Oh christ, not again. This time it’s Laurie Penny getting it all wrong.
This isn’t ‘feminism’, says the title, It’s Islamophobia. The title isn’t directly the fault of the author, since editors write the titles, but that one does reflect what the article says, and it’s the same old crock of shit.
As a person who writes about women’s issues, I am constantly being told that Islam is the greatest threat to gender equality in this or any other country – mostly by white men, who always know best.
Well that can happen, yes. (Dear Muslima? Yes. It can happen.) But that doesn’t mean that there is no problem with conservative Islam and Islamism when it comes to gender equality, just as there are problems with conservative Christianity, the Vatican, conservative Judaism – you get the idea. Liberal, secular versions of religion are mostly benign, epistemology apart, but it doesn’t follow that all versions of religion are.
…from the Rochdale grooming case to interminable debates over whether traditional Islamic dress is “empowering” or otherwise, the rhetoric and language of feminism has been co-opted by Islamophobes, who could not care less about women of any creed or colour.
The recent blanket coverage of the “gender segregation on campus” story was a textbook case. This month Student Rights, a pressure group not run by students, released a report vastly exaggerating a suggestion by Universities UK that male and female students might be asked to sit separately in some lectures led by Islamic guest speakers. The tabloids went bananas. Extremists were taking over the academy.
Never mind that it wasn’t strictly true, the non-controversy spread to every level of government. Labour MP Chuka Umunna declared: “A future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities.” Even the prime minister stepped into the debate, saying the proposed guidelines, which have since been withdrawn, were “not the right approach”. The elite all-male Oxford club of which both he and the chancellor were members was presumably the perfect approach.
Sigh. Notice how completely she ignores the December 10 protest. Notice how wrong she gets the facts – the Student Rights report was not released this month, it was released last May. Naturally it said nothing about the UUK guidance, because the UUK guidance didn’t exist at the time. Notice how she jumps from that to the spread of the controversy, thus getting the whole thing completely wrong.
(I should say that people are arguing with her on Twitter right now, as I type this, and she is admitting some omissions. Fair dues. [But I wish people would get this right before writing about it instead of after.] But she persists in saying she supports “Muslim feminists.” I’ve asked her about six times now, what about ex-Muslim, Muslim background, allies? And she’s ignoring me. Ok, I’m a nobody, and I’m not a “Muslim”…but then that’s my point, which is that she’s excluding allies, and that’s…neither progressive nor helpful.)
I have spent weary weeks being asked to condemn this “policy of gender segregation” by “Islamic extremists”, despite the fact that no such policy exists.
Yes it does.
I am not writing here on behalf of Muslim women, who can and do speak for themselves, and not all in one voice. I am writing this as a white feminist infuriated by white men using dog-whistle Islamophobia to derail any discussion of structural sexism; as someone who has heard too many reactionaries tell me to shut up about rape culture and the pay gap and just be grateful I’m not in Saudi Arabia; as someone angered that so many Muslim feminists fighting for gender justice are forced to watch their truth, to paraphrase that fusty old racist Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”.
In short, by the whole genre of “Dear Muslima.” Fine, but that’s not what happened in this case.
For decades, western men have hijacked the language of women’s liberation to justify their Islamophobia. If we care about the future of feminism, we cannot let them set the agenda.
We’re not. That’s not what happened in this case. Start over.