The start of a new UnHerd series examining the impact of Islam and Muslim voters on the Left in advanced democracies.
As a lifelong feminist, and firmly on the political Left, I am appalled at so-called progressives that capitulate to Islamist men, and make an exception for Islam as a religion – when being (rightly) critical of Judaism and Catholicism. What is behind this hypocrisy? From where I am standing it is simple: the fear of being labelled ‘Islamophobic’.
As Anna Pak, an Iranian exile to France, and staunch secularist feminist explains, the Islamophobic term originated from 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. “Women went to the streets and marched to be free of the veil,” she says. “Khomeini and the Islamists obliged them to wear the veil, and that’s when they started calling these women Islamophobic.”
I campaign against sexual and domestic violence alongside secularist feminists, many of whom have fled to the UK from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are furious with those white liberals who are more afraid of being labelled ‘Islamophobic’ than of giving more power to conservative Muslim men who seek to impose Islamic law on women and girls.
What, then, are these leftists supporting, when they shout, ‘Islamophobe’ at those of us that consider Islamic ‘traditions’ can be both totalitarian and harmful to women? Male chaperones, punishing ‘impurity’ of women, and the need to control women’s bodies and sexuality.
These cultural relativists have given their support to sharia courts, the wearing of the full-face veil, arranged marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and gender segregation in public places. What’s more, many do it in the name of women’s emancipation. Supporting traditional Islam flies in the face of the feminist quest for liberation from patriarchal structures.
“They think they are being oh-so anti-racist,” says Sabrina, who I met in Paris at a meeting recently of ex-Muslim women who were launching a campaign against political Islamism, “but their often mindless capitulation to misogynistic ideology has a detrimental effect on Muslim women.” These white do-gooders, she says, give a “shot in the arm” to the worst religious patriarchs.”
What’s more, it would appear that the support given by (mainly white) leftists towards certain so-called ‘traditions’ within Islamic culture include in particular, aspects that specifically affect women and girls. In the same way that self identified ‘pro-feminist’ men1 feel able to put their support behind lap dancing, prostitution, and slut-walking, by arguing it is ’empowering’ and a ‘positive choice’, they are not reticent in handing out insults to feminists – like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – who critique the wearing of the niqab.
Growing numbers of women that grew up under Muslim laws are resisting religious tyranny. Maryam Namazie, an Iranian feminist, and founder of One Law for All, a secularist organisation that campaigns against parallel legal systems, believes that it is now seen as “perfectly acceptable” for feminists and other progressives, including secularists, to defend sharia courts or gender segregation as a “right to religion”.
I was the first journalist to write about the phenomenon of ‘grooming gangs’ that target and sexually exploit young women in towns and cities across England, but it was far from easy to get such stories published in the supposedly liberal press. My first piece on this, which focussed on gangs of men of Pakistani Muslim origin, targeting and pimping girls in Lancashire, was published by The Sunday Times Magazine just over a decade ago.
When, the following year I published my investigation into the disappearance of Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes, my name was added to the website, Islamaphobia Watch, accused of demonising Muslims. My crime? Pointing out that police officers refusing to investigate these crimes were taking a ‘hands off’ approach for fear of having to police a ‘race riot’. I was told by a number of men, and some feminists, that by exposing the grooming gang phenomenon I was, in the words of one ‘anti-racist feminist’ that I was playing into the hands of the BNP (British National Party). I was truly staggered – it would appear that I was being told not to wash dirty linen in public, and to hell with the rape and abuse of teenage girls.
In 2014 I debated Zara Faris of the Muslim Debate Initiative, a conservative Islamic society, on the topic of “Islam or Feminism: Which One Truly Liberates Women?” (see video at bottom of this page). The event had originally been scheduled to take place at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), but had been moved to another venue after complaints from those who consider any feminist critical of Islam to be a bigot.
A petition, started by a SOAS student, entitled, “Ban Islamophobic speaker Julie Bindel from your event”, began doing the rounds, and the comments below the 200 signatures were all accusing me of ‘”Islamophobia”.
“In refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency,” read one. “Bindel also criticises women who wear the hijab and refuses to acknowledge the notion of personal choice.”
Even some renowned ‘old school’ feminists have bought into the notion that criticising Islam is racist. Christine Delphy, the renowned feminist intellectual, has also criticised feminists in France, including refugees from Iran that support the ban on the veil. In 2015 she wrote:
“White feminists should accept that women [who wear the niqab] want to develop their own feminism based on their own situation, and that this feminism will take their Islamic culture into account.”
Disrespect for religion, including Islam, should be at the heart of feminism. In my view, all fundamentalist religion is hell for women, but Islam is somehow given a free pass by the very progressives that would not think twice about marching through London to protest the Pope’s visit, or expressing outrage at orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on flights. We need to ask ourselves why, when so many women, desperate to escape religious tyranny, are being betrayed by some of the very people that should be standing with them?
“ISLAM OR FEMINISM – WHICH ONE LIBERATES WOMEN?”
(JULIE BINDEL’S 2014 DEBATE (REFERRED TO ABOVE) WITH ZARA FARIS).