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Gender segregation is humiliating and damaging

This piece was first published in The Freethinker.

Segregation was humiliating. Just the reality of signs that said you couldn’t use front doors or you couldn’t use this water fountain implied that you were subhuman … Every time I complied with a sign, I felt like I was acquiescing to my own inhumanity. I felt outraged and hated it.
– Diane Nash, a leader of the 1960s US Civil Rights Movement

When the Hezbollah came to segregate the girls from the boys at my school in Iran in 1980 after an Islamic regime took power, I remember wondering what was so wrong with me that I had to be separated from my male friends.

I was only 12 at the time.

I soon learnt that segregation was a “necessity” because girls over the age of nine (considered the age of maturity) are “sources of fitnah“, “temptations that incite men’s lust” eventually leading to adultery (Zina). And that gender segregation “protects” society from “moral decay” and “sex anarchy”.

Better to be segregated, I was told, than to have to be stoned to death for adultery.

I was elated, therefore, when a Court of Appeal found that gender segregation – including in the classroom, corridors, school clubs, play areas and school trips – at Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham was discriminatory.

Given the rise of gender segregation at schools and universities in this country (including at the Rabia School in Luton, Madani school in Leicester, the LSEQueen Mary University of London as well as Orthodox Jewish schools), the land-mark decision should have far-reaching effects in favour of the rights of minority women and girls in particular. The decision is also a victory against the religious-Right which uses religion in the educational system to police and control women and girls.

The basis for gender segregation (as well as veiling, banning women’s singing, prohibiting hand-shaking with women, male guardianship and so on) is that a woman’s and girl’s place is in the home, that she is lesser than a man or boy and that mixing with her will lead to “corruption”.

In Bas les Voiles, Chahdortt Djavan argues that the psychological damage done to girls from a very young age by making them responsible for men’s arousal is immense and builds fear and feelings of disgust at the female body.

Sayyid Maududi, the founder of Jama’at-i Islami (the Salafis of South Asia that are running some of the mosques, schools and Sharia courts here in Britain) explains why segregation is important in his book Purdah and the Status of Women in Islam:

In the eyes of law, adultery implies physical union only, but from the moral point of view every evil inclination towards a member of the Opposite sex outside marriage amounts to adultery. Thus, enjoying the beauty of the other woman with the eyes, relishing the sweetness of her voice with the ears, drawing pleasure of the tongue by conversing with her, and turning of the feet over and over again to visit her street, all are the preliminaries of adultery, nay, adultery itself.

Sharia courts here in Britain reinforce this point of view. For example Haitham al-Haddad, who was until recently a Sharia judge at the Leyton Sharia council and who testified at the Home Affairs Committee Sharia Councils inquiry (which was by the way quietly closed without any resolution), says on gender segregation:

What really amazes me, however, is the denial many people suffer when it comes to gender interactions in the 21st century. Even more astonishing is the blind eye that countless Muslims turn towards the masses of cases in Islamic law and jurisprudence in regulating the relationship between men and women, in particular minimising ikhtil?t (intermingling) between sexes.  The Prophet (sallAll?hu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, ‘I am not leaving behind a more harmful trial for men than women’.

Those who defend gender segregation as being “separate but equal” ignore the reality that women and men are not equal in any sense of the word.  In fact, “one is confined while the other is at large.”

Cultural relativists who would never defend inequality between non-minority women and men or segregation based on race excuse gender segregation because they say it is “voluntary” and a “choice”. Aside from the fact that Islamists use rights language to curtail rights, of course women and girls can sit where they choose. “What is discriminatory”, however, says Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas “is to assign a place to somebody, whatever that place may be. It says: keep to your place; to women’s place!”

In her witness statement to the Court of Appeal, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters stated:

The impact of segregation is detrimental to girls since its aim of gender segregation is not to promote gender equity but to reinforce the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them differential and unequal status.

In a piece entitled “Education and the Muslim Girl”, Saeeda Khanum quotes an interview with Liaqat Hussein from the Council for Mosques, which shows the real aims of gender segregation:

The struggle, he said, is between Islam and godlessness, which in the schools takes the form of coeducation, Darwinian theory, female emancipation and Muslim girls running away with non-Muslim boys. There’s no such thing as freedom in religion. You have to tame yourself to a discipline. We want our children to be good Muslims, whereas this society wants children to be independent in their thinking.

For now though, we should celebrate this important decision. As Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters stated:

We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms. For over three decades, we have seen how regressive religious forces have targeted schools and universities as a means by which to control and police female sexuality in minority communities.

The imposition of gender segregation, dress codes and sharia laws are just some means by which gender inequality is legitimised and promoted despite the serious and harmful consequences. This judgment is a vital step forward in our effort to persuade the courts and state bodies to take account of the reality of the misogyny and gender stereotyping that is promoted in our schools and universities in the name of religious and cultural freedom. We are delighted that the court has seen through this and upheld the equality principle.

Court of Appeal: gender segregation is sex discrimination

  • Join protest at Court of Appeal hearing on 11 and 12 July 2017 at 9.30am at Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL.
  • Pack out the public gallery in the court so that the judiciary is under no illusion as to what is at stake.
  • Publicise our campaign widely.

PRESS RELEASE
6 July 2017

On 11 and 12 July 2017, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Inspire will be intervening in an important case on gender segregation to press the Court of Appeal to rule that the practice of gender segregation in a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school amounts to sex discrimination under the equality law.  This is a potentially historical and precedent setting case, the outcome of which will have a far reaching impact on the human rights of minority women and girls.

Background to the case

School X segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, boys and girls of Muslim background are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

The school was inspected by Ofsted which raised concerns about gender segregation and other leadership failings involving the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive books promoting rape, violence and against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

The school took legal action against Ofsted accusing it of bias amongst other things, and claimed that gender segregation did not have a detrimental impact on girls. Following a High Court hearing, in November 2016, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found no evidence of bias against the school but agreed with the school that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. He went onto say that no evidence had been presented to show that gender segregation disadvantaged the girls in the school.

Ofsted is seeking to overturn this part of the judgment but the Department of Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, along with SBS and Inspire are intervening in support of Ofsted.

Why we are intervening

SBS and Inspire are intervening in this case because we believe that the right to equality for women and girls of Muslim background in this instance is being seriously undermined. We are alarmed by the growing acceptance of such a practice in our universities and schools; a move that we have also previously contested. In a context where all the evidence shows that minority women are subject to growing abuse, isolation, inequality and powerlessness, the practice of gender segregation cannot be viewed as a benign development because it is informed by the Muslim fundamentalist view that women are inferior and the cause of disorder and sexual chaos in society. If unchecked, the practice will give religious fundamentalist and ultra-conservative forces in our communities more and more power to define women’s lives. It will also signal the view that regulatory bodies like Ofsted have no business in investigating issues of gender inequality in faith based schools. We say that gender segregation amounts to direct sex discrimination and violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls under international human rights law on equality and non-discrimination.

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “Fundamentalist and conservative religious norms like gender segregation are becoming normalised in minority communities at an alarming rate. Separate can never be equal in a context of rising misogyny, violence against women and patriarchal control. Regressive religious forces want to implement their fundamentalist vision of education. They want to use religion to extinguish the human rights of minority women and girls to equality and self determination. We will not allow this to happen. We will not allow them to undo the strides that we have made for greater equality and freedom. Our struggle against gender segregation mirrors the struggle against racial segregation: it is morally, politically and legally wrong and the Court of Appeal and the rest of society must recognise this.”

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am deeply concerned about the rise and accommodation of gender segregation in our schools and universities.  This is due in large part to the rise of fundamentalist patriarchal movements over the last few decades which seeks to reinforce regressive gender stereotypes and restrict women’s rights in an attempt to deny women full and equal participation in public life.  I have seen first hand the damaging impact of gender segregation on women and girls.  As a British Muslim woman, I call on our country and our judiciary to stand on the side of equality and women’s rights, at a time when illiberals and fundamentalists seek to do away with them.

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All added: “Islamists have become adept at using rights language to impose rights restrictions. Islamist projects like the niqab or Sharia courts are deceptively promoted as “rights” and “choices” when in fact their aim is to control and restrict women and girls. Girls in Islamic schools are segregated not in order to enable them to flourish but because they are seen to be the source of fitnah and male arousal from puberty onwards. Which is why they must be veiled, segregated, and prevented from many activities that are essential to child development. The court would do well to remember that when it comes to children in particular, there is a duty of care to ensure that the girl child has access to a level playing field and is able to flourish – sometimes despite the wishes of parents and fundamentalists.”

We will be available on 11 and 12 July to give interviews and make comments.

End

For Further Information Contact:

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, pragna@soublacksisters.co.uk 02085719595.

Sara Khan, Director of Inspire, Sara.Khan@wewillinspire.com

Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, maryamnamazie@googlemail.com 077 1916 6731.

Notes to the editors:

  1. For more background information see http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/gender-segregation-is-gender-apartheid
  2. See the High Court judgment here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-ofsted.pdf and here: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/x-v-oftsed-press-summary.pdf
  3. Southall Black Sisters is also part of the One Law for All campaign which also includes the Kurdish Culture Project, Centre for Secular Space and others working to challenge the rise of religious fundamentalism and extremism and it specific impact on  the rights of black and minority women in the UK. We are currently running a campaign against the accommodation of Sharia laws in the law or as part of alternative dispute resolution systems in relation to family matters. See here: http://onelawforall.org.uk/over-300-abused-women-issue-statement-against-parallel-legal-systems-who-will-listen-to-our-voices/
  4. Information about previous contestations against gender segregation in universities can be found here: http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/news/campaign-gender-apartheid-uk-universities  and here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/pragna-patel/’shariafication-by-stealth’-in-uk and here: http://www.wewillinspire.com/tag/segregation/

No Apologies

This is my letter to you, not you the racist or Islamist but you who I should call friend: I Accuse‬. Published in sister-hood, 27 June 2017.

Spanish Translation

This is my letter to you.

Not you, the Islamist, who wants me silent or dead whilst dreaming of your vile caliphate, nor you, the racist, who wants my Muslim and migrant family out whilst dreaming of your contemptible white, Christian Europe. To me, you are two sides of the same coin.

This is my letter to you who I should consider a friend, an ally, but who refuses to make a stand with me. You: the progressive, the anti-racist, the supposed defender of human rights.

How come your defence of freedom of conscience and expression never includes my right to reject and criticise Islam?

You exclude, bar, ban, blame and shame me – or at the very least – remain silent, simply because of who I am: an ex-Muslim, an atheist, a critic of Islam.

Of course, you have a right to your silence.

You are not responsible for my persecution. Only those who threaten, kill and harm freethinkers in countries and communities under Islamist control are directly responsible; justice, after all, can never be about placing collective blame.

But I do accuse.

I accuse you of blaming me and never the perpetrators.

They always seem to have some ‘legitimate’ grievance or ‘hurt’ sensibility that justifies their incitement to violence or mass murder.

I, on the other hand, am always at fault:

If only I had not offended’ Your religion offends me but I am still able to stand with you and defend your right to religion.

‘If only I had not provoked’ Islamists kill, maim, silence and I am the one provoking them by saying what I think? Is that you speaking or them?

‘If only I had respected Islam’ You don’t respect my atheism; why must I respect your religion? In any case, one is not required to respect beliefs but the right to belief.

‘If only I had kept my opinion about Islam to myself’… You do not keep your opinions to yourself. Every day, from every corner I hear how ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ and that ‘Islamists are not practising real Islam’. Religion is shoved down my throat until I suffocate; yet I must keep my opinions to myself? Do I not also have the right to speak and think as I choose? Until Islamists stop threatening me, I will shout my atheism from every rooftop.

‘I am aiding racism because I criticise Islam’ Are you promoting terrorism because you defend Islam? I do not blame you for terrorism; stop blaming me for racism – which, by the way, affects me too.

Dear ‘friend’,

Is it really so hard to grasp that freedom of conscience is not just for the believer? That it includes the right not to believe, the right to reject Islam – publicly or otherwise. That freedom of expression is not just for those who defend and promote Islam. It is also my and our freedom to criticise Islam, mock it, and even see it as the regressive ideology of the Islamist movement.

And to do so publicly without fear.

Frankly, when I hear the Quran recited, it feels like a kick to my stomach.  It reminds me of executions in Iran and the totalitarian nightmare from which I have fled and sought refuge.

Nonetheless, I can still make a distinction between beliefs and human beings. I can still defend the right to religion; I can still stand with you against fascists of all stripes.

Why can you not defend my right to reject religion?

Why can you not stand with me?

Can you not see that freedom of religion is meaningless without freedom from religion? These are corresponding freedoms. They cannot exist fully without the other.

Maybe you can afford your silence. After all, religion and its defenders have always been privileged and freethinkers have always been persecuted throughout the ages. But I and we cannot.

Because we have no choice.

Because we have a right to think and live freely – even if it offends you.

Because if we don’t speak for ourselves, who will speak for us? You certainly won’t.

Because we must speak for ourselves, our loved ones, for those who cannot speak, for those who are beaten into submission in homes in London, imprisoned in Riyadh or are facing the gallows in Tehran and Karachi.

For Raif Badawi, for Sina Dehghan, Sahar Ilyasi, Ayaz Nizami, Ahmad Al-Shamri, Taimoor Raza, Avijit Roy…

Because we are the tsunami that is coming…

Yes, I don’t blame you for my persecution, but I do often wonder how much of a role your victim blaming and silence play – even if unwittingly – in normalising the open season on Islam’s atheists and freethinkers.

I wonder. If you were not so tolerant of the culture of offence and so intolerant of my criticism, would the world not be a different place?

I accuse.

#IWant2BFree

 

 Maryam Namazie is an Iranian-born writer and activist. She is the Spokesperson of One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, hosts a weekly television programme in Persian and English called Bread and Roses and is organising an international conference on free conscience and expression dubbed the “Glastonbury of Freethinkers” during 22-24 July 2017 to defend the right to be free from and reject religion. #IWant2BFree.

Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman

Below is my monthly column for The Freethinker entitled: Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman, 25 May 2016

As US suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said:

You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman.

In one Hadith, Mohammed, Islam’s prophet says: “I have left behind no fitnah more harmful to men, than women” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim). Hatred of women is a recurring theme in all major religions. There is a Jewish prayer recited by men that says: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman”.

In the Bible it says: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-14) This is also evident in Hinduism, Buddhism …

For those who only see the surface, there is an apparent contradiction that is often not understood. On the one hand, Islamic law and states are the beginning of the end of women’s rights. A pillar of Islamist rule is the attempt to erase women from the public space. On the other hand, women are everywhere – making sure they are seen and heard.

This female presence is palpable in all areas, including against the veil, gender segregation, opposition to Sharia … The extent of control of women and their bodies is a measure of the power and influence of the Islamists just as the extent of women’s autonomy is a measure of the resistance against Islamism  but also Islam and religious “morality”.

Those only looking at the surface, see women’s active presence and resistance and wrongly credit Islam and Islamism. In Iran, for example, they credit the “reformist” faction of the Iranian regime. To me, it’s like crediting apartheid in South Africa for the black liberation movement or segregation in the US for the civil rights movement.

This absurdity is only possible today because of identity politics and cultural relativism, which no longer acknowledges citizens and human beings but homogenised religious identities that unsurprisingly coincide with the impositions of Islamists and the ruling class. This is why everything from gender segregation to the veil and Sharia are sanitised and legitimised at the expense of women’s rights. Only in a  world where identity politics and cultural relativism reign supreme can the likes of Islamic feminism be given any credence.

But in my opinion Islam can never be feminist.

Religion can never emancipate women.

In fact any positive change in women’s condition, is not thanks to Islamic laws, states or Islam but despite it. It’s in fact thanks to women’s resistance against Islam and Islamism.

Of course that is not to say that believing women, Muslim women, cannot be feminists. Of course they can – just as men can be feminists and women misogynists – but one can only be feminist if women’s emancipation trumps religion. Whilst people – even believers – can be feminists, religion cannot. Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman.

“Islamic feminists” like Shirin Ebadi will say that women have full rights under Islam and if they don’t it is “not Islam at fault but patriarchal culture that uses interpretation to justify whatever it wants”.  Yet the Quran and Hadith are overflowing with anti-women rules and regulations. Stoning to death for adultery, for example, is in a Hadith, while wife beating is in the Quran. Islamic feminists will say the mistreatment of women is because of “bad” interpretations.

The problem with “good” versus “bad” interpretations is that yours is just one of many. Even if you have a “good” interpretation, it is the Islamists who decide; they run the state, they make the laws. But more importantly, are there “good” interpretations that are good enough for 21st century women? If you follow the “good” interpretations, you will soon realise the absurdity of this line of defence.

Take Sura al-Nisa (the women), [the fourth chapter] in the Quran 4:34, where it says: “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly)  …”

“Islamic feminists” will say that men have been made to wait, are not obliged to beat their wives, and when they do, they must not leave marks and beat their wives with thin sticks …

These are the justifications of those who are more concerned with defending Islam than defending women’s rights.

From a women’s rights perspective, no woman should be beaten – “disobedient” or not.  Full stop. End of story.

If you want women’s liberation, you cannot leave women’s rights and lives at the mercy of religious rules and interpretations.

You have to choose – do you side with women’s rights or religion – you cannot defend both as they are antithetical to each other.

The fight for women’s liberation is a fight against Islam and Islamism. Also, it is a fight for secularism – the complete separation of religion from the state. Secularism is a precondition for women’s emancipation. Secularism is a women’s issue.

Rather than excuse and justify “good” religious interpretations and “moderate” or “reformist” Islamists, it would serve our societies better to defend citizenship rights irrespective of beliefs. It would serve our societies better to insist on secularism and women’s equality – not western, not eastern but universal.

• The above is a shortened version of Maryam Namazie’s speech at the Founding Congress of Enlightenment Feminism in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan, where she spoke about Islam and Islamism as the greatest stumbling blocks for women’s emancipation and how Islamists target women and girls first – whether in Tehran, Peshawar or Manchester.

 

اسلام و اسلام سياسى بزگترين سد راه رهائى زنان

به دعوت سازمان پلاتفرم دابران براى شركت در كنگره مؤسس فمنيسم روشنگرى به سليمانيه سفر كرده بودم. من درباره اسلام و اسلام سياسى بعنوان مهمترين سد راه رهائى زنان سخنرانى كردم۔
ترجمه متن سخنرانى ام

  اسلام  و اسلام سياسى بزگترين سد راه رهائى زنان

(* اليزابت استانتن، از رهبران جنبش سافرجت كفته بود: إنجيل و كليسا مهمترين سد راه رهائى زنان)
مريم نمازى
كنگره مؤسس فمنيسم روشنگرى
سليمانيه

براى من افتخار بزرگى است كه در كنگره مؤسس فمنيسم روشنگرى حضور پيدا كنم. با تشكر از اينكه به من فرصتى داديد كه در مورد اسلام و اسلام سياسى بعنوان بزگترين سد راه رهائى زنان صحبت كنم۔

اولين بارى كه متوجه شدم كه اسلام و اسلامي ها از زنان متنفر هستند ١٢ ساله بودم. تا قبل از آن خانواده و دوستان “مسلمان”‘ من سكولار بودند و بشيوه هاى مختلف مذهب خود را اجرا ميكردند. بعضى ها روزه ميگرفتند، عده اى مشروب ميخوردند و اكثر زنان بى حجاب بودند و هيچگاه در مراسم، جمع ها، مدارس و محيط كار و زندگى مرد و زن جدا نبودند۔

ناگهان اين تغيير كرد۔

حزب الله به مدرسه ما آمد تا در مدرسه مختلط دختران و پسران  را از هم جدا كند. البته ما آنها را مورد تمسخر قرار ميداديم. اما اين سرآغاز دست بكار شدن جريان اسلامى در سركوب يك انقلاب چپ گرا عليه ديكتاتوري شاه بود. آغاز گشت زهرا بود۔

اگر چه ما آن زمان كودك بوديم اما در نگاه آنها ما دختران باعث و بانى فتنه در جامعه محسوب ميشديم۔

“همانطور كه ميدانيد، در يكى از احادیث به روایت بخاری محمد پيغمبر اسلام ميگويد: “پس از خودم هیچ فتنه ای بدتر از فتنه ی زن بر مرد باقی نگذاشته ام

البته نفرت از زنان تم مشترك همه مذاهب اصلى است. يك دعاى يهودى كه مردان ميخوانند ميگويد: “خداوندا، شكر تو، پروردگار حاكم بر جهان، كه من را زن نيافريدى”. در انجيل مسيحيت ميگويد: “زنان بايد در سكوت يادبگيرند و سر بزير باشند. من به زنان اجازه نمى دهم كه معلم باشند و با بر مردان حكومت كنند؛ او بايد ساكت باشد”۔ اين درباره بوديسم و هندويئسم و۔۔۔ هم صادق است۔.

بقول اليزابت استانتون ، از رهبران جنبش سافرجت آمريكائى٬ هر مذهبى كه روى زمين نفس كشيده است زنان را تحقير كرده است۔

. زنان اولين هدف مذهب در قدرت و آغاز بلایای بعدی است. به همين خاطر ميگويند كه آزادى هر جامعه اى را با آزادى زنان آن جامعه مي سنجند۔

براى آنانى كه فقط سطح پديده ها را ميبينند، ظاهرا تضادى وجود دارد۔

از يكسو قوانين و دولتهاى اسلامى آغاز پايان حقوق زنان، آزادى انديشه و سياست دمكراتيك است۔ يك ستون حاكميت اسلام تلاش براى محو زنان از اماكن عمومى است۔

 فليپ تولدانو هنرمند معاصر يكسرى از كارهاى خود را در مورد سانسور زنان در ايران را “تصوير غيبت” نام نهاده است۔

او نشان ميدهد كه چگونه با ماژيك سياه بدن زنان از بسته بندى كالاها، مجلات و تبليغات حذف شده است۔ چقدر چادر و برقه و نقاب در حقيقت شكل پارچه اى همان قلم سياه هست. محو شده، تهى از انسانيت و نا پديد شده

همانند نا پديد شده گان آرژانتين، يا هزاران خاك شده در گورهاى دسته جمعى خاوران در دوران كشتار زندانيان سياسى بوسيله رژيم ايران در دهه هشتاد

دنياى مورد نظر اسلاميها، دنياى بدون زنان در امكان عمومى است. در اين دنيا زنان دست و پا و دهان بسته كه نه ديده ميشوند و نه شنيده ميشوند

همانطور كه نويسنده مصرى مونا التهاوى ميگويد: همه مذاهب با واژن زنان مسئله دارند و زنان را به فمنيسم وا مى دارند۔

از يك طرف اسلاميها خواهان محو كردن زنان از صحنه جامعه هستند و از جانب ديگر زنان همه جا حضور دارند میخواهند هم ديده شوند و هم شنيده شوند

 كنگره فمنيسم روشنگرى مثال بسيار خوب آن است

 و يا اعتراض عريان كه نقطه مقابل كالاى كردن و شيئ  كردن زنان است و يك شكل مهم اعتراض و مقاومت عليه تنفر اسلام از بدن زنان است

 و يا جنبش بى حجابى در ايران در حالى كه حجاب در ايران اجبارى است و تخلف از آن با حكم زندان و جريمه روبرو ميشود. در ايران يك اپليكيشن به نام “گرشاد” است كه مكانهاى گشتهاى زهرا را اعلام ميكند

 پرتاب حجاب در راه فرار از مناطق داعش و فوران رنگ زير سياهى روپوش۔۔۔

حضور زن در تمام صحنه ها از مبارزه عليه جداسازى جنسى و حق شركت در استوديوم ها تا لغو قوانين شريعه مانند در کردستان سوریه و الجزاير و بريتانيا قابل مشاهده است

درجه كنترل بر بدن زنان ميزان قدرت و تاثير اسلاميها نشان میدهد. همانگونه كه خود اختيارى زنان ميزان مقاومت عليه اسلام، اسلام سياسى و اخلاقيات مذهبى است

اعتراضات در افغانستان عليه كشتن فرخنده و ركسانا مثال ديگرى است كه بر پرچم آن نوشته بود “ما بايد دستان پليد تاجران مذهب را از زندگى خود كوتاه كنيم تا شاهد قتل هر روزه اى مانند فرخنده و ركسانا نباشيم”۔

کسانیکه كه فقط سطح قضيه را ميبينند حضور فعال و مقاومت زنان در جامعه را به غلط به حساب اسلام و اسلام سياسى ميريزند. در ايران بطور مثال انها حضور زنان را به اعتبار جناح دو خردادى رژيم ايران ميريزند۔ آنها ميگويند كه وضعيت زنان در ايران از عربستان سعودى بهتر است. ظاهرا ما بايد متشكر رژيم اسلامى و قوانين شريعه آن باشيم۔ اين مانند اعتبار دادن به رژيم آفريقاى جنوبى دوران آپارتايد براى مبارزه رهائى بخش در آن كشور و يا انگار جداسازى نژادى در آمريكا را باعث جنبش حقوق شهروندى آن كشور بدانيم۔

و توجه كرده ايد كه چگونه وقتى به حقوق زنان ميرسند آن را با پائين ترين مخرج مشترك مقايسه ميكنند و نه با بالا ترين و عالى ترين؟ چرا حقوق زنان در ايران بايد با عربستان سعودى مقايسه شود و نه بطور مثال با ايسلند؟

اين وضعيت فقط در دنيائى كه نسبيت فرهنگى و سياست هويت تراشى حاكم است امكانپزير ميباشد. در دنيائى كه نه انسان و حقوق شهروندى بلكه هويت مذهبى و قبيله اى برسميت شناخته ميشود ـ هويتهايى كه اتفاقا با منافع جريانات اسلامى و طبقه حاكمه همگون ميباشد۔.

به همين خاطر است كه به همه چيز، از جدائى جنسى تا حجاب و قوانين شريعه٬ حقانيت بخشيده مى شود و بر ضرر حقوق زنان ارائه ميشود۔ و هر انتقادى به نام اسلام هراسى – كه يك ترم سياسى است تا مردم را بترسانند و به سكوت وا دارند۔ و يا ما را متهم ميكنند كه احساسات عمومى را جريحه دار ميكنيم . گوئى كه عموم يك توده يكسان است و از افراد مختلف با احساسات گوناگون تشكيل نشده است۔

تنها در دنيائى كه نسبيت فرهنگى و سياست هويتى حاكميت بلامنازع دارد ميشود به ايده هاى مانند فمنيسم اسلامى اهميت داد۔ به نظر من اسلام هيچگاه فمنيست نخواهد شد. مذهب هرگز باعث رهائى زنان نمى شود۔

بقول منصور حكمت٬ رهبر كمونيسم كارگرى٬ كه در مصاحبه اى تحت عنوان اسلام بخشى از لمپنيسم جامعه است

“هيچ الهياتى بنا به تعريف رهايى بخش نيست، الهيات يعنى نقطه مقابل رهايى بخش، الهيات يعنى بستن چشم و گوش آدميزاد، يعنى جلو فکر مستقلش را گرفتن وحواله دادنش به جهان و خالقى ناشناخته. الهيات رهايى بخش چرند است. مثل اين ميماند بگوييم فاشيسم آزاديخواه و اين يک تناقص درخود است. الهيات نمى تواند رهايى بخش باشد، چه مسيحى اش، چه بودايى اش، چه اسلامى. براى روشنفکران قرن نوزده اصلا رهايى قبل از هر چيز رهايى از چنگال دين معنى ميداد. تا دهها و صدها سال رهايى براى روشنفکر يعنى رهايى از دين و از قيد و بند انديشه هاى حقنه شده و تحميلى. حالا الهيات رهائى بخش شده است؟”

بقول اليزابت استانتون: “إنجيل و كليسا مهمترين سد راه رهائى زنان بوده اند”۔ امروز ميتوانيم به سادگى ببينيم كه اسلام و اسلام سياسى مهمترين سد راه رهائى زنان ميباشند۔

در حقيقت هر تغيير مثبت در وضعيت زنان نه بخاطر قوانين و دولتهاى اسلامى و يا اسلام ، بلکه نتیجه مبارزه علیه آنها و علیرغم میل آنها است. بايد از مقاومت و مبارزه زنان عليه اسلام و اسلام سياسى تشكر كرد۔

البته اين به معناى اينكه يك زن مسلمان نمى تواند فمنيسم باشد نيست. البته كه ميتواند باشد. همانطور كه مردان ميتوانند فمنيست باشند و زنانى هم ضد زن. اما كسى ميتواند فمنيست باشد كه از نظر او حقوق زنان بالاتر از مذهب باشد. همانطور كه مردم – معتقد به مذهب  – ميتوانند فمنيست باشند، اما مذهب نمى تواند. مذهب بطور بنيادى ضد زن و مردسالار است۔ هدف آن كنترل رفتار زنان وجنسيت آنان بنفع مردان است  و در ادامه آن ناموس جامعه و ملت۔ تحت سياست هويت پرستى، زنان نه بعنوان افراد مستقل داراى حقوق بلكه بعنوان حمل كنندگان ناموس جامعه در نظر گرفته ميشوند و بسته به اينكه چه كسى هستند بايد مورد حفاظت قرار گيرند يا مورد تجاوز. بردگان جنسى داعش بيشرم ترين نمونه اين برخورد است۔

فمنيست هاى اسلامى مانند شيرين عبادى ميگويند كه اسلام تمام حقوق زنان را برسميت ميشناسد و اگر چنين نيست نه بخاطر اسلام بلكه بخاطر فرهنگ مردسالارى است كه با تفسیرخود از اسلام اهداف خود را پيش ميبرد۔ اما قرأن و احاديث سرشار از قوانيان و احكام ضد زن هستند. سنگسار براى زنا بطور مثال در حديث است و كتك زدن زنان در قران. فمنيستهاى اسلامى ميگويند كه بد رفتارى با زنان نتيجه تفسير “اشتباه” از اسلام است۔ مشكل تفسير خوب و بد نیست زيرا تفسير شما هم فقط يكى از تفاسير است۔ حتى اگر شما تفسير “خوب” را در دست داشته باشيد مشكل اين است كه اسلاميها هستند كه تصميم ميگيرند و دولت را در دست دارند۔ مهمتر اينكه آيا تفسير آنقدر خوبى هست كه بدرد زن قرن بيست و يكم بخورد؟

و اگر شما خط اين تفسير خوب را دنبال كنيد به پوچى اين خط دفاعى خواهيد رسيد۔ سوره النسا (زن) در قرأن ٤:٣٤ را در نظر بگيريد: “زنانى كه از شما سر پيچي و رفتار بد ميكنند، ابتدا انها را سرزنش كنيد، بعد از هم بسترشدن با آنها احتراز كنيد و در نهايت انها را بزنيد”۔.”

فمنيستهاى اسلامى ميگويند كه مردان به صبر دعوت شده اند و اجبار به زدن زنان نشده اند و حتى اگر اين كار را بكنند نبايد اثرى بجا بگذارند و بايد ملايم با تركه نازك بزنند۔

 اينها توجيهات كسانى است كه به اسلام بيشتر از حقوق زنان اهميت ميدهند

از منظر حقوق زنان هـيچ زنى نبايد كتك بخورد، چه سربه راه باشد و چه نباشد. بدون هیچ اما و اگری۔

اگر شما خواهان رهائى زنان هستيد، نمى توانيد حقوق و زندگى زنان را در دامان مذهب و تفسيرهاى متفاوت آن قرار دهيد. بايد انتخاب كنيد ـ يا با حقوق زنان يا با مذهب. با هر دو نمى شود بود چرا كه آنها انتى تز همديگر هستند۔

مبارزه براى حقوق زنان مبارزه عليه اسلام و اسلام سياسى است و همچنين مبارزه براى سكولاريسم و جدائى كامل مذهب از دولت. سكولاريسم پيش شرط رهائى زنان است. سكولاريسم مسئله زنان است۔

بجاى توضيح و توجيح تفسير “خوب” و بد از اسلام و نوع رفرميست و افراط گرا اسلام سياسى، به نفع جوامع ما خواهد بود كه از حقوق شهروندى جدا از عقايد مذهبى دفاع كنيم. انسان حق و حقوق دارد٬ نه مذاهب۔ به نفع جوامع ما خواهد بود كه با تكيه بر سكولاريسم و حقوق زنان كه نه غربى است و نه شرقى بلكه جهانشمول است تاكيد كنيم۔

زنده باد آزادى زنان

با تشكر

Islam and Islamism as the greatest stumbling blocks for women’s emancipation

Our spokesperson, Maryam Namazie, was invited by Dabran Platform to speak at the Founding Congress of Enlightenment Feminism in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan (photos below). She spoke about Islam and Islamism as the greatest stumbling blocks for women’s emancipation and how Islamists target women and girls first – whether in Tehran, Peshawar or Manchester. Here’s her speech:

Islam and Islamism – the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation*
(Suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton said: “The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.”)
Maryam Namazie
The First Enlightenment Feminism Congress, Sulaymaniyah

It’s such an honour to be here at the founding Congress of Enlightenment Feminism. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak about how Islam and Islamism are the greatest obstacles to women’s emancipation.

The first time I realised Islam and the Islamists hate women was when I was around 12. Prior to that, my ‘Muslim’ family and friends were secular and practiced religion in various ways – some fasting, some drinking alcohol whilst others not, mostly women not wearing the veil and never any segregation at our social gatherings, schools, workplaces… Then it all changed.

The Hezbollah came to my school, which was mixed, in order to segregate the boys from the girls – though we ran circles around them. It was the beginnings of the Islamic movement’s suppression of a left-leaning revolution against the Shah’s dictatorship and beginnings of the notorious ‘morality police’.

Even though at the time we were children – though not to them – they saw us girls as the source of fitnah in society.

As you know, In one Hadith Mohammed, Islam’s prophet says: ‘I have left behind no fitnah more harmful to men, than women'(Al-Bukhari, Muslim).

Of course hatred of women is a recurring theme in all major religions. There is a Jewish prayer recited by men that says: ‘Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler the universe who has not created me a woman’. In the Bible: ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be quiet.’ (1 Timothy 2:11-14) This is also evident in Hinduism, Buddhism…

As US Suffragette Elizabeth Stanton said: ‘Every form of religion, which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women’.

Women are the first targets of religion in power and it’s always a sign of worse to come, hence the saying: ‘the freedom of society is measured by the freedom of women’.

For those who only see the surface, there is an apparent contradiction that is often not understood.

On the one hand, Islamic law and states are the beginning of the end of women’s rights, freethought and democratic politics.

A pillar of Islamist rule is the attempt to erase women from the public space.

Artist Phillip Toledano has done a series on Iranian Censorship of women calling it “Portraits of Absence”. It shows how black markers erase women’s bodies from packaging, magazines, adverts.

The chador or the burqa and niqab are really the fabric version of this black marker. Erased, devoid of humanity, Disappeared.

Like the disappeared of Argentina, or the thousands buried in mass graves in Khavaran during the massacre of political prisoners by the Iranian regime in the 1980s.

A perfect world for the Islamists is a world devoid of women in the public space. Bound, gagged, not seen or heard.

As Egyptian writer Mona Eltahawy says: ‘All religions are obsessed with [a woman’s] vagina’ and women are ‘traumatised into feminism’.

So on the one hand, Islamists want to erase women from the public space; on the other hand, women are everywhere – making sure they are seen and heard:

• This Enlightenment Feminist Congress is a perfect example.

• Or nude protest, which is the opposite of the commodification/objectification of women and an important form of resistance given Islam’s hatred of women’s bodies.

• Or the unveiling movement in Iran even though veiling is compulsory and punishable with up to two months in prison and fines. There is an app called Gershad to warn you of the locations of the morality police in Iran.

• Discarded veils are strewn on route by women who have fled Daesh-held territory.

• And the burst of colours underneath the black shrouds being removed once women have reached liberated areas have become iconic. As have images of Kurdish fighters breaking Daesh signs telling women to wear a mobile prison.

This female presence is palpable in all areas, including against gender segregation – for example in the demand to end segregation in stadiums – to abolishing Sharia family laws – such as in Rojava and Algeria.

The extent of control of women and their bodies is a measure of the power and influence of the Islamists just as the extent of women’s autonomy is a measure of the resistance against Islam, Islamism, and religious ‘morality’.

The protests in Afghanistan against the killings of Farkhunda and Rokhshana are another perfect example with banners reading: ‘We must get rid of the filthy hands of the merchants of religion from our country so that we are not daily witness to the murders of Farkhundas and Rokhshanas’.

Those only looking at the surface, see women’s active presence and resistance and wrongly credit Islam and Islamism.

In Iran, for example, they credit the ‘reformist’ faction of the Iranian regime.

They will also claim that women’s condition in Iran is better than women in Saudi Arabia as if it is thanks to the regime and Sharia law!

To me, it’s like crediting apartheid in South Africa for the black liberation movement or segregation in the US for the civil rights movement.

Have you noticed also how when it comes to women’s rights, it’s always compared to the lowest common denominator – never the highest? Why compare the status of women in Iran with Saudi Arabia; why not with Iceland?

This absurdity is only possible today because of identity politics and cultural relativism, which no longer acknowledges citizens and human beings but homogenised religious identities that unsurprisingly coincide with the impositions of Islamists and the ruling class.

This is why everything from gender segregation to the veil and Sharia are sanitised and legitimised at the expense of women’s rights.

And criticism deemed ‘Islamophobic’ – a political term used to scaremonger people into silence.

Or we are accused of ‘hurting public sentiment’ as if ‘the public’ is one mass and does not comprise of individuals with as many sentiments as there are people.

Only in a world where identity politics and cultural relativism reign supreme can the likes of Islamic feminism be given any credence.

But in my opinion Islam can never be feminist.

Religion can never emancipate women.

The late Iranian worker-communist Mansoor Hekmat said in an interview entitled ‘Islam is part of the lumpenism in society‘:

‘…no theology is liberating. Theology is the antithesis of liberation. It signifies keeping people ignorant, obstructing their independent thought and consigning them to an unknown creator and world. Liberation theology is nonsense. It is like saying liberation fascism; it is a contradiction in terms. Theology cannot be liberating, regardless of whether it is the Christian, Buddhist or Islamic version. For 19th century intellectuals, liberation before anything else meant liberation from religion and the fetters of imposed thought. Now, theology has become liberating?’

The US Suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton once said: ‘The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation’.

Today, we can clearly say: Islam and Islamism are the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women’s emancipation.

In fact any positive change in women’s condition, is not thanks to Islamic laws, states or Islam but despite it. It’s in fact thanks to women’s resistance against Islam and Islamism.

Of course that is not to say that believing women, Muslim women, cannot be feminists. Of course they can – just as men can be feminists and women misogynists – but one can only be feminist if women’s emancipation trumps religion. Whilst people – even believers – can be feminists, religion cannot. Religion is fundamentally patriarchal and anti-woman.

It aims to police women’s behaviour and sexuality and defend male and by extension community and national ‘honour’. In identity-based ‘politics … women are seen not as individuals with rights but as bearers of their community’s honour, to be protected or raped, depending who they are‘. Daesh’s Yazidi sex slaves are the most heinous case in point.

‘Islamic feminists’ like Shirin Ebadi will say that women have full rights under Islam and if they don’t it is ‘not Islam at fault but patriarchal culture that uses interpretation to justify whatever it wants’.

Yet the Quran and Hadith are overflowing with anti-women rules and regulations. Stoning to death for adultery, for example, is in a Hadith, while wife beating is in the Quran.

Islamic feminists will say the mistreatment of women is because of ‘bad’ interpretations. The problem with ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ interpretations is that yours is just one of many. Even if you have a ‘good’ interpretation, it is the Islamists who decide. They run the state; they make the laws. But more importantly, are there ‘good’ interpretations that are good enough for 21st century women?

If you follow the ‘good’ interpretations, you will soon realise the absurdity of this line of defence.

Take Sura al-Nisa (the women), [the fourth chapter] in the Quran 4:34, where it says: ‘As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly) . . . ‘

‘Islamic feminists’ will say that men have been made to wait, are not obliged to beat their wives, and when they do, they must not leave marks and beat their wives with thin sticks…

These are the justifications of those who are more concerned with defending Islam, than defending women’s rights.

From a women’s rights perspective, no woman should be beaten – ‘disobedient’ or not. Full stop. End of story.

If you want women’s liberation, you cannot leave women’s rights and lives at the mercy of religious rules and interpretations.

You have to choose – do you side with women’s rights or religion – you cannot defend both as they are antithetical to each other.

The fight for women’s liberation is a fight against Islam and Islamism.

Also, it is a fight for secularism – the complete separation of religion from the state. Secularism is a precondition for women’s emancipation. Secularism is a women’s issue.

Rather than excuse and justify ‘good’ religious interpretations and ‘moderate’ or ‘reformist’ Islamists, it would serve our societies better to defend citizenship rights irrespective of beliefs. It would serve our societies better to insist on secularism and women’s equality – not western, not eastern but universal.

Long live women’s freedom.

Thank you.

 

  

 

در ٨ مارس٬ روز جهانى زن٬ فاك حجب و حيا

هر گاه كه اسلاميون به قدرت ميرسند، ابتدا سراغ زنان مى آيند و اين نشانه اى است از تخريب اوضاع؛ از اينرو كه معيار آزادى هر جامعه اى آزادى زنان است۔

اسلاميون و همچنان تمامى راست مذهبى ها، ضديت با زن را تا سطح يك هنر ارتقاء داده اند! آواز خوانى در اماكن عمومى، بلند خنديدن، اختلاط جنسیتی تا بى حجابى و تمكين نكردن زنان همه و همه براى خانواده، ملت و جامعه “خطرناك” محسوب ميشود و بايد كنترل و سركوب شود۔

در عصر سياست قبيله اى٬ “زنان نه افراد مستقل بلكه مسئول ناموس قبيله هستند و بسته به اينكه كه هستند يا بايد محافظت شوند يا مورد تجاوز قرار گيرند”۔ به بردگى جنسى كشيدن زنان يزيدى بوسيله داعش فجيح ترين نمونه آن است۔

حجب و حيا بازار بزرگى ست با سود سرشارى كه به قيمت خيل عظيم معترضين برپا شده است۔

خبرگزارى بلومبرگ كه روايت اسلام سياسى را خريده٬ آن را “انقلاب حجب و حيا” اعلام كرده است. اين در حالى است كه هيچ چيزى انقلابى در مورد كنترل زنان و بدن آنها بوسيله مذهب نيست۔

از سوزاندن جادوگران تا كمربند عفت و يا مهر هيسترى زدن به زنانى كه “گرايش به توليد دردسر دارند” تا گشت زهرا جمهورى اسلامى تا گوشت چين داعش براى كندن گوشت و پوست زنانى كه احيانا فراموش كرده اند دستكش  دست كنند، همه و همه جا مذهب و راست مذهبى نقش ضد انقلابى و در خدمت مردسالارى و سودآورى در حفظ وضع موجود و تحكيم موقعيت فرودست زنان بوده است۔

حجاب كه بطور مثال در غرب با بسته بندى فتيش شده و قابل پذيرش تبليغ و ترويج مى شود٬ در واقعيت با خشونت و كشتار و اسيد پاشى اعمال شده است و زن “بدحجاب” را مسئول همه بلاهاى دنيا مى شناساند؛ و زن “بى حيا” منبع هرج و مرج و فتنه در جامعه است۔

با اين تصوير، سياست چند فرهنگى و هويت عفت و حياى مذهبى را عادى ميكند و ‘جاى’ زن را در خانه و پشت درهاى بسته مى بيند۔ ناپديد و محو شده از اماكن عمومى۔

در تمام مذاهب و جريانات راست مذهبى٬ زن ایده آل آنى است كه ديده و شنيده نمى شود۔ ناپديد شدگان۔۔۔

به همين دليل است كه زن آزاده و “بى حيا” بزرگترين “مجرم” محسوب مى شود و مهمترين شكل مقاومت۔

در ٨ مارس روز جهانى زن جا دارد ياد آنانى كه مقاومت و مخالفت مى كنند را گرامى داريم.  مادران خاوران، زنانى كه در روژاوا برابرى جنسى را به ارمغان آورده اند، جنبش ضد حجاب در ايران، مبارزه عليه قانون حق سرپرستى مردان بر زنان در عربستان سعودى، مخالفين دادگاه هاى شريعه در الجزيره  و بريتانيا، زنانى كه عليه مودى و راست هندو در هند دست به مبارزه ميزنند، آنانى كه در پاكستان براى سكولاريسم مبارزه ميكنند و در اسرائيل عليه جدائى جنسى ميحنگند و و و۔

به جاى پوشيدن حجاب در “همبستگى” با زنان “مسلمان” و يا در كنار يك دسته فاشيست عليه دسته اى ديگر ايستادن، بهتر است همبستگى خود را با زنان “بد” و زنان “بى حيا و نا محجوب ” كه به تمكين “نه” گفتند را بزرگداشت و گرامى  بداريم. نه فقط در ٨ مارس بلكه همه روزها۔

زنده باد ۸ مارس

#فاك_حجب_و_حيا

On 8 March, International Women’s Day: Fuck modesty

My latest piece in The Freethinker to mark International Women’s Day.

Wherever Islamism gains power and influence, it comes for women first. And it’s always a sign of worse to come, hence the saying: ‘the freedom of society is measured by the freedom of women.’

Islamism but also the Christian-Right, Buddhist-RightJewish-RightHindu-Right, Sikh-Right … have turned misogyny into an art form. They police women’s behaviour and sexuality to make certain it doesn’t challenge male “honour”.

To ensure compliance, modesty rules are enforced by any means necessary – whether by threatening and shaming a Muslim woman twerking in public in Birmingham, spitting at an “immodest” 8 year old girl in Israel, disappearing the babies of unwed mothers in Ireland, barring women from straddling motorcycles and dancing in public places in Indonesia’s Aceh province and even stoning women to death in Iran in the 21st century.

“Immodesty” – anything from singing in public, laughing out loud, gender mixing, to the refusal to veil or conform – are deemed dangerous for the family, community, nation and society and in need of suppression and control.

In this “communally-based politics … women are seen not as individuals with rights but as bearers of their community’s honour, to be protected or raped, depending who they are”. ISIS’ Yazidi sex slaves are the most heinous case in point.

Modesty is big business, with profits made at the expense of innumerable dissenters.  Having bought into the narrative of the religious-Right, Bloomberg calls it a “modest revolution” despite the fact that there is nothing revolutionary about modesty or religion’s control over women and their bodies.

From witch-burnings, chastity belts, diagnoses of hysteria for women who had a “tendency to cause trouble” to the Iranian regime’s morality police and ISIS’ use of metal clippers to tear the flesh off any woman who might have forgotten to wear her gloves, religion and the religious-Right have always played a counter-revolutionary role in the service of patriarchy and profit and in favour of the status quo and women’s subservient status.

The veil, for example, whilst often sanitised and fetishised here in the west, has more often than not been imposed through brute force – from acid-attacks to assassinations – with unveiled or improperly veiled women blamed for every calamity under the sun. Immodest women are the source of chaos and fitnah in society.

Add to this, multiculturalism and identity politics, which legitimise and normalise religion’s “morality” that sees a woman’s “place” in the home, behind closed doors, erased and disappeared from the public space.  The far-Right, too, which juxtaposes its Christianity against a “foreign” Islam, spends much of its time defending “its” white women from the “other”, preventing mixing, and encouraging “our womenfolk to regard home and family-making as the highest vocation for their sex“.

In all religions and every religious-Right movement, the perfect “modest” and “moral” woman is the one who cannot be seen or heard.

That women refuse to comply is not thanks to religion or the religious-Right but despite all their efforts at terrorising women into submission.

That is why being a free and “immoral” woman is the greatest of “crimes” and the most potent form of resistance.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, it would do us good to commemorate the many who refuse and resist against all odds: the mothers of Khavaran, Kurdish women fighters bringing gender equality to Rojava, the unveiling movement in Iran, the fight against male guardianship rules in Saudi Arabia, those battling Sharia courts in Algeria and Britain, the women challenging Modi and the Hindu-Right in India, those fighting for secularism in Pakistan, and against gender segregation in Israel …

Rather than veiling in “solidarity” or standing with one set of fascists against another, we should be celebrating and honouring the “bad” women, “immodest” women, “immoral” women who have refused to submit. Not just on 8 March but every day.

One of the best ways to show this solidarity, is to reiterate the wise words of women dissenters:

#FuckYourMorals (Tunisian topless activist Amina Sboui)

#StruggleNotSubmission (Southall Black Sisters and Gita Sahgal)

And #FuckModesty.

Sharia Law is Incompatible with Human Rights

Sharia Law is Incompatible with Human Rights.

Interview with Chris Moos, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal on the Victory Against the Law Society.

Maryam Namazie: The Law Society has now withdrawn its Sharia-compliant guidance on wills and issued an apology. Why did you initiate a campaign against it? Was it not a lot of fuss over nothing as some initially said?

Pragna Patel: It is easy to characterise this campaign as a ‘fuss about nothing’. The same was also said about our campaign against gender segregation in universities. What both incidents have in common is the ways in which so-called Sharia laws and values are normalised in public and institutional life as a ‘way of life’. Education and the law are key sites of control that religious fundamentalists and conservatives target. If we allow these forces to capture these sites, it will become impossible for us to challenge gender discrimination and inequality. The Law Society and its supporters argue that the Practice Note merely reiterates the fundamental principle in law that testators are fee to leave their property to whomsoever they wish. This misses the point entirely that the Law Society does not exist to maintain discriminatory values in society but to challenge them. Our argument all along has been that it is a key legal institution that should be promoting a rights-based culture within the legal profession and the wider society and not a profoundly discriminatory Sharia-compliant culture.

Chris Moos: Quite to the contrary. We should remember that the Practice Note issued by the Law Society was supposed to “represent the Law Society’s view of good practice in a particular area”. Solicitors know that these Practice Notes will make it easier to account to oversight bodies for their actions.

Had the guidance not been withdrawn, solicitors would have not only felt encouraged, but possibly professionally obliged to advise Muslims to draw up wills that are clearly discriminatory. Unfortunately, some detractors used the initial reporting by right-wing media outlets to diminish this issue by claiming that “the law has not changed” – something we of course never claimed. But this case shows clearly that even without changes in the law, representative bodies like the Law Society can effectively facilitate discrimination against women and ‘illegitimate children’, particularly from minority backgrounds.

Gita Sahgal: At a minimum, the Law Society should ensure accuracy and good practice in a guidance note. It really shocked me that a professional body could get away with work that was shoddy and inaccurate as well being discriminatory. It is really hard to know where to start with the problems of the Note. What does ‘Sharia-compliant’ mean? The use of that term should ring alarm bells – since it moves the Law Society firmly into the realm of theology. The Centre for Secular Space works with lawyers in various countries in South Asia. Their point was that the Note failed to cite a single, actual law in any country. Family laws in many former British colonies are still governed by religion. But this was not a Note about the personal law system and would have provided no accurate guidance about how to negotiate that system, while finding legal ways to mitigate the effect of discriminatory laws. There are many good lawyers practising in countries which have Muslim personal laws (I suspect only fundamentalists pedal the term ‘Sharia-compliant’), who could have provided sound advice on the law (not theology). They certainly did not think this was a ‘fuss about nothing’. I think that in Pakistan and Bangladesh, they were appalled that the Law Society could have promoted the concept of ‘Sharia-compliance’ and the idea that their countries are law- free zones where mullahs are sources of legal advice. In case your readers haven’t studied the Note and other materials with the same attention we have, the Note advises going to the local mosque for advice.

From my legal colleagues, I was also given examples of case law which has an impact on the interpretation of statutory law. Even if the Law Society failed to grasp the personal law system – which is a colonial hangover, but doesn’t exist in Britain – you would think that they would know that all south Asian countries work under systems similar to British common law and depend on case law for their interpretations of the current state of law. Without a consideration of case law, even a precise description of statutory law would be useless.

Maryam Namazie: Part of the success of the campaign was that it took action on many fronts – from protesting on the streets to threats of legal action. Please explain.

Pragna Patel: Yes. The combination of legal and political action was very effective in this case and it was very important. The law itself is increasingly become a site of contestation between feminists and religious fundamentalists everywhere, including the UK. We have to use the law where we can, especially equality and human rights laws that have themselves come out of political struggles by women and others. But we also have to be alert to the fact these very tools are themselves under threat of subversion by religious fundamentalists when they are not seeking to exclude their application altogether in relation to women and other minorities. But the law cannot of itself help to safeguard or progress human rights. Ultimately transformation can only come about through sustained political pressure. That is why the protests outside the Law Society were important. They helped to make the struggle visible, to publicly shame the Law Society and to hold it to account in public.

Maryam Namazie: The Law Society apologised and said its intention was not to endorse discrimination. This is important in that it is usually opposition to Sharia law that is seen as “discrimination” against the “Muslim community”. What’s the significance of this?

Pragna Patel: The apology was significant for two important reasons: Firstly, it vindicated our stance: if the Law Society was right all along in maintaining that it was only reiterating the legal principle that testators are entitled to leave their property to whomever they wish and that the guidance was not in breach of equalities duties, then why issue the apology at all? I suspect that the Law Society fell under immense internal pressure from its members to recognise that its position was untenable in respect of promoting equality legislation and its own policies on equality. It was forced to recognise that the guidance has no precedence in law anywhere in the world. I also suspect that it realised that it had not consulted minority women in particular, whose rights the Law Society was encouraging other lawyers to violate!

Secondly, the Law Society’s apology is highly significant precisely because it is an acknowledgement that what is passed off as Sharia laws are nothing but highly discriminatory codes of conduct that are completely incompatible with human rights. This is the true significance of the Law Society’s withdrawal of the guidance and one which we must emphasise over and over again.

Maryam Namazie: It does feel like the tide is turning what with small victories over the Law Society, against the Universities UK’s guidance endorsing segregation of the sexes, as well as new investigations into Islamist “charities” or Islamist-led schools, which are issues we have been campaigning on for many years. Also with the rise of ISIS, people are beginning to see the distinctions between Islamists and Muslims and acknowledge our argument that Islamists are part of the religious-Right. Would you agree?

Pragna Patel: It does feel like the tide is turning but we must not forget that it wouldn’t be turning without the campaigns that we are waging, often in the face of hostility and opposition from elements of the Left and Right. What it tells us is that we must be eternally vigilant to the need to challenge religious fundamentalists, their apologists and state institutions that seek to accommodate religion in the misguided belief that the right to manifest religious belief can trump other equality concerns. We have a long way to go in ensuring that religion has no place at the public table, even though we have won these small but not insignificant victories.

Chris Moos: Yes, I would agree, but change is taking place slowly. After our victory, I contacted the authors of the articles that had branded opposition to the Practice Note as “another Sharia scare story” and “anti-Muslim conspiracy theories”. None of them apologised, or even acknowledged any wrong-doing. This is symptomatic. As many on the Left or the Right still think they are fighting the good cause by branding reactionary Islamist demands as the “demands of Muslims”, they continue to wilfully conflate and homogenise Islamism, Islam, Muslims, and individual citizens who happen to be Muslim. Given the high profile cases of Universities UK and the Law Society, some are now waking up to finally realise that it is exactly this attitude that contributes to the othering of Muslim citizens, but far too many are not. I recall with horror how feminists like Laurie Penny proudly declared that opposition to gender segregation amounted to “Islamophobia” and “an attack on yet another Muslim practice”, while New Statesman and Telegraph communists insisted that they “don’t mind” gender segregation, as it does not affect them. While these voices are becoming quieter, the underlying attitudes undoubtedly still exist.

Gita Sahgal: I think we are creating important examples of the use of human rights to control and contain extremism and fundamentalism. But there is a vast difference between winning the legal argument and achieving full implementation. Still, the widespread condemnation of the Law Society and the fact that they had to back down so comprehensively, should give them brief pause for thought. A lot of people are claiming this victory – including those who did nothing at all. Others were dangerous in saying that they would prefer better Sharia – thus failing to understand anything about the issue and making our lives more difficult. While these victories are important, we have to understand that we are facing a huge, powerful and concerted opposition. For every brick we remove from their argument, they will start building a wall. So I don’t think the tide is really turning. But there is a vocal progressive, secularism emerging which also opposes bigotry.

Maryam Namazie: What needs to happen next at various levels in government and public bodies and institutions for one law for all and citizenship rights to become a reality?

Pragna Patel: We need to safeguard the tools that we have to hold state and religious power to account because they are being taken away from us. Our very right to political protest and to access justice are rights that are under threat due to the combined impact of regressive state policies and austerity measures. What this tells us is that we need to connect our struggle against religious fundamentalism with struggles for access to justice, the right to political protest and to a welfare state. These struggles are indivisible. We cannot aspire to equality and freedom in one sphere of our lives alone. As feminists, our struggle has always been about freedom in the family, community and the state.

Chris Moos: What we have been seeing for years is that public bodies have been following a highly contradictory strategy. On the one hand, they are promoting extreme and ultra-conservative expressions of religion through multifaithist policies, for example in the area of faith schools. On the other hand, they are using illiberal measures to crack down on the extreme groups they had helped to flourish in the first place. Supporting non-violent extremists is still seen as an appropriate means of containing more extreme or violent groups. The problems we are seeing will not be resolved until both Conservatives and post-modernists Leftists stop using culture and religion for identity politics. In the end, public bodies will have to realise that secular neutrality in matters of religion and belief will help to address many of the issues that are haunting British civil society.

Maryam Namazie: Sharia law is highly contested here in Britain and elsewhere. Some use concern over Sharia to promote their anti-Muslim and xenophobic agenda – groups from the EDL to UKIP and Sharia Watch. Others oppose the likes of the Law Society’s endorsement of Sharia wills whilst defending “better interpretations” of Sharia law. What’s different in our strategy and principles and why should people be joining us? Also, is it not divisive to exclude some who want to join in the “fight against Sharia”?

Pragna Patel: I see our overall struggle as a struggle for social justice and democracy which includes the struggles against patriarchy, racism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism. If we believe in equality and democracy and the universality of these principles, we cannot then for the sake of political expediency, embrace the political and far-Right that use the struggle for secular laws as a cover for their anti-Muslim, racist and anti-immigration agenda. Our version of secularism unlike that of UKIP, EDL and others on the political right, is one that is rooted in wider struggles against inequality, racism and social injustice. However, unlike sections of the Left, we will not prioritise any of these struggles or apologise for serious harms committed against women and other minorities in our communities for the sake of defending so-called religious identities and communities which have come to be defined by illiberal and fundamentalist religionists. It is not us who are divisive and exclusionary. On the contrary, we wish to build a progressive movement that is inclusive of anyone and everyone so long as they share our vision of a just society in which secular human rights law and values prevail in our state institutions and in the public culture of all communities.

Chris Moos: Simply being “against Sharia” does not qualify anyone to be part of the struggle against the religious far-Right. We are fighting for secularism, equality, social justice and human rights. While they opportunistically might use the language of human rights or secularism, the likes of the EDL, UKIP, BNP or Pamela Geller have an agenda that is diametrically opposed to our goals. We also have to acknowledge that secularism is a political ideology. As such, we are moving in a political space where secularism is predominantly opposed by groups and parties on the Right, as well as the post-modernist Left. In today’s Britain, the fight for secularism thus necessarily goes hand in hand with a fight against these groups and their ideology.

Maryam Namazie: What are the next hurdles? Where must we go from here?

Pragna Patel: The hurdles are many and immense but we need to carry on doing what we do by forging wider alliances and solidarity with those that share our politics and objectives here and abroad. This task is easier said than done but we must use every space that is afforded to us to keep shouting and remain visible. By doing so, we can show that a more progressive, alternative world free from greed, violence and injustice is possible and within our reach.

Gita Sahgal: Our definition of fundamentalism and our argument for secularism is much better located in universal human rights than the government’s use of the term ‘extremism’ and the demand to sign up to British values. We have to go on making the positive arguments for secular space to be expanded and to go on limiting the spread of fundamentalist influence. We cannot do this without combating the idea that Muslims are not ethically capable of embracing full human rights and therefore must live within their religion controlled by some religious leader or other. In fact successive governments in Britain have chosen to use religious influence to contain Muslims. The Law Society example shows that the financial interest in making money out of ‘Sharia’ was likely to be a driver in this ridiculous Note. We also need to work further with people in other countries who see Britain as an exporter of fundamentalism and terrorism and not a promoter of freedom.

Pragna Patel is Director of Southall Black Sisters. Chris Moos is a Secular Activist and Gita Sahgal is Director of Centre for Secular Space.

Execution Is Itself The Murder Of A Human Being

‘Execution Is Itself The Murder Of A Human Being.’

Interview with Mina Ahadi.

The below is an edited transcript of a Bread and Roses TV interview with Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson for the International Committees against Execution and Stoning

Maryam Namazie: You have been unrelenting in your activism against execution and stoning. In your opinion, what is the significance of the struggle against execution and stoning?

Mina Ahadi: When I was young, I took part in the Iranian revolution. When the Islamic regime took power in Iran, we became witness to a government, which from day one, began executing and stoning to suppress people, to suppress women and in order to consolidate itself.

My life changed when I, as a woman, witnessed a stoning. After seeing and hearing about the first stonings, I was no longer the Mina Ahadi of the day before the incident. I felt if only the world understood what stoning was (which I too didn’t understand at the time; I said to myself what does it mean; what do they do?). By using the most modern tools, they would announce it on the radio and television, and then bring a living, breathing woman, wrap her in a shroud, and then some would surround her and throw stones at her – the majority were men and those linked to the regime – until she was tortured to death. At the time, the question for me was who killed this woman and why such brutality? The answer, in my opinion, was that it was meant to frighten those women who were watching on the sidelines.

The distance between an ordinary woman’s life until the ditch in which she is stoned is very short indeed in an Islamic state and under Sharia law. So it was important for me as a woman if I wanted to defend my own dignity, if I wanted to speak, if I wanted to not be fearful that I would face similar accusations of having a relationship with someone in my own home, if I wanted to defend women’s rights, I would have to struggle against stoning. In many ways, my life has become intertwined with this issue. I have been active against stoning for many, many years. Not only this, but I can hear the voices of those condemned to stoning: their words, their faces, their memories. It must be noted that after many years the struggle has reached a place where the Islamic regime of Iran has been forced to stop stoning de facto.

Also, briefly on the issue of execution. Execution is also an important issue in Iran and countries under Islamic rule and generally throughout the world. I am opposed to execution everywhere but when it comes to Iran and countries like Iran, execution is an important tool to intimidate people, to terrorise them. If we want to defend people, workers, women, youth… we are forced to struggle against execution. At the same time, for me as a human being, it is important to do so. Can you believe that I have the voices of 18 people on death row saved on my phone? When one hears their voices, one cannot remain silent and not act.

Maryam Namazie: When we look at the situation of executions in Iran, it’s a very clear example of the repugnance of Sharia law and also the very act of execution. Can you speak about this?

Mina Ahadi: When I go to various conferences and speak, many say that executions take place in the United States too. I know that execution in any place is inhuman and brutal and must be prohibited everywhere. But when I compare the judicial system of the Islamic regime of Iran with other countries, then I can say without reservation that Iran and countries like it don’t have courts that properly examine cases.

For example, in certain criminal offences, let’s say when a murder takes place, even before investigating the crime or looking at evidence, they beat and torture the accused. They want a murderer right away; the first person they get their hands on will do. Lawyers don’t have permission to speak. The judge has full say based on Sharia law. I have seen a case where the judge opened Khomeini’s book, looked through it and then condemned the person to death! It is fundamentally a system of suppression. It is a criminal system. In my opinion, very little has been said about this in the world. I personally think we should say that this is fascism, Islamic fascism. And anyone who is brought before the court – be they a political activist, atheist, drug addict, or woman who has committed murder – it doesn’t matter. No one has any rights in those courts. In my opinion, this is an important issue. You know, in Iran, we are dealing with a regime for which killing is the easiest of tasks. It is because of this that we see such high numbers of executions. They have executed thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of atheists merely for not believing in God. They have executed hundreds of drug addicts…

There are many in prison right now who I call the “reserve army”. Whenever the regime feels there is unrest somewhere, they execute ten of these people without it being known why they were even arrested in the first place. I have spoken to and I’m in contact with a lot of families. One says, for example, they stashed drugs in her husband’s shop then arrested him because he was known and well respected in their neighbourhood and an opponent of the regime. This is how the system works.

Maryam Namazie: A number of human rights groups critical of the executions refer to unfair trials and say that the outcome would be different if the trial was fair under the current system – that the person wouldn’t have been executed. Is that how it is? You mentioned how this is not the case, but can you explain further?

Mina Ahadi: In Iran we are faced with a movement which calls itself “reformist”; it has been part of the regime. At times they have had some problems and been pushed out of the government. In my opinion, they have always tried to make justifications for executions, to make it ‘relative’ as the Germans say. They raise the issue of “arbitrary” executions, or the large numbers killed as if execution in and of itself has any legitimacy. In my opinion, execution is a tool for suppression everywhere. Execution is not a response to anything. I’d like to talk here about Reyhaneh Jabbari, the most recent case we are working on. She was 19 years old. Someone wanted to rape her. She used a knife from the house and fled. She didn’t want to be raped. They arrested her and took her to court but first they tortured her and pulled out her toenails in order to get a confession. Then they took her to court and condemned her to execution for premeditated murder. There was no examination into the attempted rape, the manner in which women are treated in society, the society’s role in this incident… They didn’t look into why she went there in the first place – because she was looking for a job to earn money. All these are relevant. They deny society an investigation into the phenomenon and immediately issue execution orders. In this instance, it is an official of the regime who has been killed so it has also become a security matter.

Maryam Namazie: The reality is that you have saved a lot of people from stoning and execution with your efforts in the International Committees against Stoning and Execution. Pressure is effective even in situations where things seem hopeless.

Mina Ahadi: Now that you have given me the opportunity, I would like to defend the type of work we do. Many times when I do interviews, I will be told that we need to struggle in general and fight for the overthrow of the Islamic regime of Iran. They will ask why we focus on specific campaigns like this. In my opinion, a degree of the success of the International Committees against Stoning and Execution has been our focus on specific cases. If you look at London, where we are now, or anywhere else in the world, if you want to get the attention of your neighbour, if you want to move them, you must have a photo; you must be able to show life. You can’t just say thousands have been executed, come protest with me. You can say this but in order to be able to have an impact in this world you must be able to say: look at this picture; it’s someone like you who needs your help in Iran or they want to execute her. We’ve been very successful in this way. In my opinion, what we did was to give a face to those on death row. We defended the dignity of those condemned to execution or stoning in Iran. We tried to bring their cases to the world’s attention and not only their attention but to join their hearts with, for example, a woman in Iran called Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was at risk of stoning. I think these activities – the characteristics of which are also very important in today’s world – have had a huge impact in making the world take notice. If anyone wants to look at our work or give us credit, it should be because we created a platform and conditions so that the person who is strolling in a park and has many problems of their own from work and so on, can have an opportunity to intervene when they are saddened to hear that someone is facing death by stoning. With a click, with a demonstration, with a donation, with a protest action, they can share in taking a stand in the worldwide opposition to stoning.

Maryam Namazie: Apart from the important role of saving individual lives, another crucial role that you have played has been to make the fight against execution into a widespread social issue. There is a social movement in Iran which doesn’t necessarily yet exist in many countries like the US. In my opinion, that role is very important. How to do see the social aspect of the struggle against executions?

Mina Ahadi: I think you raise a good point. In Iran, there is very clearly a movement against executions that doesn’t exist in China, for example, even though there are many executions there. I say this often. In the streets of London, Paris, or wherever I go, I always see a group of people with placards protesting against executions in Iran. You don’t see these types of scenes very often with regards to executions in China or the US.

In my opinion, too, in Iran this is the case because of the widespread executions, the brutality of the Islamic regime, but also because of the existence of an opposition which has focused on this issue. We must close the file on those who claim to defend human beings whilst remaining silent on the daily executions. I often say that you must pull down the shutters of any political party which doesn’t speak about the executions in Iran. We have focused on this issue, have been active, and not just by issuing press releases, which is also important. We have cried with the families, have raced against time with the mothers to save the lives of their loved ones. We have been in direct contact with prisoners themselves, interviewed them, organised international actions. This as well as the fact that people in Iran have become active, including the families, artists… Reyhaneh’s campaign has been very interesting. Iranian artists, in Iran and abroad, have spoken about it. And what has happened now is the “movement for forgiveness”. It’s important.

This morning when I first woke up like every morning, I checked to see how many had been executed. Unfortunately this is a part of my life to see how many they have executed every day. A year ago when I came to London I had to speak somewhere and said that the regime had executed 11 people that day. When I looked at the news today, I saw instead that they had taken 6 people from Rajaieshahr prison to execute them; however, 3 of them were forgiven by the victims’ families at the gallows itself. 2 were given a chance to reconsider. 1 person was unfortunately executed from the 6. This shows that the scaffolds are falling. This is very important. From 6 people! I came happily to this programme because I said to myself, people are moving beyond the gallows.

If anyone wants the Islamic regime to be overthrown, its gallows must be overthrown first. Now, three people from Rajaieshahr prison were forgiven today. This movement for forgiveness is important. As a result of daily experiences, people have seen that executions are pointless. The Islamic regime brings in the families of the victims into the execution process. Now victims’ families are saying “no” to execution. I have contacts in Iran. The families are saying: “if I don’t forgive, people, my neighbours, won’t look at me”. This is what is happening.

Maryam Namazie: Why should there be no executions in Iran or elsewhere?

Mina Ahadi: Execution is premeditated murder. It’s cold-blooded murder. A state decides to kill someone! Anyone can clearly understand that no one has the right to kill a human being – whatever the reason. Often governments will say “you have killed someone so we will kill you”. Whilst that very person – those sentenced to death in Iran are saying this themselves – ordinary prisoners like Reyhaneh – are saying they did it under extraordinary circumstances. The state is doing it in such a cold-blooded manner. Execution is the premeditated murder of people and it must be abolished from human society. No one, no state, no group has the right to kill a person – whatever the reason. Execution is itself the murder of a human being and must be prohibited. But execution is now a political phenomenon. With execution, they create fear; fascists stay in power via executions. States create a climate of terror. The fight against execution is also important from this point of view. We want the abolition of execution in all countries. Social problems must be addressed and solutions found. But one principle is important. However much humanity has advanced, respect for the human being has increased – even respect for the accused. Even respect for the rights of those found guilty of murder. Of course these matters must be investigated but execution is a phenomenon that must be abolished across the world because it is premeditated murder and it is the most important violation of human rights.

Mina Ahadi is the Spokesperson for the International Committee against Execution.

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