- Posted by Maryam Namazie
- On January 16, 2002
- 0 Comments
Condemning Islam isn’t racist
Published in WPI Briefing
January 16, 2002
Ex-MP Jackie Ballard who recently moved to Iran states it is racist to be anti-Islam and says it is ‘time “liberal” opinion started to try to understand Islam better and to learn something about the culture of the Middle East…’ (January 7 article in The Guardian entitled ‘Another kind of freedom’). She further asserts that women in Iran have ‘freedoms denied to many in the west’, including that a friend can breastfeed in restaurants, that Iranian women ‘keep their own names after marriage’ and because she feels safer in Iran [‘If women dress in a sexually provocative or attractive way, perhaps it is not surprising that men respond to them as sexual beings…’].
Ballard’s pathetic examples of so-called freedoms overlook the real and bleak status of women living under Islamic laws. In Iran, veiling is compulsory for women in all public places; even children aged nine to 11 are forbidden from wearing ‘flashy hues’. They are subject to harassment, imprisonment and fines if their dress or behaviour is deemed inappropriate. They are segregated in public places, including buses, schools and health care. Women can only work in an occupation that is not contrary to Islam; the law, for example, prohibits women from becoming judges since they are believed to be swayed by emotion rather than logic. Women are not allowed to travel without the permission of their husbands. In court, the number of witnesses required to prove a crime is higher if the witnesses are female. A woman’s right to divorce and child custody are limited. The legal age for girls to ‘marry’ is 9. Any form of friendship or association between the sexes outside marriage is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, forced marriage and stoning to death… For Ballard, however, these are merely ‘another kind of freedom’. For her, women living in Iran and Islam-stricken societies have different freedoms because of their place of birth and ‘their’ culture and religion. Ballard even goes so far as to credit Islam for the facts that ‘women in Iran are in many ways among the most assertive and socially independent’ or that ‘more women take engineering degrees in Iran than in the UK’ though these have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with women’s own resistance and transgressions.
Ballard says blaming religion for the denial of women’s rights in countries like Iran ‘disguised as concern for human rights’ is tantamount to ‘blaming Protestantism in Britain or Catholicism in Mexico for endemic domestic violence’ and to seeing ‘paedophilia as a symptom of a Christian or western culture’. This is nonsense. Islam is in political power in Iran and many countries of the Middle East and North Africa and cannot be compared to Protestantism in Britain. The Bible is not the law of the land in Britain, while the Koran is in Iran; it is not in the constitution and penal code nor enforced in the courts and by morality police in Britain, while it is in Iran.
Nonetheless, according to Ballard, to condemn Islam is racist. Ballard conveniently ignores the distinction between anti-Islam sentiments and racism against Muslims. While racism is unacceptable, an attack on Islam and Islamic states and laws is not only permissible but a requisite given the indescribable violence and misogyny meted out by Islam in political power. Progressive norms and secularism are the results of enlightenment and just struggles against this very sort of reaction. Ballard’s rebuke only attempts to silence those who speak out for civil rights by labelling them as racists. In fact, however, it is her culturally relativist assertions that are racist. By justifying and excusing women’s status as cultural, she denies women and people living in the Middle East and Iran universal rights and freedoms.