March 8th saw the World celebrate International Women’s day. The empowerment of women worldwide, battling both religious and political, as well as patently institutional misogyny and oppression for centuries, honoured with a day of remembrance for those who fought, and a day of thoughtfulness for the reasons why the battles for empowerment were fought and continue to be fought. It’s a battle that has been waged for centuries and is still a key issue. Over the course of the 21st Century, women in Parliament has been a major issue. John Stuart Mill’s wonderful essays on women’s rights paved the way for women in Parliament. There are currently 143 female MPs in the Commons. That means, of the 650 MPs, 507 of them are men. There is still a way to go, but our society is moving in the right direction, and has been for decades, albeit, too slowly. We must support the forward direction of equality, we must not succumb, or accommodate pointless gender inequality in public life.
During a debate between Hamza Tortzis and Lawrence Krauss at University College London, the people putting on the event – Islamic Education and Research Academy – enforced a policy of gender segregation for the seating in the theatre, based on Islamic ‘values’. A male section, a female section, and a mixed section. Krauss got up and refused to debate until the segregation policy was dropped. Male students sitting in the female only section in protest, were forcibly removed. One of the students said:
“It was clear that the segregation was still in effect as when I sat in the same aisle as female attendees I was immediately instructed by security to exit the theatre. I was taken to a small room with IERA security staff and an organiser named Mohammad who told me that the policy was actually given to IERA by UCL. Shocked, I said that I would like to return to my seat but was told that security would now remove me from the premises for refusing to comply with the gender segregation.”
Mohammad Ansar, of “Muslims found America, and interbred with the Natives, before the Europeans got there… there are ancient Mosques in Texas to prove it!!” fame, told twitter, that to deny the right of Muslims to segregate according to gender, was an attack on the rights of Muslim women. Here:
– Yes. The right of Muslims to walk into a secular lecture theatre, in UCL, a beacon of secular thought, and demand special treatment by refusing access for others to certain areas based on their particular brand of ‘faith’, regardless of whether or not a person is Muslim (apparently, non-muslims must succumb to the ‘rights’ of Muslims to tell them to sit where they’re told, or leave), areas that aren’t their’s to decide who gets to sit within in the first place. I’m not sure why we must put Islamic values ahead of any others. Why not ask the room if there’s anyone who wishes to segregate based on shoe size? Or race? Or eye colour? Why must Islam be given the distinct pleasure of enforcing who may sit where in a public space? Why weren’t non-believers given the apparent ‘right’ to choose how the room should be segregated?
Contrary to what Ansar seems to be suggesting, UCL did not tell Muslim women that they MUST sit next to men. There was no “dictating” to Muslims at all. It was Muslims attempting to dictate to everyone else, and then complaining when people weren’t going to stand for that nonsense. UCL simply have a free seating policy. Sit where ever you wish. They do not base seating, or any other policy, on religious demands. There is no infringement of any right going on here. if UCL were forcibly telling Muslim women that they must sit next to a man, that they have no choice, then yes, rights would be abused. That wasn’t the case. Ansar is manipulating the situation, to appeal to the victim mentality espoused by the faithful when they don’t get to force their principles upon the rest of us.
The outward display of faith; the public enforcement of inner faith, is dangerous, anti-secular by definition, and must be rejected in a free and secular society.
A Muslim man or woman should be allowed to choose where they wish to sit, in a public theatre. They cannot enforce it on others,
Other arguments for accepting gender segregation came thick and fast from those defending systems of apartheid:
– The issue is quite simple. Firstly, who gave Muslims the special right to decide how seating should be arranged, in a secular university, in a public space? The rules of the institution, and the rules of secular, liberal democracy dictate that you cannot take over the setting, and create a little Theocratic haven for your faithful.
Enforcing religiously motivated apartheid, does not fit in with the society in which it is attempting – unsuccessfully – to place itself. Regardless of the completely backward and immoral sentiment of segregation based on gender; the policy of gender segregation is not permitted in our society, it is something we have grown out of. Deal with it. The argument was that Muslim women may feel uncomfortable sitting next to a man. As if that’s an acceptable argument. We would be rightly shocked if a white man declares he wishes an enforced policy where by he doesn’t have to sit next to a black man, because he feels uncomfortable around him, and that if a black man does sit next to him, he be removed. We should say, either deal with it, or leave. If a woman feels uncomfortable merely sitting next to a man, then shouldn’t we be addressing that issue sensibly rather than giving in to it as a fact of life? Isn’t giving into that feeling of ‘uncomfortable’ as a fact of life that should be appeased rather than educated against, anti-gender equality in itself?
You have no right to impose your religious ‘beliefs’ on others, nor do others have any necessity to accommodate your religious ‘beliefs’. They are personal to you, and you alone. And secondly, by accommodating outdated and irrational ‘fears’ or dogma without questioning it, or protesting it, we perpetuate it. If you feel you might be too uncomfortable sitting next to a male in a public setting; where it’s likely that there will be males, freely sitting where ever they wish, because, you know, this isn’t Saudi Arabia, then you’re going to struggle leaving the house at all. Should buses be segregated in case a Muslim woman feels uncomfortable? Should we have Muslim and non-Muslim shop entrances? Should we consult Mo Ansar and other apparent ‘moderates’ whenever the government makes policy, to ensure it is agreeable to the doctrines of Islam? We are told it is just a ‘small group of extremists’ who demand such special treatment. It isn’t. It is the faith. Like Catholicism, Islam is not a private system of spirituality. It demands public intervention and special treatment. Ansar agrees:
When your “public” faith demands special treatment within a society that is built on not allowing any special treatment to religion, and it imposes itself on a public space, and forces those who do not belief in your horrid little myths to comply by your standards, with the threat of removal…. you simply act to knock down an important factor within a liberal secular democracy; that of gender equality. Must you comply by those standards? Yes. This is a secular nation. In public, your faith has no right to impose itself.
It doesn’t matter if you provide a “mixed” section. The idea of a “mixed” section itself, is abhorrent. There should be no need for it. The fact that you have segregated areas perpetuates the notion that men and women are fundamentally to be treated differently, even within a public arena, for the most absurd reasons. This is a notion that has been fought against, and at great loss to those fighting for it over the centuries. It is a Western tradition we should be proud of, and suspicious of any sect that wishes to dismantle it. Gender equality has been a central theme in the fight for equal rights within our system. And so to have a dictatorial, misogynistic cult demand special treatment, shouting “you’re attacking our rights!” (usually this translates to; you’re attacking our perceived right to impose our public display of faith on the rest of you) at not getting their way, is a slap in the face of everything a decent, free and equal society strives to fight for. It is a step backward. A regressive move.
A second issue, is that it really does not do Islam any favours in its attempts to integrate into a Western, liberal society. We are already tremendously suspicious of the treatment of women in Islamic nations, that any sort of replication of those policies in a liberalised Britain, greatly increase those suspicions and I think we absolutely have a right to feel completely offended by such attacks on the fabric of a secular and liberal democracy that finds gender discrimination to be totally unacceptable.
Another grave problem is that there is no room for argument. The fight for female equality has been one based on reason. We progress when we engage in reason and when those points of reason are stronger, and more self evident than previous. With Islamic segregation based on gender; it is absolute. The is no willingness to accept they may be wrong. And so we must always give in to gender segregation, regardless of how irrational it is. This is totalitarianism and it has no place.
Up until 1979s, the Mormon Church preached and taught that being black meant that you were Satan’s representatives on Earth. This stems back to the 2nd President of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young saying of mixed race marriages:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain” (Black people were considered the descendants of Cain), “the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so”
– If we are to be consistent in our requirement to suspend secularism in favour of religious bigotry, we must argue that if the Mormon Church had not changed their position (they did so, only to accommodate mixed-race converts in South America), it would be acceptable, in a debate between a Mormon and an Atheist, to split the room between black seating, white seating and mixed seating. The problem is obvious. We further perpetuate the racial divide, if only psychologically, by ensuring that in a public space, in a nation that does not base its politics or its institutions on race, there is a clear divide based on race. If we were to put on, in a public space, an event that whites could only sit with whites, and black with black, along with a mixed area, because a few white supremacists do not feel comfortable with the possibility that they may have to sit next to a black person, we would tell them to grow up, modernise their horrendously regressive views, and either accept it, or stay at home. It is absolutely no different with gender.
Everyone, in public life, in a public arena has a right to sit where ever they wish. The imposing of unchallengeable dogmas on public spaces, is the absolute antithesis of a free and open society.
A public forum, in a secular institution, should not give special attention to any system of belief. As an Atheist, I am under no obligation to bend to the rules of Islam, in a public place. I am not under any obligation to be told where I can and cannot sit. It is wrong. In the same way that as an Atheist, I have no right to go into a private place of worship, and start reciting The Origin of Species.
– “Inalienable human right”. A bit of a play on Jefferson there. And yet, sadly, about 1500 years behind even the 18th century. I am not sure if Ansar is commenting on privately segregating yourself, or it being enforced through public policy, as was the case at UCL. How is it anyone’s human right, to enforce human segregation based on gender, in a public space, in a nation that is not built on gender equality? And what is immodest about sitting next to a man during a debate? It is your right, to sit where ever you wish, based on your private decision. Not on enforced Theocratic values. And it’s always something to behold, that the ‘modesty’ really only ever seems to apply to the treatment of women. And how modest it is, for a person of faith to hijack secular institutions and enforce policies based on their faith alone. How very modest.
And why is it just the idea of faith that is allowed to segregate? Why not other ideas? In a debate between Socialists and Capitalists, why not split the room in two between them? In a debate in which one of the participants is ginger, the other auburn, split the room according to that? Why is it only one ‘idea’ we must all capitulate to? If, during a debate between Nationalism and Liberalism, the Nationalists wish to split the room along what they weakly consider to be “homogeneous British” lines, we would rightfully call it unacceptable, racist, xenophobic, and fascist. But they base it on their ‘faith’ in their ideology. So what is the difference?
Mo Ansar is not as moderate as he likes to think. His vision of a society is one that permits Islam a special dispensation from secular notions, is incredibly dangerous. He does not understand, that not getting his way; not getting his principles installed within a religious-free environment, is not an attack on his rights. This should be opposed by every right thinking person.
But it isn’t just Islam.
Students and parents at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Indiana have decided they wish to have a prom in which gay couples are not allowed. One of the special education teachers Diana Medley, said:
“We don’t agree with it (homosexuality), and it’s offensive to us.”
– This bigotry and a belief in apartheid based on faith alone, should be offensive to us all. It should be fought at every opportunity. They then tend to tell us that by stopping this sort of apartheid-in-practice, we are trampling on their rights as Christians. It is of course, nonsense. The slow and methodical imposing of Theocratic principles, on everyone other than themselves, is totalitarian, and represents the epitome of the denial of rights, and imperialism. What for the rights of gay men and women not to be bullied, or viewed as different, and somehow unequal, stigmatised and told they are unnatural? What about those rights? The only reason gay people have been so badly mistreated, and continue to be, is religion. Sexuality, as pointed out in a previous entry, has many genetic elements. So, exchange the word “homosexuality” for “black” or “people with brown hair” or “women” (not a problem for Islam) and you will notice just how bigoted it becomes. For a school to say “We don’t want anyone with blue eyes coming to the Prom, they offend us” would have no place in a decent society because it perpetuates such a vicious notion, that they are different and should be viewed as such, simply for whom they choose to love. We must be be afraid to say that we find systems of social structures based on race, gender or sexuality (genetic) apartheid to be wholly wrong. Cloaking your bigotry behind outdated myths that have no basis in reality, and are refuted by genetics, does not make you any less wrong, nor your beliefs any less wrong.
The problem is the difference between private spirituality, and an outward public enforcement of religious belief. The latter, being completely unacceptable. The religious have uncompromising, unquestionable faith that transcends the ages and is rooted firmly in ancient myths and ideals which they believe to be unchallengeable. Islam is an ideology as well as a faith, as Ansar makes clear; it is public, private, and defines their lives entirely. There is no room for questioning. We apparently must accept that Islam deserves a special place in a secular society. Hamza Tortzis refers to this as his “objective” anchor for morality. Mehdi Hasan thinks any slight criticism to be “Islamophobic” yet he himself has no worry referring to non-believers as unintelligent cattle, who live like animals. It is his right to think and to say such insulting things, and I accept that. And I have always accepted, It is your right to be as bigoted as you wish, in your own personal space. You may debate in open, your bigotry, you may argue your point. You have the freedom of expression to allow that. The moment you start to force it upon others in the public arena; taking over public spaces in secular societies and institutions and imposing your fundamentalist anti-humanist principles like telling people where they can’t sit based on your myths, then you become a Theocratic danger. You do not have an inherent right to do that. And if you think we therefore trample on your rights for that, fine, i’m happy to accept that.
Gender segregation cannot and should not be tolerated, and applying the phrase “But it’s my religion” is not an acceptable excuse for perpetuating an inequality that has been, and is being fought against.
The World Health Organisation defines Gender as:
“the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”
– We know that Islam is far more distinct with gender roles, in far more ways than the Western World, based entirely on their horrific notions of ‘modesty’. We know that women are not equal to men, in Islamic societies. But that is not the ‘given society’ that they inhabit, in the UK. The ‘given society’ in this case, is secular, with no preference in a public space given to a religion, nor to gender inequality based on archaic religious texts. We inhabit a society based, among other qualities, on equality of gender (though it still has its flaws in that department). That equality is built into the framework that all cultures must adhere to, and not try to break down. We are not an Islamic society. Public space in a secular setting is not given over to Islamic demands, nor special treatment of that sort, nor should it be. If you think this attacks your rights to privately practice your faith, and that you do not like an institution within that ‘given society’ telling you that you do not have any inherent right to disregard that system at the behest of your particular faith; then you really do not belong in a secular society. You are attempting to pervert it, for Theocratic principles. We only defeat outdated and irrational views on race, or gender, or sexuality, by not giving into them and openly debating them. The fight for gender equality has a long and tremendous history. Religious regression and bigotry is just another obstacle that it must over come.
When a show of public faith so firmly contradicts the basis of secular, liberal society; then it must not be tolerated nor accepted.