Hollywood MIA on Abuse in Islam

Hollywood rarely shies away from delving into politics, and it routinely rewards films that comport with its political worldview.  It couldn’t get enough of Michael Moore’s screeds against guns and “Bush’s war,” and it warmed up nicely to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.  This year, Hollywood celebrated Che, the sympathetic biopic about the Castro lieutenant, mass murderer and cult hero to leftwing radicals.  

But Hollywood’s favorite political film this year was Milk, which chronicles the life of slain gay rights advocate Harvey Milk.  For his portrayal of Milk, Sean Penn won the Best Actor award at this year’s Academy Awards. Taking the stage to accept his Oscar last weekend, Penn started in on a rant over the passage of Proposition 8, California’s marriage protection amendment.  He said, in part:

“… I think it’s a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect on their great shame and their shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that support.  We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”

Putting aside the ridiculousness of Sean Penn, a man who holidays with tyrants like Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, advising others to “sit and reflect on their great shame,” there is a larger point.  Given how often Hollywood sees fit to rail against this or that perceived political or social injustice, there is one area about which Hollywood has remained conspicuously silent:  the brutality of radical Islam.

Not only has the film industry consciously avoided using Muslim characters in its many films about war and terrorism,  Hollywood has also been missing in action when it comes to speaking out against some Muslims’ unacceptable views on gays and women.   

In many Islamic countries, homosexuality is considered an executable offense. In Iran, homosexuals are sometimes crucified.  The absurdity of Iran’s treatment of homosexuals was on display when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited New York in 2007.  He told an audience at Columbia University, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.  In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon.  I don’t know who has told you we have that.”  

Women have it no better in many Muslim societies.  Last November in Afghanistan, a group of school girls were assaulted by men who sprayed them with acid, leaving some of them with permanent scars and vision problems.  The men, who are suspected of having been hired by the Taliban, attacked the girls because they felt it was an abomination for women to attend school.  

Sadly, this misogyny is not confined to Muslim countries.  It can happen in the U.S. too, a reality that was underscored recently in Buffalo, N. Y., when Pakistani immigrant Muzzammil Hassan allegedly beheaded his wife, Aasiya. Mr. Hassan is the founder and CEO of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004 to help portray Muslims in a more positive light.  

Media reports indicate that Aasiya may be the victim of an “honor” killing, which is defined as the murder of a (usually female) family member when it is believed that she has brought dishonor to the family.  According to a 2000 report by the United Nations, as many as 5,000 women are killed globally each year in honor killings. In the Hassan’s case, the justification for the alleged murder may have been that Aasiya had filed for divorce.

According to Human Rights Watch, honor killings are typically committed by male family members against female members for reasons that include refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce or being accused of having committed adultery.  

But honor killings are also common punishment for Muslim women and girls who refuse to wear head scarves, refuse to act as domestic servants, wear make-up or western clothing, choose to have friends from other religions or seek higher education, among other perceived wrongs.  

In an article published in the most recent edition of Middle East Quarterly, Phyllis Chesler argues that the U.S. has failed to acknowledge the severity of honor killings, and that this denial stems in part from a fear of being called “culturally insensitive,” a fear that is exacerbated when U.S.-based Muslim advocacy groups like CAIR reflexively deny that such killings are a problem.

Although honor killings are comparatively rare in the U.S., domestic abuse is widespread in Muslim American households.  In fact, Muslim American women are often imprisoned in abusive relationships and can face social ostracism and intense family pressure if they speak up against abuse or try to escape or file charges.  The upshot is that even in the West, many Muslim women are suffering in silence and fear.  

After the Academy Awards, Sean Penn did an interview in which he continued to lash out at the majority of Americans who support traditional marriage, claiming that they demonstrated “emotional cowardice” and that they were “…essentially telling you that you’re less than human.”  

No rational person believes homosexuals are “less than human.”  But that’s precisely how Muslim women are often viewed and treated by their co-religionists, even here in the U.S.  
Why is it that Hollywood obsesses about the alleged splinter in the eye of the West but ignores the plank in the eye of a culture that treats women no better than property?  

I wish Hollywood would make a film highlighting the brutal treatment of gays and women in Islam, especially given the steady stream of films detailing how stifling to women American society supposedly was in the 1950’s and how oppressive it continues to be for homosexuals today.  

Granted, it is much harder to bully groups from which one need not fear violent reprisal.  When in 2004 Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gough directed the short film Submission, which chronicled the violence against women in some Islamic societies, he was brutally murdered by a Muslim extremist.  Perhaps I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Hollywood, or “tough guy” Sean Penn, to summon the emotional courage to address this neglected issue.