Friday Ephemera

Empty Gestures

This article on Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Laila Lalami has prompted a reply from a reader, Suhail Shafi:

“Ms Lalami's article… [takes] a firm stand against the oppression of women in any way shape or form… Believing in equality for women without insulting or vilifying anybody's religious sentiments… strikes as being far more constructive than the factually questionable (at best) rant of the likes of Hirsi Ali. Yes, ‘eminently brilliant’ is quite an appropriate label for Ms Lalami's work.”

Setting aside the matter of Lalami’s “eminent brilliance”, an obvious problem springs to mind. It seems rather difficult to “take a firm stand against the oppression of women in any form” without challenging the specific religious ideas and specific religious laws that are used to justify and perpetuate the oppression one is supposedly taking a stand against. How, for instance, does one deal with the “respected” Andalusian imam, Mohammed Kamal Mostafa, whose book, The Islamic Woman, advises Muslim men on how to beat “rebellious” women without leaving visible signs of injury, in accord with Muhammad’s teachings? How, exactly, does one challenge Mostafa’s assertions - and the assertions of others like him - without also challenging the “sacred” ideas that are invoked as an unassailable religious mandate? And how does one take “a firm stand” without suggesting, at least by implication, that those “religious sentiments” are wrong and disgusting on very important issues?

“Believing” in the equality of women is very easy and conveniently vague, especially if one is unwilling to challenge the means by which cruelty and coercion are perpetuated, justified and enforced. Unless one is prepared to address the theological nuts and bolts of the matter, and prepared to risk offending some religious “sentiments”, it’s hard to see what kind of “firm stand” has actually been taken.

Elsewhere, Tim Blair highlights the flummery of some multicultural “feminists” when confronted with female genital mutilation. One particularly conflicted soul says, “It would seem to me counterproductive to have loud denunciations of [FGM] - the key thing should be to convince people it is wrong.” Quite how one makes a compelling and realistic argument while studiously avoiding “denunciation” of any kind isn’t exactly clear. Apparently the words “barbarous” and “stupid” are frowned upon. But again, it isn’t obvious how such practices can be challenged in any meaningful way if one is obliged to flatter the “sentiments” of those who wield the clitoral scissors.

Update: Some of the comments are quite illuminating. Related: this.