Tuesday, December 1, 2009

“I Hope the West Does Not Give In”: An Interview with Seyran Ates

This interview with Turkish-German lawyer, Seyran Ates, first appeared in the land of the fjords, the land of oil, the home of the political correctniks who choose and bestow the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am talking about Norway, where my friend and colleague, the American author Bruce Bawer, also lives. Bruce has written a number of important books such as While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying The West From Within and Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity.

Bruce (who currently has a piece featured on Pajamas) is the one who translates my work into Norwegian. Two far-sighted women, Rita Karlsen and Helge Storhaug, publish Human Rights Service as an online journal in both English and Norwegian.

I first “met” Seyran Ates when I was researching my book about Islamic gender apartheid and its penetration of the West. Thus, I quoted her twice in The Death of Feminism. I recently met Seyran for the first time in person in Rome at the G8 conference; I wrote about it for PJM here. We bonded. But, we really met when Seyran came to stay with me in New York City.

Seyran Ates' latest book: "Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution"

By Phyllis Chesler for Human Rights Service

This past week, my home and my life were graced by a very heroic houseguest. I am talking about Seyran Ates, the Turkish-German lawyer, author, and freedom fighter who flew to New York City to spend six days with me, to talk, laugh, dream, strategize, hang out, hide out.

Yes, hide out.

Seyran’s fourth book Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution has just appeared in Germany. Its title: “Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution” has, apparently, led to more than the usual number of death threats. Seyran temporarily cancelled her tour to promote the book and came to visit me instead.

Seyran is no stranger to serious trouble.

In 1984, as a 21 year-old law student, Seyran was working at a Women’s Center in Berlin where mainly Turkish and Kurdish girls and women came for counseling. Seyran was sitting with her client, a fifteen year old battered Turkish Muslim girl. All around them, other women were giving and receiving advice, shelter, legal services. A quiet man quietly entered. Politely, but firmly, one of the women said: “Sir, there are no men allowed here.”

Expressionless, the man in the trench coat assured her that “What I have to do will take no time at all.”

Quickly, smoothly, he shot and killed the fifteen year old. He also pumped three bullets into Seyran’s neck and shoulder; she was not expected to live since the shooter had punctured a major artery. Against all odds Seyran recovered but her rehabilitation would take six years.

The shooter calmly walked out of the Women’s Center.

Yes, he was finally found and jailed for six months but no, he was never convicted. Although six Turkish and non-Turkish women identified him, the police made so many procedural errors that the judge felt there was enough reasonable doubt and could not convict him.

In Seyran’s expert opinion, the problem was that the victims were women—and Turkish women at that. It was a Turkish-on-Turkish, Muslim-on-Muslim crime—perhaps the fate of Turkish-German women was not yet seen as a priority on the multi-culti German agenda.

A lesser mortal might have given up. Seyran, however, completed law school. She went on to specialize in defending battered, mainly Muslim immigrant girls and women, including those who are the intended targets of honor killing.

However, Seyran was a rebel long before this incident. When she was 18 years old, she ran away from home. She could no longer bear being “treated as her father’s and elder brother’s slave and servant.” She wrote a book about it but under a pseudonym. She titled it: Wo gehören wir hin? (Where Do We Belong?) and it was a cri de coeur about immigrant identity. When I asked her how she found the strength to do this, she told me this:

“My parents, who were farmers, first came to Berlin in 1968 as guest workers. Berlin was undergoing a political and sexual revolution. I have no idea what they made of it all. Anyway, I arrived here in 1969 when I was six years old. I was the only Turkish girl in school. Everyone spoke German. Me too. I became completely integrated. There were no separate or parallel facilities, no parallel universe to impede my integration.”

Seyran wanted the same freedoms that German girls and women had. Now, in retrospect, she realizes that, as the only daughter, her mother really needed her help. (Seyran has reconciled completely with her family. In fact, they all live together in the same building in different apartments and support Seyran’s decision to be a single mother.)

Here, in the West, a non-Muslim divorce lawyer who represents a non-Muslim battered woman client might well be sued by her client’s ex-husband; she might have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend herself. I know many American women lawyers who have faced this. But a lawyer like Seyran risks her life, faces death, each day she defends a battered Muslim woman, each time she helps her flee from an intended honor killing.

So many heroic Muslim and ex-Muslim feminists and dissidents have received death threats. Some write under pseudonyms, live in exile, often require bodyguards and/or serious police protection.

Here, I am thinking about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Magdi Allam, Lubna Hussein (the brave, trouser-wearing journalist who just fled Sudan), Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manji, Taslima Nasrin, Asra Nomani, Wafa Sultan. Those of us who share their views and who write about them in the West, are usually called “racist Islamophobes.”

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