In her best-selling autobiography, Infidel, Somali-born writer, politician, and activist Ayan Hirsi catalogs a lifetime of grievances against the Muslim culture and religion. Throughout the book, Hirsi laments the West's reticence to deal honestly with the egregious human rights abuses that routinely occur in the Muslim world, particularly against women.
No doubt when Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, women around the world were inspired and encouraged. Finally, an advocate for women's rights in the most powerful diplomatic post on earth! Surely Mrs. Clinton would leverage her new position to catapult women's issues to the forefront of the international human rights debate.
Yet, as Maureen Dowd points out in a recent article, Mrs. Clinton's performance on international women's rights has been disappointingly muted. As it happens, Hillary is constrained by the same strategic interests that have prevented the United States from taking a bold position on human rights abuses in the developing world for decades. This is particularly true in regard to our relations with Saudi Arabia, where a recent campaign to raise awareness of the Saudi ban on women driving (only one of a long list of offenses) went largely unnoticed.
The persistent "gender apartheid" that Dowd discusses in her article is no exaggeration. In many countries throughout the Middle East and beyond Muslim women are treated as second class citizens – mere chattels in a male dominated society. They are divorced with impunity, routinely abused, killed for breaches of honor, beaten for being in the company of men who are not their husbands, and in some cases subjected to excruciatingly painful and humiliating genital mutilation. The list of offenses and indignities goes on and on.