U.S.-based Muslim advocacy group calls women’s rights film ‘Islamophobic’

CAIR called the film, which showcases nine Muslim women who speak about their experiences with honor practices such as forced marriage at young ages “islamophobic.” (Photo courtesy: honordiaries.com)

Writers and producers of “Honor Diaries” are standing by the film they made about abuses women face around the world, despite criticism it received from the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), reported the Washington Examiner on Thursday.

CAIR called the film, which showcases nine Muslim women who speak about their experiences with honor practices such as forced marriage at young ages, denial of education and female genital mutilation, “islamophobic.”

In a statement to Fox News, CAIR said that American Muslims condemn the atrocities the women discuss in the film and support gender equality; but that the organization’s real concern was the “track record of anti-Muslim bigotry” of the film's producers, who were “hijacking a legitimate issue to push their hate-filled agenda.”

The controversy began after CAIR convinced officials at University of Michigan to cancel a screening of the film last week and then confirmed a second cancellation of the film showing at the University of Illinois.

Clinical therapist and activist on global women’s rights Zainab Khan who appears in the film says the organization is “utilizing tactics of censorship.”

“It’s completely dangerous and shows their mode of operation: bullying, scapegoating, censoring, avoiding issues.”

CAIR officials said it wasn’t censorship and that the organization had only informed sponsors of the documentary showing that the issues presented in the film were done so unfairly.

“The screenings were not canceled by CAIR,” said spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

“They were canceled by the screening sponsors after they were informed of the hate agenda and Islamophobic history of the film's producers. Replacement events dealings with this issue are now being planned with the screening sponsors and actual representatives of the American Muslim community.”

Defending the film’s integrity

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, human rights attorney Paula Kweskin, a writer and producer for the film, said it was clear that the Muslim advocacy group had not seen the film in its entirety.

“I mean, one of the most engaging parts about this film is that it centers on a salon of women engaging and talking candidly,” Kweskin said. “And they don’t all agree with one another, but they respect one another and they’re talking about issues that are close to their hearts.

“And so I think this film is all about shattering silence and giving voice to women and so I think that a debate is encouraged, but certainly folks should be able to see the film and be able to examine the issues for themselves."

Kweskin said the inspiration for the film stemmed from the Arab Spring in 2011 when women were at the front of a lot of the protests. While supporters hoped that it would result in greater equality for women in the Arab world, it has not been the case. Women and children are the greatest victims of the ongoing conflict and women in Egypt are regularly victimized for protesting.

The discrimination and harassment, Kweskin said, is that these issues are not exclusive to the Middle East or the Islamic faith, underlining that “Honor Diaries” made this point “incredibly clear.”

“[W]hen you zoom out a little bit, the issues that women face in these countries are also issues that women face in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Australia -- and so this general concept of ‘honor' doesn't only affect women in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, it's also affecting women all over the world,” Kweskin said.

The film also discusses the fact that crimes against women occur in some Sikh and Hindu communities.

In general, Kweskin says the film does not discriminate against one demographic of people but that “culture is no excuse for abuse.”

Some 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence isn't a crime. Iraq is considering a law legalizing spousal rape and child marriages, the Washington Examiner reported.

Around 125 million girls have gone through female genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East, and in half of the countries where the “procedure” occurs, the girls are younger than 5. There are over 60 million child brides worldwide - married before the age of 18. And, according to the U.N., there are at least 5,000 “honor killings” each year, although some experts agree the number is far higher.

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