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Shora to Shari'a

Thursday 30th June, Nordic summer weather: cool breezes, showers, flowers, a pretty blue and white sky. Yesteday evening little Justin was released, and that makes six hip hops.

At the end of May I was at the Hay on Wye Fringe Festival, “How The Light Gets In”. A refreshing weekend all round, but I was gripped by a solo talk on “The Islamic Inquisition” by Iranian broadcaster, and exiled campaigner against the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maryam Namazie.

It was trenchant stuff, a fearless condemnation of the vile, totalitarian movement that has overwhelmed Islam: fearless condemnation of “sexual apartheid”; of the brutal indoctrinaire bullying that is the rule, not the exception, in UK Muslim Schools and in Islamist-dominated UK universities like Bradford. Fearless condemnation of the savage misogyny displayed by many Muslim women themselves, under Islamist regimes. Ban the Burqua she said. Don’t hesitate, just do it. Ban all Faith Schools, it’s the only way, you can’t pick and choose. Adult women can decide to wear a headscarf of their own free will, but the veiling and muffling of little girls is child abuse. Name it so. She struck us all as extraordinarily courageous. One man said he feared for her so much, she ought to have an armed beside her. But the real issue for us was not Namazie’s heroic defiance. It was “liberal” UK society’s reflex response to Multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, says Namazie, gives rights to cultures and religions, and strips rights from individuals. It gives the bullies power. Shari’a “courts”, already operating in the Islamic Community in the UK, deny women’s and children’s civil and human rights. They create a state within the state, where women and children are legally abused, and this is the UK’s idea of respect and support...

I went away chastened, wondering what I could do, and what I couldn’t do. I could petition against Shari’a law in the UK, and I’ve put my name to that. What about banning Faith schools, what about the burqua? I believe her about the schools, I know about the heartbreaking state of affairs at Bradford uni, I agree about the burqua, in principle, but think of the fall-out. Denounce Islam itself, wholesale? I can’t do that! The brave see everything in black and white, for the rest of us it’s not that simple.

In Bold As Love I wrote about an Islamic State of Yorkshire, in our near future, and a pocket-sized shooting war. I wasn’t kidding, but I was dreaming hopefully, which is why that fictional episode ended reasonably well. But it’s a different world now, from the way things were in 1999. However we got here, and the so-called Western Powers know how deep, dirty and twisted that story is, anyone who says today that Islamism is an aggressive totalitarian movement, inflexibly bent on world domination, is stating an obvious truth. So take a stand. But what if you take a stand, only to find your organisation seems to have aligned itself with a different set of monsters? How do you untangle all the strands, in this information and counter-information drenched world, to be sure who you’re working for before you sign your name?

What if you insist that Multiculturalism is a Feminist issue? That a woman has a right to her traditional lifestyle, and then she chooses a way of life that appalls you?

I still have a couple of Riot Grrl stickers up on my wall (one of them, ironically, partly obscured by a framed James Tiptree Jnr Award poster), but I’ve never really seen the point of Third Wave Feminism. It was a recruitment drive, to attract a younger crowd. Okay, but what for? Not for political activism, we were shelving the boring, dreary sexual politics. No breaking windows or chaining themselves to railings to overthrow the system, then... So what are the cool young feminists going to do? Vote for the Feminist Party’s pro-Woman manifesto, like any other gullible self-interested punters? Is that all? It was outreach, for groups and ethnicities excluded by Feminism’s Spoilt Rich Ladies (I'm sorry, I mean White Middle Class College Educated North American) image. Fine, but why the new brandname? What was it about the message that was too hard for People of Difference, the world over, to grasp? The GLBT community knows nothing of discrimination on the grounds of gender? Non-North Americans, and even Non-White Americans, aren’t bright enough to spot inherent abuses in the social construction of sexual difference? It doesn’t make sense.

I decided I’d be one of the people who stuck with the original script. Live and let live, it’s a personal decision, and I’m a writer with feminist opinions, no kind of Feminist authority. But I’ve become concerned, I was concerned before I heard Namazie speak, about some side-effects of the Third Wave that perhaps nobody could have foreseen.

Back in the nineteen sixties a woman called Alice Sheldon decided to use a male pseudonym for her stories and novels: then as now, it’s much easier to get the sf public to read work by men. The sexual content of her work was thrilling, the feminist thought and the analytical mind behind the stories impressive. She was showered with honours, by Great Men of the genre, fans and pioneering feminists alike, until the day she was unmasked. For decades, nobody could deny what Alice’s masquerade had proved. She had made injustice visible, and the modern history of feminist sf would have been very different without James Tiptree Jnr. But Alice Sheldon was a woman who found being a woman difficult: this is blindingly obvious in her writing, published and private. What if there’s a Third Wave, totally apolitical solution to the predicament of the Angry, Difficult Woman? Who cannot be contained in her society’s feminine mode? You don’t like being a woman? You probably aren’t a woman! Stop tormenting yourself, change your gender and all will be well.

Losing Tiptree to friendly fire is startling. A low blow to any woman, in any field of endeavour, who has had the temerity to stand up and say, no, this is not a man’s world, I am your equal here... And what if those who control our destinies got onto this neat idea? Non-elective re-assignment for unwomanly babes and cissy men?*. But aside from throwing up a cunning way to suppress women’s writing, she wrote it but she was transgendered, and a scifi scenario, the real, natural multiplicity and fluidity of human sexual identity is a legitimate challenge for feminism. Multiculturalist “Feminism” is something else.

& they say Multicultural, but I've noticed it’s always Islam, really. Even if that term is being used in ignorance or too carelessly (me guilty; I believe Namazie knew what she was doing):

If you’re even reading this post, I hope and believe you’d never contemplate declaring that Female Genital Mutilation is empowering...

(My own view on this subject has been unshakeable, since an AIUK Women's Action Committee conference I helped to organise, where two extremely competent and forthright West African feminists from FORWARD lead a workshop, out of which came our successful campaign to get AI to name FGM as torture)

... Or that a woman wearing trousers (or a skirt, or tied her scarf too high, or tied her scarf too low, there is no fixed rule) deserves the lash. Or that an adulteress deserves death by stoning; correction, that anyone, whatever their alleged crime, deserves death by stoning. Or Shari’a is a good system for women, relieves them of responsibility and teaches them contented submission. You wouldn’t say any of that, surely. But it’s a slippery slope, and I know the Third Wave is on it. I don’t care who you are, I particularly don’t care what colour your skin is, where your grandparents were born or how you worship. If you are even close to the place where you might agree it’s okay to hold a little girl down and cut off her clitoris*, because she’s a Kono, it’s part of their ancient tradition, and we have to respect that... You horrify me, frankly.

I just don’t know how Third Wave Feminism got started on reverencing blatantly misogynist traditional practices. Don’t you remember? How your mothers, your grandmothers and great-grandmothers, had to fight like the devil against the misogynist practices of their God-fearing, traditional communities? Fight against the tears and outrage of their “shamed” families? If they hadn’t defied the laws of family, church, or embodied in state legislation, that said they couldn’t have an education, couldn’t join the professions, have the vote, couldn’t have their own money; had no right to bring up their own children, there wouldn’t be any Feminism. You wouldn’t exist.

It doesn’t mean you have to give up baking apple pie, you know. Or celebrating your culture’s feastdays, or observing your culture’s fasts. Nor, on the other hand, does it mean insisting people who come and live in the same country have to adopt your comfort rituals. Tradition is like the social construction of sexual difference: it’s not worthless, it’s good in parts, it’s just not, ever, a moral force in itself. And most of it, at any given time, isn’t ancient at all, by the way... Let all that stuff go into free fall, let it sink or swim, let nostalgia and affection look after the cultural trimmings.

For any kind of women’s liberation tradition is exactly what has to change, but tradition does change. The pernicious form, Fundamentalism, is the real enemy. But I won’t start on the US-generated varieties of that poison. Or how I feel about the Third Wave’s creepy relationship with the sex-traffic industry, either... This was supposed to be about Islam; Maryam Namazie; speaking out.

To me feminism is not about numbers, or academic territory. Or world domination, or building a Fortress of Specialness. It’s about making injustice visible, and working to remove the abuses. It’s about Utopian, One World politics, certainly (because it’ll never change, unless the whole thing changes), but never at the cost of failing to engage with the here and now. I think it’s far, far too soon to say it’s not about the battle of the sexes anymore. On the contrary, the battle gets more baroque and more blatant as this bizarre century finds its feet: this age of intensifying selective female infanticide, of genitoplasty to make little girls into ersatz little boys, of industrial scale sex trafficking, of forced marriages and "honour" killings and domestic slavery still rife, and of course, rape as a weapon of war. All these vicious war against women "traditions" wholely unimpressed by economic growth, professional status or sophisticated lifestyle nb. But most of all, and here comes the heresy, to me feminism isn’t about Feminism. It’s about feminist reforms, getting them across to the general public, getting them accepted as normal, ordinary human decency. I think the Second Wave (if you insist on this PRish Waves thing) covers all that. And if I could ever write the books and stories I want to write, and the public could read them and call them interesting, exciting, unusual, annoying, whatever, but never even notice that they were also feminist, I’d call that winning.

Meanwhile, wherever women are prosperous the Pro-Woman party keeps growing: cheerfully self-interested. Oblivious to the evils of the system —based on permanent warfare and run by psychopaths— that gives them their self-affirming careers, their pretty finery; the shiny cars, the smart gadgets, the Lady Gaga shows. Convinced, despite the occasional brush with a “male sexist dinosaur”, that tomorrow belongs to them. A mixed blessing, the Womanists, but there you go, without the water the fish will die, and maybe this is the way it has to be. Two tribes, competing for the same territory; until the balance tips. Remember what Karl Marx said? The right conditions for revolution will be created by capitalism itself, and woe betide you if you try anything before then. The Russian Marxists wouldn’t listen, they went ahead and held a revolution anyway, and Joe Stalin betided them. I think we can do without another one of those.

But does tomorrow belong to anyone? Would you want it? Last week they told us the oceans are dying, really dying, really fast. Did you notice? Are you scared yet?


*This what if? Can be found explored, sort of, in Shadow Man, Melissa Scott

*If you are adult, and your need is compelling, by all means have your own clitoris cut off. But maybe also consider therapy?


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Wm. Luke Everest on :

Truly shocking and very informative. Thank you Ms. Jones for providing so many links, some of which I've resolved not to click until my lunch is fully digested.

The very idea that all ancient custom deserves to be respected is genuinely disgusting. Racism and sexism are ancient customs of almost every culture when it comes down to it. Surely that's only further proof that we should regard all such things as insane, and that to regard them otherwise is to fail to evolve.

Again, thank you very much for the well researched essay.

Athena Andreadis on :

I could not agree more. My natal culture used to have de facto and de jure discrimination against women all the way up to my adulthood. Fighting for being an equal was not an option, nor an academic discussion.

Although culture is crucial to identity, many customs should have never come into existence, let alone become "tradition" (particularly those linked with women's chattel status -- displaying of bloody sheets, scheitels and mikvehs, foot binding, suttee, genital mutilations). It's particularly appalling that women who call themselves feminists want FGM to be called "surgery", sidelining the testimonies of people with first-hand experience like Maryam Namazie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Among other things, they choose to ignore how much FGM has contributed to the spread of AIDS.

I have expressed similar views, to be told that I, too, am not au courant. But in the end, civilization and the long-term thriving of humanity will stand or fall by how women fare.

I think Scott's Female Man is a fascinating exploration of gendering. Thank you for your courageous and eloquent words.

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