LOUISE RAW writes on the lessons to be learnt from the feminist and anti-extremist campaigner’s new book, The Battle for British Islam. This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is republished with Louise’s permission:
SARA Khan is as fascinating a figure as she is polarising. A fiercely intelligent woman, she is glamorous and charismatic but also an “ordinary” overworked thirty-something Mum of two who organises meetings around the school run. Debrett’s last year listed her as one of the 500 most influential people in Britain.
Her work defending women and opposing extremism has — as is depressingly the way of things these days — attracted as much abuse as it has accolades.
You don’t, I hope, need me to tell you that being a woman with a public opinion, always a dangerous business, has become more so with the advent of social media.
Those people who might once have shouted “Bitch!” at the telly and left it at that now can and often do go much further.
Khan is a particular lightning rod, as a Muslim who opposes Islamism — by which she means the politicisation of Islam, which she believes to be directly antipathetic to the religion’s tenets — as well as Islamophobia, and will work with the government on both.
If that wasn’t enough, she is also a feminist who is unafraid to call out abuses against women in her religion and anyone else’s. Cue the sound of a thousand internet trolls rushing to their keyboards, steam pouring from their ears.
Khan has had to involve police in threats against her, and to consider her security arrangements.
What is particularly frustrating and pertinent to Star readers is that she’s been attacked by the left as much as the right, and by other feminists.
Khan talks little about the impact of her work on her life, and complains even less. She is careful not to centre herself, but the suffering of her Muslim sisters, in interviews.
This made certain lines in the introduction of her new book, The Battle for British Islam, stand out for me all the more.
Khan co-founded Inspire, the anti-Islamist charity with a particular focus on women, and for many years ran it as a kitchen table enterprise from her home. She assumed those on the left would be natural allies and supporters.
What she found instead was what she calls a “painful rejection.” She has been called a sell-out and an informant.
And within her own religion, she and her young children have been condemned as apostates. Despite remaining a Muslim, she’s been repeatedly called an Islamophobe.
I can corroborate the latter. Khan was a speaker at the 2014 Matchwomen’s Festival, and was angrily accused of “whipping up Islamaphobia” in the Q and A that followed.
Khan’s defence was spirited, though when I spoke to her afterwards she was unflustered, I suppose because she is so used to it.
Both as a feminist and the person who’d invited her to speak, I found it mortifying.
Criticism is valid, but the intemperate rejection of a Muslim woman’s viewpoint, and by white British women, seemed to me problematic.
I felt that those who intended to support Muslims by challenging her risked, ironically, sounding rather imperial: “The white people have decided you’re not a proper Muslim!” Disappointingly, it also derailed the discussion between Khan and the majority of audience members who were enthusiastic at the chance to hear from a Muslim woman who was willing to advise on so many issues, including how to engage with Muslim students without pandering to either Islamism or Islamophobia.
That kind of open dialogue is rare, for many reasons.
Even more discombobulatingly, I know and like both of Khan’s critics and respect their views on feminism in general.
The complexities of the experience opened my eyes to the political minefield Khan herself walks through every day of her campaigning life. She has attracted even more flak for her support for the notorious Prevent programme, established in the wake of 9/11 to tackle radicalisation in the UK.
Again, activists within the NUS and NUT have what seem like valid criticisms of the way the programme operates, both in its original and relaunched forms.
Khan argues in her book, however, that much of the criticism is ill-founded and based on media distortions, or deliberately orchestrated by Islamist groups.
In evidence she breaks down the infamous “terrorist house” incident, in which a schoolboy was supposedly referred to Prevent in December 2015 because he misspelt “terraced” in an essay describing his home and family life.
On the face of it, a great story illustrating laughably out-of-touch and heavy-handed jobsworths doing more harm than good. In fact, the story has been completely debunked — but this scarcely made the press. The boy in question was never referred to Prevent, but to Child Services, because he had written about the violence he experienced at home, including the piteous line: “I hate when my uncle beats me.”
Reading Khan’s book, it’s impossible to feel that determined response to those who would and do radicalise British children isn’t needed. She points out that in some areas, the majority of Prevent referrals are in fact over far-right extremism.
As ever, women are particularly vulnerable, bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim attacks, and targeted by Islamists online.
Khan’s book opens with the story of Muneera, a schoolgirl whose mother became ill when she was 13.
As a result, Muneera spent more time left to her own devices, and found online stories about Isis — she’d never previously heard of the organisation.
She tweeted an interest in them and was astonished by the response.
She was immediately “love-bombed” by waves of seemingly like-minded, supportive new friends, girls and boys her own age, who were either curious too, or eager to tell her more about the wonderful world she could inhabit if she joined Isis.
She later described the lies she was told in words that touchingly evoke the young girl that she was: it would be an “Islamic Disneyland,” where she could “live like a princess.”
One of her new friends was a 14-year-old boy later convicted of inciting others to commit terrorist acts. An extraordinary character apparently obsessed with extreme violence, his own classmates called him “the terrorist,” and didn’t think he was joking when he talked about cutting off their teachers’ heads.
The reality for girls who do join Isis is, of course, not paradise but a hell of brutality and misogyny.
Khan quotes one nauseating line from the handbook given to Isis fighters concerning the slave women and girls given to them to rape — literally bought and sold in slave auctions: “It is permitted to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.”
Had Muneera reached Isis, her passport would have been burned and she would have been married to a fighter. She didn’t get that far and today believes Channel, the arm of Prevent that works to help children like her before they have committed any offence, saved her.
She is angry about the way she was deceived and the time stolen from her childhood as she worked to get her life back on track.
The great value of Khan’s book is as a guide for the perplexed, taking the reader clearly and in readable fashion through the rise of Islamism and Salafism, and delineating the point at which she feels the left took a wrong term on Islamism.
She cites an influential 1994 pamphlet written by Chris Harman of the SWP urging Marxists to enter a form of scorpion dance with Islamism and not reject it outright as a form of fascism.
In spite of appearances and its hatred of the left, women’s rights and secularism, Islamism (argued Harman) was not akin to nazism but more like Argentinian Peronism.
We all saw this play out as a predictable disaster, not least because it was founded on the risky assumption that the leading partner in the “dance” would be the left and not Islamists: “[In] an almost patronising way, it was assumed that the poor, oppressed Muslims could be steered by degrees from Islamism to socialism,” says Khan.
It didn’t work, it was never going to work, and it should never have been tried given the complete betrayal of women necessary to stomach, let alone support, Islamist extremism.
Khan’s book is an eloquent and necessary exposition of the state we’re currently in, and a plea for understanding and unity in the fight against extremism — whether it’s the far-right or Islamism which is so against our interests, and should be so alien to socialism done properly. It is essential reading for feminists and lefties — who should, of course, always be one and the same.
Sara Khan is the Director of Inspire, http://www.wewillinspire.com, and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books, 2016)
Today (6th February) is International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. To mark this important occasion, and to support the aims of anti-FGM campaigners throughout the world, Shiraz Socialist republishes the following:
Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) and related harmful traditional practices.
The aim of this Statement is to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
1. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in all its forms is cruelty and abuse. The United Nations has decreed it a fundamental violation of human rights [a].
2. FGM is practised in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that some 140 million girls and women now alive have undergone this mutilation, with around 3 million more experiencing it every year [b].
140 million is however a very conservative figure and the total including e.g. Indonesia [c], the Middle East and diaspora destinations is likely to be much higher.
3. FGM, like other traditional practices which harm women and girls [d], is done from fear in many guises, at the instigation behind the scenes of powerful people who stand to benefit from it, for themselves [e].
4. The proper, and necessary, response to FGM is to treat it, wherever it occurs, as a very serious, sometimes deadly, crime. There is substantive evidence to suggest this approach, allied with appropriate education and support, is the most effective way of stopping FGM [f].
5. It is essential to acknowledge that African women leaders themselves, in joint statements [g], have decreed that FGM should in all formal discussion be called ‘mutilation’, and not by any other euphemistic term. It is deeply disrespectful of those brave women – and also extremely unhelpful – to ignore their judgement and advice.
6. We are concerned simply and solely with the essential protection from FGM, everywhere, of defenceless children, irrespective of whether the intended FGM operators are traditional practitioners or, in the modern contemporary sense, medically trained [h] .
(NB Necessarily, our concern further extends, in some communities, to the protection of women subject to involuntary FGM, e.g. when their marriages are arranged, after childbirth or after criminal abduction.)
7. We believe that all women and girls who have experienced FGM are entitled, as and if or when they wish, to skilled reconstructive or other surgery and /or additional medical and personal support, free of charge, as part of reparation for this crime.
8. There are many people with different skills and insights who can and should contribute to the work of abolishing / eliminating / eradicating FGM; each of us has a part to play.
It is however fundamentally important to recognise unreservedly, and to hear, the centrally critical contribution of women with direct experience of this harmful traditional practice who are seeking to eliminate FGM.
28 August 2013
[a] United Nations (2012): Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations (24 September), United Nations bans female genital mutilation (20 December) & Sources of international human rights law on Female Genital Mutilation
[b] World Health Organisation (2013): Factsheet 241: Female Genital Mutilation and UNICEF (23 July, 2013) Despite overwhelming opposition, millions of girls at risk of genital mutilation
[c] See for example this Research Report: Female Circumcision in Indonesia – Extent, Implications and Possible Interventions to Uphold Women’s Health Rights (Jakarta, 2003)
[d] Which must also be abolished, see e.g. World Health Organisation website page: Female genital mutilation (FGM) and harmful practices
[e] Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Vol. 9, No 1, 2009 / Vol. 10, No 1, 2010 (Tobe Levin, p.69) and To Stop Female Genital Mutilation In The UK, Follow (And Invest) The Money (Hilary Burrage, 28 Feb., 2013)
[f] Thomson Reuters Foundation (22 July 2013), Thirty million girls at risk of FGM despite decline in support – UN
[g] Regional Conference on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Africa organised by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, 19-24 November 1990, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and later reaffirmed in Mali in 2005 .
[h] World Health Organisation (2010): Global strategy to stop health-care providers from performing female genital mutilation
~ ~ ~
Now please add your name and thoughts via Support The Statement On FGM .
The instigators and authors of this Statement are listed here.
We welcome support from everyone, women and men, black and white, academics, activists in the field, professional practitioners, political representatives, policy makers or simply concerned citizens of the world.
Please choose as many as you wish of the options which follow to let us know about your engagement with our Statement, and why it is important to you.
1. SUPPORT the Statement publicly, via the Change.org e-petition:
FGM researchers and policy makers across the international community: Support the Feminist Statement on Female Genital Mutilation – and also forward the e-petition elsewhere if you can, please;
and / or
2. JOIN THE DISCUSSION on this website, here about how to move the FGM agenda forward – feel free to also add your website / Twitter etc info for all to see, if you’d like to publicize them as well; everyone is invited to do this!
and / or
3. REGISTER YOUR INTEREST in future involvement privately, here.
This is for activists, researchers etc: your name will not be made public if you choose only to do this, but we will know you are supportive and that we may contact you again.
Please note that
1. all posts on this website are moderated, and only posters who we believe give their real names will have their support published;
2. whilst we recognise and are also opposed to male genital harm, this Statement concerns specifically gender-related harm to women and girls. We will therefore publish only Comments which are directly on-topic (but if your website or Twitter handle also reflects male-gendered concerns, :-) that’s probably not a problem).
The names of some initial supporters of the Statement can be seen on the Statement Signatories Page.
Many thanks indeed for your support and engagement; we look forward to hearing from you!
_ _ _
See also: Hilary Burrage : author of
Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate, 2015)
> Hilary Burrage has written the most definitive book ever on FGM. An invaluable tool to help eradicate it worldwide. A personal triumph. (The Guardian)
Following the post below on Maryam Namazie’s encounter with the cry-bullies at Goldsmith.
It’s not hard to guess whose side the Goldsmith Feminist Society was on.
On one side, a solitary female, feminist, Iranian, fighter for human rights, atheist.
On the other side, a bunch of aggressive males from a patriarchal religion who did their best to intimidate the solitary female.
No need to ask. Of course the Goldsmith Feminist Society took the side of the males.
Y’know, women have an instinctive protectiveness towards other women menaced by men – women who may not even have heard of the concept of feminism (as illustrated in this story A Jury of her Peers). There is such a thing as natural female solidarity which finds comfort in a hospital ward together and which will shelter an abused woman.
What the hell has happened that a body that calls itself the Feminist Society leaps to the defence of the misogynists? .
For a little of what is deemed to be acceptable discourse in ISOC’s own safe space have a look at what stirs Muhammed Patel’s juices. (He’s the President of Goldsmiths Islamic society (ISOC)). He describes an event as “amazing” where the speakers “have made statements advocating the execution of ex-Muslims and blasphemers, advised Muslims to boycott women who marry outside of Islam, said that non-Muslim women will be taken as slaves in the future (of course it is permissible to have sex with these women), creepily remarked that six and seven year old girls are ‘pretty’ and ‘desired’, warned of the dangers when leaving Muslim children with non-Muslims, insisted that women should remain in the house and not venture outside unless it’s a necessity, advocated punishments for Muslims who do not pray, and said that homosexuals are worse than animals. “ (From a post by Harry Matz).
Under the linked post you can find a stream of foully abusive comments, of a gross sexual nature, which is typical of Islamists who love filthy invective.
So mad has feminism become even if the thugs had sexually assaulted Namazie they no doubt would have found excuses for them.
Following recent events on- and offline, we would like to state and show our solidarity with the sisters and brothers of our Goldsmiths ISOC
We condemn AHS and online supporters for their islamophobic remarks and attitudes. If they feel intimidated, we urge them to look at the underpinnings of their ideology. We find that personal and social harm enacted in the name of ‘free speech’ is foul, and detrimental to the wellbeing of students and staff on campus.
In our experiences, members of ISOC have been nothing but charming, patient, kind, and peaceful as individuals and as an organization.
We hope this series of events prompts reflection in all parties involved, but also onlookers. Allyship consists of apologies, bearing with and deconstructing discomfort, respecting the necessary privacy of safer spaces, and opening our hearts to humans unlike ourselves.
We can all stand to improve in this area- which ideally is a daily, humbling practice and not a label.
For all I know Goldsmith Feminist Society and LBGT Society contain about 8 members a piece. But Jeez, their support for an ideology which in its ideal society would keep the women segregated and second-class and execute the gays is absolutely barmy, even for student activists.
Germaine Greer has said some unforgivable things in the past eg about FGM. But she is a great woman, a splendid writer, a courageous human being and in her time was an inspiring feminist. Trans activists’ attacks on her are gross.
Here’s an excellent piece on the issue.
Pop feminism has willfully abandoned political analysis for the feel-good factor of disposable aphorisms. See for example Laurie Penny (@pennyred) who recently performed the ultimate no risk “coming-out” of announcing she’s a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition “genderqueer” . . . which is the LGBT equivalent of claiming one retroactively looooved punk rock before it was mainstream.
And to prove her gendercred to her fans, she’s been eager to defend Caitlyn Jenner’s perpetual womanhood — that Bruce was female when winning the decathlon. Egregiously, Penny backs this up with the usual cut-and-paste misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I’ll say it again: Beauvoir is spinning in her tomb over the intellectually dishonest, quote-mined appropriation of her life’s work. It is simply wrong that Beauvoir means “one … becomes a woman” as an endorsement of gender/femininity as empowering to female persons. It is embarrassingly clear that Penny, and her cadre of retweeters, hasn’t actually bothered to give Beauvoir the decency of a good read.
Laurie Penny, always modish, always wrong. It’s startling to be told you are “a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition” creature when you’d always described yourself as a “girl” or “woman”.
Yevgeniy Zhuravel interviews Kirill Medvedev (above), a Moscow-based poet, translator, and activist. He is the founder of the Arkady Kots band.
YZ: Can you tell a bit about yourself and how did you became a leftist? It seems that in Russia till recently it was not a common political choice.
KM: I became a self-conscious leftist at the beginning of the 2000s. There is a rather typical scenario for that generation of the Russian left, which emerged mostly from the Soviet intelligentsia of different levels of prosperity. Many of us were still able to spend our childhood under still rather comfortable conditions, so we were able to absorb the humanistic code of the Soviet intelligentsia, and then suddenly found ourselves in the historical hole of the 90s, when this code turned out to be not only redundant, but simply made survival difficult. Some of our parents had believed that shock therapy and total privatisation are the necessary stages on the way to democracy, others voted for the failed Communist Party, and some became quickly disappointed and depoliticised. The new left emerged from this trauma, but not out of a desire for revanche, but with the feeling that both nostalgia for Soviet times and jolly anti-Sovietism, which brought most of the intelligentsia to support Putin, are dead ends; that if one wants to be a citizen and a political subject, some hard work is required in order to build a new political culture and environment. Sometime during 2003-2004, I started getting an idea that maybe this thankless job—being part of the left—is not the worst way to spend the next decade or two.
YZ: The band that you are a part of is called Arkadiy Kots, after the Russian translator of “The Internationale”. Who are the people in the band, why this particular name was chosen and what musical and political traditions do you follow?
KM: The name seemed to be appropriate because Kots was simultaneously a poet, a translator, an activist and a sociologist; he wrote a study on the Belgian unions from the beginning of the 20th century. Such synthesis is interesting to us. Oleg Zhuravlev, with whom we founded the group, is a well-known young sociologist, member of the “Public Sociology Lab” collective, which does research on the recent protests in Russia and Ukraine. They just published a book in Russia, which will be released in Holland soon. Nikolay Oleynikov is a member of the renowned art-group “What has to be done?”(Chto Delat?). His work is related to antifascism and gender problems. In fact, in the Free Marxist Press, we published his collection “Sex of the Oppressed”, the discussions of sex and politics. If Oleg brings to the group the spirit of research, Nikolaj the spirit of militant queer carnival. Anya Petrovich and Misha Griboedov are more professionally connected to music: they are practically the musical directors of the group, fighting, for example, with my horrible unprofessionalism. Gosha Komarov, an activist of the Worker’s Platforms, which unites the most workerist (proletarian) part of the left radicals, is a multi-instrumentalist. This is the backbone of the group, we are all convinced communists, but, as it happens, we occasionally end up playing with people who do not share our views, which gives us some openness and a chance not to turn into a sect.
We translate a lot to Russian – from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to old Italian anarchist songs. We write songs based on poems of Russian poets and write our own: “Be Involved in Political Struggle”, “It is not shameful to be a worker” etc., which hide uneasy reflections about our own political subjectivity.
Overall we try to juxtapose maximised aesthetic openness with a clear political message, to get out of the boundaries of the radical left, subcultural milieu. Right now we are working on an album devoted to the history of the worker’s movements, from Luddites to Zhanaozen, with a support of Confederation of Labour of Russia, whose congress we recently opened with our Russian versions of songs “Bread and Roses” and “Power in a Union”, and gave a concert after the end of it.
YZ:You started the Free Marxist Press publishing house back in 2008. How did it evolve? What did you print recently and what are the plans?
KM: It all had started with samizdat (DIY?) books – “Why I am a Marxist?” by Ernest Mandel, Pasolini’s “Communist Party – to the Youth”, “Marxism and Feminism” by Marcuse etc. Later on we started making small press runs at print shops. Producing a book from A to Z—translation, formatting, cover design, printing, binding, distribution – for me personally was an important experience, though a little bit exotic, mixing the spirit of completely unalienated creative work a la William Morris, on the one hand, and the productionism of the 20s, on the other. Being engaged in the material production of a book one gets into a very special relationships with a text which it contains. Read the rest of this entry »
Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas
In 1984, she founded the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and served as its international coordinator for 18 years. WLUML linked women fighting for their rights in Muslim contexts, throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. WLUML focused on research and grassroots solidarity work aimed at reinforcing local struggles. In 2004, she founded the international Secularism Is A Women’s Issue (SIAWI) network, and serves at its international coordinator. She is currently based in India.
Earlier this year she spoke to the AWL’s paper, Solidarity, about the struggles of women, workers, and other democratic and progressive forces against the Muslim far-right in Algeria and elsewhere.
Solidarity: For many years, large parts of the global left have regarded political Islam as essentially progressive against the dominant (US) imperialism; what do you think about this analysis? What are its roots?
We can incriminate several factors. The left’s traditional focus on the state impeded its ability to decode in time the warning signs of supposedly religious non-state forces rising as powerful extreme-right political actors. Human rights organisations – sorry, comrades, for this unholy comparison but I must make it – also have trouble delinking from an exclusive focus on the state and considering these new players for what they really are. I situate this difficulty at the same level as that of re-identifying and re-defining classes today. One badly feels the need for innovative, intellectually fearless, communist thinkers and theorists to account for the many changes in the world in the last century.
Allow me a digression about the state. The question of “less state” or “more state” is at the heart of the dealings with the Muslim far-right in Europe. Interestingly, in France, the once-grassroots organisation Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS, Neither Whores Nor Submissives), led by women from Muslim migrant descent, was the first one to call on the state to fulfill its obligations vis a vis citizens. The suburbs of big cities had slowly been abandoned by French authorities (police patrols, which were stoned as soon as they set foot in it, did not dare enter these locations, but neither did the fire brigade, or emergency doctors, not to mention garbage collectors or postmen). As a result, these areas were governed by Muslim fundamentalist groups and organisations who did the social work the state was not doing any more; in the process, among other things, they imposed dress codes and behaviours on the girls. NPNS was set up in response to one of these odious crimes, in which a girl aged 17, whose behaviour was not considered “proper” enough, was burnt alive in the garbage dump of the building where she lived.
In Algeria, we witnessed a similar approach, with Muslim fundamentalist groups taking over and politicising social work: they slowly replaced the state when it abandoned areas to their fate – and, in the process, were imposing their rules, laws, and “justice”, terrorising the population, which subsequently also wished for the state to be back in their areas.
Not that the state was ever seen as any good – people loathe our successive governments – but fundamentalists’ rule was much worse. After the slaughtering of the population by non-state, far-right armed groups in the 1990s, this reaction increased: people despise President Bouteflika [Algerian president since 1999] (who, in order to stay in power, made all sorts of compromises with the religious far-right and traded with corrupt politicians), but they vote for him in order, they hope, to keep direct far-right theocratic rule at bay.
The terms “political Islam” or “Islamists” are misleading: both suggest religious movements, while they should in fact be characterised in political terms. The left (and far-left) in Europe did not take the trouble of going through a thorough analysis of the political nature of Muslim fundamentalist movements; it mostly saw them as popular movements (which indeed they are, and populist too, but that did not ring any bells, it seems) opposing… you name it: colonisation, capitalism, imperialism, undemocratic governments, etc. The European left only looked at what it thought (often mistakenly, for example when it presumes the Muslim right is anti-capitalist) fundamentalist movements stood against, never at what they wanted to promote. Yes, they stood against our undemocratic governments, but from a far-right perspective. In Algeria, since the nineties, we have been calling them “green-fascists” (green being here the colour of Islam) or “Islamo-fascists”.
Many historians in Europe dismiss us when we use the term “fascism”. However, their ideologies (if not their historical and economic circumstances) are scarily comparable: it is not the superior Aryan race, but the superior Islamic creed that is the pillar on which they base their superiority, a superiority they infer from a mythical past (the glorious past of Ancient Rome, the Golden Age of Islam, etc.), a superiority which grants them the right and duty to physically eliminate the untermensch (on the one hand: Jews, communists, Gypsies, gays, physically and/or mentally disabled, on the other: kafir, communists, Jews, gays, etc.). Nazis, fascists, and the Muslim far-right all want women in their place, “church/mosque, kitchen, and cradle”, and all of them are pro-capitalists: the Muslim right calls on the rich to performing the Islamic duty of zakkat (charity), which leaves untouched the power structure, and the “poor” in their place too, which is god’s will.
Overlooking the political nature of the armed Muslim far-right had terrible consequences for us, anti-fundamentalists from Muslim countries. What Cheikh Anta Diop, the famous Senegalese historian, used to call, in another context, “leftist laziness”, needs to be blamed and exposed.
If we agree that Muslim fundamentalism is a far-right movement, the question then becomes: can the left support far-right, fascist-type movements in the name of anti-imperialism? And an additional question is: is there still, in this day and age, only one imperialism (i.e., US imperialism)? Or are there emerging imperialisms, for example in oil-rich countries, which should now be taken into account? Is the promotion of the religious far-right, in various forms, one of the elements in the global strategy of these emerging powers?
A simplistic approach, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, supplemented the old dichotomy between the “main” enemy and the “secondary” enemy that so very few thinkers on the left and far-left have questioned in relation to Muslim fundamentalist movements. As women, we experienced the “main enemy” theory being been used against movements for women’s rights: it was never the right time to demand these rights; they should be postponed until after decolonisation; until after the liberation struggle; until after the reconstruction of the country; until we gain some political stability…
Let me pay tribute here to Daniel Bensaïd, one of the lone voices on the left with a better perspective on this issue. In La Republique Imaginaire (2005), he writes (my own translation from French): “The control of capital over bodies, its strong will to reveal their market value, does not at all reduce their control by religious law and the theological will to make them disappear…The poor dialectic of main and secondary contradictions, forever revolving, already played too many bad tricks. And the ‘secondary enemy’, too often underestimated, because the fight against the main enemy was claimed to be a priority, has sometimes been deadly”.
Bensaïd goes on to quote Erich Fried’s poem: “Totally caught into my struggle against the main enemy / I was shot by my secondary enemy / Not from the back, treacherously, as his main enemies claim / But directly, from the position it has long been occupying / And in keeping with his declared intentions that I did not bother about, thinking they were insignificant”.
So-called “political Islam” is treated by the left in a way which is very different from its treatment of any other popular far-right movement working under the guise of religion. In fact, I should say that “Islam” is treated differently from any other religion. Jewish fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism, even in oppressed groups, would not be met with such patronising benignity; they would be analysed, in terms of class for instance, and of ideology, of political program. Nothing of the sort is even attempted for supposedly Muslim groups: no research is done on those who plant bombs and organise attacks in Europe or North America, for instance – it is assumed that they are lumpen, while the evidence is that they are from lower-middle-class and educated backgrounds, mostly middle-range engineers or technicians. “Leftist laziness” again…
Imagine for one second what would be the reaction of the left if even working-class or lower-middle-class Jews in France had been attacking Muslim schools and killing pupils, or the customers of “Arab” groceries; how come that when it is “Muslims” doing it to “Jews”, the left starts looking for good reasons they may have had for doing so? I cannot help feeling there is hidden racism at work here, against “Muslims” who are seen as such inferior people that barbaric behaviour is naturally to be expected from them.
To a situation of oppression there is no “automatic” response: there are several possible responses: one from the far-right, but – also ! – one from the left, a revolutionary one. Accepting – even implicitly – the idea that joining fascist groups is the only possible response to a situation of oppression, or to racism, exclusion, and economic hardship, etc., seems like an incredible twist of fate coming from the left!
Here’s a sober rebuttal of the nonsensical and totally irresponsible remarks George Galloway made about forced marriage.
It’s from the Muslim Women Network.
Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) is a charitable organisation with the aims of promoting equality, diversity, social inclusion and racial/religious harmony, and does not support, nor is affiliated to any political party. However in order to defend and strengthen women’s rights and in particular to promote the empowerment of Muslim women and girls, we regularly engage with, and if required challenge, politicians, political candidates, public servants and any other body or organisation where considered necessary.
It is for this reason that MWNUK deems it necessary to challenge certain insinuations made about forced marriage and domestic violence victims by George Galloway, currently the Respect Party’s PPC for Bradford West, when he commented on Labour candidate Naz Shah’s forced marriage and domestic violence experience. Given his influence, we consider Mr. Galloway’s insinuations to be irresponsible and which will have a wider, counter productive impact on victims of forced marriage and domestic violence or those at risk.
When Ms. Shah shared her story publicly, she explained that she was married at the age of 15 and suffered from domestic violence. Many women tend to remain in abusive relationships and suffer in silence. Cultural concepts of honour and shame often prevent women from articulating their experiences openly even when they have escaped their situations. We therefore commend Ms. Shah’s courage in sharing her very personal experiences. It is important that when survivors share their stories, which is often very difficult, that they are heard. Only with open discussion will more victims or those at risk come forward and ask for help.
Although we cannot comment on the details of Ms. Shah’s personal experiences, we are very concerned about the misleading information regarding forced marriage and domestic violence being alluded to in the statements made by Mr. Galloway and his officials. MWNUK challenges the assertions that have been made as follows:
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah could not have been married as a minor at the age of 15 because her official marriage certificate registered with the authorities in Pakistan states her age as 16 and a half.
It is not uncommon for victims of child marriage to have an unregistered Islamic (nikah) ceremony while they are under age and to later register the marriage officially once the child is over 16 especially if documents are needed to make an application for a spousal visa. It is important to recognise this can happen to children. In fact we have come across victim stories where this has indeed happened.
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah’s marriage could not have been forced because her mother was present at the marriage.
Parents are often the instigators of forced marriage, coercing their children to marry against their will and therefore present at the marriage ceremony. In fact parents themselves can be pressured by members of the extended family to accept marriage proposals for their children and feel they cannot back out due to dishonor.
¥ Ms Shah has been questioned as to why she did not (as a British citizen) simply get on a plane and come back to the UK if she had been forced into marriage.
Girls are more aware of their rights now due to forced marriage campaigns, yet the crime continues to be under reported. Twenty-five years ago victims faced even greater barriers to disclosing. The Forced Marriage Unit did not exist then and there were far fewer women’s rights organisations. To imply that it is easy to escape a forced marriage suggests that victims are at fault for not leaving abusive situations.
¥ Ms. Shah has been questioned about why she had not gone to the police, social services or an imam if her husband had subjected her to violence.
This indirectly suggests that women who do not report their abuse cannot be suffering from domestic violence. Such assertions are very dangerous. Women from all communities find it difficult to come forward and report abuse and the reasons can vary such as: fear of consequences; women blaming themselves; women not realizing they are victims; lack of awareness of the help available; being isolated from family and friends and not being able to reach help; being worried about finances; and hoping the partner may change. Asian women face additional cultural barriers that prevent them from seeking help such as, fear of dishonouring family, shame, stigma, taboo and being rejected by the community. Also women in these communities are expected to suffer in silence. They are also usually blamed for any problem within the family including the violence and abuse to which they are subjected. This fear of blame can also prevent women from coming forward and getting the help they need. Not surprisingly domestic violence is therefore under reported in Asian / Muslim communities.
¥ Ms. Shah was questioned about her domestic violence and child marriage because her first husband has denied the abuse. [WELL HE WOULD, WOULDN’T HE?]
Denial by the alleged perpetrator should never be used as evidence to determine whether abuse has occurred or not.
Socialist Resistance takes down article on feminism and transgender issues: where is this madness going to stop?
Dave Osland wrote:
The website of Socialist Resistance – a organisation of which I was once a member – is currently running two articles on the transphobia debate [JD adds: Dave wrote this before SR took down the article by ‘Author A’]
Author A, a radical feminist, sets out her position. Author B, a trans woman, subjects it to critique.
The first writer does not stoop to Julie Burchill-style cheap shot invective aimed at ‘chicks with dicks’ but simply sets out her stall in entirely reasonable terms.
This is what most people would consider a rational exchange of opinion, a process whereby both camps can potentially gain, if only by better understanding their opponent’s case.
But for its pains, SR is now subject to an online petition, in which dozens of activists – including some big names in the bubble politics of the far left – have signed up in protest against ‘the hosting of transphobes’.
In its small way, this affair encapsulates much of the mindset that relegates revolutionary socialism to the margins of the margins.
It is as if to say: “We have the correct line, comrades; no other line can even be permitted the ephemeral existence of a posting on a small readership website.”
This is an attempt at petty cyber-Stalinist bullying on the part of people who believe that they are in the business of politics to work towards a fundamentally more democratic society.
If they cannot handle debate now, at this level, than how would they handle it in the event that they actually exercised some degree of real influence in society?
By all means take on Bugs Brennan and her ilk. But freedom of speech is as vital on the radical left as it is within society as a whole.
As far as I know, this is something of first. But now the precedent has been set, I wonder where this madness is going to stop.
Here is the ‘offending’ article, with an introduction, written by the author (Victoria Smith, aka ‘Author A’) since the piece was taken down; it comes from Victoria’s blog glosswatch – a feminist blog. We reproduce it here at Shiraz not because we necessarily agree with it, but because we think it is a serious contribution to a serious debate, and should not have been suppressed:
I originally wrote this piece for Socialist Resistance – in response to an idea that came from them, not me – but asked to have it withdrawn in light of this editorial announcement. I think it’s important for women’s work to be represented fairly and I don’t consent to my work being presented in contexts which don’t reflect the actual commission. The insistence that women’s voices in particular – particularly when women are describing their lives and needs – require “trigger warnings” is patriarchal to the core. When people are offended by women speaking or writing, it’s rarely women who are the problem.
In this particular instance I think Socialist Resistance need to be honest about their editorial policies and their political principles. There is a word for people for whom discussions of female bodies, female labour and male violence cause “offence and distress.” That word is not “trans”, “queer”, “marginalised” or “oppressed,” but “misogynist” (it’s been around for quite some time). If that is a publication’s desired readership, fine, but it is frankly bizarre for it to then use the term “socialist” when any analysis of the means of production expressly excludes the exploitation of female bodies and the experiences of female people as a labour class.
Moreover, if an editor believes it is contentious to claim that the exploitation of women is something which benefits a more powerful group (as opposed to something based on a random, free-floating “phobia”); if he or she thinks it is triggering to suggest male violence should be named; if he or she is unconcerned about the age-old exclusion of female bodies from understandings of what human bodies are, then that editor should say so. It’s not okay to make glib statements about not “supporting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces” when that is not what is being debated. If you’re going to slap a trigger warning on someone’s writing and make dog-whistle references to phobias, you need to give precise reasons why. And if your “socialism” is actually “redistribution amongst male people while female people carry on cleaning up everyone’s shit,” you need to be clear about this. Because selling your publication on the back of moral principles you don’t have simply isn’t fair.
I am wondering if an alternative title for this piece should be “why are some feminists so mean?” After all, this is the assumption made by many upon hearing that when it comes to trans inclusion, many feminists still want to talk about difference. “But trans women are women!” we are told, as though this will make everything alright. But it doesn’t. The impression is that we are cruel. Surely what is at stake matters a great deal to trans women but very little to us? Why can’t we just loosen up and let everyone join the “being oppressed as a woman” party on the same terms? Shouldn’t the excluding be left to the men?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that, at least not if feminism is to mean anything as a political theory which analyses how and why women are oppressed, with a view to dismantling the structures which dehumanise, objectify and exploit. This is no more an abstract discussion for feminists than it is for trans people. It is not a matter of discomfort with particular words. It’s about real, flesh-and-blood suffering. If we cannot talk about how patriarchy arises, how it functions and who benefits from it, then we cannot help ourselves, let alone each other. We might as well go home.
In a 2014 piece for the Guardian, the trans journalist Fred McConnell describes gender as “one’s innate sense of self.” This is not a definition that many feminists would use. To us, gender is a hierarchical system aimed at enforcing women’s subservience. It is neither natural nor innate. As the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards writes, “much of what is believed about women stems from what is wanted of women.” If you decide that woman = innately predisposed to meet the needs of men (and dress it up in fancy wording which suggests womanhood is actually to do with being pretty, nurturing, communicative etc.), you have a ready-made justification for abuses which have endured for millennia and are going on to this day. That is what gender means to us.
I am conscious the feminist definition of gender sounds a little depressing compared to the trans one. Maybe so, but it is a description of what is. Forced marriage, unpaid wifework, reproductive coercion, sexual slavery, educational exclusion … all of these things continue to be justified by the insistence that women are “naturally” subservient, caring, decorative etc. Moreover, the women to whom these things happen do not have the opportunity to identify out of their oppression because this oppression remains material in basis. Saying “I’m not a woman – my innate sense of self tells me I’m not THAT!” does not work (I write this as a pregnant woman and believe me, no amount of insisting “I’m a pregnant PERSON!” grants me an exemption from laws which were written on the assumption that women, as a reproductive class, should not have full bodily autonomy at all times in the same way that men do).
So what is the solution? Feminists propose that we abolish gender and accept that both male and female people are human, free to express themselves however they choose regardless of their sex. Trans activists propose that we abolish sex difference (as if one could) and accept that whether one is male or female depends upon how one identifies, using gender as a guide. Quite how the latter option deals with the material exploitation of sexed bodies under patriarchy – beyond making it unmentionable – isn’t very clear. Nor does it tell us how we might confront male violence (over 90% of all violent crime is committed by male people, regardless of how they identify). Are we therefore to assume that a predisposition to violence is merely a part of someone’s innate sense of self? And is it now up to perpetrators to say whether their violence really counts as “male violence,” dependent on how “male” they feel? Indeed, under the rules of trans politics, can we identify any forms of material oppression and dominance at all?
When feminists point out that trans women are not biologically female, we are not, as some would have it, behaving like “knuckle-dragging bigots.” We’re saying our bodies exist and matter, too. This isn’t a minor point. The idea that male bodies are the default bodies is patriarchy 101. Eve is constructed from Adam’s rib; Freud clocks our lack of penis and comments drily that “a hole is a hole”; modern medical research is still biased towards using male bodies. Denying sex difference by making male bodies the only “real” bodies is not some modern stroke of genius; it is conservative to the core. Moreover, it is directly contrary to the feminist objective of ensuring that biology is not destiny.
Many people find this hard to understand, thinking that to associate being female with having a female reproductive system is akin to “reducing women to their genitalia.” It’s a non-argument that’s rather akin to saying anti-capitalists “reduce people to their earnings” or anti-racism campaigners are “obsessed with skin colour.” If we don’t talk about biology – and hence never demand the structural changes which ensure the world is built to suit the needs of all bodies – then for female people, biology always will be destiny. For instance, it’s highly unlikely that company bosses ever sat down and decided to actively discriminate against people who look like they might have the potential to get pregnant; they just built the rules on the assumption that the default employee is someone who definitely can’t. This then leads to enormous inequalities, forcing women into lower-paid, part-time work or excluding them from employment altogether (while allowing male people to continue to benefit from the disproportionate share of unpaid caring work undertaken by female people; unfortunately males who see “woman” as an identity rarely seem to identify with the floor scrubbing and arse-wiping aspect of the whole experience).
In all this it’s worth asking who really gains the most from trans politics in its current anti-feminist guise. Female people don’t and if we’re honest, neither do most gender non-conforming males. Whereas feminism seeks to dismantle male dominance, trans politics reinforces traditional masculinity by insisting that any quality that is considered insufficiently manly is shoved into the “woman/not man/other” box. Not only does this offer no challenge whatsoever to the global epidemic of male violence, but it ensures that women can continue to be blamed for it (If women were only more accommodating, men wouldn’t have to beat anyone up, as said by every single misogynist since the beginning of time). Moreover, this is entirely in keeping with a feminist analysis of gender as a hierarchy. When self-styled cis men order feminists to accept that “trans women are women,” what they’re really saying is “accept that my dominance is natural” (any admission that male people might freely identify with so-called feminine qualities without having to declare themselves female would be far too unsettling; it might show that patriarchy is a house built on sand after all).
A recent poster campaign asking feminists to be “more inclusive” showed a trans person trying to decide which toilets to use. On the door of the ladies’ were the words “get yelled at”; on the men’s, “get beaten up.” That’s patriarchy for you; men learn violence, the most women can do is seek to raise our voices. The trans solution? Demand entry into the “get yelled at” space, even if this also means granting entry to potential beaters as well as yellers. Accept male violence, but not female dissent, as a fact of life. The feminist solution? The opposite: no to male violence, yes to raising our voices. Confront the system that enables the beaters. Do so even if it means you get yelled at and called a TERF and told to die on a daily basis. Do it because you know male violence is wrong, that no one deserves to be beaten and that all people should be free to express themselves how they wish, regardless of sex.
I know which option I’d choose. Other people can make their own choices, but let’s be honest: this is not about identity and inclusion. It’s about power. Think about who and what you’re propping up.
A wonderful, short (less than ten minutes) documentary about women in jazz, starting with the fabulous ‘International Sweethearts Of Rhythm’, who in 1940’s America, were not only an all-female big band, but also racially integrated. The interviews with (then) surviving members (the film’s about 20 years old) are tremendously uplifting and moving. The late Marian McPartland also features:
While much of the media is entranced by Nigel Farage (The Times even naming him “Briton of the Year”), it seems that young people in the UK have seen through his unpleasant charlatan and his ultra-reactionary party.
According to a poll by ‘Opinium’, commissioned by The Observer, Farage is the least popular political leader among those who will be able to vote for the first time in the forthcoming general election.
Young people aged between 17 and 23 are overwhelmingly pro-European, socially liberal (eg in favour of gay marriage and retaining the Human Rights Act), and much more likely to call themselves “feminist” (40% of both genders) than older voters (25%). Nearly half (48%) regard immigration as a good thing. Only 3% would vote for Ukip, with the Lib Dems on 6%, the Greens on 19%, the Tories on 26% and Labour in a clear lead at 41%.
Sadly, 65% would retain the monarchy, but us old lefties can’t have everything our own way, can we? Hopefully, the youngsters will learn on that one.
And, it must be noted, things look much less encouraging in Scotland, where Labour’s election of the craven Blairite Jim Murphy has proved to be the gift to the SNP that many of us warned it would be: as things stand (according to a Guardian/ICM online poll) Sturgeon’s nationalist fake-leftists stand to take 45 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies reducing Scottish Labour to a parliamentary rump of just 10 MPs (presently it’s 41). With Murphy at the helm, it’s difficult to work up much enthusiasm for a Labour vote in Scotland, and we’re reduced to making the (true, but uninspiring) point that every seat won by the SNP will make it less likely that Labour will win a majority, and more likely that the Tories will be able to hang on in there.
Depressing eh? So let’s comfort ourselves, for now, with the knowledge that, on most issues at least, the nation’s youth are pro-European, socially liberal, have no time for Farage and are likely to vote Labour in May.
So there are some grounds for hope for 2015, and beyond, comrades!