The outrage over the attempted assassination of 15 year old Malala Yousefzai shot by the Taliban for defending girls’ education; the mass protests against Islamists for the assassination of Socialist leader Chokri Belaid and Amina Tyler’s topless activism in Tunisia where she wrote “My body is not the source of your honour” and “fuck your morals”; the protests in Turkey against Islamisation; the Harlem Shake in front of Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Egypt and the largest protest in Egypt in contemporary history against the Muslim Brotherhood – 33 million people (which was not to begin with a coup; the army only stepped in to take control and stop the revolution, not defend it)…
Even if you’re not looking, you can still see the immense resistance and dissent taking place. It’s a new period of human development after decades of Islamism, US-led militarism, unbridled free market reign, cultural relativism and the retreat of all things universal. Today is an era of the 99% movement and revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa – many of them female-led. Whilst it may sometimes be hard to see given the perceived “gains” by Islamists or the army in the region (in fact as counter-revolutionary forces aimed at suppressing the revolutions), the change of era is palpable.
Nonetheless, many post-modernist and culturally relativist Leftists, liberals, and feminists continue to remain firmly on the side of the Islamists.
Any opposition to Sharia law, (which is based on the Koran, Hadith, and Islamic jurisprudence), the veil, and Islamic misogyny are met with charges of racism, Islamophobia, cultural imperialism and more.
Those who say so though have bought into the culturally-relativist notion that societies in the Middle East and North Africa (and even the “Muslim community” in the west) are homogeneous, “Islamic” and “conservative”. But there is no one homogeneous culture anywhere. Since it is those in power that determine the dominant culture, this point of view sees Islamist values and sensibilities as that of “authentic Muslims’. But as Musa Budeiri, a professor at Birzeit University, the oldest Palestinian University, who was threatened for posting a cartoon on his office door says: Islamists “resort to abuse, and threats of physical violence, attempting to appropriate to themselves the sole authority of what Muslims can and cannot think, can and cannot do. There are and will remain as many different Muslims as there are unfettered minds.”
In fact, “Muslims” or those labelled as such include secularists, ex-Muslims, atheists, free thinkers, women’s rights activists, LGBT campaigners and socialists. Even someone like the wonderful Salman Rushdie speaks for Muslims. As writer Hanif Kureishi says: “He speaks for their doubts. He speaks the bits of them that they actually think and feel sometimes – do I really believe in all this stuff – but can’t say…”
Conflating Islamism with Muslim is a narrative peddled by Islamists and their apologists in an attempt to feign representation, restrict dissent, and prescribe the limits of “acceptable” expression.
Those who assert that a demand for secularism and opposition to the veil and Sharia law are “foreign” and “culturally inappropriate” are only considering Islamism’s sensibilities and values, not that of the many who resist. This shouldn’t be surprising. A large young population in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa brings with it challenges to the status quo as does the recent women-led revolutions and the backlash against Islamism.
As 34 year old Egyptian female cartoonist, Dooa Eladl who calls herself a Muslim anarchist and is facing blasphemy charges for her political cartoons that poke fun of Islamists says: “The extremists don’t scare me”. “Whatever they do, I will continue to use my skills to poke fun at them. They must understand that we Egyptians have changed with the revolution, and we will not go backwards.”
In the same way that there are opponents of nude protest and supporters of the veil, Islamism and Sharia in the “west”, there are also supporters of nude protest and opponents of the veil, Islamism and Sharia law in the “east”- even more so as you will find no greater opposition to Islamism than from those who have lived under its rule.
This has nothing to do with “cultural imperialists” patronisingly “rescuing Muslim women” any more than the fight for women’s suffrage was a rescue attempt and a form of cultural imperialism (after all the idea was “foreign” to begin with and started in one specific place).
Only those who see their rights and lives as separate and different from those deemed “other” and who have bought into (or are selling) Islamism’s narrative can see solidarity and the demand for equality and secularism in this warped way.
Ironically, like the far-Right which despises multiculturalism yet benefits from its idea of difference to scapegoat the “other” and promote its own form of white identity politics, the post-modernists also use multiculturalism to side with the oppressor by demanding respect and tolerance for “difference” no matter how intolerable.
But as Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “Difference and diversity are double-edged concepts; we should never forget that they have been used by reactionary forces to maintain in their difference – by force – peoples and categories of population. What lies behind ‘respect for difference’ is the deep desire that the ‘other’ remains different…”
Defending secularism, free expression, and equality and opposing Sharia law, far-Right Islamism, and Islamic states have nothing to do with “prejudice against Muslim communities”, racism and Islamophobia. Saying so ignores the immense dissent including amongst those considered Muslims and denies the social and political struggles and class politics.
Islamophobia is a political term used to scaremonger people into silence. Charges of Islamophobia have been coined not because anti-Muslim bigotry is the main concern of these apologists but in order to protect Islam and Islamism. If they were so concerned about Muslims or those labelled as such, they would oppose not support Sharia and Islamism and stop justifying Islamic terrorism which kills more “Muslims” than anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, racism and bigotry exist but you can’t stop prejudice by limiting dissent and free expression, stopping much needed criticism of Islam and religion, and by siding with Islamic fascism.
As Women Living Under Muslim Laws says: “Fundamentalist terror is by no means a tool of the poor against the rich, of the Third World against the West, of people against capitalism. It is not a legitimate response that can be supported by the progressive forces of the world. Its main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters – like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the ‘untermensch’ – the subhumans -, among them ‘inferior races’, gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women ‘in their place’, which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket…”
Of course when speaking of Islam or any religion, I am not referring to religion as a personal belief. Everyone has a right to religion and atheism but Islam today is not a personal matter but the banner of a political movement, an industry, a mafia, a killing machine. When it comes to religion in the state and law and educational system, then it is no longer a question of personal belief but a matter of political power and control.
Islam – like all religion – but particularly so because of Islamism or the Islamic inquisition – should come with a health warning. It kills.
Those who equate opposition to religion, the religious Right or religious misogyny with racism and an attack on “Muslims” see an attack on misogynist beliefs and movements as an attack on people and choose to side with culture and religion over the lives and rights of human beings.
This culturally relativist perspective implies that women’s liberation is only for those who are ”white” and ”western”; the rest of us are only allowed “freedom” within the cultural and religious confines of Islam.
Thanks but no thanks.
Islamists use the latest technology to advance their barbarity but when it comes to women’s rights and secularism they’re “western” and “foreign”?
Even if rights are western (which they are not), they were fought for by progressive social movements and the working class and belong to all humanity.
In the topsy turvy world of cultural relativists opposing women’s sub-human status and defending secularism and the right to criticise religion is on par with joining forces with the far-Right.
It’s not. I oppose US-led militarism but that doesn’t mean I support the Islamic regime of Iran or vice versa. I despise both; I oppose both. And I oppose all forms of fascism, not just my own. After all Islamism is our far-Right.
As late Iranian Marxist Mansoor Hekmat says: “The religious, cultural, ethnic and national categorisation of people is always the first step in denying their universal rights as human beings. If the genocide in Rwanda is the continuation of an African tradition, if stoning is the Iranian people’s Islamic tradition, if veiling is part of the culture of women in ‘Islamic societies’, if marrying off a nine year old girl is a tradition of the people of those countries themselves, then they can really be forgotten, humiliated, bombed and left to the mercy of their own rules beyond the fortresses of western civilisation and democracy. But if it becomes clear that these people like all others live and produce in a capitalist society and global market, if it becomes apparent that these Islamic traditions and laws have been imposed on them by sheer force of imprisonment, torture chambers, street patrols, knives, executions, and stoning, if it becomes apparent that these people like all others are yearning for freedom, equality and an end to discrimination… then all this hypocritical ideological monument will collapse and the damage will be beyond words.”
From Egypt, to Turkey, Algeria and Iran, the “damage” to cultural relativism is done and people worldwide are seeing that demands for freedom and secularism are not “Western” but universal.
Nothing rings more true today that the chants on the streets of Tehran in 1979 in opposition to compulsory veiling: “Neither eastern nor western, women’s rights are universal” and “Freedom is our culture”.
Today we must add: secularism is our basic human right as the philosopher A C Grayling says.
And given the bleak realities of Islamism it is also clearly a historical task and necessity.
The above is one of my most recent speeches.