Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand

Maryam Namazie



Segregation of the sexes is an Islamist demand though it is often couched as a right and demand of ‘Muslims’. When Islamists have state power like in Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s the law. Transgressing it can mean fines, imprisonment or worse. There, women must enter government offices via separate entrances from men; they must sit behind men or boys in classrooms and at the back of the bus...

Like racial apartheid in South Africa, gender apartheid is segregation based on the inequities between genders. The ‘logic’ behind it is that women are not equal but ‘complementary’ to men and if unveiled and unsegregated are the source of fitnah and affliction in society. Whilst this perspective is debasing to women, it’s also demeaning to men who are seen to be unable to control their sexual urges. An unveiled, unsegregated woman is like uncovered meat or sweets, asking for it – a whore. It follows, therefore, that the woman who refuses to veil (or ‘properly’ veil) or segregate and who enters the public space on her own terms is considered open season.

One of the slogans of the Islamists attacking women who had joined the 1979 mass demonstration in Iran against compulsory veiling was: ‘Ya rusari, Ya tusari’ (either the veil or a punch). Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, a Saudi Arabian writer, recently asked his followers to sexually molest women who work so as to stop women from leaving their homes. In Egypt, the sexual violence against women is often spearheaded by the state in order to prevent women from protesting in the public space...  This is also fundamentally why the Taliban bombs girls’ schools and why those who have sex outside of marriage are stoned to death:  to keep women/girls in their place – captive, covered, segregated, disappeared, not seen and not heard.

Whilst women and men often resist these anti-women rules at great risk to themselves across the Middle East, Asia and North Africa (and might I add also in the west), the likes of Universities UK (UUK) and Islamism’s apologists defend misogyny as a culturally relative ‘right to religion’.

If anything, however, can be learnt from the recent fight (and small victory) against the endorsement of sex segregation at UK universities, it is that gender segregation has nothing to do with the right to religion; after all ordinary Muslims (not a homogeneous group by any means) manage to go about their lives whilst freely mixing with the opposite sex all the time (and where mixing is banned, spend much of their time getting round segregation).

Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand to increase power and influence by asserting medieval rules on women and the society at large. The groups lined up to defend UUK’s indefensible position are all hard-core Islamists who hide behind ‘Muslim’ and religion to push forward their regressive and misogynist far-Right politics: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and Islamic Human Rights Commission...

FOSIS, for example, has just had their winter council in December with Kamal El Mekki as speaker who supports death for apostates. Hizb-Ut-Tahrir says gays should be killed and has been classified as a hate group. iERA’s Abdurraheem Green says disobedient women should be beaten; iERA won’t even publish on their website the photos of their women speakers (for women-only events of course)...  The British jihadi Iftikhar Jaman who recently died in Syria fighting for Al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS was part of iERA’s dawah team...

The irony of such groups defending sex apartheid out of concern for ‘women’s comfort’ is lost on the likes of UUK.

As is the fact that Islamists have supporters amongst women. Having women supporters who are pro-gender apartheid doesn’t make segregation of the sexes pro-woman just like having black South Africans defending separate homelands for black people doesn’t makes Bantustans pro-equality. Just like having a Sikh spokesperson for the English Defence League doesn’t makes that organisation anti-racist...

A 20 December meeting entitled ‘A Muslim Women’s Unified Community Response: The attack on gender segregation in Islam’ in London shows that in fact segregation is the Islamist women’s demand (whilst feigning representation of all Muslim women). Per Islamist rules, the meeting is women-only because women are not allowed to address men; their very voices will cause fitnah if heard by men, which also explains why women must write their questions down at meetings rather than voice them. Speakers at this women-only event are from Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, iERA, Islamic Human Rights Commission, and University Islamic Societies. Another speaker is Yvonne Ridley who used to work for the Islamic regime of Iran’s Press TV.  Her former employer has also waded into the debate with a Member of the Islamic Assembly saying sex segregation has gotten attention in non-Islamic countries because universities in the west are ‘swamps of corruption’ and ‘Muslim students’ are in a position to influence and act as role models for non-Muslims...

Of course it is not just Universities UK. Whilst many got it right this time around and opposed UUK’s position that sex segregation is a deeply-held religious belief (sadly only because they see it as ‘their universities’ and not a Sharia court or burqa which only affects ‘the Other’), many – including the British government - have got it wrong countless times before.

Which is why UUK thought it could get away with endorsing gender apartheid and why Islamists can dare to speak of ‘women’s comfort’ whilst simultaneously waging an all-out war on women.  

In other equally important fights against other aspects of the Islamist project to increase influence and power, there have been many, including humanists and secularists, who have defended Sharia courts as ‘people’s right to religion’ and the burqa and niqab as ‘women’s right to clothing’.

But as Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “There is an ideological battle going on, as well as very concrete ones. Introducing parallel legal systems, making one's political presence visible thanks to more and more women wearing a so-called 'Islamic dress', gender segregation, the revival of medieval forms of punishment such as beheading ( let’s not forget it happened in Woolwich not so long ago) or stoning or flogging or amputation of limbs - all this does not come in a vacuum. There is a correlation between all these demands; and there is a deliberate political will behind it.”

The demand for gender segregation like Sharia courts and the niqab help Islamists gain political ground at the expense of the innumerable, including many Muslims who are Islamism’s first victims.

The only way to stop Islamists from gaining more ground and in order to push them back, ‘progressives’ must begin to recognise this far-Right movement for what it is, defend universality and secularism, and fight it politically on all fronts in solidarity with the many women and men battling it from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia to Iran.

La lucha continua (the fight continues)...






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