Saturday, December 29, 2007


Rhetoricians and feminist scholars have recently, more frequently, been studying, researching, teaching "silence" in American universities.

Outside of the classroom, we hear it. Do you hear it? Listen. Silence.

Here's how it sounds in Fort Worth, Texas, "where the West begins."

Here's how it sounds in the ears of Phyllis Chessler, who listens yesterday to others reminding her

"how much central Asia resembles a far-out Eastern version of our own long-ago Wild West. The feuds never quit, the violence never stops, only more violence and larger bribes can ever dominate smaller violence and smaller bribes—and then only for awhile"

and how much Benazir "Bhutto’s assassination spells trouble for other women who may wish to divorce abusive husbands or to attend college."

Chessler's abduction by men in Afganistan once silenced her,
and Chessler now hears much silence from rhetoricians and feminists in universities in the civilized West. Silence on awful silencing of others. Hear it?

I kid you not when I say that, the day Benazir Bhutto was silenced, the local tv news in Fort Worth and Dallas (ABC, CBS, NBC affiliates) all opened with long stories of tigers (one that escaped further west from a zoo in San Francisco and another that was abused and then shot to death near an apartment complex in Dallas); oh, and then some later in the news, after at least one commercial break per news station, there was the story of that disturbance in Pakistan and the presidential reaction from Crawford Texas. Nationally, ABC Nightline decides to run its 2007 "look back at Condo Vultures and the Worst Mortgage" after Cynthia McFadden gives a brief account of the implications for the U.S. after the Bhutto assassination. Internationally, there's laughter not at Bhutto's rhetoric but at her Pakistani pronunciations here, and here, and here (where she gets an "F" grade for her "really awful accent and speech" for which she has "no excuses"; "The nation was sick of her 'karay hainnn!?' It is beyond humorous now. May God Bless her soul!").

Do you hear the silence (the silence on purdah, the silence on child marriage, the silence on watta satta, the silence on honor killings, the silence on marriage to Quran)?

Hear the silencing (the rhetorics the sexisms the terror the academic consequences) in your ears, if you will:

In a sense, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a political and cultural version of an honor killing. Bhutto was the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim nation and she symbolized an unacceptably Western form of female ambition and achievement. She had attended Harvard/Radcliffe and Oxford. She spoke English—perhaps more fluently than she spoke her native Sindi or Urdu. She once dressed as Western women do. Indeed, many Muslim women from wealthy families, including educators and feminists, have done so for a long time. They cannot do so now.

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