Vive Charlie Issue 19 - Page 15

Another week, another dose of outrage. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins (apparently, he also does some science type stuff between bouts of being a non-believer) incurred the righteous fury of some internet feminists. Ms Lauren Nelson was so moved that she felt compelled to pen a lively piece, in which Dawkins was upbraided for having the temerity to suggest that Islam needed a feminist revolution.

His three main failings (“fails”, in modern parlance) were said to be a failure to acknowledge that such a thing already existed, his arrogance as an outsider offering help, and then being mean when the first two misdeeds were drawn to his attention.

We’re going to take a brief look at each of these criticisms, but not before I set out my own perspective. I am a wealthy white man living in Western Europe. I was raised a Christian. I do not think that any views can be placed beyond criticism, regardless of their inspiration or origin. I am a passionate defender of free speech, and the principle of secularism. My (limited, white, male) understanding of feminism is that it works to achieve equality between men and women. I believe this to be a Good Thing™.

Firstly, the Islamic feminist revolution. Gender equality, sadly, is conspicuous in its absence from large segments of Islam, and in particular from the legal manifestation of Islam, Sharia. Yes, I know that other religions can also be a bit nasty to women, but Dawkins and Nelson both used the I-word, and I’m trying to stay on topic. Ms Nelson began by tackling Dawkins’ knowledge of experiences of Muslim women:

“He’s relying primarily on mainstream media accounts of what it’s like to be a woman living in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is prevalent. To be sure, those stories can be jarring. Who can hear Malala tell her tale and not be moved? Who can read of an 11-year-old Iranian girl being gang raped without rage?”

As an aside, “can be jarring”? ‘Can be’? ‘Jarring’? These stories are absolutely fucking horrendous. I have no idea what Dawkins knows or doesn’t know about the lives of Muslim women, but what of the Islamic feminist revolution? I’m pleased to say that in the centuries that have passed since Mo set up shop, the place of women in Islam has changed beyond recognition. No longer are they the oppressed victims of a violent and

misogynistic belief system, in which they are treated as chattels and under which they suffer horrendous—sorry? What? Ah. Well, we can dream. In the meantime, perhaps we can forgive Dawkins for failing to recognise the progression of feminism in Islam, such as it is, as a ‘revolution’.

Let’s move on from the semantic discussion of what to call this progression, and consider the role a non Muslim, non woman should play in a discussion of feminism in Islam. Is it arrogant to offer help? I have to disagree. It would certainly be arrogant for an atheist man to give Muslim women a step-by-step guide on how to ‘liberate themselves’ from religious oppression, but that’s exactly what Dawkins didn’t do. He simply asked how he could help.

The question itself demonstrates a lack of knowledge. By asking, he admits that he does not know what the answers are. The answer may be a detailed list of the help that is needed. Sadly, such a simple and tidy answer is unlikely to present itself. The answer may be ‘nothing, this is something we need to handle ourselves’. That would be a determined effort to be self-reliant. The answer certainly isn’t to start writing articles about how Dawkins ‘spectacularly fails’.

Finally, Dawkins was taken to task for being ‘derisive and belittling’. I have a confession to make. I don’t care. I don’t care if he called you stupid. I don’t care if he insulted your religion or other belief system. I don’t care if he said you were fucking ridiculous for shoe-horning your ‘precocious six year old’ into your writing bio.

If you want to get upset about belittling attitudes, if you want a worthy target for your internet rage, I can recommend looking into the status of women in Islam. In particular, you may wish to consider their rights in ‘Middle Eastern countries where Islam is prevalent’ (I believe preferred usage is ‘dominant’, by the way).

This is what the world has become. A simple enquiry in a tweet, a grand total of 140 characters, has been criticised for lacking context and perspective. The dialogue has moved away from feminism in Islam. To the Muslim feminists who have read this far, my commiserations. You have enough on your plates without my sarcasm. I’d ask how I can help you, but at this point, I’m afraid to ask.