The New York Review of Books’ blog recently posted a debate between women’s rights groups and Human Rights Watch. In their Open Letter to Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, representatives of multiple women’s rights groups accused him of ignoring political Islam’s discrimination of women, minorities, and homosexuals when he called for engagement with newly elected Islamist governments in the introduction of Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012. The letter explains:
You say, “It is important to nurture the rights-respecting elements of political Islam while standing firm against repression in its name,” but you fail to call for the most basic guarantee of rights—the separation of religion from the state. Salafi mobs have caned women in Tunisian cafes and Egyptian shops; attacked churches in Egypt; taken over whole villages in Tunisia and shut down Manouba University for two months in an effort to exert social pressure on veiling. And while “moderate Islamist” leaders say they will protect the rights of women (if not gays), they have done very little to bring these mobs under control.
Human Rights Watch responded to this letter and justified their call for engagement with Islamist governments:
Human Rights Watch called on Western governments to come to terms with the rise of Islamic political parties and press them to respect rights. As rights activists, we are acutely aware of the possible tension between the right to choose one’s leaders and the rights of potentially disfavored groups such as women, gays and lesbians, and religious minorities. Anyone familiar with the history of Iran or Afghanistan knows the serious risks involved. However, in the two Arab Spring nations that have had free and fair elections so far, a solid majority voted for socially conservative political parties in Egypt, and a solid plurality did so in Tunisia. The sole democratic option is to accept the results of those elections and to press the governments that emerge to respect the rights of all rather than to ostracize these governments from the outset.
Read the entire debate and view the complete list of signatories to both letters here.