Camillia Khan, head of communications for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, writes in the Huffington Post UK about gender segregation, or, as she prefers to call it, gender ‘segregation.’
The debate on ‘segregation’ has returned, and once again figures from across the spectrum have focused their lenses on Muslim students and Islamic societies. Universities UK recently published a guidance document, outlining the management of external speakers on campuses and have been heckled for coming to the rather simple conclusion, amongst many others, that side-by-side gender based seating is not against the law.
From across what spectrum? What lenses? She’s a clumsy writer. Universities UK hasn’t been “heckled” – it’s been disputed, often hotly, but not heckled. And then, what was disputed was not a conclusion that “side-by-side gender based seating is not against the law.” The law wasn’t the issue. The issue was university policy, not the law.
So we know already that Khan doesn’t bother to be precise about what she’s discussing.
The focus on this single case-study, buried amidst the document’s 42-pages, has been extremely disproportionate and led to sensationalist comments, vilifying Islamic societies and Muslim students. It is encouraging to see that Universities UK have chosen to remain firm on their objective and measured stance, acknowledging the nuances that exist with different theological perspectives.
Vilifying Muslim students? I don’t think so. I think Khan told a falsehood there. And why is it encouraging to see that UUK is “acknowledging the nuances that exist with different theological perspectives”? How is that their job or their role? They’re an organization of university vice-chancellors, not theologians.
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression – it is a word loaded with modern history, drawing back to the belligerent injustices of the slave trade, apartheid, and the Holocaust. It blows the discussion out of proportion and acts to politicise it further. Segregation implies a hierarchy- a form of discrimination which asserts the dominance of one group over another- which is a very different reality to a voluntary seating arrangement which impacts both males and females equally. Thus, the current discourse is creating new imagined problems rather than solving existing ones.
Where to begin. Yes, segregation is a loaded word, but it’s the right loaded word. Calling it something more emollient than that is lying, and minimizing the ugly reality. A seating arrangement that spells out who may sit where is indeed a form of discrimination which asserts the dominance of one group over another. Segregation in seating can’t be fully voluntary, because it depends on everyone’s compliance.
The term ‘segregation’ denotes discrimination and isolation – and this couldn’t be further from the general reality. There needs to be a linguistic shift in the discourse – but more importantly, the shift must be an ideological one which accepts that there exist differences based on sound spirituality, and these need to be embraced, led by brave and nuanced organisations such as Universities UK. Male and female seating is a simple religious manifestation that has been established for multiple millennia and is one that is still actively implemented today by many churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious communities. Taking away the basic freedom to choose a room arrangement from mature and democratically elected student groups such as Islamic societies will only seek to alienate Muslim students from social engagement by denying their right to religious freedom.
She’s being deceptive again there. The issue isn’t meetings of groups such as Islamic societies, it’s meetings and debates open to everyone.
What a pathetic project, a woman defending her own segregation, and being deceptive to do it.