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The real war on women isn’t in Washington

While Americans are fighting a culture war with no middle ground left, Iran and ISIS remind us of the real enemy of gender equality.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Iran’s Kermanshah Province in November 2017. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Iran’s Kermanshah Province in November 2017. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

I have often written with sorrow about the decline of civility in our political system. Most Americans seem to have lost the ability to agree to disagree—an essential element of any functioning democracy—and seem to prefer to demonize anyone who thinks differently about important contemporary issues.

But as nasty as the public square has become, the battle over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has sunk us even farther into the gutter. The vitriol and endless stream of attacks between the two sides have eclipsed what went before it. More importantly, it demonstrates that common ground between right and left in the United States no longer exists. As much as labels are a poor way to define our stands on complex issues, this episode has demonstrated that few are impervious the pull of faction. Every event or piece of news is viewed through a partisan lens that not only distorts judgment, but also makes individuals despise their political foes even more.

Not many are immune to this dynamic, and I won’t pretend that I’m one of them. I remain flabbergasted at the willingness of so many seemingly reasonable people to believe that an uncorroborated 36-year-old charge, as well as other improvable charges without a shred of credibility, is enough to destroy a man who has led a seemingly blameless life.

But as the old political axiom goes, where you stand depends on where you sit. Those who opposed his conservative and constitutionalist legal philosophy, or who view opposition to him as part of the “resistance” to U.S. President Donald Trump, see the situation differently and have shown their willingness to buy into every possible line of attack, many of which strike me as absurd and unfair in order to justify our collective embrace of the politics of personal destruction. Moreover, they view the defenses of Kavanaugh with the same incredulity with which conservatives see their attacks.

What is even more unfortunate is the way the partisan battle lines over Kavanaugh—an extension of our existing debate about the legitimacy of the Trump administration—has become inextricably tied to the #MeToo movement that had rightly sought to end the willingness of our society to countenance sexual harassment and violence, and the silencing of women who are victims. While I think that the notion that all those claiming to be survivors of sexual violence must be believed without question is untenable—if there is anything that I’ve learned in a career in journalism it is that people lie all the time about all kinds of things—opposing an unproven charge, as well as attacks that are nothing less than slander against Kavanaugh, doesn’t invalidate the need for Americans to take the issue seriously. The politicization of #MeToo is bad news for the country, no matter which side you are on.

But in spite of the bitter nature of this debate, there are still some reminders about why we should be putting even this divisive issue in perspective.

This week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to Twitter to offer what he claimed was a solution to the problem of sexual violence. He posted a video of American women speaking about attacks on them that led off with Aly Raisman, a U.S. Olympic gymnastics star who also happens to a proud Jew who has at times competed to the strains of “Hava Nagila.”

What is Khamanei’s helpful suggestion for American women?

He urges them to wear a hijab and claims it acts as device to protect women from sexual violence.

This is doubly ironic this week because of the announcement of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi victim of ISIS, as well as Dr. Dennis Mukwege, a Congolese doctor who campaigned against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Murad’s experience and that of other Yazidis is instructive because it demonstrates that those speaking in the name of Islam had institutionalized sexual slavery. To read this detailed report from The New York Times on ISIS’s sexual atrocities is to see how much of a threat radical Islam is to women and civilization. Iran’s theocratic dictatorship is not quite as barbaric in its treatment of women as ISIS. But as its leader reminds us, its compulsory rules about female dress don’t merely fail to prevent sexual assault. The point of his government’s heavy-handed enforcement of their diktat is to control women, not to free them from fear.

Iranian women have courageously demonstrated against Khamenei’s hijab rules in the streets, and have been beaten and imprisoned for their trouble. Sadly, few, if any, Hollywood celebrities choose to note their struggle, let alone seek to publicize it. For too many on the left, Iran is only important to the extent that a nuclear deal struck by President Obama that empowered and enriched it must be defended at all costs against Trump’s stand against it.

The irony is that while many women have showed up on Capitol Hill dressed in costumes from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the television show adapted from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about the oppression of women in order to protest Kavanaugh and the Trump administration, nothing better illustrates that scenario in the real world than Iran and ISIS. It is they, and not Republicans, who are waging a war on women.

What’s happening in the Middle East doesn’t excuse sexual violence in the United States, but these reminders that real gender oppression is going on elsewhere ought to give us pause as we turn the court debate into political Armageddon. Is it too much to ask that the two sides in the Kavanaugh debate step back from the abyss and realize that our differences about one judge or one president are insignificant compared to the war that radical Islam is waging on Western civilization?

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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