Dear Mrs. ISIS

February Op-ed column for the Bridge River Lillooet News

International Women’s Day is coming on March 8th and I just wanted to write and let you know that you’re in my thoughts. I rarely see you on the news and when I do, you’re hidden, a black ghost on the move. Of course I have no idea what your life is truly like, but I know it can’t be easy being married to an extremist. During the Arab Spring, I saw your sisters on the news almost daily. It felt good to see their faces, see them out in the streets protesting alongside husbands, children and neighbours. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran, cell phones sent out images, we heard all the people calling for their rights. There were brutal crackdowns, people were gassed, jailed and killed, but still the protests kept going. We held our hopeful breaths: change seemed imminent, the dictators would topple. The Middle East was rising up.

But now, silence again. Except for the mobs of gun-toting black-clad extremists bellowing ultimatums from their sand castles. I keep wondering about those men, in between their brutality and murder, when they’re without their buddies, when they are just men again, men who need to go home, change into clean clothes and sit down for a meal. When they come home, Mrs. ISIS, how is it for you?
All the laws and severe punishments against women, a thousand prohibitions keeping women fearful and invisible. And ever since the Arab Spring, oppression has increased. According to Farnaz Seifi, a female blogger now living in exile, Iranian censors have been hard at work—type the Farsi word for “Woman” into any search engine and nothing comes up.
Where’s the wisdom in men asserting they can be effective all on their own? What are they so afraid of? Women help make a community strong, they help make society balanced, sane and liveable. Women help make the future bright. This is how Ban K-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, sums up the importance of women:

“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

But extremist Islam wants no part of this. And now that journalists are prime targets, there’s even less chance that someone can witness what’s happening to you. I’ve Googled and see there are courageous Middle Eastern women continuing to press for rights, but I see nothing from the women who wear the burka.
I’m praying for you, Mrs. ISIS. You may be hidden, but you are not forgotten. And you may not get to celebrate International Women’s Day so I want you to know that I shall light a candle for you. It’s the smallest of gestures but as the founder of Amnesty International said, it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

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