erg | 23.03.2010 14:00
Having attended a meeting at Houseman's Book Shop Sat evening in Kings Cross, on 'Feminism & Consumerism', I can inform on the fact that according to the reactionary left including SWP members and non-members (esp Chris Nineham), in raising the issue of whether or not the burka symbolically represents the regression of women's advances in equality and self-determination, that the majority of people living in the UK probably consider the burka to be a regression in feminist equality, and that how the left in giving support for members of oppressed communities such as the muslim community should do so critically, these questions and viewpoints are all attacks on muslims.....
This amounts to a non-freedom of speech amongst those who consider themselves the gatekeepers on the political platform of the left. To reasonably question whether the left should be critical in it's giving of support to those in need of it when they fall short of the standards we expect and demand of ourselves in terms of reversing patriarchical relations and whether toleration of religious identity should be met with toleration of the good conduct and standards of what we consider to be the hallmarks of a free and open democratic society, is it not right to question the strictures of a faith in which some of it's followers justify man's right to enact punishment of his wife in the home? Is it not ridiculous for the left to at one time extol the virtues of the advance in women's liberation and the same time deny there is any need to discuss whether a particular religious stricture denies core progressive values of equality in it's conception and continued practice and how the left should be open to have a proper free debate on this?
My opinion is that it's better to have an open and honest debate about these issues, than not to have one, because of fear of upsetting a community relied upon for a large base of your political support. In having an open, intelligent debate instead of limiting the parameters of debate from the outset, one can more easily reach a position whereby one might better understand both sides of the argument. The counterbalance to the view just expressed takes account of the excesses of modern western consumerist culture in tandem with female liberation as being a debasing influence on moral ethics to which Islam moral stricture is a refuge, best articulated in the following quote by Naomi Wolf: “Many Muslim women I spoke with did not feel at all subjugated by the chador or the headscarf. On the contrary, they felt liberated from what they experienced as the intrusive, commodifying, basely sexualizing Western gaze. … Many women said something like this: …’how tiring it can be to be on display all the time. When I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.’ This may not be expressed in a traditional Western feminist set of images, but it is a recognizably Western feminist set of feelings.”
Phyllis Chesler takes issue with this point of view, arguing the justification of a practice which denies women's right to exist in their own right is a step backwards. Others argue it is a practice which excuses oppression and that Wolf's point of view is nonsensical given that at the other extreme of wholehearted devotion to Islamic stricture, the reality is unjustifiable in oppressed nations and oppressive families in the west, where forced marriages, wife beating, daughter killing, honour killing and child brides are all acceptable practices. Women who say they are happy to wear the burkah are, at best, making a virtue out of necessity, and at worst under threat of honour killing.