I’m a liberal feminist. To me, this means promoting liberal values for all.
I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in an exceptionally left-wing environment. Studying human rights at the University Of Ottawa, I was saturated in the ideas of white supremacy, cultural imperialism and the critique of irresponsible, neo-colonialist policies of western governments. I drank up the information. I became the person who broached these subjects at parties;making everyone uncomfortable by disrupting the status-quo. I actually enjoy the awkwardness, especially when it was traditional, conservative views being challenged.
I’ve always found myself allied with people who identify as feminists, socialists, liberals, environmentalists, womanists, progressives (etc.) and the LGBTQ+ community… aka the LEFT WING.
We all stand for liberal values, right? We all believe in promoting human rights for all, right? How great is that!
Maryam Namazie at Goldsmith’s University
I was astounded by the way Maryam Namazie was treated at Goldsmith’s University last week.
If you aren’t familiar with Maryam, you can find her personal blog here . I also recommend looking up some of her talks on youtube where she discusses issues like women’s rights under Islam, honour killings, and secularism.
Maryam was invited by the Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society (AHS) to give her presentation entitled “Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS.” Personally, I think this is something the people of Britain clearly need to talk about, given the amount of young Muslims who have left the country to join ISIS.
Goldsmith’s Islamic Society’s Student Union (ISOC) immediately expressed their distaste about Maryam’s presentation. Apparently, having Maryam speak would threaten their “safe space”.
“As an Islamic society, we feel extremely uncomfortable by the fact that you have invited Maryam Namazie. As you very well probably know, she is renowned for being Islamophobic, and very controversial….”
They have posted their statement regarding the event here.
The presentation went on as planned. A few minutes after she began speaking, she was interrupted by members of the ISOC. They disrupted the presentation by yelling, unplugging her projector, banging on the door and allegedly making threatening gestures (though ISOC denies this). You can watch the video here. (Minute 11; minute 34).
Maryam was able to finish her speech. If that was where this story ended, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. As disrespectful as the ISOC members were, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn’t do anything illegal (there’s no video evidence of the threatening gestures). They were attempting to silence Maryam, but ultimately, no harm was done to anyone involved.
But, that’s not where this unfortunate debacle ends.
My problem is with how the LGBTQ+ and feminist society responded to this drama.
Instead of standing in solidarity with the liberal feminist who was being silenced and disrespected, both the LGBTQ+ and the feminist societies at Goldsmith university have come out in support of…. (drum-roll please) …ISOC.
“Following recent events on- and offline, we would like to state and show our solidarity with the sisters and brothers of our Goldsmiths ISOC. We condemn AHS and online supporters for their islamophobic remarks, attitudes, and harassment”
“Goldsmiths Feminist Society stands in solidarity with Goldsmiths Islamic Society. We support them in condemning the actions of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society and agree that hosting known islamophobes at our university creates a climate of hatred.”
The ISOC at Goldsmith University
Just so we’ve all on the same page, let’s investigate this ISOC a bit.
Muhammed Patel, who was the leader of Goldsmith’s ISOC until today, has publicly supported people like Haitham al-Haddad, an openly anti-LGBTQ preacher with abhorrent views on women and domestic violence. Check out some of Al-Haddad’s views here.
When Haitham Al-Haddad was invited to speak at University of Westminster, the Westminster LGBTQ student union launched a petition to demand he be uninvited (similar to what ISOC did with Maryam). Muhammed Patel supported a petition against that petition, urging the university to let Mr. Al-Haddad speak in the name of “freedom of speech.”
Oh, the irony! It’s strong enough to make me puke.
Muhammed has called Rabina Khan (a real moderate Muslim) a “populist” for vowing to reopen a gay venue. He’s said terribly homophobic things on his twitter feed, which have subsequently been deleted (but not before people could grab all kinds of screen shots):
The ISOC posted a statement today saying the Muhammed had resigned from his position. Perhaps this is sign of their progressive views but I’m not convinced. Given how publicly Muhammed made his statements, it’s evident that no one was under any allusions about his views on gay rights and women.
What’s more, in February, the ISOC invited Hamza Tzortzis to speak. Don’t know who Hamza Tzortzis is? Lucky you! He’s linked homosexuality to “sexual abuse of children, polyandry and cannibalism,” and has said that he wants a global Islamic Caliphate (in which apostates would be killed). Check this link for more information about his wonderful views.
I’d like to think the ISOC members hold a range of opinions on the rights of women and LGBTQ individuals. Somehow, I doubt it, given the leadership they had and the speakers they’ve condoned. It seems to me that they support the exact kind of ideology that would have all feminists and gay rights activists stripped of the freedoms they take so bitterly for granted.
(Note: I’d gladly retract this statement if ISOC posted something on their facebook page showing ‘solidarity’ with the LGBTQ+ and feminist society, or if a number of ISOC members came out against Hamza Tzortzis or Haitham Al-Haddad).
Islamophobia is a very real and dangerous problem. It should go without saying that we need to protect and support our Muslim populations from the disgusting bigotry they face due to their faith (unfortunately, it can’t go without saying because it is so prevalent). I’m appalled by the surge in anti-Muslim discrimination in North America since the Paris attacks. I’m disturbed by the eerily familiar way many right-wing conservatives are talking about the Syrian refugees. Actually, I was so inspired by the outrageous treatment of refugees that I literally started this blog to talk about it.
We need to continue calling people out for their anti-Muslim bigotry. From the horrendous physical attacks, to the vandalism of mosques, to the outrageous statements of “politicians” like Donald Trump… I can completely understand why moderate Muslims are sick and tired of being harassed and assaulted.
I’m also disappointed in the vicious response of some so-called “liberal” atheists since Maryam’s presentation. The LGBTQ+ and feminist societies made a mistake, but we can still articulate our displeasure with them respectfully. I’ll always stand up against injustice.
What I won’t do, is jump on the social justice bandwagon when it’s speeding out of control.
There has been a vivid conflation between any honest critique of the ideology that is Islam, and the word Islamophobia. It dilutes the power of the word when we throw it around so often, giving real islamophobes a cover under which to hide. It’s easy for the right (or even centrists) to disregard everything the left says about islamophobia when they witness this blatant conflation.
We need to stop pretending that Islamic extremism is not a problem. We need to discuss both aspects of the phenomenon; extremism of any ideology is problematic, yes; but extremism of an Islamic persuasion has its own, unique demons.
We need to listen to the voices trying to reform it.
It’s brutally ironic that some of the biggest allies of hyper conservative islamists like Hamza Tzortzis and Haitham Al-Haddad are feminists and progressives. When these otherwise gentle and loving people wave around a giant shield with the word “ISLAMOPHOBIA” branded on it, they’re stifling progress and protecting people who would see their lives destroyed.
The Regressive Left
When I first came across what Maajid Nawaz calls the “regressive left”, I didn’t have a word for them. Mostly, I was just shocked by some of the things my so-called “liberal” friends were saying. I once had a conversation with a liberal feminist who unabashedly defended the rights of Saudi Arabian men to prohibit their women from driving or leaving the house unchaperoned because “that’s their culture.” I thought she was misguided; that she just didn’t really understand.
Then I came across another woman who asserted the ‘right’ of communities to subject their young girls to female genital mutilation (FGM). I left that conversation feeling as though my friend was a little bit racist. Does she think only women in the west are entitled to human rights? I shook my head.
But the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became. How can someone claim to stand for liberal values without condemning those who would destroy them?!
Now, let’s be clear, this is just an example of the regressive left’s inability to think rationally about the conclusions of their comments. I’m not implying the FGM is strictly an Islamic practice. Nor am I trying to say that all the people living in communities where FGM is the norm are “uncivilized” or lesser than. Social issues are complicated and have historical contexts. It will take grass-roots activism and empathetic, long-term cooperation between medical professionals and community leaders to end FGM.
This example relates only to the hypocrisy of regressive lefts when it comes to supporting human rights. They say it’s not our place to critique another culture, and definitely not one that has less geo-political or social power. They say we need to let the conversations occur within that culture, but when a woman appears before us ready and willing to discuss these issues and advocate for her rights, we help her oppressors silence her.
When a white women living in Canada says “that’s just their culture,” to justify human rights abuses, she’s not helping the problem. When a white woman says “those men can treat their women however they want because it’s their culture,” she’s not standing in solidarity with her fellow women, she’s contributing to their oppression.
“The process by which a dominant foreign culture exerts social and economic pressure on other social institutions and cultures to promotes their values, structures and practices, at the expense of native ones.”
What is the best place for white voices in conversations about human rights in developing nations?
I think about this question often. I’ve studied the early feminist movement and its propensity for racism. I try my best to empathize with the people of colour who keep telling us that they’re tired of being side-lined by white voices.
I understand that sometimes, the ethical thing to do is to elevate the voice of people within the oppressed group. Sometimes, the best way to promote human rights is by shutting your own mouth and listening to the people who have experienced the issues you’re fighting against. As a white woman, I think my place is to stand in solidarity with women and men of colour as they campaign to have their fundamental human rights upheld.
That’s why this horrifies me.
Over and over again, I see the people from within the oppressed group being demonized by “western” voices who are supposed to be standing in solidarity with them. Sure, it’s easy to condemn Bill Maher, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins because they are “old, white men”. But that argument falls short when we talk about Maryam and the many others like her who are being absolutely betrayed by the “left”.
Here’s a list of a few men and women of colour who have been silenced by the regressive left for daring to question Islamism:
(Islamism, to be clear, is different from Islam the religion.)
The liberal left should be supporting any person brave enough to stand up against these kinds of religious totalitarian ideologies, but especially when the person hails from one of the cultures stifled by that ideology.
It is our responsibility, as liberal feminists and progressives, to stand with the people who advocate for human rights. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say. In fact, they seem to welcome debate. What it does mean, is that you no longer get to write them off as racists or “islamophobes” or worst yet, “porch monky” (something Maajid Nawaz was actually called by Murtaza Hussan, a writer for Glen Greenwald’s the intercept … to which I ask, where are the social justice warriors when that racial slur was thrown around?).