The bitter sweet irony is that traditionalist Islam and those scholars supporting a clear understanding of the religion, have long been accused of supporting misogyny, suppression of women, inequality of rights whilst issuing dictat after dictat requiring Muslim women to live in the couturier's equivalence of a cardboard box, save for a few hastily pounded air holes.
Burqas and misconceptions aside, there is something significant which the secularists are missing. There is on the horizon, an enlightened approach to a new and progressive Islam; one which is inclusive, promotes social justice, equality, fair trade, accountable governance and uphold the rights of other faith groups. It is one which is in fact not new but the adherents (so often the absolute worst measure of any faith) are coming to a better understanding and implementation of their faith. All that it is required for this desert rose to bloom, is that they be left to do so in peace.
The world is changing and so are the people in it. The fragments which remained of the Islamic world - left shattered and broken after the terror waged during World War I and almost a century of interventionism - have become so easily malleable and manipulated, so weakened has the state of Muslim affairs become. Being able to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across Muslim territory sans frontières would now be something resigned to the history books. A history children in the West will never be taught; moreover, a chapter of a book which must not be allowed to see the light of day or affect the public consciousness of Europe and America.
Yet hope springs eternal. We have seen a spate of attempts to civilise, modernise, nay Westernise, the barbaric retardations of the Muslim world through the secularly progressive movements of enlightenment: art, pornography and the neo-suffragette movement. Thank God, I had wondered precisely where the Muslim world had been going wrong for all these years. I shall to the artistes studio go, daughters suitably disrobed. Or there again, perhaps not... not just yet.
The absurdity of Pakistani celebrity Veena Malik's claim that her thong being airbrushed from the cover of Indian FHM has disgraced her (no, really) is eclipsed only by the greater absurdity of her being labelled a 'threat to Islam'. Against the backdrop of Malik's father calling for her incarceration, we had crowing senior government officials and all the while the situation said more about Pakistan's international standing that neither its reputation, nor that of the ISI, was any further diminished by such a story. Nevertheless, this new movement has highlighted something which we became aware of earlier this year when Deniz Ozgun attempted to make a pornographic film as part of his dissertation at Istanbul University. Unwise is the one who pokes a stick at a sleeping tiger. In a country where 75% of women wear the headscarf (including the utterly elegant Mrs Erdogan), for decades their repression was not at the hands of islamist salafis (definition anyone?) but at the hands of secular western ideologues who kept them from places of study, work and public engagement. Here Islam is seen as a religion of tolerance, moderation and of modesty. Most importantly for the West, Islam is seen as a force which delivers in real terms, desperately needed social change. And we would do very well to note that its influence in public life there and here, is on the rise. And trending (Sarkozy take note).
For the Muslim world, public displays of promiscuity and nudity is an anathema, considered degrading and debasing. Islam clearly defines areas of first the male and then the female body which should be covered ('aura') outside of which a person is considered in a state of nakedness. The methodology by which Abu Ghraib became so horrifyingly effective was not by co-incidence but by design (caution advised). Contrary to modern developments in almost all major world religions which depart from directives enshrined in their scriptures, the Islamic obligation of covering a woman's head is maintained as essential part of faith, image and identity. Many non-hijabis recognise it is a thing which proportionate to the strength of their belief. And it is for this reason that amongst people you will find little fascism in its implementation, or intolerance for those who do not wear it. Alongside Fabriano's depiction of the Madonnna and the holiest women in the Christendom, the Muslim female form is modesty ('haya'), chastity and virtue. Yes, even to some degree, shyness, why not. But this modesty cannot be state sanctioned. Where done so it is just as reprehensible as those women who degrade the khimar (head covering) by using it as a moral fig leaf for their indiscretions.
However, this disposition seems to have been misconstrued by those critics of Islam as weakness, a lack of deep thought, or ignorance on matters of sexuality or identity. It could not be further from the truth. The time and tendency to apologise for speaking of virtue and morality is over, the world has moved on. There is a shifted public sentiment. Sex is not selling. It's no longer unfashionable to talk about both men and women living modestly, non-promiscuous and virtuous lives. Between the lines, its the kind of morality that keeps families and societies together. Do the math.
There are few as outspoken on such matters as Egypt's answer to Millicent Fawcett, Mona Eltahawy. No one should doubt her passion in her belief that feminist secularism is progressive and the answer to Egypt's woes. Her broken arms and outright courage in the face of the sexual abuse she received from the security forces is testament should anyone need it. However even a broken clock is right twice a day. Her view that Egypt's naked blogger, atheist Aliaa Mahdy, was a "bomb aimed at the patriarchs in our minds" was completely and utterly vacuous. The idea posited that
"When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen
– that is, what's on her head and what is between her legs –
then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance"
is something that intelligent Muslims in the West don't buy - it's old news. And arse-manglingly boring, old news at that. We've seen it, lived through the aftermath of the bra-burning 60s, seen the spectre of that ambitious superwoman sold a lie. She who became the Tantalus of the 20th century, never able to have it all, with that final indignation - the gift of self-realisation that her broken marriage, glass ceilings and dysfunctional children bore witness to the sheer cruelty of the joke on her. It's a tried, tested and galactically failed model. It perhaps says something about the diminished capacity of pseudo-feminists in the region if they equate debasement with empowerment. It's not even clever thinking. Travelling patiently down the wrong road looking back at the mistakes the West made decades ago, is not progressive. Well not last time I checked. This is not the liberation of women but enslavement, sexualisation and objectification. Those in such a hurry to pursue this most futile of routes should try pressing the <<fwd>> button on the social engineering remote control.
In the West we have seen the rise and rise of white, European-born, well-educated, erudite and professional women converting to Islam. They are the fastest rising demographic of converts in the West. The likes of journo, author, presenter Lauren Booth or MTV presenter Kristiane Backer are not oppressed Saudi, Egyptian or Afghan doormats. They come to Islam not by subjugation but by spirituality and empowerment. This story isn't even a new one, since a century ago we know of Valentine de Saint Point's own journey from staunch feminist, to leading luminary in the art world penning the Manifesto of Futurist Women, and to her conversion to Islam in 1918.
To those sisters - Muslim and of other faiths - for the love of God, choose your friends carefully. All feminists are not your friends, aka known as oranges are not the only fruit. Not that it is needed, but I present to you exhibit A, the sickest part of the secular progressive feminist narrative being sold to us
"When Mohammed Bouazizi, fed up with humiliation, repression and poverty, set himself on fire in Tunisia last January... he ignited the revolutionary imagination of the Middle East and north Africa. Aliaa Mahdy, fed up with hypocrisy and sexual repression, undressed. She is the Molotov cocktail thrown at the Mubaraks in our heads – the dictators of our mind – which insists that revolutions cannot succeed without a tidal wave of cultural changes that upend misogyny and sexual hypocrisy."
The veil drops. And like a disgusting parasitic virus, the Machiavellian agent provocateur moves in to claim the corpse of the dead martyr, to play realpolitik and in doing so they reveal their true selves and their greater goal. Anarchy. Cognitive dissonance.
And if by now you have resisted the spiritual gag reflex to up-chuck, well done you.