Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand

This is the editorial of the January 2014 issue of Unveiled, Fitnah’s Monthly Publication.
By Maryam Namazie

Segregation of the sexes is an Islamist demand though it is often couched as a right and demand of ‘Muslims’. When Islamists have state power like in Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s the law. Transgressing it can mean fines, imprisonment or worse. There, women must enter government offices via separate entrances from men; they must sit behind men or boys in classrooms and at the back of the bus…

Like racial apartheid in South Africa, gender apartheid is segregation based on the inequities between genders. The ‘logic’ behind it is that women are not equal but ‘complementary’ to men and if unveiled and unsegregated are the source of fitnah and affliction in society. Whilst this perspective is debasing to women, it’s also demeaning to men who are seen to be unable to control their sexual urges. An unveiled, unsegregated woman is like uncovered meat or sweets, asking for it – a whore. It follows, therefore, that the woman who refuses to veil (or ‘properly’ veil) or segregate and who enters the public space on her own terms is considered open season.

One of the slogans of the Islamists attacking women who had joined the 1979 mass demonstration in Iran against compulsory veiling was: ‘Ya rusari, Ya tusari’ (either the veil or a punch). Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, a Saudi Arabian writer, recently asked his followers to sexually molest women who work so as to stop women from leaving their homes. In Egypt, the sexual violence against women is often spearheaded by the state in order to prevent women from protesting in the public space…  This is also fundamentally why the Taliban bombs girls’ schools and why those who have sex outside of marriage are stoned to death:  to keep women/girls in their place – captive, covered, segregated, disappeared, not seen and not heard.

Whilst women and men often resist these anti-women rules at great risk to themselves across the Middle East, Asia and North Africa (and might I add also in the west), the likes of Universities UK (UUK) and Islamism’s apologists defend misogyny as a culturally relative ‘right to religion’.

If anything, however, can be learnt from the recent fight (and small victory) against the endorsement of sex segregation at UK universities, it is that gender segregation has nothing to do with the right to religion; after all ordinary Muslims (not a homogeneous group by any means) manage to go about their lives whilst freely mixing with the opposite sex all the time (and where mixing is banned, spend much of their time getting round segregation).

Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand to increase power and influence by asserting medieval rules on women and the society at large. The groups lined up to defend UUK’s indefensible position are all hard-core Islamists who hide behind ‘Muslim’ and religion to push forward their regressive and misogynist far-Right politics: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and Islamic Human Rights Commission…

FOSIS, for example, has just had their winter council in December with Kamal El Mekki as speaker who supports death for apostates. Hizb-Ut-Tahrir says gays should be killed and has been classified as a hate group. iERA’s Abdurraheem Green says disobedient women should be beaten; iERA won’t even publish on their website the photos of their women speakers (for women-only events of course)…  The British jihadi Iftikhar Jaman who recently died in Syria fighting for Al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS was part of iERA’s dawah team…

The irony of such groups defending sex apartheid out of concern for ‘women’s comfort’ is lost on the likes of UUK.

As is the fact that Islamists have supporters amongst women. Having women supporters who are pro-gender apartheid doesn’t make segregation of the sexes pro-woman just like having black South Africans defending separate homelands for black people doesn’t makes Bantustans pro-equality. Just like having a Sikh spokesperson for the English Defence League doesn’t makes that organisation anti-racist…

A 20 December meeting entitled ‘A Muslim Women’s Unified Community Response: The attack on gender segregation in Islam’ in London shows that in fact segregation is the Islamist women’s demand (whilst feigning representation of all Muslim women). Per Islamist rules, the meeting is women-only because women are not allowed to address men; their very voices will cause fitnah if heard by men, which also explains why women must write their questions down at meetings rather than voice them. Speakers at this women-only event are from Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, iERA, Islamic Human Rights Commission, and University Islamic Societies. Another speaker is Yvonne Ridley who used to work for the Islamic regime of Iran’s Press TV.  Her former employer has also waded into the debate with a Member of the Islamic Assembly saying sex segregation has gotten attention in non-Islamic countries because universities in the west are ‘swamps of corruption’ and ‘Muslim students’ are in a position to influence and act as role models for non-Muslims…

Of course it is not just Universities UK. Whilst many got it right this time around and opposed UUK’s position that sex segregation is a deeply-held religious belief (sadly only because they see it as ‘their universities’ and not a Sharia court or burqa which only affects ‘the Other’), many – including the British government – have got it wrong countless times before.

Which is why UUK thought it could get away with endorsing gender apartheid and why Islamists can dare to speak of ‘women’s comfort’ whilst simultaneously waging an all-out war on women.

In other equally important fights against other aspects of the Islamist project to increase influence and power, there have been many, including humanists and secularists, who have defended Sharia courts as ‘people’s right to religion’ and the burqa and niqab as ‘women’s right to clothing’.

But as Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “There is an ideological battle going on, as well as very concrete ones. Introducing parallel legal systems, making one’s political presence visible thanks to more and more women wearing a so-called ‘Islamic dress’, gender segregation, the revival of medieval forms of punishment such as beheading ( let’s not forget it happened in Woolwich not so long ago) or stoning or flogging or amputation of limbs – all this does not come in a vacuum. There is a correlation between all these demands; and there is a deliberate political will behind it.”

The demand for gender segregation like Sharia courts and the niqab help Islamists gain political ground at the expense of the innumerable, including many Muslims who are Islamism’s first victims.

The only way to stop Islamists from gaining more ground and in order to push them back, ‘progressives’ must begin to recognise this far-Right movement for what it is, defend universality and secularism, and fight it politically on all fronts in solidarity with the many women and men battling it from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia to Iran.

La lucha continua (the fight continues)…

We will continue our fight against gender apartheid at universities

More than a 100 protesters rallied outside the office of Universities UK to condemn their endorsement of segregation of the sexes and demand gender equality on 10 December 2013, International Human Rights Day. Chris Moos, a co-organiser of the rally and Secretary of the London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society was master of ceremonies.

At the rally, Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said:

For me, today is a particularly emotional moment. I stand here reminded of the heroic struggle waged against racial apartheid in South Africa, and yet find myself protesting against another form of apartheid that is also being justified with reference to that ubiquitous but flawed logic ‘separate but equal’. Who would have thought that in the 21st century, we would be protesting against policies adopted by institutions that should be in the business of producing and nurturing truth and knowledge, but which are instead endorsing the subjugation of one half of the human race? Who would have thought that in the 21st century, gender apartheid would become the new battleground?

Writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said:

UUK backs gender segregation and defends it. The reasons given- choice, human rights, freedom and the law- are all untested and spurious. This ‘advice’ is based on cowardice and proves collusion with fanatical religionists. Gender parity is non negotiable. UUK is unfit for purpose if it cannot understand that basic, fundamental value.

Comedian Kate Smurthwaite said:

The word equality has only one meaning. It’s not the back of the bus and it’s not the side of the lecture theatre. This is not about telling women who want to sit separately that they can’t. This is about allowing external speakers to demand that the audience be segregated.

James Bloodworth, editor of Left Foot Forward, said:

Opposition to gender segregation is an issue of fundamental freedom: people should be permitted to sit with who they like in a publicly funded university. It’s also a question of politics, though: we shouldn’t pretend that those who wish to segregate men and women view us as equals. They don’t. They think women are little more than a temptation to men; and they view men as uncontrollable predators whose view of women is on a par with that of uncovered meat.

Chris Moos added:

With alleging that “genuinely held beliefs” of speakers or event organisers trump existing equality legislation and allow some groups to take away the basic right of people to choose where to sit, Universities UK has become the laughing stock of the legal profession.Universities should be spaces where we all are treated equally no matter what their beliefs are. By proposing a framework that would allow a small minority of religious fundamentalists, who do not represent religion or religious people to impose their beliefs on others, Universities UK has set a dangerous precedent that would lead to students to be singled out and refused access to certain areas of their institutions merely on the basis of their gender. The right of individuals to express themselves freely within the law does not extend to the right of groups to impose their sensibilities or preferred seating order on others.

Marieme Helie Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Secularism is a Women’s Issue sent a solidarity message saying:

By bending to the Muslim Far-Right’s supposedly-religious diktats of segregating sexes on university premises, UUK also endangers further the women and men of Muslim descent – believers and unbelievers alike – who stand both against fundamentalism and against xenophobia and discrimination, in increasingly difficult circumstances.

In another message of solidarity, Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

The people who approved this policy are unfit to hold any public office – and should resign. Universities once pioneered the Enlightenment and liberal, progressive values. Now, it seems, they appease misogyny and cave in to religious sexism and intolerance. The right of women and men to sit where they like is not negotiable… Universities have a moral and legal duty to uphold equality and respect for all. If they don’t, we will fight them, just like the Suffragettes fought male chauvinism 100 years ago.

Maryam Namazie, co-organiser of the protest and Spokesperson for Fitnah and One Law for All ended by saying:

We will continue the fine tradition of the anti-apartheid movement and Nelson Mandela but also the ongoing resistance of the people of Iran and elsewhere against gender apartheid by breaking up segregation wherever we can. We are the new sex apartheid busters and will go to segregated meetings at universities with women dressed as men (like Iranian women who dress as men to enter football stadiums where women are banned) or as men dressed in drag (like the men who did so to support women’s rights after the Islamic regime in Iran paraded some men in the streets of Iranian Kurdistan wearing women’s clothing because according to them being a woman is the greatest source of humiliation).

UUK and Islamists: you have been warned! Gender segregation is as intolerable as racial segregation and cannot be permitted at our universities.

demo-4-photobyReza-MoradiOther speakers at the rally included: Ahlam Akram, director of Basira; Charlie Klendjian, secretary of the Lawyers’ Secular Society; Georgi Laag, founder of London Atheist Activist Group; Sean Oakley, founder and former president of Atheist, Humanist and Secularist society; Helen Palmer, chair of the Central London Humanist Group; Abhishek Phadnis, President of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society; Erin Saltman, Research Project Officer at Quilliam Foundation; and Anne-Marie Waters, Council Member of the National Secular Society. Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre at Oxford and an Imam at the Oxford Islamic Congregation was one of those who sent messages of solidarity.

Soon after the rally, which received widespread coverage, including when Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to oppose sex segregation at universities, UUK was forced to withdraw its guidance. Whilst this fight has been won, the battle continues particularly since sex segregation is still taking place at universities and UUK has said it hopes to redraft the guidance.

The Campaign against Gender Segregation at UK Universities will continue to press on until it is made very clear that there is no room for segregation of the sexes in public places like universities, including by organising teams of sex apartheid busters to break up gender apartheid at universities and hold a huge march against sex apartheid on 8 March 2014, International Women’s Day. We are also getting legal advice.

Photos of the 10 December rally can be found hereand here.

The open letter kick-starting the campaign against UUK on 23 November was signed by philosopher A C Grayling; Scientist Richard Dawkins; women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman; Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society; and Fatou Sow, Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, amongst others.

In a short time, the campaign has received widespread support.

Media coverage of the protests can be found below:

Outcry at ‘gender apartheid’ in new guidance for UK universities, The Independent, 11 December 2013 [external link]

University gender segregation ‘violation of women’s freedom’, BBC, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Backlash grows over university gender segregation guidelines, Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Gender Apartheid is real in UK universities so why aren’t more people fighting it? Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2013 [external link]

‘We will fight them like the suffragettes’: Protesters target Universities UK over sex segregation policy, Politics, 11 December 2013 [external link]

The segregation of women and the appeasement of bigotry at UK’s universities, The Spectator, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Sex apartheid in British universities deemed acceptable, Voice of Russia, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Gender Segregation protests against university guidelines, Channel 4 News, 10 December 2013 [external link]

Why we are protesting against gender segregation this evening, Left Foot Forward, 10 December 2013 [external link]

British universities shouldn’t condone this kind of gender segregation, Guardian Comment is Free, 26 November 2013 [external link]

For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
One Law for All
[email protected]
077 1916 6731

Chris Moos
Secretary of LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
[email protected]
074 2872 0599

Sex segregation in UK universities – a step forward for the Muslim religious-right

Here’s an article by Marieme Helie Lucas in support of the 10 December rally in London against gender apartheid. DATE: Tuesday 10 December 2013. TIME: 5:00-6:30pm. AT: Universities UK, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HQ (Closest Underground Stations: Euston or Russell Square)

segregationA battle that concerns us all is being waged in the UK right now and has surprisingly very little echo outside Britain: Universities UK- a body that officially represents universities – made public their new guidance, according to which sex segregation could be practised in the universities at the request of guest speakers representing religious groups. (To see the guidance in full: ExternalSpeakersInHigherEducationInstitutions)

While protests flew in and an international petition ‘Rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities’ was posted on November 23, 2013, UUK published a response that pretended that they were only envisaging a theoretical case, a mere ‘hypothetical case study (p.27) in which an external speaker on faith in the modern world requests that the audience is segregated according to gender’.

They also pretended that there were only trying to apply ‘ a wide range of legislation from equalities law through to criminal law and the duty to protect the safety of university staff, students and visitors’, with the aim of ‘accommodating everyone’s views’ and ‘ensur (ing) that no one is unlawfully excluded from the event’.

This was a blatant lie, as a brief search in the media clearly shows. And it was only one among the many lies that were uttered by UUK authorities on the issue of sex segregation, secularism, higher education and the pervasive political importance of religious organisations in the UK.

Facts

In short, here are some facts: in March 2013 a Prof made the local news, when he started walking out of a debate in which he was one of the two speakers at University College London, if sex segregation was enforced on the audience, as was the case. A video shows him saying “quit the segregation or I’m out of here” after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience. Prof Krauss added “You are in a public arena and not in a mosque, not in a private event.”
Not surprisingly, women were seated at the back of the room: according to a student, ‘females were allocated seats at the back corner of the auditorium to view the debate from a disadvantaged position‘. Dana Sondergaard who attended the event, wrote on her Facebook page: “After having been told the event would NOT be gender segregated, we arrived and were told that women were to sit in the back of the auditorium, while men and couples could file into the front”.

The debate entitled Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? was organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy: Prof Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins project, was to debate on the question of science vs religion with Mr Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer and iERA member.

Interestingly, rumours had been spreading beforehand that sex segregation will be the rule during this debate, and Prof. Krauss had approached the authorities, making it clear that he would not speak to a segregated audience; he was assured in advance that this would not be the case. (Video: Krauss, stating that he had been promised no such segregation would take place.

In the week before the event, word of a segregated seating arrangement began circulating. On Friday, Dr. Krauss posted the following status on Facebook: ‘News update: Have now been informed that the event in London will NOT be gender segregated.’

However, one of the organisers said that the segregation had been agreed with the University and suggested more than once that the men should be refused entry.

Similarly, students alerted their unions and the authorities and were given similar re-assurance. However segregation signs were posted on doors in advance.

In a statement by concerned students, it is made clear that ‘Separate entrances were in place for women and men’, and that ‘A policy of sexual segregation was enforced at an event at University College London on Saturday, with the organisers’ security trying to physically remove members of the audience who would not comply’, and that ‘A policy of segregation was suggested by IERA in a statement before the event’.

This was raised by students with UCL, who gave assurances that no segregation would be allowed. ‘Several attendees approached UCL’s security personnel to alert them to the situation, but found that the staff were unwilling to intervene, and were instructed to comply with the organisers’ policy of segregation’.

Interestingly UUK first denied that enforced segregation took place, then argued that sexes were separated left and right, and not front and bottom, and finally said that, as a last minute arrangement, there was provision for a mixed area for married couples! UUK went on stating that segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.”

Students speaking to different media after the event used strong words to describe the situation and their reactions: ‘shocked’, ‘intimidating’, ‘threatening and divisive’, ‘genuinely fearful of the repercussions’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘insulting’, ‘a scandal’, ‘a violation’, ‘disappointed at UCL (which) did not keep its promise’ …

So much for the ‘hypothetical case study’ that UUK pretends to have addressed in its guidance document. Moreover, UUK lied to Prof Krauss as well as to students about not allowing segregation. It also pretended to ban in future religious groups that would request sex segregation, while they were in fact preparing the infamous guidance document that justifies this very segregation.

On the occasion of this incident, and thanks to Prof Krauss making his dissent public, one learnt with dismay that sex segregation had been enforced for over a year – at least – in many public debates or conferences, at the initiative of vocal Muslim fundamentalist organizations.

In Leicester university in a segregated event entitled Does God Exist?, organized by the same group and with the same guest speaker, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a message on the group’s website says: “In all our events, [the society] operate a strict policy of segregated seating between males and females.” The statement was removed after the Guardian contacted the society. A photograph passed to the Guardian shows signs put up in a university building, directing the segregation.

Leicester University denied enforced segregation. But a Leicester student told the Guardian he believed segregation was common practice at the society’s events to avoid offending those with strong religious beliefs.

More recently, in an article written on November 24, the author states that sex segregation openly continues elsewhere: ‘One recent example of an event held by the Islamic Society at the University of Northampton described seating arrangements as “open to both Brothers and Sisters, with segregation adhered-to” ‘.

In a report written by Student Rights on 13 May 2013, entitled ‘Unequal Opportunity – Gender Segregation on UK University Campuses’, one learns that those are far from being isolated incidents. According to the report, ‘180 events logged in the period March 2012 to March 2013 were investigated for evidence of segregation; 46 of these events (25.5%) at 21 separate institutions were found to have either explicitly promoted segregation by gender, or implied that this would be the case, with six of these cancelled before taking place’. The report concludes that ‘As all 21 of these institutions have equality and diversity policies which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, as well as a legal responsibility to do so under the Equality Act 2010, this briefing uncovers potential failings in these duties’.

Meanwhile, UUK wrote in their guidance document that universities should bear in mind that “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” and that if “imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

If we understand correctly, it creates a hierarchy of rights, in which the rights of religious groups supersede the rights of others?

UUK ‘s choice of partners

Not all Muslims –far from that – nor all people from Muslim descent, nor all faith based Muslim organizations hold that genders should be segregated. In fact two extremely important women’s organisations joined the protest against sex segregation, by signing the on line petition and by additionally writing separate letters to UUK, stating their dismay at and opposition to sex segregation in universities under religious pretexts: those are the international solidarity network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws – a non-confessional organization – and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women – a faith based organization -. Moreover, among the initiators (and among later signatories as well) of the online petition are numerous men and women of Muslim descent.

Who are then the religious groups that UUK see fit to invite to organize their events in the premises of universities – rather than other groups?

According to Stand for Peace, they are far from being ordinary religiously minded people; they are fundamentalists and very organized. ‘Tzortzis has previously been associated with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization that campaigns for a global Islamist caliphate’. ‘He is on record condemning democratic principles and advocating for a Sharia state and advocating for a Sharia state: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another.” Stand for Peace also says that ‘IERA’s staff includes Islamist hate preachers such as Abdurraheem Green, Hamza Tzortzis (the opposing speaker at the debate) and Yusuf Chambers.’ The article goes on to give various examples of such hate speech: ‘Tzortzis wants to criminalize homosexuality.’‘Yusuf Chambers is a founding member of the iERA. In a recorded conversation conducted with Dr. Zakir Naik (who has been banned from entering Britain), Chambers specifically asks what the punishment for homosexuality should be (the answer is “Death”), and then asks Naik to refute suggestions that homosexuality has any natural or genetic origins. In the same interview, Chambers agrees that adulterous women should be stoned to death. [Read more...]

Can you please respect the man and move to the back?

Tanya Rosenblit, a woman passenger on a public bus to Jerusalem was told to move to the back of the bus by an Orthodox male passenger. When she refused, the man held the door open and would not allow it to move. The driver called the police who took the man aside for ‘a pleasant conversation,’ after which the policeman asked her if she would move to the back of the bus! After Rosenblit refused, the man who had held the door got off and Rosenblit continued on her way…

Isn’t it infuriating that we are always required to ‘respect’ the wishes of the misogynist and intolerant? What about our wishes? And when did the term respect come to mean the disrespecting of women?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, respect is for people not for religions and beliefs.

Anyway doesn’t this all sound familiar?

(Via Iain Simpson on Facebook)