Pick Your Fights Better

I’ve been asked my opinion a few times today on the Jim Fitzpatrick MP IFE/LMC wedding-walkout business:

A government minister has defended his decision to walk out of a Muslim wedding in east London because he was told he must sit apart from his wife.

Jim Fitzpatrick, food, farming and environment minister, left a ceremony at London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel.

The MP for Poplar and Canning Town told the BBC the segregation showed a degree of intolerance in the East End.
But a spokesman for the centre said the segregation was at the request of the couple getting married.

Mr Fitzpatrick, whose constituency is home to a large Muslim community, blamed the tough stance on the Islamic Forum Europe (IFE) – a controversial organisation that calls for Sharia law – which is based in the same building.

The vast number of my Muslim constituents who’ve contacted me have expressed sympathy.

He told the BBC’s Today: “This is a very exceptional occasion, it’s a new occurrence.

“It perhaps demonstrates that there is a degree of intolerance – certainly exclusion rather than inclusion which we are trying to build in the East End.”

I have strong views on segregation of the sexes. I was recently physically thrown out of a supposedly “open” and non-denominational meeting – run by Al Muhajiroun – because I tried to enter the “Men Only” area with a female friend (obviously, they couldn’t physically touch a woman, but were happy to thump me instead).  I opposed gender segregation in my local swimming pool, which had been introduced for the benefit of Haredi women. Indeed, one of the reasons that I drifted away from Orthodox Judaism is because women and men sit separately, and because women are prevented from playing a full role in religious services. That’s not for me.

Segregation usually carries with it the notion that men and women cannot safely be left in each others’ company without ‘immorality’ taking place. In a religious context, it often additionally reflects the social disempowerment of women.  Now, I know that isn’t necessarily the case: many women who accept segregation in strictly religious context nevertheless excel in their professional lives. However, I suspect that is usually despite the religious/cultural attitudes that give rise to segregation.

If a religious Muslim or Jewish friend invited me to a wedding and told me that it was going to be segregated, would I go? Probably, yes. It would be rude not to.

I also kinda think it is  a bit rude, you know, to go along to the wedding but then to make a scene about segregation.This wasn’t a political meeting. It was not even a public meeting. It happened to be in the headquarters of a clerical fascist organisation – but then there are a limited number of large civic buildings set up to cater for weddings, so what can you do?

I’m pleased about one thing. Jim Fitzpatrick clearly understands that the London Muslim Centre is the base for the Islamic Forum Europe, and appreciates that the LMC/IFE is a vicious and dangerous organisation which should be opposed by all democrats and supporters of liberal pluralism.

However, frankly, I’d rather that Jim Fitzpatrick had made a fuss about the fact that Al Qaeda theoretician, Awlaki, recently gave a talk at the LMC (at a segregated meeting). Or that the name of the Imam of the connected East London Mosque appears on the list of signatories of the Istanbul Declaration: a document that called for attacks on international navies enforcing the UN ceasefire in Gaza, and attacks on those who ‘stand with Israel’.

That is worth grandstanding about. What people do a wedding – I don’t think so.


Alex Hitchens at Standpoint is thinking along the same lines:

In any case, the government has no leg to stand on in this matter as it has sponsored and supported public events in public venues where gender segregation was enforced.  Last year, an event called the Global Peace and Unity (GPU), which I have written about before, enforced gender segregation (click here for a picture of the seating plan).  I attended with my girlfriend and was told by some pimple faced cretin that I was not allowed to sit with her.  This was held at London’s Excel exhibition centre and was attended by ministers from all three major parties and included a video message of endorsement from Jack Straw.  The event organiser was also given £10,000 by the Metropolitan Police.