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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?

Before I forget...

Wednesday 29th June, cooling breeze, clouds gathering.

Up to the British Library yesterday, to join a panel called Aliens and the Imagination, but I'll have to imagine most of it, as I was waylaid (delightfully, I love adventures) by a torrential rainstorm and a lightning strike, and forced to take a wandering ride in a swish coach requisitioned by National Rail, around the Sussex countryside, before finally, by a pleasing coincidence, catching a train to the Ufologists meet from East Grinstead, home of the Church of Scientology. I just caught Gareth Edwards presentation on "How I made Monsters" and it was very cute, sort of the 21st Century version of Blue Peter "I used a wiggly piece of string and it really looks like giant tentacles, if you squint a bit". Except with creative use of library of basic digital effects, bit of photoshop and that, it really did! Impressive can-do attitude.

Anyway, before I forget, I promised I'd post my 100 word vampire story, inexplicably passed over by Timmi Duchamp when she was choosing stuff for The Universe Of Things. It genuinely is posted on my website, but you'd never find it without a search party:

The Vampire

(An Internet Romance)

He admired her wit; guessed at beauty. At first she spoke through software agents, soon her blood was sweet. She was a princess, he a creature of the night. The virtual world was their wonderland, their passion was exquisite, they agreed to meet. His prey could be a hairy-fisted trucker, what does the body matter? Souls unite.The restaurant was bright, cool fountains played. He wore his cape, she wore the wreath of flowers she had promised. He saw her eyes light up with joy, but he walked away forever. She was twelve years' old, and he was not a monster.

Also before I forget, it's Clarion Write-a-thon time again, and here's the URL:

It'll be fun, and it's a good cause. All proceeds go to supporting student scholarships and investment in future courses.

Either/Or:Progress vs Utopia

Tuesday 21st June, a grey solstice, not raining right now, & warmer than the last few days. Awful slugfest going on in the pretty flowers I admired last post.

Either/Or? In support of the guest blogpost I did for the British Library Out Of This World Blog (Perfect Worlds), I've put up the notes and images for the presentation I did at the Danish national convention a couple of years ago (that's Copenhagen in the keynote photo, btw). Musing on the real world history of Progress versus Utopia in the years since the Declaration of the Rights Of Man, and on the reflection of this history in the mirror of science fiction. Here's the link:

You may think the format looks sinisterly familiar. Yes, I did. I gave them a Powerpoint!
(Well, I thought it was funny...)

Never Again

Friday 17th June, a dark and stormy morning.

Here's one of those links I should have added earlier this week: the Never Again anthology, published by Grey Friar press, edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. A stellar collection, a passionate statement from the writers of the weird. The storynotes posted by simon marshall jones are well worth looking at.

Anyway, if you are in Brighton and can make it to the Amnesty Bookshop on Sydney Street 7.00pm to 8.30pm tomorrow evening, you will be rewarded with readings by Tony Richards and Roseanne Rabinowitz (but not, unfortunately, Lisa Tuttle, who can't make it).

Lauren re-joined the wild, yesterday evening, and that makes five. There'll be a pause now. Lauren's been by far the most forward of the Next Generation of hiphops (the first being the Liszt Concert Six, as you'll remember). None of her brothers and sisters even has back legs yet.

Rain, wonderful rain. Suddenly the garden is flowery again, first time since April really. And my tuberoses have finally deigned to make an appearence, so I should be happy but why can't we have any flashy bits. Flashy bits all over the weather map last night, what did Brighton do wrong? It's so unfair.

The Elms: This Anomalous Region I Live In

Tuesday 14th June, clear blue morning after a wet (good!) stubbornly cold (have they really broken the Gulf Stream? #file under fantasists, be careful what you wish for) and ominously windy weekend... a handful of swifts hawking high over the valley.

Apparently two of the great elms in Preston Park fell in the strong winds on Friday night, which does not mean we had a hurricane here, it probably means the trees were on the way out anyway. I can hope they'd reached their natural span (and therefore not infectious, just sadly cannot ever be replaced), but on the way to the station on Thursday, up to London for Gabriel's final recital at Trinity, we spotted this ringed tree from the bus. It's that dreaded time of year again. I went to have a closer look yesterday, and saw what the Dutch Elm Disease watch calls "flagging", which doesn't mean exactly what you think, it means a visible flag of dry dead leaves, on an otherwise okay-looking tree, showing up brown in the green of early summer foliage. This means the tree must be felled, as it is a danger to its neighbours, and there is no treatment, no cure. It's awfully sad. It hurts, and I'm not alone in feeling this way. I've seen people, just any old people in my part of Brighton, where the remaining elms round the Level are such an icon, touch a condemned elm, and just stand there, poor thing, so sorry. When I was taking this photo, same thing happened, just another passer-by, so sorry. Everything must go. What would be my perfect world? It's gone, and I'm afraid its not coming back. It was the one where we could look at the trees, at the natural world, and think I'm ephemeral, you are forever.

There's a site where you can sign up to be a Dutch Elm Disease Volunteer. I've done that, even though I'm guessing it only means walking around in this last, failing refuge, and spotting another doomed tree, but I don't expect to be called. It'll be like the time ESSC asked for lookerers to watch the sheep on our bits of urban downland. They'll be snowed under.

Gabriel's recital was lovely. The boy done reasonably good, he felt and we felt. Lot of beer and white wine, with the young people and Philip Fowke, their teacher: sunshine and showers, roses on the walls of the Brewery Garden, and so long, the Old Naval College, the River, the glittering towers of the Isle of Dogs. The everlasting period-setting film crew invasions (If it wasn't Little Dorrit it was Johnny Depp.)

A Links round up seems to be called for, looking at my inbox:

Writers, if you didn't like the Google Book Settlement and cheered at its apparent defeat, you should check this out, from the indefatigable Gill Spraggs who is still on the case. All is not well.

Fairytale enthusiasts, on Seven Miles of Steel Thistles Kath Langrish is starting another round of her "Fairytale Reflections" from a posse of illustrious authors (and eventually Ann Halam). Terri Windling kicking off.

&the BartoBar crew have captured Al Reynolds this time

Not going to bother telling you about 38% and Health Reform. That one seems to be over.

I thought there were more but never mind. Enough, for now.

Meeting The Beasts

Tuesday 7th June, a cool and rain-washed morning, me returning to my desk after a long, fun & very refreshing weekend. Finally got the photos I took of Ai Wei Wei's Summer Palace animals processed off my phone onto Picasa. I took these the day I went up to London to do the item on Woman's Hour on "is sf still a male dominated genre?". (I hope the flurry of media interest in that question has passed. Every time I've been asked, I've felt more strongly that this is a UK fandom issue, it isn't for me to address & I really should not be commenting). But anyway, not all bad: I have Woman's Hour to thank for getting me to Somerset House before the 26th June, which was a real favour. Iwish I'd taken at least one of the whole Fountain Court, but I didn't think my camera phone could handle the pitiless, brilliant light of noon that day (which was when I got there), so I only snapped a few of the beasts for form's sake. Unexpectedly successful.

Yet another example of what a false path reverencing the randomness of art is. Art Is Not Random. I did wonder why Brave Ai had decided to make these charming Chinese Zodiac animals (i think I liked the Rat best), but then, duh, made the historical connection. I remember the Looting of the Summer Palace from researching Rainbow Bridge (this is how I learn most of what I've ever learned about my world, so you see, writing sf is good for something); and the bronze animal heads, lost among so much precious national treasure. The Opium Wars are less than a huge deal to me, being spoiled for choice, among so many shameful military operations in my country's past & present...but that incident still means something to China. And here they are, reborn, beautiful and compelling simplicity. Why on earth have the Chinese put this patriot, this great artist, so eloquent for his country, in prison? It's really nuts. Hm, that didn't quite come out right... no more nuts that putting so many others in prison, no more nuts than China's defiant devotion to the death penalty.

Frog culture update: Dre and Lil' Kim have now joined Biggy & Shakira. Dizzee, an exceptionally lively little rascal, will be making his debut in the swamp this evening. & That's all the survivors of the Liszt Concert Six, not a bad rate. What a tiny operation this is, compared to Mother Nature's way, and the way things used to be even in our small garden, but ah well.

Have re-viewed Inception, and now know exactly when I lost interest 1st time, it's that interminable Lara/Bond snow fortress sequence, there comes a point when you think, sorry, but I'm just bored now... But that was a long way in, after all, and the byplay between (fantasy science) exposition and the special effects really fun. Didn't mind the comic book plot either & found most of the ensemble extremely watchable. Still didn't like the Dreamlike Lost Wife And Kids strand (soon to be reprised in Shutter Island). The problem is that "Mal" is never seen in life, only post-mortem as a figment of Cobb's imagination. Making her, by definition, no more interesting than any of the other dream-artefacts that look like people, and all the time spent on her story bit empty.

Strange hauntings of modernity#: Sunday afternoon, the Great Escape panel team had a conversation, sparked off by Andrew Copson, about our late entry/general lack of interest in twitter. This had the weird effect of causing me to twitter in my head all the way home, eg This Great Western sandwich is so vile, I wonder how old it is, and how the bread became so dank and tacky... But there were hundreds. I tweeted one of them, posthumously as it were, just to mark the moment. Probably the last twitter will hear from @annhalam until Avaaz's next poke.