Probably one of the best letters to the editor of The New York Times that I’ve seen in a long time, on the subject of sexual slavery in the Islamic world. It’s a response to a March 13 article, “ISIS’ System of Rape Relies on Birth Control“:
To the Editor:
Men and women are equally complicit in these crimes. I founded and directed a women’s center in a very conservative city in Pakistan. Our most vicious enemies were other women. Some of our most dedicated supporters were men. Many husbands were eager for their wives to learn valuable skills. But those men’s own mothers often refused to allow daughters-in-law to participate in our program.
In many or most cases of bride-burning, the mother-in-law is the ringleader. In most honor killings, the mother is a willing participant.
What sort of woman encourages her son to rape another woman?
Please don’t tell me about oppressive cultures in which women have no voice. Every human being has agency. Over the past 40 years I have spent significant time in a conservative — now fundamentalist — Muslim culture. I have seen poor and uneducated parents do everything for the welfare of daughters. I have seen rich, sophisticated, world-traveling parents who kill daughters who dare to date an “unacceptable” suitor.
Sisterhood isn’t global. It’s not even local. When women value other women, they will force change. It is women who raise boys who grow up to perpetrate these horrors.
SARAH CRYSL AKHTAR
Of course, we’d want statistical confirmation of what she says, but it has a certain plausibility about it. It’s also a useful corrective to a certain kind of bien-pensant “multiculturalism” (though not, I think, to multiculturalism as such). Indirectly, the claim that “every human being has agency” has interesting implications for how we think about moral responsibility and moral luck. (Strictly speaking, the “every” is probably a little overstated, but read charitably, I understand her point.)
Weird, random fact: Back in March 1987, I got a letter to the editor published in The New York Times under the name “Irfan Ahmad.” (My full name is “Irfan Ahmad Khawaja,” but my father threatened to throw me out of the house if I affixed the family name to the letter; hence the use of the abbreviated version.) One Sarah Akhtar of Flushing, Queens wrote a response. I wonder if it’s the same one? According to Robert Putnam, writers of letters to the editor tend to be “serial offenders.” I suspect that they also tend to repeat the offense at the same publication. So it’s more than a mere possibility.
Postscript, March 20, 2016: I just got an email from Sarah Crysl Akhtar. It is the same person!