We need to stop conflating 'Muslims' with Islamists

We need to stop conflating 'Muslims' with Islamists August 29, 2016

It’s insidious how the Islamist narrative has become mainstream everywhere – in the media, in social policies, in discussions around minority communities and human rights, in ‘progressive’ politics … it’s also very much part and parcel of how some freethinkers view ‘Muslims’ – homogenised masses whose default is always the Islamist no matter how many refuse and resist – often at great risk to their lives.
Identity politics ignores this dissent and plurality (even vilifies it – to the extent that ex-Muslims, for example, are considered “native informants”).

But Islamic rules and Islamism are so antithetical to 21st century living that you don’t need to draw a cartoon of Mohammad, Islam’s prophet, or be an atheist and blaspheme to be at loggerheads with the theocrats.
Take Valentine’s Day. In 2014 in Saudi Arabia, 5 Saudi men arrested sentenced to 32 years in prison and 4,500 lashes for holding a Valentine’s Day party with “unrelated women, drinking and dancing.” In Islamic schools here in Europe, Valentine’s Day is frowned upon as un-Islamic.

Iranians shop for Valentine's Day gifts at a shop in Tehran in 2001. Iran says it is cracking down on Valentine’s Day celebrations and shops engaging in them will be guilty of a crime.Photo: Getty Images
Iranians shop for Valentine’s Day gifts at a shop in Tehran in 2001. Earlier this year Iran said it was cracking down on Valentine’s Day celebrations and shops engaging in them would be guilty of a crime. Photo: Getty Images
Take music. The Islamic State beheaded a 15-year-old boy for listening to Western music on his CD player at his dad’s shop.  Confess have been accused of “satanic” metal & rock music; writing “anti-religious, atheist, political and anarchist lyrics” and sentenced to death in Iran. In Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain advises Muslim parents to ensure that their children avoid “harmful” music.
If there were no clashes, Islamic states and movements would not need absurdly named “morality police” and “Commissions for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice”. If it were people’s culture, Islamists would not need to exert such indiscriminate and targeted violence to try and keep the population at large in check.
There are countless examples of this huge fight back against the Islamists by those deemed to be “Muslims” but these contestations are ignored in the West with only Islamism’s narrative given credence.
In Iran, for example, women are fighting hard to enter sports stadiums where they are banned due to gender segregation rules.
In Britain, however, gender segregation is actively promoted. One good example of this is when in December 2013, Universities UK, a regulatory body, endorsed gender segregation in its guidelines on external speakers, saying:

Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.

(The familiar separate but equal arguments we heard during racial apartheid in South Africa.) UUK was eventually forced to withdraw its guidance after women’s rights campaigners and secularists protested the guidelines.
Sharia family codes are another area where women’s rights campaigners have fought hard to oppose discriminatory laws. Under Sharia’s civil code a women’s testimony is half that of a man’s, women have limited right to divorce whereas men have unilateral right to divorce, child custody is given to the father at a pre-set age irrespective of the welfare of the child and marriage contracts are entered into between the man and the woman’s male guardian.
An Islamic  Sharia court in Britain explains why a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s:

If one forgets, the other can remind her.
It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.
A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.

It goes on to say it is not “derogatory” but “the secret of women’s nature”.
Despite attempts to portray these courts as people’s rights to religion, including by some humanist organisations, black and minority women are contesting these courts in Britain and elsewhere.
In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

I am telling you a story
Of what the powerful have done
Of rules, a code of despair
A code obsessed with women…
“This law must be undone … !

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death … But here, the British government has so far failed to defend women’s rights and one law for all.
Also, despite its discriminatory nature, the Law Society in Britain issued a practice note for solicitors on how to draw up ‘Sharia-compliant’ wills, stating that:

… illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir…

The note was withdrawn only after the protests of women’s rights campaigners and secularists.
It’s the same with regards the veil, burqa and niqab. In Iran, there is an unveiling movement though improper veiling and unveiling is punishable by a fine, arrest, and up to two months in prison. Despite this, “progressives” here in the West often defend the hijab as a “right” and a “choice” when, socially speaking, it is anything but.
Seeing “Muslims” as homogenous aids and abets the Islamist movement and the far-right in general. Only when we stop conflating “Muslims” with Islamists and begin to see the immense dissent will we be able to ally with and show solidarity with progressive social and political movements and see the commonalities in our fight for secularism and against Islamism in Europe and across the globe.
This is key if we are to link up and strengthen the international front against theocrats of all stripes. And not a moment too soon.

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