Katha Pollitt | The Nation

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

Nazia Quazi Update

I wish I had better news to report about Nazia Quazi, the 24-year-old Canadian woman who is trapped in Saudi Arabia because her father, an Indian citizen who lives in Riyadh, refuses to give her permission to leave. (You can read my column about her case here.)

Human Rights Watch has been advocating for her, and that is a mighty force on her side. Here’s their writeup of her case. But so far, the Canadian government has held back from intervening forcefully with the Saudis.

Why can’t Nazia just get on a plane and leave, as she would be able to do as a foreigner in just about any other country in the world? Although she is not a Saudi, Nazia falls under the misogynist laws of that country, in which a woman, no matter her age, is a legal minor, whose every move requires permission from a male relative, her mahram. Without her mahram’s go-ahead, a woman cannot , for example, work, travel, sign contracts, go to school, marry, or even be treated in a hospital. Nazia’s case is further complicated by the fact that her father confiscated all her documents, and without her knowledge, converted her tourist visa into a permanent one,with himself as sponsor. Under the Saudi system, that means he has to sign off on her departure.

Little by little, the media is picking up on Nazia’s story. On March 8, International Women’s Day, CBC’s Connect with Mark Kelley featured a terrific interview with Shahla Khan Salter of Muslims for Progressive Values Ottawa. Watch it here and then leave a comment here.

As Shahla makes clear, Nazia’s story is not about Islam or “Muslim values” or multiculturalism or a clash of civilizations or any of those other buzz words floating around. There are plenty of Muslims who support women’s rights. Nazia’s story is about men’s control of women, an unbelievably oppressive government, and Canada’s shameful failure to help one of its own citizens.

What can you do? If you’re Canadian, get involved in the HRW campaign. If you’re not, you can still write a polite note to the Foreign Secretary to express your concern and urge prompt action:

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
Email: Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

Also, you can write the Saudi ambassador to the US:

Adel A. Al-Jubeir
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
601 New Hampshire Avenue
Washington, DC 20037

And to the Saudi Ambassador to Canada:

Mr. Asaad Al-Zuhair
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
99 Bank Street Suite 901, ,br/> Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1P 6B9

Join the to show your support and keep up with the latest developments.

Haitian Relief: Shelter is Crucial, Underfunded

As if things couldn't get any worse for Haiti, 1.2 million people are now homeless, living in crowded makeshift open-air "spontaneous settlements" without shelter beyond maybe a bedsheet. The rainy season is on its way. It's hard to imagine the misery – no protection from the elements, no sanitation--to say nothing of the risks of epidemic disease.

While the UN humanitarian response has succeeded in filling 107% of requested funds for health, a major achievement, only 27% of funds requested for shelter needs have been donated so far. Some causes may just be sexier than others – but that doesn't mean they're less essential.

Mark Leon Goldberg has the details at UNdispatch, including information on how to donate ( it's about two-thirds down the page). The rains start in May, so if you were thinking it's maybe time to make (another) donation to Haitian relief, you're right.

A tarp that can shelter a family of 5 costs only $15; a shelter kit costs around $30.

Ron Unz, Latinos, Liberals, and Scholarship

Unlike my colleague Alexander Cockburn, I was not surprised by "HisPANIC: the Myth of Immigrant Crime," Ron Unz's article in The American Conservative showing that Latinos in the US have a crime rate no higher than that of whites once you adjust for age. That's because Unz's thesis, which both he and Alex think is new and original, is in fact well-known. Even I, no sociologist, was aware of it. I'm glad that Unz, a multi-millionaire best known for pushing California's successful 1998 referendum banning bilingual education, is challenging anti-immigrant rightwingers like Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck. (For reasons I still don't understand, The Nation published a piece by Unz in support of his referendum, causing me to resign my largely ceremonial title as associate editor.) But it's annoying when conservatives take credit for work liberals have been doing for much longer and far more seriously. It's even more irritating when a leftist is so eager to bash liberals, he joins the parade.

A little research – some internet searches, a few e-mails, maybe (gasp) a phone call or two--would have shown how empty Unz's claims to originality are. But facts would have interfered with Alex's theory that "foundation liberals" left the research undone because they sympathize unconsciously with racism due to their obsession with "population control." Or something like that.

Let's go through Alex's claims.

Has Ron Unz discovered something new? No. The low crime rate of Latinos has been studied by social scientists for over a decade now. It's part of the much-studied "Latino paradox," the numerous ways in which Latinos in the US do better than their poverty would lead one to expect. (Low infant mortality and normal birth weights are others.) Numerous scholars have written on Latino non-crime. Among the more prominent are Robert J. Sampson at Harvard, Ruben Rumbaut at UC Irvine, Philip Kasinitz and John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center, and Florida International University's Ramiro Martinez, whose "Latino Homicide: Immigration, Violence, and Community was published by Routledge way back in in 2002. ("I'm amused by [Unz's] "discovery" of something I've been writing about since the last millennium," Rumbaut wrote in a long e mail to me laying out the recent literature in considerable detail.) Unz even cites Rumbaut in a footnote, although the only scholars he cites in the body of his text are the co-authors of a paper challenging federal statistics on imprisonment of immigrants, and the American Enterprise Institute's Douglas Besharov, who, Sampson told me in an e-mail, is basically rehashing in a New York Times op-ed, an argument Sampson made a year earlier (that the increase in immigration was linked to the drop in crime.)Here's a handy list of recent articles, including those mentioned below, but by no means complete.

Has this academic work received support from "liberal foundations" ? Yes. Sampson and Rumbaut have both received major support from the MacArthur, Mellon and Russell Sage foundations. Martinez has received grants from the Ford Foundation and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. Mollenkopf and Kasinitz have been funded by Russell Sage, Rockefeller, Mellon and Ford. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Big foundations fund think tanks, policy institutes, and even other foundations. The Public Policy Institute of California, which in 2008 published "Crime, Corrections and California: What does Immigration Have to Do with It," by Kristin F. Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl, lists a slew of foundations among its funders, including Ford, Gates, Hewlett and the Pew Charitable Trusts. The National Immigration Forum, another NGO which has done work in this area, was co-founded by a Ford trustee and has received grants from just about every big "liberal foundation" you can think of. To say that foundations have steered clear of this area is just false, or as Rumbaut put it, ‘laughable to the max, squared."


Has the story of Latino non-crime been publicized in what Unz calls the "very supportive mainstream media"? Yes. That is how I knew about it. To mention just a few relevant pieces, Sampson had an op-ed in the New York Times in 2006 "Open Doors Don't Invite Criminals." That same year, Eyal Press, a frequent Nation contributor, had an excellent and I would have thought quite noticeable article, "Do Immigrants Make Us Safer?," in the New York Times Magazine. The Latino "crime wave" has been debunked in Time, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. Unz was even scooped by other conservatives. Both David Brooks and Linda Chavez got there way before him.



If the myth of Latino crime persists, it's not because nobody debunked it before Ron Unz came along. Nor is it because liberal foundations have shown no interest in establishing the truth. It's because lots of Americans have racist and anti-immigrant feelings that are resistant to factual information. As Sampson told me when we spoke on the phone, "There's a long link in the popular mind between the perception of immigrant presence and the perception of disorder." Sampson thinks the research is getting traction, though. "It takes time for the information to penetrate, because of people's prejudices. But I think it's changing."

You could even say that Ron Unz's article shows the word has gotten out -- apparently, even to Alex.

How to Counterbalance Focus on the Family on Superbowl Sunday

So here it is, Superbowl Sunday, or as I prefer to call it, Focus on the Fetus Sunday. If you support women's right to decide for themselves when and if to continue a pregnancy, don't just get mad at the TV set when the Tebow ad comes on, get even. Donate $5 or $10 dollars (or, of course, more) to the National Network of Abortion Funds. This is the umbrella organization for all the local funds across the country which help low-income women find and pay for their abortion care. These funds, which are run by local volunteers, face a stream of need that just never goes away. Just this week I got this urgent e mail from the Equal Access Fund of Tennessee:


Is there any way you can possibly pitch in on this bad situation for avery young patient? She is a 15 year old from a small East Tennesseetown who is pregnant by an adult neighbor of her family! I have beenon the phone with the daughter and the mother for hours this week asthey debated the religious and ethical aspects of what is going on.They have never considered abortion and this is very difficult forthem both.

Her mother, while not supportive of abortion in general, is trying herhardest to understand and deal with what is going on with herdaughter. They are a poor family and need $400 more than what we have currently in the fund to make the trip out of town to get her seen intime...

I only have 24 hours to figure this one out and have turned to yousince you have been a great supporter in the past. I have arrangedwith a friend to use their Paypal account for this one time eventbecause it is very timely and dire. If you can help, let me know and Iwill get that account information for you.

We have only a short time to pull this together.

Thanks in advance. I am trying anything I can to help this family.


Put yourself in that girl's shoes for a minute, and then think how many girls and women right now are in the same position. Think what it is like to face bearing a child against your will because you lack a few hundred dollars.

Fortunately, EAF was able to help that girl. But what about all the others?

Please make a donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds here.

Special ties to New York? Donate to the New York Abortion Access Fund here.


Please Support Partners in Health's relief work in Haiti

I'm a little late on this, but if you've been wondering how and where to donate to Haiti relief work, have meant to give but haven't yet done so, have given already but can give more ($10?), you can't do better than give to Partners in Health. Founded by Paul Farmer with the conviction that health care is a human right, PIH has been working in Haiti for nearly 25 years, building a grassroots organization that has become a model for health care for the poor in the developing world. PIH knows the people and the culture and how to get things done. It's in Haiti for the long term as well as the immediate crisis. It will be there long after the media spotlight has moved on. That's particularly important because, unlike the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the earthquake has left tens of thousands of survivors with terrible injuries that will require long-term help.

I've set up a donation page that makes giving incredibly easy. All amounts are welcome. My goal is to raise $1000, but if by some miracle you visit my page and that goal has been met, don't worry. You can still donate! No amount is too small.

Just click on this link.

It only takes a minute to set up your own personal fundraising page, by the way. Just go to my page and click on "Create your own page now!" in small print under the box with the thermometer. Set your own fundraising goal, post to your facebook page/blog/website, e mail your friends.

Nazia Quazi Update

Friday's The Globe and Mail has a good followup to my column about Nazia Quazi, the young Canadian-Indian woman who has been unable to leave Saudi Arabia for two years because her father controls her exit visa and Saudi Arabia doesn't recognize women as legal adults. Human Rights Watch just took her case a few weeks ago.

There's been a new development since my column appeared: the Embassy has told Ms. Quazi to send an itinerary for her departure. What that means is unclear, because she still doesn't have a passport and there is still the matter of the exit visa – but it has to be a positive sign.

Human Rights Watch: you definitely want them watching your human rights.

The Decade in Feminism, Continued

Surveying a decade of feminism in 1000 words was clearly beyond my powers of compression even after I'd jettisoned the whole world outside the United States. Several people wrote to remind me of things I'd cut or forgotten. More highlights--good, bad, odd -- of the no-name decade:

In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House. In 2009, Elana Kagan became the first woman Solicitor General. Also in 2009, Michelle Obama became the first African-American First Lady, ensuring full employment for style journalists, who devoted five million womanhours to analyzing her clothes (fabulous? over-the-top? What, she wears dresses?) and that vague shimmering ladycloud known as her "role." Elsewhere in government, women inched forward : In 2000, there were three women governors. Now there are 6, (down from a high of 9, what with Sarah Palin quitting and all). In 2000, women held 22.5% of seats in state legislatures. In 2009, they held 24%.

There was a slight increase in numbers of women in the military and a big increase in reported Sexual abuse and rape. As Rep. Jane Harman put it at a 2009 congressional hearing, "A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

Perhaps it's just my flickering memory, but the discourse around feminism seemed livelier than in the 1990s. Some important books that sparked debate and discussion: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts, Get to Work by Linda Hirshman, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, By Cristina Page, America's Women and When Everything Changed by Gail Collins, A Jury of her Peers by Elaine Showalter, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, Stiffed and The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and the Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring the status quo overturned by the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which narrowed the ability of women to sue employers for sex discrimination in pay. Also in 2009, the stimulus included incentives for states to change their unemployment insurance rules in ways that make it easier for women to qualify: benefits will now be available to workers who leave for compelling family reasons (including domestic violence when the abuser follows his target to work), to workers seeking part-time jobs, and to workers who made less money than was the case under the old rules. Historically, unemployment benefits rules have, in effect, excluded many women, with the result that in 41 states unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women. (For more, see Mimi Abramowitz's report in womensenews. ) Toward the end of the decade, paid Family Leave became law in California and New Jersey, with Washington on the horizon. This may not seem like a lot, given that there are 50 states, but California is huge--as of 2007, if it were a country it would have the 10th largest economy in the world. And New Jersey has more people than the nine smallest states. And speaking of employment, women now make up 45% of union membership. Plus, the Great Recession puts end to all that chat about the Mommy Wars, because it turns out you can only stay home with your kids if your husband has a job. Who knew?

The Today sponge returns to the drugstore shelves.

Tina Fey became SNL head writer and huge star, thrilling smart girls everywhere. On the other hand, in 2007 Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and is fired for about two minutes.

In 2009, Anna Quindlen retired from Newsweek. Ellen Goodman announced the end of her syndicated column – the only column by a liberal woman in wide distribution.

Goodbye, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Seaman, Wendy Wasserstein, ,Susan Sontag, Coretta Scott King, Grace Paley, Eartha Kitt, Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Travers, Octavia Butler, Rita Arditti, Deborah Howell, and, much too soon, the remarkable poet Rachel Wetzsteon.

More Ways to Give!

One very irate reader complains in the bletters section that Palestine is missing from my donations column. MADRE, which partners with sister organizations around the world, supports Midwives for Peace, which train new midwives and provides safe birthing kits for women in the West Bank. I mentioned this cause in my description of MADRE's work, but the reference was cut for reasons of space. Read more about Midwives for Peace here.

As long as I'm updating the donations column, here's some new information about groups from previous years:

HEARRT (Health Education and Relief Through Teaching). This group works in Liberia, where last time I checked something like 50 Liberian doctors were serving five million people. The money Nation readers sop generously gave in 2007 went mostly for reproductive health education for teenage girls. These days HEARRT focuses on child health, emergency care and training midlevel providers. Help them out with a check to 4 Research Drive, Suite 402, Shelton, CT. 06770.

Health in Harmony. The environment is another area missing from this years column. Not enough space! never enough space! Health in Harmony is a twofer: Rural Indonesians protect the rain forest and preserve wildlife habitat in West Kalimantan and get excellent low-cost health care in return. Just starting out when it appeared on the list in 2007, Health in Harmony got a big helping hand from Nation readers. Check out this PBS video about its work here. http://healthinharmony.org/

Happy Holidays from Berlin, where it's cold and snowing and beautiful.


Low-Income Students Need your Help! UPDATED

The school year is well underway, and most of you know how savage the budget cuts have been. Excellent teachers who care about their students –yes, they exist! --are struggling along without proper books, supplies, and equipment. Classroom libraries lack books, science labs lack materials, art programs lack the most basic supplies-- like paint!

In wealthy suburbs, affluent parents help fill the gap, but schools in low-income neighborhoods can't raise extra funds that way. Result: We expect students to achieve more than ever – and that's a good thing – but we don't provide the tools they need and too often can't afford to purchase for themselves: review texts for AP classes, graphic calculators, class sets of novels, even basic items like notebooks.

You can help! On my Giving Page at www.donorschoose.org you can chip in to help buy a cello for an elementary-school music class in Mississippi, a class set of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" for an AP English class in Washington DC, review books for an AP psychology class in New York City, art supplies for "at-risk" middle-schoolers in North Carolina --and much more.

We hear a lot about ineffective, ill-prepared teachers, but the ones who put themselves out on www.donorschoose.org are the ones who desperately want their students to succeed and who, through no fault of their own, need our help to get the tools to do their job.

Can you help? You can give any amount -- even $5! Small donations add up. No funds to spare right now? Send the link to your lucky friends, post it on your blog or Facebook page.

Every child should have an opportunity to play a musical instrument, read great books, take challenging courses, and learn in a safe, well-equipped classroom. You can help make it happen!

BONUS: send me your receipt for $50 or more for a project on my Giving Page and I will send you a signed copy of The Mind-Body Problem, my new book of poems.

UPDATE: Thank you, Kelli from Santa Clarita, who is helping to purchase copies of "Guns, Germs and Steel" for a Global History honors class in a NYC school where 90% of the students qualify for free lunch. And thank you, Laura from Ithaca, who donated to fund review texts for an AP calculus class in a NYC high-poverty school AND also to buy paint for an art class in a high-poverty North Carolina middle school that focuses on "at risk" kids.

Note to commenters: It's great that you know all about what's wrong with the public schools (sarcastic eye roll), including teachers' poor "preperation" (like in spelling?), but what about chipping in to help kids who are in school right now and who have no say in school budgets or education policy or the priorities of teachers' unions?

You can light a candle AND curse the darkness. How about it?


Facebookers, Unite! Help MADRE Win the Causes Challenge

The Facebook Causes application is running a contest among its member do-good organizations. Every day, the group that has the most individual donors that day wins $1000; runner up gets $500. The grand winner–most individual donors by November 6–wins, get this, $50,000! The runner-up gets $25,000 and the five next highest gets $10,000 each. Not too shabby!

Now here's the thing: MADRE, the women's rights organization, has joined the contest to raise funds for its work protecting women's rights workers in Afghanistan, where as I'm sure you know many have been threatened with death by the Taliban. MADRE needs your help to win one of these these generous prizes. Can you help? Yes, you can! The competition is for donors, not money totals, so all you need to do is go here and donate $10. In fact, you can donate $10 once a day every day from now till November 6th. If Madre wins even one day, it will get $1000, which is a significant amount. Today, October 15, by 3pm , would be a great time to donate, because with just a few more donors MADRE would beat an anti-choice group, Make Abortion UNTHINKABLE, for second place. That's $500 for women's rights, or $500 to take them away. Which should it be?

Please check this contest out, Facebookers, and be generous. Don't delay, because each day's mini-contest ends at 3 pm.

Read all about MADRE's work at www.madre.org.

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