Slightly edited version of article originally published under the title "I Support the Women Who Have Accused Tariq Ramadan of Assault."
Tariq Ramadan is said to groom his victims using Skype.
As an American feminist, I support the incredibly brave Muslim and ex-Muslim women who have just accused Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and a revered professor at Oxford, of having violently raped, battered, humiliated, confined, and death threatened them if they talked.
I also support Ramadan's Swiss underage students who have just come forward with stories of his inappropriate behavior and of sexual abuse.
Ramadan has denied these accusations and threatened to sue for defamation. I do not believe his denials.
Religious Muslim women, especially those whose lives have been lived face-veiled and in purdah, as was Ramadan's first accuser, have sought him out as a spiritual counselor, a holy guide. No matter how mixed their motives may have been, he abused their trust in the most vulgar way.
Ramadan cuts a smooth and dashing figure and has been warmly embraced by Western intellectuals. His Chair at Oxford has been endowed by the government of Qatar.
It is one thing for Western actresses to name their predators. It is quite another for Muslim women.
Other women in France have allegedly reported similar fact pattern violence at Ramadan's hands. They are still afraid to go public with it. Lawyers believe they will do so. One such woman, an American Muslim, confirmed Ramadan's MO—but was able to physically escape. She does not want to play into the hands of "Islamophobes" but does want Muslim women to understand that Ramadan is not a holy man who can be trusted.
Henda Ayari, a naïve, formerly veiled, and religious Salafi Muslim, was newly separated, penniless, and temporarily without her children. A social worker persuaded her to unveil so that she could get a job. With great hesitation she did so—but in her extreme guilt, she turned to Ramadan at his Facebook page for religious advice.
She alleges that he suggested they meet, but discreetly (he was too public a figure to meet a woman in public). Ramadan welcomed Henda into his hotel room, offered her "Oriental cookies"—and then, suddenly "kissed" her, "choked her so hard she thought she would die," "slapped her," cursed and "humiliated" her, and raped her; in short, treated her as if she deserved to be raped because she had stopped veiling.
Ayari reports being traumatized, even paralyzed. She blamed herself. She went to meet him, she should have known better. Ramadan told her that he would write to her parents for her hand in marriage, that his wife was like his sister. When Ayari threatened to go public, he threatened her children, who were once again living with her.
Henda Ayari and "Yasmina," who have both brought criminal charges against Ramadan, are exceptionally heroic. They are not merely risking the loss of a film career but are, rather, risking the loss of their lives and the lives of their children and parents.
I support them, I stand with them--and, like so many other women, mine is also a case of "me too."
In addition to having been harassed as a teenager, college student, graduate student, and employee by neighbors, professors, and employers--like so many Muslim women, I was also assaulted. In my case, I was being held against my will in Kabul, Afghanistan and my Westernized, Afghan husband wanted to do anything in order to force me to remain. As the readers of An American Bride in Kabul know--I got out.
It is one thing for Western actresses and would-be actresses (and actors) to name their sexual harassers and rapists in entertainment, (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacy, Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly); politics (Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner); and the arts (Leon Wieseltier, Hamilton Fish); it is quite another thing to name a powerful "holy" man when you, yourself, are a mere woman in a Muslim community.
I am told that Ayari has had strong feminist support in France. I am glad. I am saddened by the silence of American feminists who do not seem to understand what Henda Ayari and "Yasmina" are risking by speaking out.
A number of male Christian and Jewish religious leaders have been accused and found guilty of abusing their power in monstrous ways. Despite rape being pandemic in Muslim-majority countries and communities, however, few Muslim clerics have been similarly accused or convicted. Their victims fear being honor killed by their own family if they admit they have been seduced or even raped by a man to whom they are not married. They are terrified that their communities will ostracize them, not their rapists.
Their fears are well-grounded.
Tariq Ramadan (aided by his Western adoration society) is just the kind of man who has made it much easier for Jihadists to infiltrate and attack us. This may be the first time that a leading Muslim cleric has been accused of the crime of rape (and abuse of power) in a Western court of law.
Phyllis Chesler, a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum, is an emerita professor of psychology and women's studies and the author of sixteen books.