An interesting article by Rumy Hasan in Open Democracy last December: Beware of Islamism with a liberal veneer. We’re well familiar with that phenomenon. The two women sitting next to Abhishek and Chris on The Big Questions were classic examples – using liberal rhetoric to defend illiberal traditions and practices, while enveloped in degrading black bags.
The recent outcry among British politicians and the London press over gender segregation in universities has shone a light on a relatively new phenomenon: the recourse to the foundational principles of liberal democracy by Islamists in pursuit of their agenda. This approach appears to be working as is evidenced by Universities UK’s (UUK) policy guidance (now withdrawn) on gender segregation at events organised by Islamic Societies. In very reasonable language, UUK advised:
“Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system”.
A thoroughly reactionary, sexist, practice was justified on the basis of rights – specifically the right of Islamist speakers and Muslim women to have segregated seating. This demand is thought reasonable because of the importance afforded to religious beliefs – non-religious beliefs are not granted this privilege.
We get it in the US too – the “right” to home school, the “right” to deny children medical care on religious grounds, the “right” to refuse to vaccinate one’s children, the “right” to refuse to perform abortions or dispense the morning after pill even though it’s part of your job.
It is curious – and revealing – that similar ‘liberal-minded’, ‘reasonable’, ‘freedom of choice’ arguments are not invoked for segregation on the grounds of race or ethnicity along the lines of the judgment – that set out the doctrine of ‘separate and equal’ facilities for races – of the US Supreme Court in the notorious Plessy versus Ferguson case of 1896. But, pray, why are so many who would rightly denounce this doctrine on the grounds of race, apply it on the grounds of gender? To this question no satisfactory answer is provided; a simple appeal to respect for religious belief suffices.
I keep saying.
The General Secretary of the LSE’s Student Union, Jay Stoll, provided a simple answer to the outrage felt by UUK’s policy guidance: on Channel 4 News he baldly asserted that this was a manifestation of ‘Islamophobia’. He naturally hoped that such ‘analysis’ would quell the critics and end the debate. Now Mr Stoll has some form on this: back in October at the Freshers Fair, his Students Union forced two members of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to remove their ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts on the grounds that this constituted ‘harassment’ of Muslim (not Christian) students (hence was Islamophobic but not Christophobic). Thankfully, after vigorous campaigning and threat of legal action, Craig Calhoun, the Director of the LSE – but not the Students Union – has apologised to the two students. One should, therefore, not be unduly surprised if the LSESU gives support to requests by Islamic societies for segregated audiences at meetings they organise on campus; and helps with its enforcement.
Well so far, that hasn’t happened that I’m aware of – and I think I would be aware if it had because I think Chris and Abhishek would tell me.
Whilst recognising that Islamists in Muslim-majority countries – from the Wahabbi House of Saud to Sunni Pakistan to Shia Iran – are contemptuous of liberal, democratic, values, many Islamists in the west now realise that this rejectionist approach is counterproductive to their cause. Hence they are skilfully resorting to arguments coated with liberalism. It is, therefore, imperative that those concerned by the corrosive values of Islamism: gender segregation, attack on freedom of expression, and veiling are only three instances – should see through this liberal veneer to reveal the reactionary agenda underneath and to put up robust opposition to their demands.
We’re doing our best. But there are always the useful idiots…like Bob, the author of one of the comments:
Presumably Hasan sees himself as someone who stands up for genuine liberal values. Yet he denies the right of Muslim women to sit separately from men if they choose – even if, as happened at the iERA meeting at UCL, a mixed-gender section is available to those who don’t want single-gender seating. And he justifies the French ban on women wearing the niqab.
Some liberal! What happened to John Stuart Mill’s principle, which is the bedrock of liberalism, that individuals should be free to act as they choose, free from interference by the state or anyone else, as long as they cause no harm to others?
See? That’s exactly what the two women next to Abhishek and Chris claimed, and it’s dead wrong. It’s dishonest. Nobody is denying the right of Muslim women to sit anywhere they want to sit – provided there are empty seats. All anyone is denying is a guaranteed pre-arrangement of segregated seats, which is to say, an imposition of segregation on everyone who attends.
We don’t get pre-arrangements like that in the normal course of things. We don’t get to stipulate what kind of people we want to sit next to on buses, in restaurants, on planes, in movie theatres, at concerts, at political meetings – even in church, as far as I know. (In mosques, on the other hand, it’s a different story. Well there you go. That’s why some people stop going to mosques.)
I wonder if Bob would say
Presumably Hasan sees himself as someone who stands up for genuine liberal values. Yet he denies the right of white people to sit separately from black people if they choose – even if, as happened at the iERA meeting at UCL, a mixed-race section is available to those who don’t want single-race seating.
My guess is that he wouldn’t, yet he feels comfortable and righteous saying it about gender. Spot the real liberal, eh?