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    Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

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    Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Admin on Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:30 am

    Terri writes:

    It’s time for Western feminists (whether male or female) to bring some clarity to the debate about the burka. The task of so doing is made more difficult by maligning feminism as a man-hating doctrine of female supremacy, or by simply regarding it as obsolete in the modern West. The debate about the burka seems to be dominated by two prevalent arguments, both stemming mainly from female Muslim academics that work and publish from posts in prominent western Universities in the United States or Western Europe. The first treats the rise of voluntary veiling in the West as a rejection of colonial influence. On this view, visible or externalized changes in the Muslim woman’s condition are interpreted as concessions to the colonizer or as attempts to emulate ‘superior’ Western foreign influences. Accordingly, the veil functions primarily as a symbol of resistance to the colonizing Western narrative of the quintessential ‘otherness’ and inferiority of Islam.

    The debate is further obfuscated by a second argument – that the veil is a form of resistance to the West’s sexualization and objectification of women. On this view Western societies, no less than Islamic ones, pressure women into adopting forms of dress (and undress) that are intended to gratify the ‘male gaze’ and turn women into sex objects within patriarchal society. In this context, western women who voluntarily wear high heels, short skirts and make-up are in no position to criticise Muslim women for voluntarily wearing coverings that liberate them from these forms of sexist oppression.

    In response to the first argument, it should be obvious that to oppose aspects of Islam that have institutionalized a gender hierarchy and silenced voices of equity for women is not to (mis)represent Islam per se as ‘inferior’. Western liberals and feminists have had their own battle with Christian sexism, and it is far from over. To think that criticising Islamic sexism is the same as representing Islam per se as inferior would imply that any critique of Islamic sexism is tantamount to a blanket rejection of Islam, or a refusal to acknowledge its complexity. All but the most obtuse Westerners recognise that there are divergent beliefs within Islam about the practice of veiling or burka and that many Muslims have argued for its abolition. Moreover, many Western critics of Islam think that it is equally, not more, sexist and irrational than Western religious traditions. Nor do Western feminists (male or female) believe that feminism is a particularly Western phenomenon. Many people from all over the globe view women’s rights as human rights, as evidenced by the signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many of who were from Islamic nations.

    The desire to engage with Islam in critical argument and debate is not a form of disrespect but of esteem. Westerners who refuse to do so patronise Muslims and hypocritically endorse anti-sexist views only when it is ‘politically correct’ to do so. Not only are they fair weather feminists, they also treat Islam with a special sensitivity that they do not grant to other religions, not because they respect Islamic sexism, but because they are reluctant to be labelled “Islamophobic” or “racist” (since any criticism of Islamic sexism is likely to be misrepresented as such). Concern, rather than indifference to, the plight of women living under Shari’a law in sexist theocracies is anything but racism. In expressing concern for these women, we are not assuming Western culture’s superiority over Islamic culture, but feminism’s superiority over sexism -- a view that is exclusive to no particular culture and is certainly not absent from Islamic culture and religion. Indifference to the fate of women from other cultural or religious backgrounds is far more racist than expressing solidarity with them in their struggle for human rights.

    The second obfuscating argument (above) assumes that western feminists (a) do not oppose the sexualization of the female body within their own culture and so have no right to talk about it in other cultures, and (b) cannot be ‘good’ feminists if they regard the (shame-free) sexualization of the female body as empowering for women as autonomous sexual subjects. But worse, this argument trades on the tu coqueue ad hominem fallacy, or, in plain English, the “and that goes double for you” fallacy. The issue is not whether Western women are guilty of a similar form of acquiescence to that of Muslim women, but whether the pressure on females to acquiesce to ‘feminine’ dress codes (in either culture) amounts to sexist oppression. Even if Western women are not fully liberated, this has no bearing on their ability to oppose forms of sexism in other cultures as well as in their own.

    Moreover, the predominant theological reasoning (though not the only one) for veiling seems to be that the female body is such a powerful sexual object that nothing short of covering it can prevent men from molesting it. According to the Hadith (or poor interpretations of it) the female body is so fetishised or hyper-sexualized that it is literally irresistible. In this light it is quite rich to accuse Westerners of inventing the practice of sexualizing the female body or turning it into an object. To those who argue that this is a misinterpretation of Islam, I avert to this statement by Australia’s senior Islamic cleric, Sheik Taj Aldin as-Hilali, hardly a minor figure of no influence: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside. . . without cover, and the cats come to eat it. . . whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

    However, some westernized Muslim academics deny that the veil has any primary theological significance and instead claim that it is imbued with powerful symbolism by Western colonialism. Yet the discourse vacillates between this claim and the further claim that the veil has no special significance other than what the wearer intends it to mean, and so is no more than a form of personal expression. The ‘hysterical’ reactions to it are allegedly just a Western contrivance (a pretext for racist attitudes towards Muslims following 9/11).

    These arguments treat the veil’s significance as completely de-contextualized from its meaning within Islamic theology. As an analogy, let’s imagine that slavery were still being practiced in the United States, but not in the UK. Now let us assume that some people of African descent living in London wished, for their own reasons, to walk around wearing shackles and loincloths. Could we really regard their doing so as bearing no symbolic relationship to the practice of slavery? Or suppose I wanted to wear a Ku Klux Klan outfit and walk around New York or a Nazi uniform and walk around London in it. Could I really expect that these clothes would have no symbolic significance beyond what I wish to give them? We need only to recall what happened when Prince Harry wore a Nazi uniform to a Halloween party to get our answer. The reason Western feminists (male or female) might object to seeing women in burkas is not that we can’t tolerate diversity, but that the burka is a symbol of patriarchal Islam’s intolerance for dissent (i.e. diversity of opinion from their own). No one can deny that Shari’a law is still enforced in approximately thirty-five nations, where some form of veiling is compulsory. In some Muslim families living in Western Europe, there are legal forms of coercion to make women conform to wearing it. This is the backdrop against which Muslims in Britain claim that wearing the burka or the veil is a ‘choice’. As such, it is an insult to the intelligence and dignity not only of Western women but Muslim women. It is also an insult to Muslim men, insofar as it treats them as fundamentally incapable of responsibility for their sexual behaviour.

    Since I have the privilege of living in a liberal democracy (at least ostensibly) where women are not beaten, stoned or hung for being sexually autonomous and vocal about their opposition to sexism, I invite a lively debate on the issue. And please, when you bring it, leave out the ad hominem attacks and present a decent argument.


    Last edited by Admin on Thu Nov 17, 2011 2:24 am; edited 2 times in total

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Admin on Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:31 am


    Christian writes:

    I hope I shall present here a decent argument, as invited to by Terri, in reply to her carefully thought out post.

    As Terri reminds us, although not using this terminology, there are two collectivist arguments on either side of this debate. One group will argue the superiority of Western civilization (technology, democracy, the Enlightenment, the beauty of Christianity, and what have you); other societies therefore must adopt Western civilisation, willy-nilly, and that goes specifically for Islam and its outdated practices, of which the burka is only the most visible.

    There is a lot to be said for Western civilisation, but I have no problem with people who reject it. So, for me, the issue of the burka has nothing to do with the superiority of one civilisation over another.

    The other side of the collectivist argument – Muslim fundamentalists, political authorities in Islamic countries, men who use the religious or political rationale to maintain some kind of superiority over women, and women who internalise their subjection – is a claim that ‘this is us’, this is who we are, this is our identity; our women wear the burka, and no outsider has legitimacy to tell us that we should change who we are. The Westphalian principles are an echo of this position making each sovereign the sole authority in his realm, whatever harm and distress he causes his subjects (sovereigns being overwhelmingly male in this context).

    This collective identity argument would not obtain even if all women wanted to wear the burka, and religious and political authorities in Islam were not inflicting harm and distress on a number of their subjects. For if the religious tradition and legislative regime were unanimously accepted (a thought experiment) it would not be the authority of the tradition, or of the regime, that would give legitimacy to the veiling practice (or any other), but the universal consent of the governed. Religions, traditions, societies, as such, don’t deserve respect. Human beings do. And it is only inasmuch as human beings value a religion and tradition that we ought to respect what they value.

    The sad fact, though, is that Islam (it could be any other religion), as applied in certain countries, and in certain communities in other countries, is inflicting harm and distress on people (if only a minority), on women and men, gays and heterosexuals, who aspire to a different and peaceful lifestyle.

    It is these individuals’ real, deep, suffering that gives us a right, and indeed, imposes on us a duty, to intervene. We owe it to the victims, we are duty-bound, to criticise oppression, whatever form it takes, whether between individuals, or within an organisation, firm or army, or under a political regime, or as part of a religious practice. If the plea of victims does not move us to action, what will?

    Muslims are therefore wrong to feel singled out by a liberal reprobation based on the victimisation of innocent human beings. That reprobation extended equally to fascism, to the Soviets, to many ugly dictatorships, and indeed to whatever physical mistreatments are committed in the West.

    ---

    Having stated my basic position on the subject, I would like to add a few comments on a couple of points Terri raises.

    As a heterosexual male I am insulted by declarations such as, Men cannot control their sexual urges, they are animals, and women who are not veiled from head to toe in loosely fitting garbs have called it on themselves if they are raped. Given where women are forced to so dress, this egregious ejaculation, if coming from a Westerner, would be crude racism.

    Terri rightly points out that we must not accept the argument outlined above that “this-is-us;-this-is-our-identity;-and-it-must-be-respected”, when this argument is used to force an identity, or the manifestation of an identity, onto people who don’t feel they belong, or who want to express differently that same identity. Many Jews wear a Star of David, or a skullcap. Forcing Jews to wear these distinctive signs is criminal.

    Now if Terri and I agree that identity is not an attribute that may be imposed on us, but that human beings build their identity from elements of their history, from culture, from social and family backgrounds, then forbidding individuals to wear a star of David, a kippa, a burka, or any other distinctive sign, is just as much an aggression as imposing these signs.

    I accept the point that such distinctive signs are not fashion statements. They are identity and political affirmations. So what? If people want to dress as Che Guevara, or wear a SS uniform, or a turban, or a burka, they will be admired, or ridiculed, or merely shrugged at, depending on who is there, because that’s what democratic social life is about: debates, identity claims, expressions of deeply held, constitutive, convictions, and not just superficial feelings. It is a terminally ill society, where the only controversies run on football and the nocturnal habits of the rich and powerful. Let’s engage in robust debates, and not let the state legislate what identities and worldviews may, or may not, be expressed.

    I am writing this in a train, and fear of boredom is developing these scattered thoughts into an interminable post. I am well aware that people not choose their religion, as they do a brand of corn flakes; that women may not be free, even in countries where they enjoy constitutional rights. But I won’t start here on what constitutes ‘force’, and ‘consent’ (I wrote a piece, and gave a PFA talk on the subject). Neither is there time here to discuss the usual objections of ‘Western hypocrisy’, ‘double standards’, etc.

    I shall simply conclude by declaring I want women to be free to wear a burka in Paris, because I want them to be free to go (drive!) around Riyadh and Islamabad in hot pants. One cannot logically demand the latter without accepting the former – a simple logic that Saudi and Pakistani rulers, and others, fail to grasp.

    Admin
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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Admin on Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:32 am


    Terri writes:

    Christian makes many good points. I just want to clarify that I was not suggesting that political identity markers such as SS outfits, Ku Klux Klan garb, or the Burka should be banned by the state in a liberal democracy. Rather my criticism was with "liberals" who maintain double standards - arguing for freedom of speech and expres​sion(including religious satire of Christian symbols and figureheads) and then voluntarily censor themselves and other (REAL) liberals from expressing anything that might be offensive to Muslims. I'm with Christian in allowing all forms of offensive speech and dress, whether it is a "Bollocks to Blair" tee shirt, a FUCK BUSH placard, a Nazi uniform, a burka (very offensive to me!) or a satirical cartoon about how utterly sexist and stupid Islamic sexism is. What I want is to meet some liberals who are not afraid of being called 'racist' for merely satirizing and criticizing the burka! And I want to meet liberals who will not condemn Westerners who vocally raise these criticisms in the public sphere.


    Christian

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Christian on Tue Oct 18, 2011 5:47 pm


    After the clarification she makes in her last post I am in general agreement with Terri. The troubling point she raises is why so few people will join in a reprobation of the burka imposed on women, whether by tradition, by the state, or by family members.

    Terri herself gives answers to her question. The cruel silence in the face of this oppression is the result of moral apathy, misjudgements, and ill-informed guilt

    -- Veiling women, against their wishes, is what they do over there; we have our tradition, they have theirs; each society should leave the others alone

    -- They have their tradition; who are we to say that our tradition is ‘superior’?

    -- We have done enough damage over there with our colonialism; isn’t time we leave these other traditions developing at their own pace, without our paternalistic interventions?

    I believe none of these arguments obtains, whether morally, politically, on feminist grounds, or on grounds of compassion for victims.

    Christian

    Anon.

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Anon. on Thu Oct 20, 2011 3:59 am

    Quote from Terri: "…This is the backdrop against which Muslims in Britain claim that wearing the burka or the veil is a ‘choice’. As such, it is an insult to the intelligence and dignity not only of Western women but Muslim women. It is also an insult to Muslim men, insofar as it treats them as fundamentally incapable of responsibility for their sexual behaviour."

    I think Terri may have been a bit presumptuous by assuming that wearing burka is an insult to the intelligence and dignity of Muslim women. Many Muslim women in Britain do indeed CHOOSE to wear burka or veil willingly because they prefer to dress that way.

    Islamic women express their femininity differently from Western women. They do not have to doll up themselves like a whore because they know their understated sexuality and discrete eroticism are far more powerful than their western counterparts and their garments are intentionally designed to convey this message of deep hidden Islamic eroticism, which is widely known in the Occidental art, music and literature, e.g. Delacroix’s Women of Algiers in their apartment, Ingres’ Le bain turc, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Shehrazad adapted from original Arabian Nights, etc. The examples are innumerable.

    From aesthetic point of view, burka is not exactly appealing, perhaps. But in Islamic women’s eye, the western dresses may even be uglier. They see that Western women’s flaunting of their flesh in public with their décolleté, their mini-skirt, their bikini, their dropdown pants, amounts to nothing but a seasonal call of a cat on heat.

    Christian

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Christian on Thu Oct 20, 2011 10:05 pm

    Well, the Women of Algiers do not wear a burka, and show lovely décolletés, and the women in Ingres’ Bain turc wear nothing at all!

    I don’t see what these references tell us about ‘deep hidden Islamic eroticism’ – they do say something, though, about the Western male painters’ gaze taking in the sight of these young women (or imagining it).

    I know nothing of the male/female relationship in Islamic countries (my Muslim friends have been brought up in the West, or have received a Western-style education in their countries), but I find the last pages of Claude Levi Strauss’ much-celebrated book, Tristes Tropiques, a rather convincing analysis, and still resonating with what we hear in the media today on the subject.

    Again I defer to people who know more than i do on that specific point. I am not arguing eroticism, but human rights.

    Anon.

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    Does the Belgium pervert have the right to humiliate Muslim women?

    Post  Anon. on Sat Oct 22, 2011 12:51 am

    True, the paintings of Delacroix and Ingres show no trace of burqa or veil. But it is quite unlikely these artists had ever seen any middle-eastern women without these garments. This proves the point that burqas or veils stimulate the imagination of the western artists who like to fantacise the beauty of these middle-eastern women underneath their clothing.

    Unfortunately this healthy curiosity has degenerated over the centuries into an obscene obsession, shown in recent years in the scandalous case of a pervert Belgium “journalist” who ruthlessly exploited and humiliated the poverty stricken Moroccan women in his inflammatory porn website in which he forced the young Muslim women to sell their body while dressed up in burqa. This horrible incident only antagnised the muslim community and widened the rift between the Islamic world and the West even further. Sadly, this general Western contempt for Islam culminated in such obscene demand from the uncouth masses with prurient taste for graphic images of Bin Laden’s corpse and Gaddaffi’s battered body dragged along the street. Pornography has been politicised.

    With globalisation, our dear old Claude Lévy-Strauss may be right in his prediction: the world began without human race, and it will end without it.

    Yvette

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Yvette on Mon Oct 24, 2011 10:17 pm

    Is it 'westerners' who are queuing up to see Gadaffi's corpse?

    Anon.

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Anon. on Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:16 am

    But why are the Gadaffi's dying images repeatedly shown on Western TV over and over again?

    Andre

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    Re: Why the Deafening Silence on Islamic Sexism?

    Post  Andre on Tue Oct 25, 2011 7:09 am


    Men are generally sexual predators, they are also social animals. They have organised themselves so that each sexually active male has at least one compliant female. The reason that they are able to do so is simply because they are bigger, heavier and more aggressive than women.

    To make sure that women remain compliant, men are undermining them psychologically. Women are under-educated, restricted in their movements, disenfranchised politically, they are underpaid or made economically dependant. They are legally less protected and often subject to physical retribution. Women are also liable of pressure, even blackmail over their children.

    This state of affair is true to a greater or lesser extent in all societies, past and present. All governments, all religions are complicit. Male dominated governments discourage true representation of women. Religions reinforce the bogus beliefs in their practice, that women are lesser beings.
    A woman who feels the need to wear a Burka or encouraged to sell her body are sure signs of a male dominated society.

    Let us have a dream, let us dream of a world where women will be equal to men. Equal partners in Democracies all over the world. This will result in fewer conflicts and wars.There will be more prosperous societies since half of the population of the world will be better educated. A society where women will be less stressed and afford more caring time to happier children. We would have economically a more equal society with greater trust between willing partners. There will be no winners and losers…only winners

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