01-8marsFrankfurt (2)Below is my speech at the wonderful International Women’s Day event in Frankfurt.

• 15 year old Malala Yousefzai shot by the Taliban for defending girls’ education.
• Egyptian atheist Aliaa Magda ElMahdy’s nude scream against misogyny and hypocrisy.
• The outrage over the assassination of socialist leader Chokri Belaid in Tunisia.
• The “Harlem Shake” in Egypt in front of the Muslim brotherhood headquarters.

Even if you’re not looking, it is becoming impossible not to see the immense and modern resistance and dissent taking place day in and day out – even in the darkest corners of the globe.

It’s a new period of human development after decades of Islamic terrorism, US-led militarism, unbridled free market reign, cultural relativism and the retreat of all things universal.

Much of it is based on the actual occupation of public spaces – citizens taking back control. Content-wise, its demands are deeply rooted in a criticism of the current economic crisis, capitalism, inequality, mass unemployment, and poverty as well as dictatorship and Islamism.

The high visibility and presence of women in the resistance is a hallmark of this era. A “female” revolution which contradicts and finally brings to an end the racist cultural relativism and multi-culturalism where people are boxed into imagined homogenous ‘communities’ and where dictatorship and Islamism are forever deemed to be part of people’s ‘culture’.

Labelling the Arab spring a winter does a disservice to this resistance, denies its very existence by only focusing on Islamism and oppressive forces, and hinders the expression of solidarity and support that is crucial in any fight of this nature.

The foot soldiers of the revolutions have been workers, the unemployed, youth, women, the poor… Islamists didn’t spearhead the revolutions nor have they been instrumental in them. They were nowhere to be seen. And the revolutions’ demands were not Islamist ones.

After all, Islamism has certain characteristics – such as the demand for Sharia law or veiling, which were not people’s demands when they took to the streets.

Any gain for Islamism in this period is a gain for the establishment and for the counter-revolutionary forces and must be seen as such.

I worry whether secularists and women’s rights campaigners outside the region are ready for this new era to show real solidarity and support…

Whilst things are changing dramatically, many still consider a criticism of Sharia and Islamism as a form of racism and Islamophobia. It’s not. In fact isn’t it racist to deem whole groups of people worthy of lesser rights and sharia laws because of their background or ‘community’.

Ironically, accusations of racism are particular to the west. If you are criticising Islam, the veil, Sharia law, or Islamism in Iran, Egypt or Afghanistan the debate is not framed in the context of racism or Islamophobia.

When the Saudi government arrests 23 year old Hamza Kashgari for tweeting about Mohammad, it doesn’t accuse him of racism, it accuses him of blasphemy – an accusation punishable by death. But that same government will accuse critics of Saudi policy at the UN Human Rights Committee as Islamophobic and racist.

Islamists and their apologists have coined the term Islamophobia – a political term – to scaremonger people into silence.

That’s not to say that racism doesn’t exist or that the far-Right doesn’t use Sharia law to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants but a criticism of religion and Islamism are not in and of themselves racism. Given the havoc Islamism has wreaked, criticism is a historical necessity.

There are also those who still assert that Islamism and Sharia law are people’s right to religion.

Sharia law is based on the Koran, the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. Its criminal code includes stoning to death for adultery and execution for apostasy and homosexuality. In Iran, for example, there are over 130 offences punishable by death.

Its civil code is discriminatory and unfair particularly against women.

Basically it is a code of death and despair.

Islamism is a far-Right political movement which is a project for controlling the population at large and is not an exercise in people asserting their rights and choices!

To the degree political Islam or Islamism has power, that is the degree it controls every single aspect of people’s (especially women’s) lives and society via its Sharia law – from what people wear, who they have sex with, what music they listen to – even what they are allowed to think.

Whilst Sharia law is practised differently in different countries, any positive difference is the result of progressive social movements for the secularisation of rights.

Most importantly, the ‘right to religion’ is meant to be the right to a personal religion and belief. But when religion is part of the state, or judicial system, it is no longer a matter of religious belief but of political power.

In fact, religion in the state, educational system or judicial system is the end of any form of equality, choice, rights, freedoms or democratic politics.

The ‘Right to religion’ in the context of Sharia courts and Islamic states means the right of parasitical imams and Islamists to deem what is acceptable and what is not.

There is also still the assumption that Sharia courts, the veil, Islamic states are the demand of the authentic “Muslim”. But this is Islamism’s narrative. Nowhere is resistance against Islamism greater than countries under Islamic rule.

Clearly Muslims are not a homogeneous community as Islamists portray. Conflating Islamism with Muslim is part of the effort of feigning representation and is the narrative peddled by Islamists.

To accept the Islamist version and narrative is to hand over countless individuals – many of them dissenting – to the far-Right Islamic movement and to ignore the resistance, the political, social and civil struggles, and class politics.

This is a particular betrayal of the revolutions and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa – where women are playing a leading role.

The forces of reaction have lined up in defence of Islamism and dictatorship.

European secularists, rights campaigners, supporters of freedom and equality must in turn line up to defend the revolutions, secularism (a strict separation of religion from the state), real equality and freedom and a concept of citizenship not linked to religion.

To do this we have to stop appeasing the Islamists and forces of reaction and start siding with the women’s liberation movement and secularists who are demanding change and social justice.

As the late Marxist Mansoor Hekmat has said:

“We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings…” (Mansoor Hekmat, Islam and De-Islamisation,January 1999)

Long Live International Women’s Day!



More details on the conference can be found here.



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