Dec 17 2013

Unified Community Response

Ah here comes the “unified community response” – at least, “unified” “community” according to the people doing the responding.

It’s an interesting ploy, isn’t it, just announcing that one’s own view is, by fiat, the unified community view. Disappear the opposition merely by say-so.

It calls that “a panel of Muslim women from across the community” – which community? The community of reactionary fundamentalist theocratic Islamists? Because it’s certainly not the community of all Muslim women. If “from across the community” is meant to convey “with a range of political views” – as surely it is – then it’s very dishonest.

But at the same time that it’s meant to convey that, I think it’s also meant to convey communitarian majoritarian menace. I think it’s saying “this is how our community sees it, and if you don’t, you are outside that community” – and we will banish you, ostracize you, and when we get enough power, we will execute you.

I hope some of you Londoners are free this Friday evening, and willing to shoulder the burden of attending that panel discussion. You Londoners who are women, that is – note the “women only” on the poster.


Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Crimson Clupeidae

    Women only? Hrm, I don’t think they’re addressing the topic very well at all.

  2. 2
    Nathaniel Frein

    It would be such a gas if Maryam could make it.

  3. 3
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Why the scare quotes around gender segregation in the poster? Have they gone all the way to claiming that, not only do they object to the way it’s described, but that the thing itself isn’t actually the thing it is? Because attacks on the muslim community?


  4. 4

    The women only part is to protect women from having to publicly disagree with men. Or maybe it’s to protect them from being raped by some man who’s so seduced by the sound of her voice he can’t control himself. To do otherwise would be subjecting them to neocolonialism. I’m just glad they care enough about women by barring me from attending.

    Either way, they’re planning to have a variety of opinions ranging from those who kinda agree with them to those who vehemently agree. Should be a lively debate.

  5. 5

    The whole damn meeting is already gender segregated to the exclusion of men. So they’re admitting that gender segregation is a ‘women’s issue’ with men as the neutral party? Shouldn’t those of us who might gain admittance boycott it on those very grounds? If what they have to say can’t be said in front of half of society, was it worth saying?

  6. 6
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    Two things:

    1. Please oh please let Maryam attend. I desperately want to hear about it from her.

    2. It amazes me how people fail to see this: no one is telling Muslims who want to sit away from each other based on gender that they can’t do this. What we’re saying is that you can’t enforce it to the point that non-Muslims who may attend one of these events can’t sit next to each other, either. Are you going to forcefully separate, say, a straight, cis atheist couple? And how are you going to handle anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum?

  7. 7
    Bernard Hurley

    drken, you could attend if you wore a burqa.

  8. 8

    and we will banish you, ostracize you, and when we get enough power, we will execute you.

    yikes. is there really execution for that? are you sure?

  9. 9


    no one is telling Muslims who want to sit away from each other based on gender that they can’t do this. What we’re saying is that you can’t enforce it to the point that non-Muslims who may attend one of these events can’t sit next to each other, either.

    Well, what’s also happening is that society at large, a primarily non-Muslim society, is probably going to say that no Muslim, no matter their own views, can enforce on a Muslim male/female couple or group of friends not to sit together, nor even put them in a situation of pressure over their choice. That’s always a very fraught issue that comes up in these situations in Europe and involves, in my opinion, whether individual Muslims can be treated as cultural property by their group or whether (horrors!) an ‘intolerant Western liberalism’ is going to ‘patronisingly’ insist on ensuring their ‘liberation’. That’s where a lot of the bad feeling comes in and, fair enough, it must be quite nasty for those caught in the middle with the risk of the whole thing back-firing on them and said lliberals. I think that’s where the Gopal article previously covered by Ophelia is coming from. It’s a shame it seems to be so crappy and un-self-aware under the circumstances.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    (puzzled) So are they trying to get only lesbians to attend?

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    brianpansky – execution for being an apostate or heretic – yes, I’m sure.

  12. 12
    Maureen Brian

    Here’s their facebook page. The Waterlily looks like a mighty expensive place to hold a discussion meeting.


  13. 13

    I agree that some men should attend in total silence beneath a burqa :), as a memento that according to “community standards”, it is absolutely unacceptable that they organise debates instead of staying modestly at home and serving their husbands ;-)
    And anyway, they shouldn’t be so conceited as to assume that they are so irresistible to any man that he couldn’t concentrate on anything else if they sat next to him :)

  14. 14
    Sarah Lambert

    The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League (1908–1918) was established in London on 21 July 1908 to oppose women being granted the vote in United Kingdom parliamentary elections.

    One of its key drivers was the thought that “because the spheres of men and women, owing to natural causes, are essentially different, therefore their share in the public management of the State should be different.” and “because the influence of women in social causes will be diminished rather than increased by the possession of the Parliamentary vote.”

    You can always find women who gain privilege by supporting the patriarchy.

  15. 15

    But, but!…look at the pornographic silhouette in their shameless poster. The ‘female’ form is wearing a Corrupt Aggressively Liberal Costume. The silhouette can be seen to posses 2 (two) l-gs. How can society function civilly while the fact the two separate limbs (and their inevitable ‘space between’) are lewdly displayed in public?

  16. 16
    Bernard Hurley

    Maureen, I don’t suppose the “Unified Community” is paying for the use of the Waterlilly. It’s good publicity for a venue for which “The large venue space is divided into two halls located on one floor making it ideal for hosting Asian Weddings, Indian Weddings, African Weddings, and Islamic (segregated) wedding parties.” As they make clear on their web site: http://www.thewaterlily.net/

  17. 17

    #12 – That’s interesting Maureen. I was also prompted me to look up the venue that’s hosting this ultimate in gender segregation women-only talk from two posts ago. It’s a private venue for hire:

    The large venue space is divided into two halls located on one floor making it ideal for hosting Asian Weddings, Indian Weddings, African Weddings, and Islamic (segregated) wedding parties.

    I’m amused to note that one of the halls is spacious, more expensive and adjoins a ‘bar’, the other is rather smaller, less expensive and doesn’t. I expect the men and women draw straws to see who gets which, being all egalitarian and everything, right? The costs are quite high, but they do discounts for non-profits and they must have really gone out of their way for this particular talk because they weren’t supposed to be taking bookings at the moment. I suppose the universities offer a way to reach an audience free of charge? Or rather the state/tuition fee paying students pick up the tab? Hmmm….

  18. 18

    On one hand, whenever you have a moderate Islamic Apologist talking to a critical atheist, they say “what you hate about Islam, those are the extremists, they’re not mainstream Islam.” Then you have these people that say “you need to respect this practice. It isn’t the extremists, it’s the mainstream.”

    I don’t think those liberal Muslims are insincere. But I don’t think they recognize that there’s a chain, where they (falsely) tell people that the majority of Islam is reasonable, and then the actual majority of Islam uses that validity to be unreasonable.

  19. 19
    Omar Puhleez

    I think that a good compromise would be to arrange seating on a three-block Y pattern. One block for women who want to sit in a women-only area; one for men who want to sit in a men-only area; one block for those who want an unsegregated area to sit in.

    What could be wrong with that? All tastes would be catered for, except for the faction who see men and women sitting together as some sort of affront to Islam, and/or the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

    Me? If I can make it, I will be in drag: specifically, in an ample bourker, hired from some tent shop..

  20. 20
    John Morales

    Omar @19:

    What could be wrong with that?

    Practicality. What happens when any given block is full?

    (As an aside, a Y-block entails that the edges meet; there would need to be a vacant row between them to prevent mixing)

  21. 21
    John Morales

    As an aside, I wonder how Islamic segregationists manage to go to other publicly-accessible events, such as cinemas.

  22. 22
    Sarah Lambert

    I still haven’t seen an answer to the question of why islamist students can mix freely with the opposite sex in lectures for the whole year, but when a special speaker comes in suddenly they can’t. Has anyone seen the justification for this anywhere?

  23. 23
    Bernard Hurley

    Omar, when it comes to things like gender segregation there is no such thing as compromise. It’s not possible for a meeting to be a “little bit” segregated. Either there are areas where people of certain categories are not allowed to sit or there are not. Now you may well say that such segregation is mandated in a book dictated by the Angel Gabriel, and I will say I don’t care. Even if that were true I don’t see why civil society should take orders form an invisible supernatural agent, especially an evil misogynistic one.

  24. 24
    Omar Puhleez



    I am not in favour of any kind of segregation, but I am in favour of the idea of the ‘transitional demand’ – one that I first learned about years ago when I was into left politics.. Such a demand is quite reasonable on the face of things, except that it is one that the prevailing system cannot accomodate and IN TERMS OF ITS OWN LOGIC AND PRIORITIES pushes it towards tearing itself apart. The demand is deliberately set up to be more than the system can deliver, and so stacks that system up against itself, forcing it to reveal more of its true nature. It also promotes dissension in the ranks of the ruling elite.

    Segregated events (adults only; men only;women only) are actually quite common in western societies: eg Freemasons, ‘girls nights’ at clubs, adult movies…) These take place in the midst of mainstream unsegregated society in which men, women and children mingle freely.

    So IF the segregation is about giving Muslims the right to obey the tenets of their religion, that is one thing. If it is about enforced misogyny, then there will be no right to sit in an unsegregated area, even for those who wish to do so, because the very thought of men and women sitting together in a public meeting will be appalling to the troglodytes and neanderthals organising the event, and they will come out against it.

    And that, hopefully, will help people see them for what they really are, and help the undecided decide against them.

  25. 25
    John Morales


    Omar, since you’ve responded to Bernard’s comment which postdated my rejoinder to you @20, it’s clear you either accept that there is something wrong with your stated compromise or that you don’t care to acknowledge that there is something wrong with your stated compromise.

    (Care to clarify which it is?)

  26. 26
    Bernard Hurley


    Greetings to you too.

    RE: your notion of a ‘transitional demand’, the demand for arbitrary segregation in public places is not even “on the face of it” reasonable, although, no doubt some will represent it as such. Perhaps the demand was motivated by a desire to push the prevailing system into tearing itself apart or to promote dissension among the ruling elite. If so it has to be said that there was very little tearing apart and that the ruling elite would have quite happily gone along with it had it not been embarrassed into doing otherwise. Personally I think we can safely ignore the precise motives of those who make such demands when deciding on their reasonableness.

    Segregation in the Freemasons, or ‘girl’s nights’ are purely private affairs. In contrast a University provides public services of such a nature that they cannot be performed unless the state grant it special privileges (e.g. the right to confer degrees.) In EU legalspeak it’s an emanation of the state. As such the venue of any public meeting it holds or allows to be held becomes part of the public space and all the norms and laws that apply to such spaces must apply. A private railway company is in a similar position and it cannot lawfully segregate men and women in its public services, although it could hire out a train to a single sex group.

    It’s irrelevant whether the demand was made from a desire to follow the tenets of a religion. There can be no right to obey the tenets of a religion for the simple reason that there are no criteria for what count as such tenets. It’s possible to claim a divine mandate for any action whatsoever. The only criteria it’s possible to apply to a demand concerning the use of a public space are those of lawfulness and reasonableness.

  27. 27
    Sarah Lambert

    On asking advice about the sexes mixing in gyms, a muslim questioner on http://www.drhatemalhaj.com/ received the advice: “Ibn-ul-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “… Men’s intermixing with women is one of the causes of rampant sin and unlawful sex, which is a cause of mass mortality and continuous epidemics…”

    So there you go; if the sexes mix all hell will break loose; we’ll have rampant sin, unlawful sex, mass mortality and continuing epidemics… The sex part sound good though.

    And: “Asma’ daughter of Abu Bakr said,
    I heard the Apostle of God say, “One of you who believes in God and in the Last Day should not raise her head until the men raise their heads lest she should see the private parts of men.”(Sunan Abu Dawud, No. 850).”

    Of course this is very likely to happen in a lecture theatre. (Why are the men wearing clothes which make this possible anyhow?) Where I come from they’re called ‘flashers’.

  28. 28
    Omar Puhleez

    Bernard @ #23:

    “…. when it comes to things like gender segregation there is no such thing as compromise….”

    I think I demonstrated that one is possible, though what the law might say about it happening in a public space is another matter. Clearly, one path leads to a battle, and in that case it is better that misogynist Islam lose. But with what collateral damage? That is unknowable.

    Clearly there are Muslim women who for whatever reason, want women-only seating blocks at these events. The organisers want the whole hall sex-segregated, and I do not think they should be granted that, if only on the grounds that it forces all attendee to conform to some Islamic prescription. Though if a government-owned hall has been privately hired, as distinct from made available as a free area, I would presume that the hirers can impose whatever terms they like on those admitted: analogous to paying a certain sum to get in.

    “…There can be no right to obey the tenets of a religion for the simple reason that there are no criteria for what count as such tenets….”

    Christianity has a different view of sex-segregation from that of Islam and of Judaism. But in the mainstream, it has a view. There are criteria, but an acceptance of the authority of the scriptures involved is a preliminary requirement.

    I do not accept directives from anyone’s ancient books. My compromise proposal is aimed at offering the authoritarian organisers of this event a hollow victory. That is all.

  29. 29
    Ophelia Benson

    Omar, the “mixed” seating option is already part of the proposed gender segregation in some versions. It’s not a new idea. It’s a terrible suggestion, not least because it accepts the principle of segregation, which is just what it shouldn’t do.

    And it’s not a bit clear that there are Muslim women who want gender segregation. There are a few women who are members of Islamist organizations who defend the idea in their role as members of the Islamist organizations, but it’s not at all clear that there are any other such women (and there are a lot who vocally do not want it).

  30. 30
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    And as I’ve said before, Omar, there’s no such thing as voluntary segregation. Someone has to designate that such and such an area is off-limits to women and somehow enforce the prohibition whether by force, coercion, or social pressure. If I, as a woman, can truly voluntarily sit wherever I choose, that means I can sit among the men. And vice versa. Voila, no segregation.

  31. 31
    Bernard Hurley

    This talk about voluntary segregation reminds me of the joke about the sergeant major who says to his troops “I need three volunteers; you, you and you!”

  32. 32


    So Rosa should’ve just gone to the middle of the bus?

    Sorry, no. There are things you can compromise on, and things you can’t. “Meet in the middle” doesn’t always work and isn’t always rational. I want you to give me $1M. You feel that’s unreasonable and don’t want to give me anything. So you’re going to give me $500K in the spirit of compromise right?

  33. 33
    Ophelia Benson

    ^ Ha – that’s almost exactly the analogy I used in my last-but-one Freethinker column (which makes it the current one, the last being at the printers). A robbery in the street. Compromise? Yeahno.

  34. 34
    Omar Puhleez


    “Meet in the middle’ doesn’t always work and isn’t always rational.”


    Which is another way of saying that sometimes, it both works and is rational.

    In 1955, the population of Alabama was as far as I can gather, about 25% Afro-American. Rosa Parks triggered a social avalanche not by refusing to sit in the Jim Crow blacks-only section of the bus, but by refusing the driver’s order to yield her seat IN THAT SECTION to a white passenger when the whites-only section was full.

    Even if she had wanted to sit ‘in the middle’, there was no vacant seat ‘in the middle’ on that particular bus. It was chock full. On the morning after her arrest, “…at a church meeting led by the new MIA [Montgomery Improvement Association] head, [Martin Luther] King, a citywide boycott of public transit was proposed to demand a fixed dividing line for the segregated sections of the buses. Such a line would have meant that if the white section of the bus was oversubscribed, whites would have to stand; blacks would not be forced to give up their seats to whites.”

    In other words, according to this account the blacks were demanding a fixed racial divide in the buses, as a tactic at that stage of their desegregation campaign.

    (btw: The above article is a great read.)

  35. 35
    Omar Puhleez

    John @ #25:

    “it’s clear you either [a] accept that there is something wrong with your stated compromise or [b] that you don’t care to acknowledge that there is something wrong with your stated compromise.

    [a] I don’t.
    [b] Wrong.

    See #34 above.

  36. 36

    @Omar, #34

    Which is another way of saying that sometimes, it both works and is rational.

    Demonstrate that it is rational in this case.

  37. 37
    Ophelia Benson

    Omar @ 34 – in other words, at a very early stage that’s what the bus boycotters were asking for (according to that account). We’re not at a very early stage of demanding an end to gender segregation. It’s the other way around – Islamists are at a very early stage of attempting to impose it.

    Furthermore, people in the UK resisting the imposition of gender segregation are not people in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1950s. They’re not embedded in a culture that takes that kind of segregation for granted. It’s the other way around – they’re embedded in a culture that takes “mixing” for granted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>