But it happens routinely. People prepared to label opposition to employer-paid contraceptives a "war on women" are generally much less willing to channel their outrage at the savagery of honor killings or child marriages in non-Western societies. "They fear treading on cultural toes," saysJasvinder Sanghera, one of the film's featured advocates. "We're constantly having to remind them that cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable."
For Sanghera, who fled a forced marriage as a young teen, this is no abstract theory. She is haunted by the memory of her sister, Ravina, who committed suicide rather than "dishonor" her family by leaving the husband she was forced to marry. Also highlighted in the film is Raquel Saraswati, who embraces Islam as a source of strength and peace in her life, yet feels "afraid all the time" of the backlash against those who challenge "honor-based" violence against women.
Efforts by CAIR and its ilk to squelch honest discussion of such grave human-rights issues — and to demonize as "haters" and "Islamophobes" those who do — encapsulate the very perversity "Honor Diaries" seeks to expose: valuing the honor of a community more than a woman's life or voice. But does CAIR's shrill protest reflect what average citizens in Muslim countries think of such a documentary? Or does the "Honor Diaries" Arabic Facebook page, with 95,000 "likes" — and climbing?
Why aren't more progressives passionate about these issues?
I put that question to Nazie Eftekhari, an immigrant from Iran and another of the women "Honor Diaries" focuses on. A successful Minnesota health-care entrepreneur, Eftekhari unhesitatingly describes herself as a "bleeding-heart liberal" and a longtime Democratic Party voter, loyalist, and fund-raiser. She is as mystified as I am.
"The biggest human-rights crisis of our generation is the treatment of women in Muslim-majority countries, and we've applied a gag order to ourselves," she replies with unmistakable distress. "We won't talk about it. Where are my fellow liberals? Where are the feminists?"
In theocratic Iran today, Eftekhari says, the legal age of marriage for girls has been lowered to 9. Men can now marry their adopted daughters. "How can President Obama, who has two young daughters, not be making a huge issue of this?" she wants to know. "It's not marriage, it's statutory rape."
Eftekhari can't understand why so many progressive voices fall silent on an issue she thinks they should be raising the loudest. And she has only contempt for anyone who thinks it progressive to snub those — like Ayaan Hirsi Ali — who so bravely speak out: "Ali needs no degree or honor from Brandeis; she is a guiding light for the women who respect and honor her. But where will Brandeis go to get its respect and honor back?"