UK Politics

Watching Islamophobia

Now this is interesting…

  • The majority of mosques in Britain ban women from using them
  • While domestic violence may be no higher than the national average, Muslim women are far less likely to report it
  • Many Muslim women feel unable to speak to their Imams about family or marital issues
  • Muslim women seeking to enter mosques to pray are turned away agressively and sometimes violently
  • The Muslim Council of Britain patronises women and is unwilling to help them
  • It is not only old men with misogynistic and patriarchal views, but many young Muslim men as well
  • When confronted or threatened, the first response of many religious Muslim men is to shout and lash out
  • Mulism women are routinely denied education after puberty because it is seen as “unnecessary” in their role as Muslim women

Now, if Martin Bright or the Panorama team had been behind these revalations on a prime time TV documentary, you can be sure that Bob Pitt over at Islamophobia-Watch would have been howling like a banshee about “demonisation” of the Muslim community. So I was surprised to see that nothing appeared on his blog after the airing of “Women Only Jihad” on Channel 4 earlier this week.

Strage isn’t it? Well, strange until you realise that the reason is that MPAC were behind the documentary. It was their women’s sub-committee (with the support of male colleagues) who led the charge.

Funny thing is, when the issue is gay rights, rather than women’s rights, those who trigger these types of media confrontations are accused of ‘dividing the community’ or contributing to the demonisation of Muslims in the press, and so-forth.

Actually, that’s unfair. Muslim women – like Irshad Manji – who have raised feminist issues have also routinely been accused of such being ‘divisive’ and non-Muslim critics of Muslim misogyny have – of course – been accused of ‘Islamophobia’ – usually by MPAC, or IHRC through their “Islamophobia Awards”.

So what’s up?

“Women Only Jihad” is easily one of the clearest indictments (as the bullet points above show) of the anti-women streak in a significant proportion of British Muslims and I’m really puzzled that MPAC have chosen to air so much dirty laundy under the glare of the TV lights. I am not puzzled that Bob Pitt has chosen to ignore the issue, however.

More surprising, however, was the prime-time sales pitch which went roughly along these lines: This is an issue that affect the wider community – not just Muslims – because if women are more integrated into the mosques then they won’t be testosterone-filled male-enclaves of radicalism. Did I get that right?


Is this part of a power-play in which MPAC jostles with the MCB? Perhaps. But if it is sincere, then I applaud them. I hope they will win this battle and consider taking on the issue of gay Muslims next.

But I worry that my more conspiratorial theory might me more on the money. Even though the MPAC women made contact with local women during their tour of sexist mosques, it did not appear that they made any attempt to enlist their support. One group in particular – women who had set up a prayer room in a house near the mosque – seemed suitable candidates for recruitment to the cause. If any attempt was made to do this, it wasn’t shown in the documentary. This does tend to hint at a publicity stunt more than a sincere effort. In that vane, it should be noted that during a meeting with the Lancichire Council of Mosques, it was MPAC’s Asghar Bukhari who seemed the most aggressive and keen to escalate the confrontation in front of the cameras.

Still, that caveat aside, it’s a good debate they’ve started. Let’s hope it goes somewhere and that they don’t fall foul of Mr Pitt.

As a liberal secularist, for me it seems a win-win situation. At worst, Mulsim women might gain a stronger voice and start to deconstruct oppressive patriarchy. At best, liberalisation will gnaw away at the reactionary foundations of the religion and – as it has done in Christianity – will begin to undermine it.