George Washington once opined that “offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only … means of defence”.
In his campaign to become president of the United States, Donald Trump seems to have been inspired by Washington’s idea – common in modern warfare – but, with his questionable command of the English language, has misinterpreted the word “offensive”.
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Ever since he began his bid for the presidency, the Republican nominee has managed to offend an untold number of individuals, not to mention groups as diverse as women, Muslims and Mexicans – and yet, somehow, stay ahead.
The latest victims of his outrageously offensive campaign are Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the bereaved parents of Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed while serving in Iraq.
In response to Khizr Khan’s criticism of Trump’s politics of hatred and division at the Democratic National Convention, all the Republican candidate could rouse himself to say was “I’d like to hear his wife say something.
“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,” he elaborated in a later interview. “She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”
Unsurprisingly, such a callous attack against a grieving “gold star” mother, in a country where the military is regarded as sacrosanct, sparked outrage, even among conservatives.
Trump was recycling one of the most common stereotypes about Islam in Western Islamophobic circles: the notion that Muslim women are silent, submissive, subservient creatures living under the thumb of their menfolk.
In a moving article, Ghazala Khan explained that her silence was not because she was some kind of downtrodden Muslim woman, but was down to grief because “every day I feel the pain of his loss … The place that emptied will always be empty.”
Offensive and insensitive as Trump’s comments were, he was bringing nothing new to the table.
Tapping into what seems to be his family’s knack for “borrowing“, Trump was recycling one of the most common stereotypes about Islam in Western Islamophobic circles: the notion that Muslim women are silent, submissive, subservient creatures living under the thumb of their menfolk.
Picking up the wrong fight
Earlier in the campaign, Republican hopeful Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who was out to prove, but failed, that running for president wasn’t brain surgery, made a similar point: “[Muslim] women must be subservient,” he insisted.
I wondered if Carson would have the guts to tell Hind Wajih – Egypt’s first female bodyguard – to her face that she is subservient to men. I should warn him that she is a champion martial artist and a bodybuilder.
While Islam, like all major world religions, is patriarchal, Muslim women – who come in all shades of conformity and rebelliousness – are far from silent and submissive.
Were my maternal grandmother around today, she would have shown Trump and Carson just how coy and obedient Muslim women are with a few deft, well-targeted lashes of her tongue.
Although my grandmother was raised in a traditional Egyptian milieu, she was a formidable character who was queen of her castle, and woe betide anyone who trespassed on her turf.
My gran raised birds on her rooftop. One time, a burglar had the audacity – and misfortune – to land on my grandmother’s roof.
Sensing that her precious birds were in mortal danger, she grabbed a knife from the kitchen and a stick.
Looking out of the window, she ordered the burglar to stay where he was because she was coming to teach him a lesson. The terrified man leaped to a neighbouring rooftop and ran as if his life depended on it.
Strong Muslim women
Her daughter, my mother, perhaps partly inspired by this role model of strong womanhood at home, and how it belied the idea that men were superior, grew up to become a firm believer in gender equality.
A promising young writer and activist, my mother, in the 1960s, was inspired by the leftist, pan-Arabist dream of female emancipation.
My mother’s was the first generation of Egyptian women to gain equal access to higher education, employment, the right to vote – meaningless as that was in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt – and the right to run for public office.
While many Western critics of Islam are convinced that Muslim women must either choose between Islam and feminism, for my mother, this was a false choice.
Mum was convinced that the essence of Islam was one of egalitarianism and equality between the sexes, and that women should be involved in its reinterpretation.
Women have long been fighting hard for their rights. In recent years they have regained the lost momentum and are pressing for complete equality – in every walk of life and profession, even if it occasionally costs them their lives, as it did the Pakistani blogger and activist Qandeel Baloch.
Trump’s snarky, ignorant, bigoted remarks are an insult not just to Ghazala Khan but also to the millions of Muslim women around the world bravely fighting for their rights every day.
Khaled Diab is an award-winning Egyptian-Belgian journalist, writer and blogger. He is the author of Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. He blogs at www.chronikler.com.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.