The fact is that challenging traditions and questioning authority are practices common to all societies; changing in response to circumstances is a human capacity and not one limited to a particular culture.
Again – no kidding, and no one who is criticizing gender segregation said otherwise. It’s the other way around: Universities UK are treating authority (in the person of the external speaker who demands segregated seating) as if it is not to be challenged. It is the protesters who are challenging that authority, and the authority of UUK, from the standpoint of universal rights, which is to say, rights common to all societies, limited to a particular culture.
It is at our peril that we, particularly women who come from non-European communities, cede or suppress that capacity in the cause of anti-racism, vital though the latter is.
We know. That was our point. You’re the one who is talking about “an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.” You’re the one talking about “deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best.”
It’s a capacity that allows us to ask whether, say, women’s colleges are a useful defence against a wider institutional sexism contexts while simultaneously debating whether there’s anything to be maintained or gained by men and women sitting apart when addressed by religious speakers who demand it, even if voluntarily and non-hierarchically. Are such arrangements always just ‘harmless symbols’ of community identity? Selective attacks on our communities make the job of self-analysis more difficult but we should not let our thoughts and actions be entirely determined by those we oppose.
It’s not an attack on “your communities” – unless you consider iERA your community, in which case I have nothing to say to you, but then why are you talking about challenging traditions and questioning authority? Liberal universalists are not your enemy. We’re not the ones who think you should be at home instead of teaching at Cambridge.
There is no doubt that both racism and xenophobia is on the rise, with Muslims and Islam singled out for attack. It is essential to fight back. But we must also ask ourselves whether, because the evocation of issues of misogyny or gendered oppression within minority communities often plays into the wrong hands, we should let go of our own traditions and histories of self-criticism, internal dissent and change. If we do so, ironically, we play into the falsest imperialist stereotype of them all – the notion that non-European communities are static and unchanging until the West comes along to teach us progress.
But then why are you bashing the critics of gender segregation who reject that stereotype? Why, for instance, are you ignoring Maryam Namazie and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Abhishek Phadnis and focusing on Student Rights who had nothing to do with the protest against gender segregation? Why are you ignoring the very possibility of international solidarity, and the reality of it that is so conspicuous in everything Maryam does? What the hell do you think that accomplishes? Why not drop the fake accusations of imperialism and just join Maryam and the rest?