Thursday, 1 December 2011

Women - WMDs for a new generation

The secularist movement in Egypt and across the Middle East is taking shape. They have a new weapon of mass destruction, something so deadly that no one will be beyond its reach. 
Women.

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.



13 comments:

Salma Yaqoob said...

Interesting - nuanced commentary in this (boringly) polarised topic welcome!

AminArt said...

What a well written blog Just wished more like you proliferated local mosques & talk

Abu Al Baik said...

brilliant, absolutely brilliant

Ed Hussein said...

Too harsh, and unfair on Mona. Well-written, but avoids the tough questions on gender parity, inheritance, divorce. Thanks, though.

Shahrin said...

"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"

Perhaps we "intelligent Muslims" in the West know better, but I understand where Eltahawy is coming from. Many scholars in the Middle East have reduced the meaning and philosophy of modesty on these terms. Golshifteh Farahani's recent nudity seems to reinforce this idea; as an Iranian observing another Iranian I felt she was protesting against the oppressive views these mullahs have towards a woman and her sexuality. Granted, we may not agree with this form of protest, but I can sympathize with the frustration.

An insightful article, thank you for sharing :-)

Anonymous said...

I read this mysogynistic article as a reflection of Islamic sentiments in general and it makes me feel like crying. The East and their offspring really are still in the dark ages.

searchformeaning said...

I confess to being baffled by this blog. I was sent by someone who said you were enlightened, reasonable, one of the people whose views and leadership I might respect. I read this article and have felt moved to respond to parts.

What an extraordinary conflation: "art, pornography and the neo-suffragette movement." This parallels some of the more idiotic Islamophobic outrages you so rightly challenge elsewhere. Making the same mistakes here doesn't help you, or help others to consider more carefully and be less confrontational.

By "neo-suffragette" I imagine you mean feminist - please correct me if I'm wrong. Feminism was and is about equality between men and women, reducing and removing barriers, increasing understanding and acceptance. If "an enlightened approach to a new and progressive Islam" doesn't include such equality, it will not win friends with adherents of other religions, or with secular people. I'm not sure how Islam can promote this equality - I hope to be shown.

Virtue and morality are basic tenets of most of the population of the UK - Islam doesn't have a monopoly on these ideas and values. I hope you do not assume so. Feminism is not about debasement - your conflation of debasement with empowerment, as if the two are inevitably entwined, is false. Feminism - promoted by both men and women, all wanting equality - aims to end enslavement, sexualisation and objectification. In my (admittedly limited) reading of Islam there seems to be a focus on sexual tension, with women responsible for sexual behaviours in both men and women. My experience of UK culture throughout my life, religious and secular, is that it primarily focuses on spiritual, not sexual ideas. I wonder if you've tried to understand feminism as anything other than an attack. It isn't - and it's not a joke. No-one burned bras. I wonder what you mean by a 'futile role' - is this shorthand for a woman who questions the role allotted to her by religion?

Being secular isn't an ism. It's just being. I have no issue with those who believe in a god. For me, no god exists, I never had faith - it's not a problem or a superior/inferior position and it isn't a choice - belief is something you have or haven't got. That doesn't make me ignorant, stupid or thoughtless - that presumption in much of what you write is unpleasant and unhelpful. Isms of any kind won't help us at all.

In schools throughout the UK I was taught more about the contribution of Islam to science, culture and art than anything about the contributions of, for example, Catholics, Buddhists, Scientologists - or (if we look at it another way) than Africans/Asians/Caucasians/etc - or people from Ireland/Germany/Scandinavia/Japan/etc. I loved knowing the connections - as I understand it, children learn more now than I did about where what they're learning comes from. There was (and is) no omission. I don't understand what you want. To contextualise scientific or cultural learning with appropriate historical information, to highlight the contribution of Islam or Catholicism or Sikhism is interesting and enlightening. But makes no sense if you just want to do maths or make art - focusing on the background at the expense of the foreground, slowing down thought, reminds me of Slaughterhouse 5, or the crazy BNP idea that everyone should return to their 'original' land - we'd all end up living in East Africa. Reductio ad absurdum.

[continued]

searchformeaning said...

Abu Ghraib is just the visible horror of the western forces' appalling actions - there may be a lot more, possibly more hideous. It's as horrible to non-Muslim people in the west - and worldwide - as it is to Muslim people. Just as you should not apologise for Islamist acts of terror, I cannot apologise for the acts of stupid soldiers or the acts of warmongers - what they do is not in my name. I probably loathe them even more than you do, for they bring chaos and shame which hurts us all and makes conciliation so much more difficult.

It's very unclear what you mean by "the sickest part of the secular progressive feminist narrative". An extremely unpleasant reading seems to be that you accuse Aliaa Mahdy of being "a disgusting parasitic virus" because she did what you seem to think is the worst thing a woman can do - remove her clothes. You seem to assert this is something to do with western feminism (another conflation?). You must be aware that people pushed to the edge will jump. You seem angry with Mahdy for daring to challenge, and for challenging in particular by using her body. And perhaps delighted in shaming her? The use of her body - perhaps the only, or most powerful, means of protest she has - seems to be precisely what you would deny her. Perhaps you think it's ridiculous to protest, or to use one's body. This brings to mind Samuel Johnson: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." Does your antipathy reveal your contempt for women who do what you think they shouldn't, what isn't part of the role you allocate.

Perhaps you wish to 'prove' to me how wrong I am. Perhaps Muslim women will join in, demonstrating their commitment and faith - and as with western women who embrace misogyny, their support for a denigrating system will widen the gap between us. But I'm trying to understand what you're saying, and what looks like hatred, so I'll come back.

Anonymous said...

Cudos.. I read through the comments as well and found that your progressive stance isn't always viewed as that... Many seem to be pleased with the state of affairs we find our society in.... never blaming the obvious errors of the past or not being as sickened as I am with the push of sexualisation of our culture.
Views seem to still be that men and women are the same, instead of equal but different... and the idea that sexuality is used as a weapon is absurd! If sexuality is the issue, wearing the hijab / being valued as a person, is fighting the oppression with your own weapons.

Marlene Wilkins said...

On on hand, I will state that in some careful ways I agree that Feminism was hijacked by extremists who sold women down the river.
If you ever happen to be in Canada and happen to see me (based on my profile pic) getting ready to Engage feminazis, you'd best 'duck-and-cover' or run for your life as they and I react like Matter & Antimatter.

About Women, faiths and such...
We're getting to the point where we're done with tolerating males telling us how to dress, what we can and cannot do, and all that rot.
Many of us these days simply will not tolerate it anymore, and claims that such 'orders' come form 'god' don't cut ice with us.
More and more women are tearing the blinders off our sister's eyes, and believe me, there's a LOT of really angry women growing in numbers daily.
We're torqued-off with feminazis, the other feminist extremists, patricarchal religions in general, being looked down on in many cultures and nations.
...and realizing that we have Numbers on our side.
We multitask better then en, faster relexes, better skills with language, and have more efficient metabolisms, highr pain tolerances as well as environmental tolerances.
For ages we've bought the lie that we're the 'weaker gender'...and there's so many examples in History that show very clearly why women as a military force are to be feared.
Thus, it comes to this; There will be a Renaissance for women, but not as you imagine it, as it is one we will do ourselves.
Many of us are rebelling against this whole western 'metrosexuality' crap that's been neutering our males and sitcoms that make Husbans and Fathers look like total idiots.
i myself married a Man, Old School Man. The Competent Man.
And, like me, many women plan to raise our male offspring to be Men as we're throwing PolCorr and patriarchal religion out the window.
What kind of woman is coming? This kind:
Open a door for her, she'll say Thank-You and aappreciate the courtesy. But, don't get freaked if and when she opens th door for you.
The rwligions and such that feel that beating a wife is appropriate 'in certain circumstances' had best be ready to erase those passages and forget they existed.
This is not god's world, or allah's world, it is OUR world, by straight population numbers...and we've been so VERY patient for centuries.
Now, we're just going to change things, and that's all there is to it.
Look at what we do, where we are, and how we affect things economically, educationally, in the home, society, all across the globe.
It won't be quick, and won't be easy, but we will be doing it.
A Gynocracy? Hell no.
Matriarchy, nope.
Equal State leadership and stewardship of the world is how it's supposed to be and how it will be.
Men & Women are the Species and all this garbage about adversarialism must be put aside, and things must be re-assessed based on Facts.
Empirical facts. Scientific Facts.
NOT 'god's' words, not mohammed's, not allah's.
Men and Women are different yes, and that must be addressed and kept in mind as to refuse it is idiotic and illogical. Men and Women are like the components of an engine, very different, but equally vital, as the engine doesn't work if you remove either.
Poor metaphor, but it works.
This isn't something that needs starting, it already has.

Reasonable Self said...

searchformeaning has said much of sense that I hope you take on board.

I personally find it rather rich that you use the term Cognitive Dissonance at the end of your article when it seems throughout, that this is exactly what someone in your position seems to be suffering from. Seeking to justify Islam, a religion that represents to many, inequality on many levels either with regards to gender or on the grounds of different beliefs or in fact unbelief. I find it hard to take someone who claims to advocate human rights and womens rights and still holds onto an archaic religion. One which I have seen you in public make statements in line with to the contrary of those causes you claim to support. You would do well to pick your camp and drop those aspects of your predispositional beliefs that contradict them rather than seek to perform linguistic gymnastics or seek to as many have re-interpret an already outdated faith for inclusion in modern society instead of replacement with something better

Anonymous said...

Women who convert to Islam in the West are usually from terrible families and have psychological issues. Or they're fake celebrities looking for more attention (like Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley). Thank goodness most of them leave, as most converts do, within a few years.

The women who defend Islam are the fake feminists, because they are defending polygamy (4:3), child marriage (65:4), wife-beating (4:34), unequal testimony because Muhammad said women lack intelligence (2:282).

Islam is at its core anti-feminists, so no follower can be a feminist. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Anyone who defends it is either ignorant, a coward, or both. They're usually dumb lefties who have been frightened by the religion of peace with threats of violence.

The Middle East and North Africa has the worst gender equality on the planet, and this is the result of 1400 years of sharia. No educated person would defend this, only the coward, idiots, and hypocrites that are part of the Muslim apologist movement in the West.

While women in hijabs and even niqabs are being harassed, threatened, sentenced to their homes, married off at 9 years old, idiots like the author of this piece has the audacity to write this bile. Pathetic and embarrassing.

As a feminist, I will not be threatened or frightened into defending the most anti-feminist ideology on the face of this planet. And I especially won't pay attention to faux feminists, proud Muslima converts, or Muslim apologists who spew this nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, brilliant and brilliant again. Did I tell you how brilliant it was? Nuanced too. Yep, nuanced, with a big NUUUUUUUUUU. You're so great, and we (and I speak for all of my community) are glad that you speak for us.
Keep pushing it, and don't let that horrible Nicky and Maajid trick you with awkward questions that you find difficult to answer.
Salami, inshally and all that.