Whatever they may say or fail to say vis-à-vis Islamic patriarchy, Western feminists will be shamed. They are scolded for assuming that Muslim women cannot fight ‘their own’ battles. When non-Muslim feminists attempt to lend their support to girls like the Birmingham Hijabi who was threatened with death by ultra-conservative Muslims after merely ‘twerking’ in Muslim religious dress, they are told that they lack authority to speak on such matters, since Muslims or ex-Muslims are “uniquely placed” to understand and “accurately discern” the position of individuals like the Birmingham Hijabi. On the other hand, in contradiction to this, Western feminists are told that ex-Muslim and Muslim feminists deserve every shred of support that mainstream society can afford them. Translation: Western feminists must silently “support” those who are silenced. I fail to see how this conflicting set of demands will lead to anything other than complete silence about ultra-conservative Islam’s religious or cultural strictures on women and girls.
Several months ago, I publicly expressed support for the Muslim and ex-Muslim liberal secularists who opposed Britain’s Shari’a courts. A Muslim woman friend told me in confidence that she was appalled that Western women were endorsing (in conjunction with some Muslim women) Shari’a courts in the UK, but she also confided that she was afraid to express this view publicly from fear of retaliation from members of her community. This friend is a confident, outspoken, self-employed member of her community. I was genuinely surprised to learn that she had succumbed to intimidation.
Western feminists are in a bind. One minute they are scolded for “othering” Muslims, the next minute they are told that they cannot presume to share any common ground with them anyhow. This constant vacillation achieves several outcomes:
(1) Identity politics is little more than classic divide-and-rule political strategy. It weakens liberalism from within, thereby eliminating the need for illiberal religious ideologies to attack social liberal principles from the outside. Direct assaults on liberal values only tarnish the image of the assailant. Islamism avoids this ‘image problem’ by resorting to identity politics, which works by splitting liberals’ loyalties, forcing a false dilemma between two of their core values: racial equality and feminism. This tactic dismantles opposition to the dominant ideology (patriarchy/male chauvinism) from within, thus preventing a united front. The tactic works by transforming every feminist conversation about patriarchal power into a conversation about “racism within the women’s movement” or about how “white feminists dominate the discussion.” Thus, internal conflicts dominate the women’s movement so that it never gathers sufficient momentum to be a force against the actual (common) enemy: patriarchy. This strategy has worked time and time again to derail solidarity between women of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Differences between feminists are always stressed over and above their common socio-political status vis-à-vis patriarchy.
(2) As mentioned above, would-be Western defenders of Muslim women’s rights are kept in a state of permanent anxiety through role conflict. The demands on the subject vacillate between two poles (speak out with Muslim feminists against Islamic patriarchal sexism -vs.- don’t patronise Muslim feminists) so frequently that she never knows where she stands or how to comply with expectations, which constantly shift from one pole to the other, making her guilty whether she defends Muslim women or not. This tactic also isolates Muslim feminists by allowing female Islamists to treat their version of “feminism” as normative within “the Muslim community.” The result is that genuine (non-Islamist) Muslim feminists are isolated and marginalised, while Western feminists become stressed, anxious and diffident to the point of complete self-doubt and incompetency.
(3) So ambitious is their contrition and craving to atone for unconscious sins against perceived victims, that Western feminists will do almost anything to compensate. Sweet relief comes when they are showered with praise and admiration after standing up for the “correct” Muslims: namely, the ones who say that Muslim women do not need anyone else to stand up for them. The irony in this would be risible if it weren’t so utterly destructive of women’s empowerment. Islamists have dominated the East-West ‘feminist’ discourse at universities, which is where most of the rhetoric about who is allowed to speak for whom has been disseminated. Threats and violent opposition are unnecessary when you can control your subject using positive reinforcement. In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement appeals to the desire to feel good or to earn intangible rewards for performing the “correct” behaviour. Chirping from the P.C. script leads to pleasant emotional outcomes, making it far more likely that the behaviour will be repeated again in the future. Margaret Thaler Singer, PhD is considered a leading global expert on how mind control works. In her seven-point list of mind-control techniques, university academics will probably have experienced some form of all but the first two.
Ad Hominem, Reversed
The Ad Hominem (‘at the man’) fallacy is a diversion tactic that has worked in spades for regressive illiberal politics. The substance of this fallacy is that people, rather than the ideas they express, become the object of the argument. In effect, this form of misdirection has resulted in the view that certain types of people (the “privileged”) lack authority to speak on certain issues because of their gender, ethnicity, or cultural / religious membership. The reverse of this is that only if they come from the lips of certain ‘types’ of people can certain ideas have any validity. On this view, the quality of an individual’s argument is less important than the qualities of the person making it. This makes gender or race the primary determinant of a person’s reasoning capacities. It also suggests that a person who has some character flaw can never say anything that is true, irrespective of his/her personal qualities.
As I have argued elsewhere, identity is not determined by biological sex or skin colour. Indeed, it is not determined at all, but chosen. Being a feminist is all about supporting public policies that treat women and men as equals, legally, morally or ideologically. Believing that men and women should share common rights, opportunities and civil liberties does not require having a vagina, nor does it require any particular cultural background. Being anti-racist does not require having brown skin or growing up as a victim of racism. If it did, Westerners would not be so susceptible to the kind of manipulation-by-guilt that Islamists have exploited time and again. Regardless of what is between their legs, or what policies their community may prescribe, individual human agents decide (using the stuff between their ears) what to value, and the degree of importance they will give to their biological sex, their religious upbringing, their national traditions or cultural customs.
White American abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) pushed the boundary of acceptable thoughts and activism regarding slavery by engaging in armed opposition to it, even to the point of killing. His ideological influence was immense. Brown’s radical acts made mere verbal abolitionism seem less extreme and paved the way for its acceptance. After their initial revulsion to his views, both Northerners and Southerners were fascinated to hear what he had to say when they saw that he was prepared not just to kill but even to go to the gallows for the emancipation of slaves. In his speech before the court, on Nov. 2, 1859, just before the judge sentenced him to die, Brown stated that he the Bible itself had instructed him to “remember them that are in bonds as bound with them.”
Historians tainted Brown with insanity from the time of his death until the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, at which time, Americans finally recognised that one did not have to be insane to die for black equality.
In some ways the accusations of ‘madness’ and misrepresentations of Brown resemble the character assassinations leveled against Western feminists who advocate for Muslim women’s full human rights today. Individuals who advocate for the most disenfranchised minorities ahead of their time can expect to become objects of public misrepresentation.
Terri (PhD) is an author, blogger, and has taught philosophy and film studies in Secondary and Adult Education for over ten years