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Phyllis Chesler Complains about Critical Article

Rachel Tabachnick has an article on ZEEK about Jewish support for the Christian Right on the issue of Islam:

In “Leftist Anti-Semitism” [Phyllis] Chesler decries the European doctrines of multicultural tolerance and adds, “a similarly dangerous, multi-cultural tolerance also exists in America. So far, however, it has won support mainly among our intellectual elite and our liberal and progressive media.” The article was billed as a symposium sponsored by FrontPage, an extremist, rightwing online magazine founded by David Horowitz who is also founder of the “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. The event has now been held at over 100 campuses around the nation and featured speakers such as former Senator Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter, Robert Spencer, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, Michael Medved, Daniel Pipes and Dennis Prager.

In this single-minded zealotry, the struggle against Islam appears to be seen as a zero sum game – whatever is bad for Muslims, must be good for Jews. But what is the cost of this attack on multiculturalism? Is it possible that some Jewish leaders are hacking away at the very same foundations which have provided a peaceful existence for Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere over the last several decades? Is attacking multiculturalism really beneficial to Jews?

…Chesler has become an unlikely star in some sectors of the Religious Right world, most recently for her interviews and commentary concerning Rifqa Bary, the 17-year old girl who ran away from her Muslim family in Ohio after converting to Christianity.

Rachel goes on to use various players in the Bary case as a lens through which to explore the Christian Right. She concludes:

Perhaps the ramifications of promoting the Religious Right and its Christian nationalism as a deterrent to the “new anti-Semitism” is shortsighted.

However, an angry response from Chesler has been appended by ZEEK‘s editors:

…Rachel Tabachnick is saying that young, politically progressive Jews should stay away from cases where potential honor killings are alleged or involved because those who support such cases are right-wing Christian zealots. Neat trick. This certainly scapegoats right-wing Christian zealots for the considerable crimes of Islamic/Islamist gender and religious apartheid, including honor killings.

Why would ZEEK want to publish such a view and at such length? Why would ZEEK wish to demonize me, not only for my stated views, but to find me guilty by association with other demonized thinkers?

For the record: I have had absolutely nothing to do with the activism around the Rifqa Bary case and do not know and have had no contact with the various people whom the article names…

This reply is also reposted at Pyjamas Media, along with an introduction in which she writes that

I purposely stayed far away from Bary’s supporters—not because they were Christians or conservatives but on the off chance that my academic studies about honor killings might become part of the legal record in this case.

Chesler’s public involvement with the Bary case occured last summer. As she boasted on her own site:

Yesterday afternoon, my living room was filled with lights, cameras, and two very friendly ABC crew men. We were taping an interview for Good Morning America which appeared today and which is preserved at theirwebsite. We talked about honor killings and the plight of Fathima Rifqa Bary, the Muslim teenager from Ohio who converted to Christianity and who ran away from home because she knows her father will kill her.

…Weeping, the very frightened teenager from Sri Lanka knows that most western journalists (and the police who turned her over to the state and forced her into a public trial), do not believe this can be true. How quickly they forget Salman Rushdie’s plight.

…Rifqa may be “forced” to return to Islam. Her family may place her under house arrest, and bring in the mullahs to reason with or to brainwash her; her mother may beg her to relent so that the family may remain together as before. If all else fails, Rifqa may be sent back to Sri Lanka either to be killed or to be confined to a lunatic asylum. She may be killed here. What absolutely cannot happen is for her religious Muslim family to remain close to her as she follows another religious path very publicly.

…Of course, these are Rifqa’s allegations, and what the truth is in this case remains to be explored.

And, by the way: the weeping and terrified Rifqa has possibly been coached for the interview, she is slightly “hysterical,” she seems somewhat auto-hypnotized. And yet, she also makes perfect sense. She is quite in touch with reality.

Those caveats are tokenistic; her piece is entitled “Honor Killing Averted”. I wrote a number of posts myself on the topic; of course, we don’t know what kind of man Bary’s father is, but her account was problematic and certainly did not “make perfect sense” . In particular, Bary stated that her father wanted to kill her because it would bring him “great honour” in the eyes of Allah. In other words, she appears to understand honour killings as some kind of human sacrifice – where did she get that idea from? Chesler also repeats Bary’s claim that a lunatic asylum awaits in Sri Lanka, although there is no evidence for this: although Muslim family law has some authority over the Muslim minority, Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country (not Muslim), and women have civil rights. There was reason for caution, but Chesler was happy to jump on an increasingly hysterical bandwagon.

Meanwhile, former Washington Times assistant editor Robert Stacy McCain sees a conspiracy:

Which brings us to the important question, “Who is Rachel Tabachnick?” She is a prodigious contributor to the Web site Talk2Action.org, whose raison d’être is to “expose” the Religious Right. TalkToAction was founded in February 2006 by Bruce Wilson and Frederick Clarkson.

…Beyond what she says about herself at Talk2Action, however, it is nearly impossible to learn anything else about Mrs. Tabachnick… We do not know, for example, how Talk2Action is funded, or how it was that Mrs. Tabachnick “began collaborating with Bruce Wilson.”

Bruce, it should be recalled, in 2008 sought out a number of taped sermons by Pastor John Hagee; what he discovered led to John McCain repudiating Hagee’s presidential endorsement. The other McCain continues:

…The goal of Talk2Action is to defeat Republicans by discrediting conservative Christians, portraying them as dangerous, intolerant kooks.

Chesler’s column about Rifka Bary, and her general work in discussing the oppression of women in Islamic societies (Chesler was once married to a Muslim and lived in Afghanistan), were rather disruptive of the “American Taliban” message that Wilson and Mrs. Tabachnick have been relentlessly promoting.

This is why Chesler was attacked in the pages of the Forward.

We have solved that mystery, Scooby-Doo, and it’s time for the Mystery Machine to roll on, leaving others to pursue the nagging question: Who’s paying the bills at Talk2Action.org?

McCain pads out his article with a few personal details about Rachel’s husband, even though this has nothing to do with anything, and there’s the revelation that she and her husband donated to the Obama campaign. It’s a bizarre attack: Tabachnick doesn’t claim personal authority or to have inside information – readers can follow the links she provides and decide for themselves whether she has fairly characterised the Christian Right figures she discusses. Her personal background and unsurprising progressive political views are not of wider interest.

But what about TTA‘s funding? I also write the occasional piece for the website – has Bruce been keeping back brown envelopes stashed full of Soros dollars that I’m owed? Alas no, as Bruce explains here:

Let me clear up the mystery, as to Robert Stacy McCain’s breathless question, “Who’s paying the bills at Talk2Action.org?”

The answer is rather dull, really. I’ve paid the bills for most of the web site’s existence. The hosting fee is about $26 a month, and Talk2action contributors aren’t paid for their contributions.

Robert Stacy McCain and I have had a bit of back and forth at The American Spectator. In the exchange, he accuses me of unfairly saddling John McCain with John Hagee. I respond. And, R.S. McCain suggests that my highlighting of Lou Engle is unfair because he’s a very obscure evangelist. I respond. Your readers can find the exchange in the comment section here:
http://spectator.org/blog/2010/05/11/from-dailykos-to-the-forward-a

Best,
Bruce Wilson

Chesler shares McCain’s view that noting the excesses of the Christian Right actually means that one supports extremist Islam (I’ve been accused of the same thing):

Perhaps that is the point: To rile your audience up against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels, opposing Islamic sects, women, and the general practices of Islamic gender and religious apartheid.Perhaps that is the point: To rile your audience up against right wing Christians so they will forget all about Islamist hatred of infidels, opposing Islamic sects, women, and the general practices of Islamic gender and religious apartheid.

My view – if anyone’s interested – is that some people are complacent about Islamic extremism. Legitimate concerns might be dismissed as racism, and some on the “anti-imperialist” left even go so far as to support Islamist groups, either for reasons of political expediency or because “solidarity” has become an unreflecting dogma (not something of which I approve either way). But as with the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, we know that other kinds of extremists and opportunists will seek to use the situation for their own purposes. It makes sense to keep a critical attitude.

Chesler’s poor judgement was in evidence in 2008, when she wrote in support of the British anti-Muslim activist Paul Ray (“Lionheart”). However, she did change her mind once the easy-to-find evidence of his pro-BNP views was brought to her attention. I see that her post on the subject has since been deleted.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Richard,

    I wanted to let you know that there’s an ABC News segment from August 2009 on Rifqa Bary. Phyllis Chesler appears in the segment identified as Bary’s lawyer.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJUBYGU8Pmw&feature=player_embedded

    The ABC Youtube segment was posted with the following solicitation:

    “A trust fund for Rifqa and her cause has been set up by Global Revolution Church. All monies collected will go towards Rifqa, her legal defense, and her cause. Not one dime will be retained by Global Revolution Church and all funds will be administrated and disseminated by a third party. All funds donated are 100% tax deductible.”

    The statement goes on to present, at length, a version of the Rifqa Bary saga.

  2. For an interesting item on Phyllis Chesler go to http://www.blootstellen.wordpress.com.

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