TAG | Multiculturalism
It’s difficult not to despair sometimes when confronting some of the excesses of the zero tolerance crowd in the nation’s schools: the toddler sent home for pointing in a way that made his fingers look like a gun, and all the rest.
Nevertheless, the news contained in this report produced by the Becket Fund, a group named, tellingly enough after a defender of priestly legal privilege, ought to give to rise to a degree of concern:
Amandeep Singh, a ninth-grade honor student in New York, was reprimanded and suspended indefinitely for wearing a kirpan—a ceremonial religious item worn by members of the Sikh faith—to school.
Amandeep became a baptized Sikh at age eight, requiring him, like 20 million other Sikhs worldwide, to follow the five Sikh articles of faith. The best known of these is the requirement to wear hair uncut in a turban. Another requirement is the kirpan, an item shaped like a sword that reminds Sikhs of their duty to speak out against injustice and stand up for the defenseless. In deference to school security concerns, school-age children like Amandeep typically wear a very small, blunt kirpan that cannot be used to harm anyone.
For over seven years, Amandeep attended local public schools and continuously observed all five articles of his faith, including the wearing of the kirpan, without any incident. Many of his teachers were aware of his kirpan and specifically commended him for his dedication to his faith. None ever told him that his kirpan–which was duller than a butter knife and secured underneath his clothes–posed any sort of danger.
Without explanation, school officials suddenly reversed course in February 2005 and declared Amandeep’s kirpan to be a prohibited “weapon.” Moreover, they refused to allow him to set foot on school grounds unless he abandoned his article of faith. At that point, Amandeep retained The Becket Fund to protect his religious freedom.
The Becket Fund intervened on Amandeep’s behalf, meeting with school district officials to explain the kirpan’s religious significance and Amandeep’s rights under the First Amendment. The district quickly changed course, agreeing to allow Amandeep to continue his education without compromising his faith.
This was a victory not only for Amandeep and other Sikhs, but also for free religious exercise in public schools. The district’s actions were “evidence of religious discrimination,” Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for Becket, told the Journal News . “He was really being forced to choose between attending a public school and practicing his faith, and that’s something that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”
Now, I have no problem with the idea allowing a Sikh child—or any other child—to wear a safe, very small, very blunted and entirely symbolic sword under their clothes at school. The school’s security policy should never have been so narrow as to ban it. But to permit this exception purely on the grounds of religious belief is more troubling, not particularly in itself (Amandeep’s kirpan seems completely harmless), but for the precedent it may set. What other school rules or procedures could children be exempted from in future purely because compliance with those rules or procedures contravened a possibly less benign aspect of one or another creed?
A generous and broad assertion of the principle of freedom of religion is something that makes America America, and rightly so, but so too is the notion of equality before the law, and, for that matter, something else too. How to put it? Well, this will do: E pluribus unum.
There has to be unum as well, so to speak, as pluribus
Canada is arguably the apotheosis of modern Western multiculturalism (nations like Belgium are not in any sort of honeymoon phase obviously with the idea of inter-cultural amity). This article in The New York Times highlights the fundamental problem at the heart of this sort of political and social project, Canada Grapples With Adapting to Minority Needs:
At York University in Toronto, a furor erupted in January over a request by a student taking an online sociology course to forgo an on-campus session, because he said his religious beliefs did not permit casual contact with women.
At York, the professor refused to grant the student’s request, believing that it would be a dangerous precedent, labeling women as second-class citizens….
“It all goes back to the fundamental values the university has put in place that shape the culture — equity, diversity and inclusion — and tying them back to excellence,” said Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, the University of Toronto’s anti-racism and cultural diversity officer. “We look at what we need to do as a university to give students access so they can perform with excellence.
It is passé to point out the difficulties in accommodating both gender egalitarianism and religious traditions for which strong differentiation in sex roles and interaction are mandatory (e.g., Orthodox Judaism, Islam, and some conservative variants of Protestantism). Rather, I want to highlight the general idea of inclusion and diversity. The problem is that many cultures around the world revolve around the theme of exclusion, or at most assimilation of the Other. In fact this is much more normative over the history of the world than the multiculturalism that has emerged in the West after the 1960s. To be entirely frank, post-1960s Western multiculturalism is sui generis. It seems to view a person’s suite of cultural characteristics being assembled together a la carte, as individuals select of their own free will from a set of practices and beliefs so as to maximize their own self-actualization. The reality though is that for most humans cultures are imbibed as if one is selecting prix fixe menus, subscribing to a whole host of beliefs simultaneously, many of which are at contradiction with the individualist liberal ethos.
Obviously these are two stylized caricatures,* but they capture the basic essence of the dynamic. Western multiculturalists, steeped in the language of equity, diversity, inclusion, and egalitarianism, seem to tacitly assume that societies which they are attempting to integrate will discard all illiberal aspects, while maintaining the languages, dress, and food, which make them distinctive. But the truth here is that ultimately multiculturalism of this form turns non-Western cultures into carnival sideshows, colorful harmless variants of the Western liberal individualist template.
* There are nuances here. American Roman Catholics share more cultural orientations with their Protestant neighbors than with non-American Catholics. You need to peel back the sticker sometimes and ignore labels to get at the heart of cultural variation.
We are writing in response to a package presented by news correspondent Katie Razzall, on Tuesday 28 January 2014, which looked at the controversy surrounding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Maajid Nawaz, and his recent tweeting of a Jesus & Mo cartoon.
We were surprised and extremely disappointed to see that Channel 4 News took the decision to cover up the image of Mohammed when showing the Jesus & Mo cartoon, and we are thus keen to elicit the rationale behind that particular editorial decision.
During the report, it was noted that this decision was taken so as not to cause offence to some viewers; however we would like to point out that by your making this decision you have effectively taken a side in a debate where a Muslim man has suffered violent death threats after he explicitly said he did not find the cartoons offensive. You have taken the side of the reactionaries – the side of people who bully and violently threaten Muslims, such as Mr Nawaz, online.
By redacting the picture of ‘Mo’, you have contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists. Rather than defending free expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, you have chosen instead to listen to extremists and patronise British Muslims by assuming they will take offence at an irreverent and satirical cartoon. By taking the decision you did, not only did you betray the fundamental journalistic principle of free speech, but you have become complicit in a trend that seeks to insidiously stereotype all Muslim people as reacting in one uniform way (generally presented as overly sensitive and potentially violent).
Given that your editorial decision seems to be have been weighted by a concern with offence, we might also note that you ended up with a report that was, in fact, very offensive to many; offensive to those who take seriously and cherish our basic freedom to speak and question, and offensive to many Muslims, whose voices you do not hear because you insist on placating the reactionary voices of people claiming to represent what it is to be an ‘authentic Muslim’…
Writing in the Guardian, Nick Cohen, with more grim news about the state of multiculturalist Britain:
Extremists are menacing the career and life of a Liberal Democrat politician and respectable society hardly considers these authentically scandalous threats to be a scandal at all. The scandal, in short, is that there is no scandal.
The reasons for the attacks on Maajid Nawaz are so bland, it makes me yearn to live in a grown-up country where I could shrug them off. But we don’t live in a grown-up country and I had better explain. The BBC asked the executive director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist thinktank, on to a discussion show. Two atheist members of the audience wore T-shirts showing Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” I beg you to keep the innocuous nature of the cartoon at the front of your mind as we descend into a modern Bedlam.
The BBC decided that extreme Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims, who would ban all images of Muhammad, represented all Muslims. It ordered its producers not to show the offending T-shirts.
A few days ago Theotory blogger Cranmer weighed in on just this point:
Setting aside the irrefutable historic fact that Shia Muslims have a centuries-old tradition of depicting Mohammed, and this sort of strict censorship being principally a Sunni assertion of belief (including the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), it is surely not for the state broadcaster to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.
Back to Cohen:
Nawaz left the studio in some disgust. He tweeted the cartoon of Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” and added: “This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did. A Liberal Democrat activist called Muhammad Shafiq took it upon himself to organise a national and international campaign against Nawaz. At the time we went to press, about 20,000 people had signed Shafiq’s petition to Nick Clegg, saying that the tweet had caused an “extreme amount of insult, hurt and anguish”. The Lib Dems must stop Nawaz standing as their candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election, they demanded. Nawaz told his critics he had merely said that he did not think the BBC should censor a mild cartoon. He then went to the core of what is wrong with extremist religion and Britain’s thoughtless multiculturalism which, in the name of “diversity”, spatchcock people into ethnic and religious blocks that deny their individuality. If you want to ban inoffensive images of the prophet, Nawaz said, then I am sorry, I am not that type of literalist Muslim.
In other words, neither “community leaders” nor multicultural bureaucrats could talk of “the Muslim community” whose taboos must be observed. There were many “Muslim communities” and ex-Muslims, too, and they should be free to argue without fear.
As for the “Liberal Democrat” activist objecting to Nawaz:
…Shafiq is not your standard Liberal Democrat. He is in charge of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has hosted speakers whose attitudes towards gay people and Jews are anything but liberal.
The keeper (allegedly) of Britain’s liberal flame (and David Cameron’s partner in coalition government) has, it seems, ‘evolved’, and it will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg responds. To their credit, Nawaz’s local party branch, at least, is standing behind him.
The Daily News reports:
A satanic group unveiled designs Monday for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan it wants to put at the Oklahoma state Capitol, where a Ten Commandments monument was placed in 2012.
The New York-based Satanic Temple formally submitted its application to a panel that oversees the Capitol grounds, including an artist’s rendering that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard that’s often used as a symbol of the occult. In the rendering, Satan is sitting in a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children next to him.
“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in a statement. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”
The Satanic Temple maintains that the Oklahoma Legislature’s decision to authorize a privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol opened the door for its statue. The Ten Commandments monument was placed on the north steps of the building in 2012, and the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued to have it removed…
And (as the Daily News had revealed earlier) Satan might not be the only new arrival:
Days after a Satanist group expressed a desire to construct a monument on the grounds of Oklahoma’s state capitol, a Hindu organization announced that they would also like a slice of that religious freedom pie.
Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, announced plans to erect a statue of the revered Hindu god Hanuman, the monkey king, outside the capitol.
Hanuman is an important deity in the Hindu pantheon. He is revered for his life of service and his devotion to the powerful god Rama.
And there are other candidates to stand alongside the Ten Commandments too.
Somehow, I don’t think that the Oklahoma State Legislature had this quite in mind. In an age of multiculturalism, a strict view of the separation of church and state may be about to win some unexpected converts.
Man plans, God laughs.
Adapted from a post at Ricochet:
Theotory blogger (and martyred Archbishop!) Cranmer’s response to the decision (discussed here earlier) by retailer M&S to accomodate members of staff who, for religious reasons, do not want to handle pork, alcohol is too good not to share here.
Here, by the way, is what M&S has to say for itself:
“We recognise that some of our employees practise religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times. M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”
Over to Cranmer:
An environment free from discrimination? Have they considered that their customers don’t wish to be discriminated against and made to feel morally deficient or ‘unclean’? How is inconveniencing customers by forcing them to queue at non-Muslim checkouts consistent with “high levels of customer service”?
The main problem with this is that it plays to a certain Muslim stereotype: it affirms an utterly myopic interpretation of sharia law and so perpetuates prejudice against all Muslims. The Qur’an exhorts Muslims not to eat pork products or drink alcohol: it does not say they may not handle glass bottles or pass a plastic packet of bacon over a scanner.
But, no matter. Some M&S equality aficionado has determined the orthodox tenets of each religion, and is prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate them: they have confirmed – in true anti-discrimination style – that Jewish employees are also permitted to decline to serve customers alcohol and pork, notwithstanding that no Jewish employee has ever refused to do this in the store’s 129-year history.
But why stop at alcohol and pork?
Are they also permitted to decline to scan a packet of prawns? May they refuse to sell garments made of wool and cotton? Or meat mixed with dairy? Is a Muslim employee permitted to decline to sell you a bikini or a lipstick? And what about M&S finance? Is a Muslim employee who objects to charging interest on debt going to be permitted to administer an interest-free credit card?
And why restrict this to the point of sale? Don’t these products require handling throughout the logistical chain? Are Muslim (and Jewish) employees going to be exempt from placing orders for certain products? Are they going to be exempt from handling certain boxes in the warehouse?
Are Christians going to be permitted to decline to handle halal meat, since it has been “offered to idols” (1Cor 8)? Or has the M&S equality aficionado decreed that this is not a fundamental requirement of the faith? If so, on what theological basis?
As far as His Grace is aware, M&S don’t sell condoms. But if they did, would a Roman Catholic employee be permitted to decline to serve the customer, thereby compounding their embarrassment?
This is not “reasonable accommodation”: it is not the same as permitting holy days off or the wearing of certain religious symbols over a uniform. It is manifestly unreasonable when customers are inconvenienced by i) having to queue at a non-sharia checkout, or ii) waiting for a member of staff to arrive who is prepared to serve you.
Oh yes, it seems that the Church of England thinks the whole thing is fine. #sigh, as they say over in Twitterland.
Deciding quite where and how a nation should draw the line between its citizens’ right to practice their religions and its own right to protect itself from spiraling down into balkanization has never been an easy thing to determine and in an age of multiculturalism it is becoming more difficult still.
Over then to the UK: writing in the Daily Telegraph, Matthew d’Ancona laments guidance given by Universities UK on the arrangements to be put in place when external speakers are visiting a campus and, specifically, this:
“[a wish to] accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to [gender] segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”
[T]his is a test case about much more than fringe events on provincial campuses. It is about the very basis of a pluralist society and what philosophers call “value incommensurability” – the clash between principles, and the dilemmas that such conflicts pose. As a ferocious opponent of theocratic creep, Hitchens argued that secular society was becoming far too emollient and unwilling to defend Enlightenment values against attack. Diplomatic immunity, equality before the law, the right of the novelist to free expression: all are now weighed against the risk of upsetting the theological apple cart.
The segregation row has forced us to confront the friction between religious sensitivities and core aspects of our common citizenship. The heart of the matter is the word “freedom” and its abuse. The original guidance claimed that forbidding segregation by gender on campus might infringe “the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker”. This is babble, but it is dangerous babble. It implies that upsetting the religious sensibilities of an individual or congregation – and it is possible to take offence at anything – is a form of censorship.
I heard a similar argument made during the gay marriage debate: that same-sex weddings would somehow infringe “religious freedoms”, even though they were to be held exclusively in civil settings. In the segregation row, the hurt feelings of a believer or group of believers are weighed against the entire principle of gender equality – as if core principles are upheld only on the probationary basis that they do not upset the faithful. This amazing proposition reverses the polarities of the 20th century and replaces the totalitarian state with the totalitarian individual – the person who claims that absolutely anything that offends him is an assault on his “religious freedom” and has to be stopped. And let us be frank: because, collectively, we have grown fearful of religious extremism, we, too, often nod respectfully when we should be fighting back.
And right on cue, there’s this, also from the Daily Telegraph:
At M&S [a British retailer], Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers choose another till at which to pay.
At one of its stores in central London last week, customers waiting with goods that included pork or alcohol were told by a Muslim checkout worker to wait until another till became available. The assistant was extremely apologetic at having to ask customers to wait.
One customer, who declined to be named, said: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available.
“I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I’ve never come across that before.
Well, get used to it. Best guess is that there will be more of this nonsense to come.
Writing in the same newspaper, Damian Thompson hits back:
I’m sorry, but if you cannot “handle” bacon and champagne and dozens of other products – even though your co-religionists have been doing so for decades – then don’t work in a secular supermarket. And I’d say the same to a Christian from a teetotal sect who refused to process the sale of alcohol.
When Islam and political correctness join forces, as they do so often, questioning their demands is portrayed as racist. Actually, if you really want to damage relations between communities, then ordering harassed shoppers to change queues (which are long enough already in M&S, God knows) is a good way to go about it.
Another chain, Sainsbury’s, has said that it has no plans to follow M&S’s lemming lead.
Good for Sainsbury’s. Accommodating employees’ religious beliefs and customers’ requirements can be tricky; but there are times when common sense tells you that a particular demand is over the top and counterproductive. Give in to it, and not only will unfounded accusations of racism fly around, but genuine racists will jump in to sour relations between shoppers and (typically) young female Muslim checkout staff, some of whom may already be under pressure from the religious police in their own community.
Note that in our report the Muslim lady says apologetically that she “could not” serve the customer buying champagne. Is that because it offends her conscience – or because she’s been told that, as a Muslim, she is no longer allowed to do this part of her job?
That last point is important. By doing what it has done, M&S has lent a helping hand to the fundamentalist enforcers.
I won’t be shopping there next time I’m in Blighty.
The Jewish Chronicle reports:
Marks & Spencer has confirmed that Jewish employees do not have to serve pork products at tills to its customers, if it goes against their religious beliefs. The chain confirmed that, in the same way a Muslim member of staff could refuse to handle pork and alcohol, a Jewish employee could decline to sell pork sausages, bacon rashers and sea-food.
A M&S spokesperson said: “We recognise that some if our employees practise religions that restrict food or drink they can handle, or mean they cannot work at certain times.
“M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”
As I said, balkanization.
And what about,, say, secular vegetarians compelled to sell the remnants of slaughtered livestock? Do their feelings count for nothing? Or does M&S only respect deeply-held religious belief.
Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator:
Firoozeh Bazrafkan is frightened of nothing. Five foot tall, 31 years old, and so thin you think a puff of wind could blow her away, she still has the courage to be a truly radical artist and challenge those who might hurt her. She fights for women’s rights and intellectual freedom, and her background means her fight has to be directed against radical Islam. As a Danish citizen, she saw journalists go into hiding and mobs attack her country’s embassies just because Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad that were so tame you could hardly call them ‘satirical’. Bazrafkan is also the daughter of an Iranian family, and the Islamic Republic’s subjugation of women revolts her.
When I met her, she was enduring a crash course in politically correct Europe’s many hypocrisies. White Danes reported her to the police for writing that Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters, and adding for good measure that the ‘Koran is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined’.
You could say that her remarks were offensive. You could say that the inattentive reader might just take them to mean that all Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters. But if every remark that someone might find offensive or misinterpret were banned, the human race would fall silent.
Liberal principles once held that the Danish state should only punish Bazrafkan if her words provoked violence. As it was, the court asked for no proof of actual incitement. (There was none to be had.) Instead, it acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity.
The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny…
And the story gets worse. Read the whole thing.
The BBC reports:
Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.
Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication. Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles. But one pastor denied people would ever be told to stop taking their medicine….
Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.
“We don’t say to people ‘don’t take your medication don’t go to the doctor’. I mean we never say that,” he said.
Pentecostalism is booming. The number of Pentecostal churches in London, for example, has doubled since 2005. The overall number of incidents of HIV patients being told to give up medicine is thought to consist of a minority of churches and a small group of people. But the Rev Israel Olofinjana, who is a former Pentecostal pastor and now a Baptist minister, said he had seen it happening.
“I’ve heard languages like that – ‘put your trust in God, don’t put your trust in medicine’.”
He said many of these churches served migrants with an exalted view of the authority of pastors.
“Within the context of African churches, if you’re coming from a culture where the pastor is like your fathers or mothers, like your community keepers, the word of your pastor becomes very important,” he explained.
“It becomes very significant… there is a minority who say ‘because God can heal absolutely… what’s the need for medicine?’.”
Dr Steve Welch, who is chairman of the Children’s HIV Association, said it found it difficult to engage with the faith leaders of churches where healing was an integral part of the worship.
Ah multiculturalism, working out well as usual, I see.
In an earlier post here, Mr. Hume and Jackson Doughart, reacting to an exchange between Glenn Greenwald and Sam Harris, discuss (amongst many things) the way that the notion of ‘Islamophobia’ has been used to try to stifle those who have shall, we say, problems with hardline Islam.
The whole debate between Harris and Greenwald is in fact well worth reading in full (Harris easily has the best of it). I’d highlight this from Harris:
There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.
Did you happen to see The Book of Mormon? Do you know how the Mormons protested this attack upon their faith? They placed ads for Mormonism in the Playbill. Imagine staging a similar production about Islam: Would it be “bizarre and wholly irrational” for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to worry that the Muslim community might have a different response?
And this (Harris is quoting himself from 2006):
Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.
While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren’t.
The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.
To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.
That analysis was (and is) an overstatement, and in the seven years since Harris wrote that passage, awareness of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism has broadened further, as has, in some-still too rare-instances, the willingness to push back. Nevertheless, the situation is still such that, for all their overreach and occasional nuttiness, we should still be grateful for the efforts of the made-in-Ukraine feminists of Femen. Writing in the Guardian here’s Jonathan Jones on their latest :
She’s topless. She’s angry. And she is, literally, taking liberties. The activist in this picture [link here] took part in a protest in Paris in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who has been targeted by Islamists after she put a bare-breasted picture of herself on her Facebook page in March with the words “Fuck Your Morals” and “My Body Belongs To Me, And Is Not The Source Of Anyone’s Honour” painted across her chest.
Both Tyler and this activist are members of Femen, the radical feminist group that originated in the Ukraine and specialises in topless politics. Hackers attacked Femen’s Tunisian Facebook page replacing pictures with texts from the Qur’an, while a prominent cleric has suggested Tyler might be stoned.
So here is a picture of Femen’s response – it declared 4 April to be International Topless Jihad Day, and protesters duly took their clothes off in Paris.
And you thought this stuff was complicated. Religious traditions, respect for cultural difference, fear of legitimating Islamophobia … You’d think twice about declaring a jihad on Islamic attitudes to women and their bodies, right?
Not Femen. This picture is gloriously crude. At a time of tight-lipped liberal relativism when even the president of the United States is damned careful what he says about Islam, here is a woman bearing her body, quoting Tyler’s anti-religious slogan, wearing a pseudo-jihadist black scarf over her face. Clearly, the protest is provocative – even in Paris, where this man who may be religiously offended, or just offended by women in general, appears to be kicking her.
Already, the New Statesman has weighed in with a critique of Femen’s “jihad”, arguing that it is naive to defend the rights of women in north Africa in this cheerfully secular way. But what is so wrong with stating a clear principle?
Tyler has asserted in her own words, on her own body, that she belongs to herself and is not an object of moral scrutiny or male honour. This is fair enough, no? She is claiming freedoms and rights taken for granted in most democratic countries – but which are frowned on and suppressed and violently denied by religious conservatives. If Christian conservatives ran things here, our society would be hobbled and distorted and modern freedoms denied. Femen has indeed attacked Christianity as well as Islam. But in western Europe the church has very little real power over public morals. Islam does exert such power in north Africa. Tyler objects to this moral control. Is she wrong to do so? Why does this activist for freedom not deserve the same support the Arab spring got? Or is freedom only worth supporting when there is no possible conflict with Islam implied by all the romantic Arabist rhetoric?
Does this picture look to you like a foolish and ignorant attempt to intervene in Islam’s private concerns? Please explain why. Because to me it looks like a blast of honesty in a dishonest age…
Indeed it does.