihood was reduced to destitution. Early Christianity–before it acquired a bureaucracy of its own–provided a voice for the downtrodden against the appalling division between rich and poor in the Roman Empire. The Christian religion developed during the decline of the Roman Empire, encompassing today’s Italy and Spain, part of France, part of Turkey, Palestine, and other territories. The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, in a 1905 pamphlet, "Socialism and the Churches," documented the outrage at class injustice shared by many early Christians, including Jesus Christ. Saint Basil, writing in the fourth century A.D., argued:

Wretches, how will you justify yourselves before the Heavenly Judge? You say to me, "What is our fault, when we keep what belongs to us?" I ask you, "How did you get that which you called your property? How do the possessors become rich, if not by taking possession of things belong to all? If everyone took only what he strictly needed leaving the rest to others, there would be neither rich nor poor."47

But as the Church itself developed as an institution, becoming incorporated as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, its interests became intertwined with those of the nobility. From the sixth century on, the Church began collecting taxes in its own right. "Thus," wrote Luxemburg,

the poor people not only lost the help and support of the Church, but they saw the priests ally themselves with their other exploiters: princes, nobles, moneylenders. In the Middle Ages, while the working people sank into poverty through serfdom, the Church grew richer and richer.48

Class society drastically lowered the status of women. For property owners, agricultural production increased the demand for labor–the greater the number of field workers, the higher the surplus. Thus, unlike hunter-gatherer societies, which sought to limit the number of offspring, agricultural societies sought to maximize women’s reproductive potential, so the family would have more children to help out in the fields.

In communal hunter-gatherer societies, women had been able to play a key role in production and public life, but agricultural production shifted away from the household. The family no longer served anything but a reproductive function. Women became trapped within their individual families, as the reproducers of society–cut off from production for the first time. Therefore, at the same time that men were playing an increasingly exclusive role in production, women were required to play a much more central role in reproduction.

These changes brought about by class society were wholly degrading to women. As Engels noted in the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, the original meaning of "family" (familia) "was invented by the Romans to denote a new social organism whose head ruled over wife and children and a number of slaves, and was invested under Roman paternal power with rights of life and death over them all."

Engels continued:

The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children…. In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of his children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.49

Engels did not exaggerate the degree of misogyny that accompanied this process. Assyrian (pre-Islamic) law in Mesopotamia allowed men to "pull out the hair of his wife, mutilate (or) twist her ears" in punishment. The Biblical writings of Augustine conclude of womankind, "I fail to see what use woman can be to man…if one excludes the function of bearing children."50 By the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church codified into canon law the right of husbands to beat their wives.

Many of these changes in custom took place first among the property-owning families. But eventually, the family became the unit of reproduction in society as a whole. The veil, for example, was initially proscribed only for upper-class women (in Assyria, slaves were forbidden to veil51), functioning as a class delineator among women, but spread later as a common form of dress for all women.

As Ahmed describes, Islam, which did not emerge until these societal changes were well under way, inherited some religious customs from neighboring–and conquered–societies. Like Judaism and Christianity before it, Islam offered a divine sanction to women’s extreme oppression in the new social order, as Ahmed describes:

Islam placed relations between the sexes on a new footing. Implicit in this new order was the male right to control women and to interdict their interactions with other men. Thus the ground was prepared for the closures that would follow: women’s exclusion from social activities in which they might have contact with men other than those with rights to their sexuality; their physical seclusion, soon to become the norm; and the institution of internal mechanisms for control, such as instilling the notion of submission as a woman’s duty. The ground was thus prepared, in other words, for the passing of a society in which women were active participants in the affairs of their community and for women’s place in Arabian society to become circumscribed in the way that it already was for their sisters in the rest of the Mediterranean Middle East.52

Today, the Western media depict Islamic societies such as Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban as a fanatical merging of religious institutions with nation-states that is peculiar to Islam. But the history of Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, is one in which a similar merger occurred–in which the Church’s immense wealth and power over European societies was broken only by bourgeois revolution in the eighteenth century.

The fact that Catholic morality, such as celibacy for priests–mandated in the eleventh century so the Church could inherit their property–stems mainly from the Middle Ages, yet continues to influence popular discourse in the twenty-first century is a testament to the Church’s lasting influence in modern society. In colonial America, husbands were allowed to beat their wives–but not on Sundays or after 8:00 p.m., to avoid disturbing the peace. Not until 1911 did all U.S. states (except Mississippi) outlaw wife beating. Until 1973, English law permitted husbands to restrain their wives if they attempted to leave. Fathers still "give away" their daughters to their new husbands in Christian marriage, and in some U.S. states it is still legal for husbands to rape their wives.53

Both Christianity and Islam developed as a product of class society, and their ideologies flourished as a justification for the forms of class exploitation and women’s oppression specific to the Middle Ages. But these ideologies live on in various forms in modern class society–and will retain their relevance as long as class exploitation and women’s oppression continue to exist.

Marxism and religion

But religious ideology imposed from above would be meaningless without a mass of worshippers from below. As Karl Marx wrote in 1844, "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."54

Religion acts as an ideological justification for the inequalities produced by class society, but is also a source of hope and comfort to many of those who are the most exploited and oppressed within class society. This theoretical understanding guided the practice of the Bolshevik Party, the revolutionary Marxists who eventually led the Russian working class to power in 1917.

The Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin, was clear on both of these aspects of religion. "Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organization, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class."55 But he also argued, echoing Marx, "Those who toil and live in want all their lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward."56

For this reason, he argued in 1909,

No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labor, and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organized, planned and conscious way.57

The Bolsheviks were neither for outlawing religion nor condemning those who practiced religion, but rather regarded religion to be a purely "personal matter." As such, the party stood for the complete separation of church and state. Lenin wrote,

Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies.58

As Lenin notes, Marxism is based upon an understanding of historical materialism–and is therefore atheist. Nevertheless, the Bolshevik Party did not require atheism of its members, seeking instead to win those with religious beliefs over to the struggle to eliminate class society–the source and sustaining force of religion. Lenin argued, "We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offense to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our program."59

In 1909, Lenin articulated a vision of post-revolutionary society entirely consistent with this patient approach:

The revolutionary proletariat will succeed in making religion a really private affair, so far as the state is concerned. And in this political system, cleansed of medieval mildew, the proletariat will wage a broad and open struggle for the elimination of economic slavery, the true source of the religious humbugging of mankind.60

This materialist approach to religion instructed Bolshevik practice in the years immediately following the 1917 revolution, and should not be confused with the sharp break with the revolutionary Marxist tradition–and the extreme authoritarianism–that characterized the Stalinist counter-revolution a decade later.

The Russian Revolution

The conditions facing Russia’s revolutionary government in 1917 were far from ideal for building a socialist society. Its factories were among the largest in the world, but as a whole the country remained economically backward. Its population was still some 80 percent peasantry spread across vast rural areas. Furthermore, its economy had been devastated by the First World War, and was soon to be further devastated by civil war, when fourteen counter-revolutionary armies backed by the Western powers invaded Russia in 1918, with the aim of overthrowing the young workers’ state. For the next three years, the Bolsheviks were forced to use most of the country’s deteriorating resources toward fighting a civil war, not building a socialist society.

And Tsarist Russia was an imperialist power in its own right. In 1917, just 43 percent of the Russian empire’s population was Russian–the majority was made up of colonized peoples living in surrounding nations. If most of Russia itself was economically–and therefore culturally–backward, Russian imperialism had ensured that the vast Muslim regions of Central Asia were yet more so. As the Russian revolutionary Trotsky described, "Hierarchically organized exploitation, combining the barbarity of capitalism with the barbarity of patriarchal life, successfully held down the Asiatic peoples in extreme national abasement."61

From 1903, the Bolshevik platform incorporated the principle of the "right of self-determination for all nations included within the bounds of a state."62 Lenin emphasized at all times that the "self-determination of nations today hinges on the conduct of socialists in the oppressor nations. A socialist of any of the oppressor nations…who does not recognize and does not struggle for the right of oppressed nations to self-determination (i.e., the right to secession) is in reality a chauvinist, not a socialist." And on November 2, 1917, the Russian revolutionary government, as one of its first acts, decreed the right of Russia’s oppressed nations to self-determination up to secession and the formation of an independent state.63

Ending women’s oppression was also central to the Bolshevik project. Like Marx and Engels before them, the Bolshevik leadership understood that women’s role within the family, is the primary source of women’s oppression. Therefore, removing household burdens from women was of the utmost priority for the Russian revolutionary government. Lenin argued in 1919,

The real emancipation of women, real communism, will begin only where and when an all-out struggle begins (led by the proletariat wielding state power) against this petty housekeeping, or rather when it its wholesale transformation into a large-scale socialist economy begins…. Public catering establishments, nurseries, kindergartens–here we have examples of these shoots, here we have the simple, everyday means, involving nothing pompous, grandiloquent, or ceremonial, which can really emancipate women, really lessen and abolish their inequality with men as regards their role in social production and public life.64

But again, while one-third of Petrograd’s factory workers were women in 1917, the vast majority of women lived far from cities, thoroughly oppressed and isolated in peasant communities heavily influenced by doctrines of Christianity in Russia, and in some cases pre-feudal communities dominated by Islam in the oppressed nations of Central Asia.65

As a general rule, the Bolsheviks approached the issue of religion as an ideology, in the revolutionary Marxist tradition outlined above. The revolutionary government did not seek to outlaw Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religion. If religion is a product of the inequalities of class society, then ultimately its function should fade away in the absence of inequality, in a classless society. The point was not to persecute religious worshippers, but, in the first instance, to enact a firm separation between religious doctrine and civil law.

The revolutionary government enacted legislation establishing full social and political equality for women: the right to vote and to hold public office, the right to divorce at the request of either partner, the principle of equal pay for equal work, paid maternity leave for four months before and after childbirth, and childcare at government expense. Abortion–viewed only as a health matter–was made legal in 1920, and women won the right to obtain free abortions in state hospitals. Only those who performed abortions for profit were considered criminals. In addition, the revolution repealed all laws criminalizing homosexuality and other laws regulating sexuality.66

But legal equality for oppressed groups was not enough. The Bolshevik leadership, Lenin in particular, forcefully argued that revolutionaries had a duty to struggle against sexist attitudes that continued to oppress women and also against the Russian colonial chauvinist prejudices against oppressed nationalities. German socialist Clara Zetkin recalled lengthy discussions with Lenin in 1920, where he argued,

Very few husbands, not even the proletarians, think of how much they could lighten the burdens and worries of their wives, or relive them entirely, if they lent a hand in this "women’s work".… Our Communist work among the masses of women, and our political work in general, involves considerable educational work among the men. We must root out the old slave-owner’s point of view, both in the party and among the masses. That is one of our political tasks.67

Lenin was equally adamant in combating "Great Russian" chauvinism, as in this polemic against Joseph Stalin over the rights of the oppressed republic of Georgia in 1922:

Internationalism on the part of oppressors or "great" nations, as they are called (though they are great only in their violence, only great as bullies), must consist not only in the observance of the formal equality of nations but even in an inequality of the oppressor nation, the great nation, that must make up for the inequality which obtains in actual practice.… What is needed to ensure this? Not merely formal equality. In one way or another, by one’s attitude or by concessions, it is necessary to compensate the non-Russian for the lack of trust, for the suspicion and the insults to which the government of the "dominant" nation subjected them in the past.68

This principled stance on national liberation should not be misconstrued as an endorsement of any religious ideology. Just as Lenin argued before the revolution, the state should approach religion as a "private matter," but the revolutionary party, based upon historical materialism, is atheist. The Bolsheviks were adamant that revolutionaries should make no concessions to the backward ideologies of any religion. The Comintern, the international movement of revolutionary parties set up by the Bolsheviks in 1919, adopted the following statement as part of its "Theses on the National and Colonial Question" in 1922: "An unconditional struggle must be carried out against the reactionary and medieval influence of the clergy, the Christian missions and similar elements." Another statement read: "A struggle is necessary against Panislamism, the Panasiatic movement and similar currents which try to tie the liberation struggle against European and American imperialism to the strengthening of the power of Turkish and Japanese imperialism, the nobility, the big landlords, the clergy, etc."69

Islam, national liberation, and women in revolutionary Russia

The need to rectify the colonial injustices of Tsarist Russia came into conflict with the goal of championing women’s liberation, however, precisely on the issue of Islam. In many respects, the Bolshevik approach to Islam was the same as toward the Russian Orthodox Church, because women themselves have to be the agents in their own liberation rather than imposing liberation from above. But whereas Christianity was the religion favored in Russia, the oppressor nation, Islam was the religion of many of those oppressed by Tsarist Russia.

Russian imperialism had not merely prevented entire populations from advancing economically and politically, but suppressed their rights to speak their own languages or practice their own religions and cultures. As Trotsky described, "The peoples and tribes along the Volga, in the northern Caucasus, in Central Asia…the struggle here was about matters like having their own alphabet, their own teachers–even at times their own priests."

Russian colonialism, like its European counterparts, was openly racist toward Muslims and hostile to Islamic culture. But Islam was, in turn, oppressive to women. By the end of 1922, seven of the USSR’s eight autonomous republics were populated mainly by Muslims.70 If autonomy were to be meaningful, Russian laws granting women equality could not be imposed from above. Public opinion had to be won over from below, through patient argument.

In 1919, the Bolsheviks created a party women’s bureau, The Zhenotdel, under the direction of Inessa Armand, and, after her death in 1920, by Alexandra Kollontai. The Zhenotdel–whose motto, coined by Kollontai, came to be "agitation by deed"–was responsible for organizing communal kitchens, nurseries, and laundries that could begin to free working and peasant women of the burdens of housework. Developing an idea of Armand’s, Zhenotdel agitators organized "delegates’ assemblies," in which women were elected from factories and villages to work in apprenticeships running factories or hospitals, to serve in the soviets or unions, or even to function as administrators or judges.71

In the Zhenotdel’s second year, 853 conferences of working and peasant women were held throughout Russia. By the mid-1920s, over 500,000 women had attended as conference delegates.72 In the revolution’s early years, the Zhenotdel took up a variety of campaigns, from support for the Red Army in the civil war to the promotion of education and literacy for women, with the aim of involving ever larger numbers of women.

Islamic customs, of course, varied from region to region. For example, in the regions that today are called Uzbekistan and Tajikistan–where the economies were based on settled agriculture–women were veiled and secluded within the home and prohibited from speaking to men other than relatives. But women in Turkmenistan–and other nomadic societies of Central Asia–were neither secluded nor veiled.73

Lacking local Bolsheviks to begin working among Muslim women, teams of Russian Zhenotdel organizers quietly began to meet with Muslim women to discuss women’s rights and socialism, make crafts and offer literacy instruction. When necessary, Zhenotdel organizers wore veils to avoid attracting attention because they frequently encountered hostility throughout Central Asia. On occasion, Zhenotdel workers and Muslim women members were attacked or killed by men hostile to changing women’s status. (It should be noted, however, that a similar degree of hostility also existed in remote Christian areas, such as Ukraine.) In some Central Asian localities, however, the Zhenotdel was able to build up local organizations of Muslim women.74

But there were enormous obstacles to overcome before the ground could be prepared socially and economically for genuine reform. Unfortunately, as Joseph Stalin consolidated his power within the bureaucracy, he proved this point all too clearly. During the second half of the 1920s, after Lenin’s death, Stalin began to outlaw so-called crimes of custom throughout Central Asia. One such crime of custom was the practice of paying "bridewealth" (galïng)–payment from the groom’s family to the bride’s parents in marriage, often when the bride was very young. To be sure, this practice is a form of "selling" women. But bridewealth was central to an elaborate kinship network on which social structures were based. In Turkmenistan, for example, banning this custom was widely opposed. Bridewealth could not be simply "outlawed." It had to be replaced by an entirely different form of social organization.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the Russian state had no right to impose its rule on any question in Russia’s former colonies. In so doing, Stalin betrayed the very principles of national liberation that were a hallmark of the Bolshevik tradition.

Too many historians blur the crucial distinction between Lenin and Stalin–and note without comment, for example, that the Zhenotdel developed a campaign in which Muslim women ceremoniously tore off their veils on International Women’s Day and May Day in Central Asia. That campaign reached its peak from 1927 to 1929–Stalin’s ultra-left "third period" that accompanied the forced collectivization of agriculture. The unveilings were followed by the slaughter of many of the Muslim women who had participated by enraged husbands and brothers. In one quarter of 1929 alone, some 300 women were murdered in Central Asia.75

Like the ban on "crimes of custom," the campaign against the veil was a product of Stalin’s increasing control, solidified in 1928, with a devastating impact on the oppressed nationalities–and women.

If the precondition for women’s equality in Russia was to address its economic backwardness, this was yet more the case in Russia’s former colonies, where imperialism had prevented any new development of the forces of production. The Bolsheviks who led the 1917 Revolution understood this. As Trotsky asserted, "The fate of the colonial possessions, especially in central Asia, would change together with the industrial evolution of the center."76 The Comintern’s "Theses on the National and Colonial Question" stated:

From the principles set forth it follows that the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial question must be based mainly on the union of the workers and toiling masses of all nations and countries in the common revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the landlords and of the bourgeoisie. For only such a union can secure victory over capitalism, without which the destruction of national oppression and inequality is impossible.77

The rise of Stalinism overturned the theoretical foundations of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1930, not long after outlawing "crimes of custom" in the name of women’s equality, Stalin’s regime dissolved the Zhenotdel. During the 1930s, abortion was outlawed, divorce became much more difficult, and Stalin proclaimed the "New Soviet Family," which meant the old "bourgeois family" with a new name.

Nevertheless, the early years of the Russian Revolution offer a glimpse, albeit rudimentary, of the potential for a socialist society to liberate all of humanity. Trotsky wrote, "Political practice remained, of course, far more primitive than political theory. For things are harder to change than ideas."78 This would have been true in any case, but any honest assessment of the Bolsheviks’ accomplishments must also take into account that the revolution was hamstrung by the conditions of civil war, while disease and famine plagued all parts of society. In this context, the revolution succeeded remarkably in combating oppression in all its forms.

The Bolsheviks, as leaders of the world revolutionary movement in the years immediately after 1917, built a movement that truly was, in Lenin’s words, a "tribune of the people."79 A speech given by Nadzhiya, a Turkish woman representative at the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920 offers insight into the demands women in Muslim societies might put forward in the fight against their own oppression:

The women’s movement beginning in the East must not be looked at from the standpoint of those frivolous feminists who are content to see woman’s place in social life as that of a delicate plant or an elegant doll. This movement must be seen as a serious and necessary consequence of the revolutionary movement which is taking place throughout the world. The women of the East are not merely fighting for the right to walk in the street without wearing the chadra [veil], as many people suppose. For the women of the East, with their high moral ideals, the question of the chadra, it can be said, is of the least importance…

The women Communists of the East have an even harder battle to wage because, in addition, they have to fight against the despotism of their menfolk. If you, men of the East, continue now, as in the past, to be indifferent to the fate of women, you can be sure that our countries will perish, and you and us together with them: the alternative is for us to begin, together with all the oppressed, a bloody life-and-death struggle to win our rights by force. I will briefly set forth the women’s demands. If you want to bring about your own emancipation, listen to our demands and render us real help and co-operation.

1) Complete equality of rights.

2) Ensuring for women unconditional opportunity to make use of the educational and vocational-training institutions established for men.

3) Equality of rights of both parties to marriage. Unconditional abolition of polygamy.

4) Unconditional admission of women to employment in legislative and administrative institutions.

5) Everywhere, in cities, towns and villages, committees for the rights and protection of women to be established.

Undoubtedly we can ask for all of this. The Communists, recognizing that we have equal rights, have reached out their hand to us, and we women will prove their most loyal comrades. True, we may be stumbling in pathless darkness, we may be standing on the brink of yawning chasms, but we are not afraid, because we know that in order to see the dawn one has to pass through the dark night.80

Conclusion: Past and present

Although the possibilities of the revolutionary Marxist tradition have yet to be realized, its potential to combat both national and women’s oppression can be seen in embryonic form in the Russian Revolution. The need to combat women’s oppression was not counterposed to the fight against national oppression, for the elimination of both required the transition to a classless society. This, along with a clear understanding of the role of Islam as a religious doctrine that both sanctions the inequalities produced by class society–notably, women’s oppression–and as an aspect of national culture brutally suppressed by imperialism in oppressed nations, offers lasting theoretical clarity.

The resurgence of Islam at the end of the twentieth century has its origin in the aims of American imperialism in the post-Cold War era–with a rise in racism toward Muslims parallel to the era of colonialism one hundred years earlier. The events of September 11 only accelerated this trend.

At the same time, neither imperialism nor its Islamic opposition can effectively address the issue of women’s oppression, because both defend it in different forms. Leila Ahmed, assessing the colonialists and the Islamic movement nearly one hundred years ago, remarked, "For neither side was male dominance ever in question."81 Elsewhere she argues, "The resemblance between the two positions is not coincidental: they are mirror images of each other."82 The solution to women’s oppression–and imperialism–lies in the revolutionary Marxist tradition.

Sharon Smith is author of "Engels and the Origin of Women’s Oppression" (ISR 2, Fall 1997). She is a columnist for Socialist Worker newspaper and the author of the forthcoming, Women and Socialism: Essays on Women’s Liberation, to be published by Haymarket Books.


1 Paul Silverstein, "Headscarves and the French Tricolor," Middle East Report (MERIP), Jan 31, 2004.

2 Haroon Siddiqui, "Why Hijab Disturbs Dictators, Democrats," Toronto Star, February 15, 2004; "German State Bans Hijab for Teachers,", April 3, 2004, available online at; and "Justice Department Challenges Oklahoma Hijab Ban,", March 31, 2004, available online at It is worth noting that the Bush administration opposes a hijab ban. "Religious discrimination has no place in American schools," stated Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Alexander Acosta recently. But Bush’s opposition to the hijab ban is more likely explained by his allegiance to the Christian Right, which seeks greater influence of the dominant Christian religion in schools and other public agencies.

3 Silverstein.

4 Jon Henley, "Something Aggressive About Veils, Says Chirac," Guardian (UK), December 6, 2003.

5 Silverstein.

6 Andree Seu, "By Banning Religious Symbols, Secularism Shows its Blindness," WORLD Magazine, 9:15, February 7, 2004; Silverstein, "Headscarves and the French Tricolor."

7 Siddiqui.

8 Ibid.

9 Henley; Seu.

10 Paul Webster, "Le Pen Tipped to Make Big Comeback in Local Polls," Observer (UK), January 11, 2004.

11 Pierre Tévanian, "Say No to Racial Discrimination," Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2004.

12 Andrew Borowiec, "A Religious Symbol of Secular Conflict," Washington Times, January 11, 2004.

13 Norman Madarasz, "France Starts Facing Up to Anti-Muslim Discrimination," CounterPunch, December 5, 2003, available online at

14 Zappi.

15 Sharon Smith, "Using Women’s Rights to Sell Washington’s War," International Socialist Review 21, January—February 2002.

16 Mariam Rawi, "Betrayal," New Internationalist 364, January-February 2004, available online at

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid; Meena Nanji, "Afghanistan’s Women after ‘Liberation,’" December 29, 2003, available online at

19 Ibid.

20 Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, "An Overview of Abortion in the United States," January 2003.

21 Smith.

22 Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992), 152—53.

23 Ibid., 153.

24 Ibid., 137, 147.

25 Ibid., 153.

26 Ibid., 154—55.

27 Ibid., 144—45, 155, 159.

28 Siddiqui; Behzad Yaghmaian, "Scarf and Make-up: the Modern Face of Islam. Religion and Secularism in Turkey and Iran," CounterPunch, February 23, 2003.

29 Ahmed, 192.

30 Ibid., 204.

31 Phil Marshall, Revolution and Counter Revolution in Iran (London and Chicago: Bookmarks, 1988), 49.

32 For more information on the revolution in Iran, see Saman Sepehri, "The Iranian Revolution," International Socialist Review 9, Fall 1999.

33 See Ahmed Shawki, "The Bush Doctrine: Turning Point for U.S. Imperialism," International Socialist Review 26, November—December 2002; Lance Selfa, "The other war party," International Socialist Review 33, January—February 2004; and Paul D’Amato, "Imperialism and the State: Why McDonald’s Needs MacDonnell Douglas," International Socialist Review 17, April—May 2001.

34 George Szamuely, "Israel’s Hamas," New York Press, 15:17, 4/24/2002—4/30/2002.

35 Ken Silverstein, "Blasts From the Past," Salon, September 22, 2001.

36 Matt Frei, "Hell on Earth: Afghanistan," London Evening Standard, February 20, 2001.

37 Silverstein, "Blasts From the Past;" Natasha Walter, "When the Veil Means Freedom," Guardian (UK) January 20, 2004.

38 Walter.

39 See Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (New York: Morrow, 1991) and Alison Pollet and Page Hurwitz, "Strip Till you Drop" Nation, January 12—19, 2004.

40 Yaghmaian.

41 Ibid.; Nadia Hijab, Womanpower: The Arab Debate on Women at Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

42 Williston Walker et. al., eds., A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed., (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1985), 284.

43 Bill Berkowitz, "The New Christian Crusades," WorkingForChange, April 4, 2003, available online at; Maureen Dowd, "Head Spook Sputters," New York Times, April 15, 2004.

44 Ahmed, 5, 35—36.

45 Gwynne Dyer, "Islam Isn’t Alone in Patriarchal Doctrines," Toronto Star, July 3, 1990.

46 Sharon Smith, "Engels and the Origin of Women’s Oppression," International Socialist Review 2, Winter 1997.

47 Quoted in Rosa Luxemburg, "Socialism and the Churches" (1905), Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (New York: Pathfinder Press, 2001), 194.

48 Ibid., 200.

49 Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 120—22.

50 Ibid., 13, 46.

51 Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam, 14.

52 Ibid., 62.

53 "The Power to Make a Difference," OPDV Bulletin, the biannual newsletter of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Spring 2000.

54 Karl Marx, "Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right," (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbucher, February 1844), in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W W Norton & Company, 1978), 54 .

55 V.I. Lenin, "The Attitude of the Worker’s Party to Religion" (1909), Collected Works, vol. 15, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1960) 402—413.

56 Lenin, "Socialism and Religion" (1905), Collected Works, vol. 10, 83—87.

57 Lenin, "The Attitude of the Worker’s Party to Religion."

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid; Lenin, "Socialism and Religion."

60 Lenin, "The Attitude of the Worker’s Party to Religion."

61 See Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980), chapter 39.

62 Tom Lewis, "Marxism and Nationalism: Part One," International Socialist Review 13, August-September 2000.

63 Tom Lewis, "Marxism and Nationalism: Part Two," International Socialist Review 14, October-November 2000.

64 Lenin, On the Emancipation of Women (New York: International Publishers, 1977), 63—64.

65 Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism and Bolshevism 1860—1930 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 287; Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, chapter 39.

66 Stites; Quoted in N. Halifax, Out, Proud and Fighting (London: Socialist Workers Party, 1988), 17.

67 Clara Zetkin, "Reminiscences of Lenin," in Lenin, On the Emancipation of Women (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 115.

68 Lenin, "The Question of _Nationalities or Autonomization,"_Collected Works, vol. 36, available at

69 "Theses on the National and Colonial Question," Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International, July 28, 1922, available online at

70 Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917—1923 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997), 73, 77, 84.

71 C.E. Hayden, "The Zhenotdel and the Bolshevik Party," in Russian History Volume 3, Part 2, 160, 162.

72 Stites, "Women’s Liberation Movements in Russia, 1900—1930," in Canadian American Slavic Studies, VII, 4 (Winter 1987), 472.

73 Adrienne Lynn Edgar, "Emancipation of the Unveiled: Turkmen Women Under Soviet Rule, 1924—29," The Russian Review 62, (January 2003), 132.

74 Stites, "Women’s Liberation Movements in Russia," 339.

75 Ibid., 340.

76 Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution.

77 "Theses on the National and Colonial Question," Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International, July 28, 1922. Available online at

78 Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution.

79 Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, 423.

80 September 7, 1920, Seventh Session, Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, available online at

81 Ahmed, 163

82 Ibid., 166.

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