Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Muslims, liberals and women

Ziauddin Sardar, writing in the New Statesman:
Islamophobia is not a British disease: it is a common, if diverse, European phenomenon. It is the singular rock against which the tide of European liberalism crashes.
But the overall factor in the fear and loathing of Turks, [Wolfram] Richter says, is old-fashioned racism. "I am afraid we have not learned from our history. My main fear is that what we did to Jews we may now do to Muslims. The next holocaust would be against Muslims."
Sardar also comments on the Netherlands ('During job interviews, the much-acclaimed Dutch liberalism evaporates. "They want to know what kind of Muslim you are. Do you pray? Do you go to the mosque?" Dutch liberalism was meant only for the Dutch. Today it extends to prostitution and drugs, but not to Muslim immigrants'.), Belgium and France. Peter Schneider takes a contrary view, in an article translated for The New York Times  by Philip Boehm - 'The New Berlin Wall ' - citing three Muslim dissident authors who accuse German do-gooders of having left Muslim women in Germany in the lurch:
[Stefanie Vogelsang] points to the Imam Reza Mosque, for instance, whose home page - until a recent revision - praised the attacks of Sept. 11, designated women as second-class human beings and referred to gays and lesbians as animals. "And that kind of thing," she says, fuming, "is still defended by the left in the name of religious freedom." This is the least expected provocation of the three author rebels: a frontal assault on the relativism of the majority society. In fact, they are fighting on two fronts - against Islamist oppression of women and its proponents, and against the guilt-ridden tolerance of liberal multiculturalists.
Muslim immigrants, who initially came on their own and slept in men-only dormitories, wanted their families to join them. Schneider quotes the Swiss author Max Frisch: "Workers were called and human beings came."
Seyran Ates estimates that perhaps half of young Turkish women living in Germany are forced into marriage every year. In the wake of these forced marriages often come violence and rape; the bride has no choice but to fulfill the duties of the marriage arranged by her parents and her in-laws.

There have been 49 known "honor crimes," most involving female victims, during the past nine years - 16 in Berlin alone. Such crimes are reported in the "miscellaneous" column along with other family tragedies and given a five-line treatment. Indeed, it's possible that the murder of Hatun Surucu never would have made the headlines at all but for another piece of news that stirred up the press. Just a few hundred yards from where Surucu was killed, at the Thomas Morus High School, three Muslim students soon openly declared their approval of the murder. Shortly before that, the same students had bullied a fellow pupil because her clothing was "not in keeping with the religious regulations."
One of the authors, Serap Cileli, has a great title - "We're Your Daughters, Not Your Honor".

Outside of the religious/secular argument, women are often naked (literally) before power relations, forced into selling sex for money. The best of ethical teaching, inspired by Christianity or Islam, can, and has, emphasised the sanctity of choice in sexual relations. As Schneider says, there is no line in the Koran that would justify murder. No more does it justify forcing women to marry (to have sex).

Here is another irony, that a strand of 'liberal' thinking, concerned by thin-end-of-the-wedge arguments, ends up  forcing women to remove the headscarf, to reveal part of their nakedness. It is not as bad as forcing them to have sex, admittedly, but it cannot form part of a principled response. 

I would not, on practical grounds, go as far as allowing something like the burqa, covering the face. As for the issue of demands to excuse girls from swimming and gym classes, I admit I don't know the answer.

By the way, I saw Caroline Fourest in a debate on French TV, Monday night - est-ce que la France est vraiment laïque. There seems to be some rethinking, not by her, of issues like the headscarf ban. Discussion followe on another piece of legislation, mandating the teaching in French schools of 'the positive role of France' during the colonial period.  This was passed almost unnoticed in February, but has since led to weeks of agonised debate.


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