by Mary Jackson (February 2007)
Why are Western women sympathetic to Islam? Why are we not repulsed by an ideology that classes us as inferior, that could have married us off at nine, that allows our husbands to beat us and our three co-wives, and would have us stoned to death for “adultery” even when this results from rape? I can understand – barely – the attraction of Islam for Western men, particularly those who are not keen on uppity women. But for women? It defies common sense.
Women’s inferior status in Islam has been fully documented. Their wretched half-lives are lived out in all Islamic countries, and the more Islamic the country, the worse it is for them. Moreover, the treatment cannot be ascribed merely to culture or custom as it derives from the Koran itself and from the example of Mohammed. By way of illustration, on seizing power in Iran, one of the first laws Ayatollah Khomeini passed was to lower the age of “consent” for “marriage” of girls to nine, on the example of Mohammed, who, as attested in the authentic Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim, consummated his “marriage” to Aisha when she was nine years old.
Women and girls unfortunate enough to live under Islamic law, or even in nominally secular countries where Islam holds sway, have little choice but to submit to their fate. To speak out against it is to invite at best ostracism and at worst honour killing. However, in the West, in the free world, where the individual is valued and where women are starting to attain something resembling equal rights, we do have a choice, and a duty to exercise our freedom responsibly. For Western women, the only rational response to Islam should be revulsion, with a smattering of contempt and mockery. Fear, lest this ideology come to power, is also rational. But respect, even tolerance, for Islam, is irresponsible and dangerous. Western women who freely embrace Islam, or who speak favourably of it are misguided or wilfully ignorant and occasionally wicked. I call these women dozy bints.
There are different levels of dozy binthood, and different degrees of culpability. First of all come the stooges. These are the bints more sinned against than sinning.
Shabina Begum is one such. This is the Luton schoolgirl who was excluded from school for wearing a jilbab. Denbigh High School had a perfect right to enforce its uniform policy, as the House of Lords eventually concluded. Only thirteen when the case began, the girl, an orphan, said little in court, for she was merely the mouthpiece of her brothers and of Hizb ut Tahrir, a radical Islamic party. When a girl is under age, and surrounded by men from a deeply misogynist culture and religion, she is not acting of her own free will, even if she claims to be.
More recently, a fourteen-year-old Muslim grammar school pupil has been excluded for wearing the niqab or face-veil, again in breach of the school uniform policy. Grammar schools, all but completely destroyed, are excellent institutions, and the girl is extremely fortunate to be attending one. Her father, instead of being grateful for the education his daughter is receiving, an education impossible under Islam, is taking legal action against the school at the taxpayers’ expense. It is unlikely that the girl chose freely to wear a mask, but even if she did, a responsible parent would be supporting the school and ordering her to take it off.
At thirteen and fourteen, these girls are under the care, protection and influence of their male Muslim relatives, and so their choice is not entirely free. However, they do live in the West, and so their action is not entirely coerced. My verdict: dozy bints, but their dozy binthood is forgivable and may pass.
The next level of dozy binthood is occupied by the attention seekers. Their form of Islam screams: “Look at me!” They may mean this quite literally. Here is Brendan O’Neill:
The aim is to stand out and become a talking point, rather than to hide meekly away from an apparently rapacious culture. When a woman donned the burka in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan she became just another blue sheet drifting through the streets, indistinguishable from all the other women; a nobody, a non-person, just as the Taliban desired it. But when a woman in Britain puts on the hijab or niqab or burka, she immediately stands out from the crowd and turns heads.
Karen Green, writing in The Age, gets to the heart of the matter:
Muslim women claim to wear the headscarf, or other more voluminous covering, out of modesty. I suspect that, in fact, the veil is attractive to women because it subtly appeals to their vanity. Islam tells women that, no matter how plain, old or ill-favoured she is, the sight of her uncovered hair will be so stimulating, that any man who sees it will lose control of his passions. Thus, beneath her modest covering, a Muslim woman can imagine herself the most desirable creature possible. Women who operate freely in society, conversing with men on a daily basis, are, in the end, forced to form a just assessment of their desirability. Unless she is particularly young and pretty, a woman will be made well aware of most men’s indifference to her charms. She will find, in the long run, that likeable men will like her as much for her character, skills and wit, as for her beauty. It is when woman’s sexuality is not shrouded that it ceases to be an object of mystery and passion to men, and women have the greatest chance of being treated as more than sexual objects.
The vanity may not be physical. It could well be a wish to appear interesting. Niqabbed dozy bint “Kadijah”, who gave the “alternative” Christmas broadcast on Channel 4 is a case in point. She may want us to think she is beautiful underneath the niqab, but it is just as likely that she wants us to think she is interesting.
So what did Khidijah have to teach us? She started off by saying that she was British and that she had converted ten years ago and asking, with no trace of irony, whether anyone would believe that she was the great-granddaughter of a suffragette. Her great-grandmother must be turning in her grave, not least at Khadijah’s appropriation of the suffragettes’ real battles to lend credibility to the spurious liberation offered by the veil. For inevitably Khadijah went on to say that the niqab made her feel truly liberated, that it was about personal choice, just as some women choose to wear scanty clothes – that burkha versus bikini thing again. Jack Straw’s comments were “unhelpful” – don’t you just hate that word? – and we should be more tolerant. The Danish cartoons, too, were unhelpful and showed intolerance – amazingly on our part, not on the part of the violent Muslim protesters.
Leaving aside the nonsense in Khadijah’s arguments, is it not the case that she wants people to ask what an intelligent – or so she thinks – liberated woman (suffragette great-grandmother) is doing embracing Islam? She wants us to be curious about her, and this is the only way this dull and unoriginal girl can arouse our interest.
A Western woman who is nothing special can get her fifteen minutes of fame by converting to Islam; people will wonder why. Why did Yvonne Ridley, a journalist held captive by the Taliban, later adopt the religion of her captors? Stockholm Syndrome? Because Islam is really beautiful? Or could it be because she wants you to ask? Her career as a journalist was flagging. Without her conversion, she might have faded away.
Ridley is an attention seeker, but also a contrarian. This is my next category of dozy bints. Women in this category do not usually convert to Islam, but they support it or idealise it because it is an anti-Western ideology. Germaine Greer, High Priestess of feminism, supported Shabina Begum’s decision to wear the jilbab, a symbol of oppression which she would abhor were it worn by Christian fundamentalists. Opposition to the West, or rather a caricature of the West, is all that matters. Yvonne Ridley again:
Some young Muslim feminists consider the hijab and the nikab political symbols, too, a way of rejecting Western excesses such as binge drinking, casual sex and drug use. What is more liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your surgically enhanced breasts, or being judged on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety — not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.
Leaving aside the fact that Muslim women are not judged on their character and intelligence, but on their beauty, youth, obedience and breeding power, are “binge drinking, casual sex and drug use” all the West has to offer? And is Islam the only alternative to a life of debauchery?
Naturally, the West is inferior to Islam, with its community spirit and family values. Here is Leila Abu-Lughod, for whom the burkha is less of a tent than a camper van:
It was the anthropologist Hanna Papanek, working in Pakistan, who twenty years ago coined this term of “portable seclusion.” I like the phrase because it makes me see burqas as symbolic “mobile homes” that free women to move about in public and among strange men in societies where women’s respectability, and protection, depend on their association with families and the homes which are the center of family lives.
The point about women’s veiling is of course too complicated to lay out here. But there were three reasons why I said it could not so simply be associated with lack of agency. First, “veiling” is not one thing across different parts of the Muslim world, or even among different social groups within particular regions. The variety is extraordinary, going from headscarves unselfconsciously worn by young women in rural areas to the fuller forms of the very modern “Islamic dress” now being adopted by university women in the most elite of fields including medicine and engineering. Second, many of the women around the Muslim world who wear these different forms of cover describe this as a choice. We need to take their views seriously, even if not at face value. Beyond that, however, we need to ask some hard questions about what we actually mean when we use words like “agency” and “choice” when talking about human beings, always social beings always living in particular societies with culturally variable meanings of personhood. Do we not all work within social codes? What does the expression we often use here “the tyranny of fashion” suggest about agency in dress codes?
“Culturally variable meanings of personhood”? What weasel words. The wearing of this “portable seclusion” has nothing to do with the threat of beating or rape if it isn’t worn? Or does the meaning of personhood vary so much that rape or beating doesn’t feel so bad?
Few women have a personhood so culturally variable that they enjoy being abused in real life. But fantasies about strong, brutally masculine heroes are the stock-in-trade of romantic fiction, which brings me to my next group of dozy bints: swooners.
“Marry me, you little fool,” says Maxim de Winter in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Instead of snorting and telling him to shove off, our breathless, unnamed heroine is overwhelmed by his masterful tone. Perhaps he had a sensuous but cruel mouth, twitching at the corners with something like amusement. Perhaps his face was taut with the hunger of a mountain lion.
Ladies, doesn’t your pulse start to race at the thought of a Son of Allah whisking you off to his harem? No? This may be because too many Sons of Allah look like this:
Not all, though. Here’s Tariq Ramadan:
Rather attractive, isn’t he, with his liquid brown eyes, hands soft, yet strong, his sensuous but cruel mouth, twitching at the corners with something like amusement? He certainly set Rosemary Bechler’s girlish heart a-flutter, when the ex-Communist interviewed him for OpenDemocracy:
From the start, I felt in the presence of leadership: but of the style of an exiled prince, a king over the water, a president in exile, an errant soul. Tariq Ramadan, one had the impression, was what might have happened to Hamlet, had he survived the first intimations that there was “something rotten in the state of Denmark”. It is easy to forget that he is also a philosopher and erstwhile teacher, whose simple and clear examples of argument contain fastidious formulations it is easy to underestimate.
Rosemary, take a cold shower. Thanks to David Thompson, who drew my attention to this, while pointing out that “poor Rose was far too busy hyperventilating and describing Ramadan’s manly charms to actually test his dubious assertions.” Since Ramadan is a past master of taqiyya, a more searching interview was needed.
The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting is another girlish swooner. Interviewing Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the Muslim “scholar” who says that immodestly dressed women invite rape, that homosexuals should be killed, and that disobedient wives should be beaten (“Islam doesn’t call for beating but it is necessitated by certain circumstances for a certain type of woman and within limits”), she challenges him on none of these matters. Instead, she comments:
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi seems frail and betrays his 79 years as he walks into the ornate sitting room in his Qatari home. But after breaking his Ramadan fast, he talks late into the night with undimmed energy and passion. Widely regarded as the foremost scholar of Sunni Islam, he is a man with many enemies and many more admirers, and that might be the least of the contradictions that surround him…
He’s just misunderstood, you see, but ah, the passion, the energy…
Compare this fawning with Oriana Fallaci’s robust encounter with Ayatollah Khomeini. Mark Steyn comments:
She didn’t subscribe to the old aphrodisiac-of-power clichés: on the contrary, she often found alpha males one big zzzzzzzz, and great men had the vague sensation their “apparatus” was withering under her gaze….After traveling to Qom and kicking her heels for ten days waiting for him to agree to see her, she was ushered – barefoot and wearing a chador – into his presence and found what she subsequently described as the most handsome old man she’d ever met. In his own way, he must have dug the crazy Italian chick: The meeting was terminated when she tore off “this stupid medieval rag” and hurled her chador to the floor. But he agreed to return a day or two later to finish the interview…. She gravitated to power mainly for the opportunities it afforded to knee it in the crotch.
That’s more like it.
So far, all our dozy bints, the stooges, the attention-seekers, the contrarians and the swooners, have been foolish, rather than deliberately misleading. Into this last category, the falsifiers, falls Karen Armstrong.
In his article Karen Armstrong: Islam’s Hagiographer, David Thompson comes to the conclusion that Armstrong is deliberately re-writing history and ignoring inconvenient facts:
According to Armstrong, Mohammed was, above all, a “peacemaker” who “respected” Jews and other non-Muslims. Yet nowhere in the Qur’an and Sunnah does Mohammed refer to non-Muslims as in any way deserving of respect as equals. Quite the opposite, in fact. Apparently, we are to ignore 1400 years of Islamic history contradicting Armstrong’s view, and to ignore the contents of the Qur’an and the explicitly anti-Semitic ‘revelations’ of Islam’s founder. Has Armstrong not read Ibn Ishaq’s quasi-sacred biography of Mohammed? Has she not read the Hadiths? Does she not know of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza and the opportunist raids against the Bani Quainuqa, Bani Nadir and Bani Isra’il and other Jewish tribes? Does she not know how these events were justified as a divine duty, one which formed the theological basis of the Great Jihad of Abu Bakr, setting in motion one of the most formidable military expansions in Islamic history? Does she not know how these theological ideas established Jews and Christians’ subordinate legal status throughout much of the Islamic world for hundreds of years?
Armstrong asserts that, “until recently, no Muslim thinker had ever claimed [violent jihad] was a central tenet of Islam”. In fact, contemporary jihadists draw upon theological traditions reaching back to Mohammed’s own murderous example. The Fifteenth Century historian and philosopher, Ibn Khaldun, summarised the consensus of five centuries of prior Sunni theology regarding jihad in his book, The Muqudimmah: “In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the… mission to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force… Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations
Given that Armstrong is regularly described as a “respected scholar” and an “expert on Islam”, she must surely know of Khaldun and his sources, and must surely know how Mohammed himself conceived jihad primarily as an expansionist military endeavour. Armstrong must also be aware of the jihad campaigns of religious ‘cleansing’ throughout the Arab Peninsula, in accord with Mohammed’s death bed words.
If Armstrong does not know of such things, in what sense can she be considered a “respected scholar” of this subject? For what, exactly, is she respected? For reaffirming popular misconceptions and PC prejudice, even when her claims are demonstrably false and egregiously misleading? It is, I think, more likely that Armstrong is aware of these inconvenient details and has chosen not to divulge them. Either way, Islam’s foremost hagiographer and shill has found an audience among Muslims and those on the left with little appetite for unflattering facts and a preference for being told whatever they wish to hear.
Armstrong knows exactly what she is doing. Perhaps the term “dozy bint” is too good for her.
In conclusion, it may be asked whether dozy bints matter. Surely they are harmless. Why should it bother me if somebody wants to dress up in a tent, or pray five times a day?
Dozy bints do matter. They make Islam seem like a harmless diversion. Perhaps, for them, it is. Like Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess, they can stop at any time. But for every Western woman who claims that she wears the niqab out of free choice, there are thousands of women in Muslim countries whom this choice insults, and who would throw off their “portable seclusion” in an instant if they could. Islam is not a harmless diversion. It is the most retrograde force on earth and a serious threat to Western civilisation. For women, in particular, opting for Islam is like a turkey voting for Christmas. It is not a game, and in the defence of our civilisation there is no place for the dozy bint.
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Mary Jackson contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.
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