He “knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women”


What a claustrophobic mind we see in this post claiming that Maryam’s petition against Universities UK’s guidelines that allow sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers is “Islamophobic.”

Petition site Avaaz are running asking people to condemn Universities UK’s statement on sex segregation in events held on campus. Please DON’T sign it. It might use intellectual language, but its both factually dubious and distinctly Islamphobic.

First, its worth pointing out that the lectures and visiting lecturers being talked about are student-organised speaking events. They are not course lectures. Allowing such meetings to take place on campus is an important part of encouraging debate and widening participation in Higher Education. Furthermore, it allows Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues.

Wait. How does allowing sexual segregation at the behest of guest speakers “[allow] Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues”? Are Muslim women otherwise not allowed to meet and discuss their issues? Do UK universities forbid Muslim women to meet and discuss their issues at debates and lectures where the audience is not segregated? Of course they don’t. Muslim women are allowed to meet and discuss their issues on the same terms that anyone else is. Universities are not in the business of making special rules and exclusions for particular groups.

If Muslim women aren’t “allowed” to meet and discuss except when they are segregated from men then Muslim women also aren’t “allowed” to take buses or the tube, walk on the pavement, stroll through the park, shop at Waitrose or Boots, go to the pub or a café, go to concerts or plays or movies – have jobs, go to the hospital, have a bank account, have friends. On those terms they aren’t “allowed” to take part in contemporary life at all. They might as well be buried. Fortunately UK universities don’t impose such a regime.

I’m a graduate of the University of Bradford – I have attended lectures that were segregated. It was done in a very simple and largely organic way – I knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women, so I sat on the side of the central aisle where the men were congregating. We didn’t actually have curtains or anything, and in a culture where people socialise amongst their own sex, its not surprising that friends sitting together looks pretty segregated right away.

Way to internalize the viciously illiberal rules. It was not “appropriate” to sit next to women? A culture where people socialise amongst their own sex? Terrific: a world where women and men are strangers to each other, and women get less and worse of everything.

In allowing its website to be used to petition against the right of Islamic Societies to determine the running of their own meetings, Avaaz is endorsing cultural imperialism and side-lining of an entire culture within our Universities.

As I understand it the guidelines are not about meetings of societies but about public debates and lectures – debates and lectures that are open to anyone who wants to attend.

You can call it “cultural imperialism” to have one set of rules for everyone if you want to, but it’s a perverse and reactionary move. The expectation of equality doesn’t have much in common with imperialism.

The petition represents an attempt to force Western culture into the meetings and events of women and men who subscribe to another culture.

That assumes that all Muslims subscribe to gender segregation, which is complete bullshit. Not all Muslims do, and plenty of Muslims find that assumption highly insulting. Plenty of non-“Western” people find it massively insulting when Westerners put all the good things under the sign “Western” and assume that everyone in the east and south shares a monolithically reactionary culture.

Never underestimate the ability of White Men to use Women of Colour as a means to espouse racism and cultural superiority.

That’s cute, when it’s Maryam who drew up the petition. Ignore her why doncha.

Looking down the list of initial signatories, it is clear that this is an attempt at religion bashing by some of the most reactionary pupils of ‘Western Enlightenment’ thinking.

Oh right, such as Deeyah Khan, Gita Sahgal, Harsh Kapoor, Mina Ahadi, Nahla Mahmoud, Pragna Patel…

They are not the reactionaries here.

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    …Avaaz is endorsing cultural imperialism and side-lining of an entire culture within our Universities.

    I’m sure a lot of white Southerners said the same thing when racial segregation was ruled unconstitutional.

  2. Pen says

    1. There really is a world of difference between what the author is describing here:

    It was done in a very simple and largely organic way – I knew it was not appropriate to sit next to women, so I sat on the side of the central aisle where the men were congregating.

    Which is indeed the kind of organic, loose self-segregation you find with gender and even race in various groupings and a rule that enforces that behavior. I really don’t care at the moment about the rights or wrongs of the author’s personal choices, though needless to say, I don’t agree with them.

    2. I’m profoundly opposed to Islamophobia, but I read Maryam’s petition with a very critical eye and failed to detect a shred of it.

    3. Universities should NOT be primarily religious institutions and perhaps talks by deeply religious speakers for deeply religious attendees should be held elsewhere – at mosques, Islamic cultural centers, etc or churches, synagogues, for other religions… I’m not against talks about religion at universities in principle but it is part and parcel of the deal that they should expect a wide and potentially critical audience. They should actually take it for granted that their audience will not be primarily restricted to their specific group. They need to cater for those groups. If you don’t want criticism/diversity of attitudes, leave the general public sphere and retire to the privacy of your religion/culture specific institution.

  3. says

    Good point about the white Southerners – I hadn’t thought of that. There was indeed a whole myth built up about that culture – which Mark Twain called “Sir Walter Scott disease.”

  4. Omar Puhleez says

    Pen @ #2:

    ” I’m profoundly opposed to Islamophobia,…”

    I am too: to the whole deliberately obscurantist concept of it.

    It is formally defined in terms of ‘”dread or hatred of Islam and therefore, fear and dislike of all Muslims,” (Runnymede Trust definition). In other words, you can’t be against Islam without being against Muslims.

    Well, there are numerous Muslims who are against Islam: namely those who are making for the exit. And despite the death penalty for doing so (ie for apostasy).. So I respectfully suggest that those who are against people who dread and hate Islam are being hoodwinked

  5. zibble says

    “Cultural imperialism”. Christ.

    You know, I make a real effort to understand the nuances of religion, in all its diversity. I try to be clear about the differences between Sunni and Shia, and the cultural differences between Saudi Arabian Islam and liberal western Islam (and not to diminish the diversity of Muslims as individuals with their own beliefs and ethics).

    I try to understand these differences. And yet, the people who rage against “cultural imperialism” don’t seem to care to tell the fucking difference between unflinching liberal egalitarianism and neoconservative warmongering.

  6. Jubal DiGriz says

    I got a giggle when I saw that the University of Bradford was given as the example, as I was also a student there. Several Muslim friends often invited me to the Muslim student society events. Often time women friends were also invited, and I invariable ended up sitting with them on the womens side. Not once was I ever asked to move, though occasionally some women chuckled.

    There were of course levels of privilege involved… if I was a Palestinian woman trying to sit on the mens side instead of being a white man I can imagine a more unpleasant response. But I have no data to support that since I never saw or heard of a woman trying to do so.

    And of course my experience is just an anecdotal and therefore useless as this Graham fellow. The University of Bradford is not somehow representative of all Muslim gender segregation everywhere (though does have the largest ratio of Muslim students as I recall). But my experiences to suggest that UUK is responding to the protests of a very minor group of conservative students, when the vast majority of Muslim student events do not require a policy of gender discrimination in order to function.

    Incidentally, again purely anecdotal, men and women sorted themselves across the aisle, not front and back, and women participated during introductions and Q&A about as much as men. And this was all about 10 years ago, so perhaps this is no longer true. This is all a roundabout way of saying that I did not observe impassible cultural barriers that prevented women from learning, participating, and for such student societies to be open to reform.

    The actual imperialism here is the UUK presuming to know how Muslim students (as diverse a range of people as you could have, as meaningful as saying “Christian students”) want to behave at their own events and that they require special policies to preserve that, as opposed to the students themselves figuring out how they want to conduct themselves, and assuming Muslim students would resort to bombing the library if required to abide by the same regulations as every other student organisation.

  7. Jubal DiGriz says

    Addendum: I do recall once I went to an explicitly religious event, as opposed to the usual education lectures. At that one women and men were separated by a cloth barrier, and the space was explicitly smaller. This pissed me off a bit, so I went over to the womens side to see what was happening (which again I had several friends there as well). A few women decided that while the food was better on their side, it was rather crowded, so they went over to the mens side to chat. I don’t recall anyone taking issue either way.

    The fact that the barrier exists, though, is still obnoxious, as the separate seating. Even if overtly benign, such separation should not be protected by university policy as it encourages separation in the classroom as well. Just because this event was a religious observance does not excuse the university from ensuring school resources are equally accessible by all.

  8. Pen says

    @4

    I am too: to the whole deliberately obscurantist concept of it. (Islamophobia)

    Let me de-obscure for you. There have been plentiful recent incidents in the UK of people scrawling aggressive graffiti on mosques, attempting to disrupt worship, attacking Muslim people (or people they think look Muslim on the street), physically or with verbal abuse and even organized demonstrations of intimidating and abusive behavior. One of the worst case I’ve heard of concerns an Eastern European who came to Britain specifically to find a Muslim to kill and picked an 80 year old man with crutches.

    There are people who use their media platform to call for the expulsion from the country of Muslims who are as British as they are and/or who accuse all Muslims as individual people of being aggressive, hateful and damaging to society in a way that encourages attacks and discrimination against them. They interfere with social and economic relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims that actually promote integration and the exchange of ideas as well as being just in their own right. We’re talking about being anti-segregationist here, well, some people are attempting to create segregation of Muslims and non-Muslims through hate speech. I’m against that too.

    Maybe Islamophobia isn’t a great choice of word but it’s the one we’re using. Then you’ll get people who say ‘you disagreed with me over something connected to Islam, you Islamophobic bastard’. Take no notice of them and keep on disagreeing, making sure to leave out all insults, abuse, suggestions that they have no right to live in their own country/live, and you’ll be fine.

  9. Omar Puhleez says

    Pen:
    “Let me de-obscure for you. There have been plentiful recent incidents in the UK of people scrawling aggressive graffiti on mosques, attempting to disrupt worship, attacking Muslim people (or people they think look Muslim on the street), physically or with verbal abuse and even organized demonstrations of intimidating and abusive behavior. One of the worst case I’ve heard of concerns an Eastern European who came to Britain specifically to find a Muslim to kill and picked an 80 year old man with crutches.”

    I believe that murder is illegal in the UK. Of anyone..

    I think you missed my point. It is in the interest of Islamists and religious reactionaries of all kinds to blur the difference between criticism of Islam (which I and many others at this site do routinely) and attacking Muslims -verbally, physically or in whatever way, simply because they are Muslims. I think all participants here at B&W deplore that.

    “Maybe Islamophobia isn’t a great choice of word but it’s the one we’re using.”

    If you use a word, you use it with its commonly agreed meaning. ‘Islamophobia’ was coined with a clear intention of making ‘opposition to Islam’ equate with ‘opposition to Muslims.’ I suggest using ‘anti-Islam’, or ‘anti-Islamic’ for the first, and ‘anti-Muslim’ for the second. But to give the word ‘Islamophobia’ validity is to endorse the cheap trick behind it.

  10. says

    Omar@9: Unfortunately, if you wanted to coin a word for ‘irrational fear of, and bigotry against, Muslims’, then ‘islamophobia’ is by far the most plausible word for it. We’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future, even in a world where the same word is warped by those with an Islamist agenda to encompass any criticism of Islam and Muslims, whether justifiable or not. We just need to be very clear in our meaning when we use the word – and we also need to be consistent in calling out both those who promote bigotry against Muslims and those who deliberately conflate reasoned criticism of Islam with bigotry against Muslims.

  11. A Hermit says

    My comment there is still in moderation:

    Gee, I didn’t realize that Maryam Namazie, Gita Sahgal, Mina Ahadi, Nahla Mahmoud, Yasmin Rehman and so many others with similar names on that list of signatures were all white men. I would have guessed differently…

    I have to say I’m puzzled by all of this. I believe in supporting an open, pluralistic society and I believe that means we all need to be able to be respectful of each others traditions. But that goes both ways; if I were to visit a Mosque I wouldn’t insist that they de-segregate their audience if that is their tradition. It would be wrong of me to impose my traditions and beliefs on that community in their space.

    Similarly, if these speakers want to address a secular audience in a public, secular space they should extend the same respect and not demand that the audience compromise their secular traditions and beliefs. Would you be as accommodating if an invited speaker insisted on segregating the audience by skin colour, or that all the Jews be kept apart from the rest of the audience? How is it any less offensive to demand that non-Muslim women in a secular space be forced to separate themselves from their male peers?

    Imposing segregation on a population which traditionally does not segregate is just as wrong as forcing the congregation at a Mosque, Synagogue or other place of worship which traditionally does segregate to change their practice to accommodate a visiting speaker.

    I don’t see how asking for mutual respect, which is what this petition seems to me to be doing, can be interpreted as Islamophobic.

  12. A Hermit says

    I should add that faced with the prospect of addressing a segregated audience I would probably decline on the grounds that doing so would violate my sincerely held belief in equality.

  13. quixote says

    I must be missing the cluestick. If someone defines Islam as bigotry, it would seem to be a good thing to be phobic about it.

    Saying that what it actually means is hatred of all Middle Easterners and North Africans (and turban-wearing Sikhs in the more confused parts of the US) does not solve the problem if it’s also used to mean you-must-give-a-free-pass-to-my-bigotry. Then all you’re saying is that anti-Muslim bigotry is bad but anti-women bigotry isn’t even a thing.

    No.

    We’re either all free or nobody is free.

  14. freemage says

    quixote: Part of the problem is that there are in fact Muslims, and branches of Islam, which are no worse than liberal Christianity on the ‘bigotry’ front. So it’s “Islamophobic” to decide to ignore those individuals and declare the religion as a whole somehow unique in its evils. And the reason people do this is entirely out of racism.

    That said, it’s NOT Islamophobic to fight against bigotry, even if said bigotry happens to be concocted, as in this case, by Muslims of the more conservative varieties.

  15. Omar Puhleez says

    David @#10:

    “Unfortunately, if you wanted to coin a word for ‘irrational fear of, and bigotry against, Muslims’, then ‘islamophobia’ is by far the most plausible word for it. We’re stuck with it for the foreseeable future,”

    I disagree.

    ‘Islamophobia’ is a word whose ambiguity renders it useless, and I for one do not feel in any way obliged to use it. Moreover, it would seem that whenever one encounters it in conversation, or is accused of it for whatever reason, a request for a precise definition from the user is called for, followed by a discussion of the conflation issue.

    eg A Hermit @#11:

    “I don’t see how asking for mutual respect, which is what this petition seems to me to be doing, can be interpreted as Islamophobic.”

    Do you mean Islamophobic in the sense of hostility to Islam, or in the sense of bigotry against Muslims? There is an important difference. Islam is a religion: ie a philosophy resting on a set of assumptions. Philosophies are fair game. Law abiding and courteous Muslims are not.

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