At first it looked as though we were shouting into the wilderness: a few blogs (including us at Shiraz) drew attention to the outrage, and a small demonstration took place; just 8,000 people signed an online petition. It looked as though Universities UK (UUK) would get away with one of the most outrageous and craven capitulations to religious bigotry and misogyny in recent years: their so-called “guidelines” sanctioning gender segregation in UK universities.
Then the issue seemed to take off. To his credit, Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna declared that a Labour government would outlaw gender segregation at universities, and – belatedly – Cameron intervened, issuing a statement against segregation, and UUK backed down and withdrew its “guidance.”
A truly wretched and shameful performance by UUK’s Nicola Dandridge on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in which she stated that gender segregation was “not completely alien to our culture,” may well have been crucial. Listeners were outraged, especially when, in the same programme, one Saleem Chagtai of the so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy, claimed (under questioning from the excellent Mishal Husain) that “psychological studies” had shown that men and women were “more comfortable” when seated apart, and that “wanton depictions of women” were not allowed by his organisation.
In a ignominious climb-down, UUK has now withdrawn its guidance and says it will be seeking advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which has already indicated that UUK’s “guidance” is almost certainly illegal). In our opinion, Nicola Dandridge should now be considering her position.
But we should also remember that the left-controlled National Union of Students supported the UUK “guidance” and that the SWP has helped organise and then defended, gender-segregated meetings. There was a time when the left would be at the forefront in defending secular, enlightenment values. But no longer: cultural relativism and “identity” politics infected sections of the “left” and the Guardianista “liberal”-“left” some years ago, and they are now, all too often, on the wrong side. But our defeat of UUK shows that cultural relativism can be beaten; our immediate and most dangerous enemies are not the clerical fascists themselves, but their “left”/”liberal” appeasers, of the Guardianista / SWP variety.
The fight-back begins here!