A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Moral Cowardice Blinds us to Abuse of Muslim Women

'Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice' - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I was appalled - but not in the least bit surprised - to see the Guardian triumphantly declaring that British Muslims 'are at last finding their voice.' This is, out of all the major national papers, the one most responsible for silencing all criticism of Islamic culture as 'xenophobia' or 'Islamophobia,' thereby helping to ensure that scholars and studies that were speaking out never saw the light of day. There are, or were, plenty of people helping Muslim women find their voice - Theo van Gogh, Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to name but three. They raised issues such as forced marriages, female genital mutilation, and honour crimes. The Guardian's response, and that of its readership, was not to join them, but to deride them - as fascists, racists, Islamophobes, and bigots, often without justification. Pim Fortuyn, assassinated in 2002 by a left-wing activist, was in fact a 'reformed' Communist, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim herself. As a newspaper, it cannot now celebrate, or claim, a cause which others worked so hard for - and even gave their lives for - and which it did its best to discredit and disenfranchise. Not only that, but the 'victory' it claims has been achieved is not even close.

It celebrates the proliferation of 'women's networks and forums,' feminist groups and support groups, neglecting to mention, of course, that all the women who would have access to these things are the ones who - the whole spectrum of fundamentalist misogyny is considered - need them least. That they can access these services is proof that they can, at least, read and write. Many women cannot. They can leave the house without a male family member watching their every move. Many women cannot. They are at least aware that someone is out there offering help. Many women are not. Take a look at the two women in the photo: jewellery, make-up - luxuries that would be denied to many of those who need more than anyone else for the spotlight to fall on them, a spotlight that - even as the Guardian declares victory - continues to pass them by.

Now, a lot of the 'denialists' out there (only using their words against them) continue to insist that these women don't exist, that they're figments of a right-wing imagination. We can see in the comments on that article that a significant portion of the populace is willing to disregard them entirely, portraying them as attempts to build up support for a war with Iran. This is utopian ignorance in the extreme. Although we do not see or hear from them in our daily life, or even know that many of them are in the country, we can infer from statistics that there are plenty of them. It was revealed that one hundred thousand women in the UK may have undergone female genital mutilation. I'm willing to bet that very few of them would have opted to do so voluntarily, given that it's incredibly painful, and most of them were toddlers at the time. So there must have been male or female relatives encouraging the practice. Every one of them would have female relations - mothers, sisters, aunts, or daughters - and so, for every one woman that we know about, there logically has to be many more that go unnoticed. The same could be said of statistics for forced marriage, honour crimes, spousal abuse, rape within marriage, and social disenfranchisement: what we see is but the tip of the iceberg, and many campaigners and pressure groups have said as such.

It is time to stop the ceaseless whataboutery: it doesn't matter that fundamentalist Muslims are the minority. It doesn't matter if many of the women subjected to abuse are illegal immigrants. No-one should be a patriarchal pawn in modern Britain, and, irrespective of their right to be here, they have set foot on British soil, which has a tradition of making slaves free. It's high time that the subject of female emancipation - socially, legally, financially, and politically - was brought to conservative Islamic neighbourhoods in the UK. For starters, the requirement for both partners to speak English to a reasonable standard before they are allowed to enter the country, or receive state benefits, the removal of bilingual education, the supervision of religious schools and places of worship known for the fundamentalism of their preachers, and, last but not least, a government which is not afraid to put more police on the streets, and a greater presence in the communities where this abuse is more likely to take place. The prevailing moral cowardice and insecurity on the part of the authorities is leading to the de facto tolerance of fundamentalist hate - not just misogyny, but the outright abuse and enslavement of tens of thousands of British women and girls.


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