Also read: Liberal & Progressive Left? Not Really
This week a report published last month by Universities UK (UUK), a union representing the nation’s Higher Education institutions, has received fresh criticisms from a new and somewhat surprising type of adversary. They published a report advising universities on procedures pertaining to hosting events with external speakers. It advised based upon relevant existing laws, such as the Education Act and the Equalities Act, including a case study of religious societies providing voluntary specific seating for male and female attendees, advising particularly on how equality and free speech obligations interact in banning speakers. The seemingly harmless report did the usual rounds to universities without much comment, until it was suddenly picked up by the media this week, with a surprising twist to it. UUK and indeed universities in general have received attacks that they are sponsoring “gender apartheid”, “sexism” and “discrimination”, among a plethora of equally ridiculous and sensationalist terms, for merely stating the law on religious societies’ rights to voluntary seating plans. While we are used to this wilful mis-framing of debates around allowing Muslims the freedom to practice aspects of their faith by the usual right-wing suspects, they seem to have recruited an army of what can only be described as “Useful Idiots”, to coin a phrase. These new pawns seem to have a much more extensive reach into the mainstream media and politics, with the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News, among others, openly promoting the mis-framed narrative of the debate, that instead of a harmless symbol of Islam in public, Islamic seating plans are actually due to a secret 1,400-year-old conspiracy against women.
Many are aware that the Islamophobia machine is geared towards shifting Britain from its more traditional liberalism and tolerance—under which minorities have flourished and become part of the fabric of society—to a ‘muscular liberalism’, intolerant to anything other than its own self-presuming set of universals. By any other name it is a step in the direction of fascism, but it is gaining momentum in mainstream society. Working hard on the ground, one of the islamophobia industry’s finest mercenaries, Student Rights, have been able to promote their ‘otherisation’ of Islam and Muslims through pulling the wool over the eyes of atheist, LGBT and now feminist and liberal student societies, convincing them that the Muslim students on campus seek to undermine all that they stand for, their growing autonomy posing a threat to them all. In case we forgot, Student Rights is a pressure group without members, run by people—not students—with links to the Henry Jackson Society, a well-known right wing think tank with well-known right wing anti-Muslim individuals. Doing little more than intellectualising hate, they do know how to get media coverage, and their list of Useful Idiots is growing.
Useful Idiots differ in their gullibility. For some, the mere coincidence of the word ‘segregation’ is sufficient for them to envisage the Jim Crow laws and take to the streets and internet forums in protest. For the slightly more astute, throw a few sensationalist terms like ‘apartheid’ (shamelessly especially in the run up to Nelson Mandela’s funeral) and ‘sexism’ and they will happily offer their services, foolishly thinking themselves as the new suffragettes . For those too clever to fall for those heart string-tugs, a generous dose of slippery-slope fallacies leading to threats like “holocaust” and “gay discrimination” might just do the job (as tabloid radio LBC presenter, James O’Brien, yesterday showed us). Unfortunately, many of those responsible for researching and reporting news in mainstream media have fallen into the trap and started attacking UUK’s “support of extremists” and “religious zealots” on grounds of the fallacious rhetoric that they have been fed. So what are some of the fallacies of this mis-framed debate?
One of the most absurd—yet astoundingly still promulgated—fallacies is that segregation equals discrimination. This is despite the initial report clearly outlining the simple fact that they are referring to a scenario where each gender was treated exactly the same—one would not have an advantage over the other. Not only that, but Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK, has repeatedly re-enforced this point, in the face of many a rude and obnoxious (Useful Idiot) interviewer . That people wilfully turn this into an issue of women’s rights or sexism is absolutely bamboozling. In an amusing exchange between Dandridge and a BBC news interviewer, she interrupted his monologue about the superior liberal way of university life allowing women to “sit wherever the heck they want”—“We are allowing women to “sit wherever the heck” they want, you’re the one who is saying they can’t!” This fleeting clarification that those who seek to ban the provision of voluntary separate seating are in fact dictating where women should sit, was unfortunately drowned out and probably forgotten when the interviewer moved on swiftly to a different fallacious line of attack, one of perhaps only two clarifications which exists in mainstream media at the moment. The other example is IERA’s Saleem Chaghtai on Channel 4 News, in response to another obnoxious interviewer preposterously asking, what gives Muslims “the right to bring this Medieval religious view into universities that are based on logic and learning?” Chagtai said that providing optional separate seating “is probably the most liberal and progressive piece of legislation that is enshrined in the Equalities Act 2010, where we have to provide for those people, they call it ‘providing access’—” only to be cut off mid-sentence for images of protestors waving anti “gender apartheid” placards. Thank you, Channel 4.
Despite these pleas to rational and logical thinking, some people still cling on to this emotionally-charged false narrative, as though whatever anyone says—including women—this must be a matter of discrimination. It just must be. Don’t ask for proof or logic, it just… well, must be.
The Labour party’s resident Mufti, Jack Straw (of all people) interviewed by the BBC yesterday morning said “remarkably few devout Muslims take the view that men and women should be segregated at meetings,” and when told by the interviewer that this is allowed under English law, he responded: “I’d like to see that interpretation of the law tested in our highest courts… By permitting gatherings where men and women are separated, they [universities] are endorsing such a decision by these minority religious zealots [emphasis added]. The courts would say, “Well hang on, wait a minute, a basic human right is that men and women are treated equally and this is not equal”.” I admit, listening to this, I did have to rewind the podcast a few times; he really did say that. But why is a politician who is not running for re-election pushing this mis-framed narrative and turning a matter where men and women are treated the same into a breach of equality? Furthermore, since—as the report clearly emphasises as did Nicola Dandridge—there is no discrimination here since men and women would be “segregated exactly the same”, why are people automatically referring to women being oppressed here? This almost-Freudian latent misogyny in some people’s minds prevents them from realising it should equally be men being oppressed here too, since they are also being segregated. As the BBC interviewer morosely attacked Dandridge, “You are more concerned about the free speech of someone who doesn’t like women and wants them to be put in a separate place in the room than you are about the rights of a woman to sit where she wants to.” It seems the thought of the weak and frail woman, unable to make her own decisions as to where to sit, is a difficult picture to get out of some people’s heads.
Another usual suspect has also been kindly invited by Channel 4 News to air her vitriol against Muslims: Yasmin Alibhai Brown. I am unsure whether she falls into the category of Useful Idiot, or Malicious Agent of Hate. There’s something about her ridiculous outbursts against those she disagrees with that suggests a deluded sincerity, although if she was truly sincere in wanting to help women she probably wouldn’t be silencing their voices on where they wish to sit, let alone what they choose to wear . Her mis-framing of this debate widened the scope of hate to turn this into an “Islamist” phenomenon (there’s that lovely new word, again), calling separate seating a “Saudi” import. Perhaps someone should inform the poor soul that Islamic gender separation predates the existence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by over 1,300 years. She and others at a pitifully low-turnout protest against UUK (which, all credit to them, managed to earn prime time news reports on Channel 4, BBC and Sky News, at least), also tried to splash in a bit of “appeasing extremists” and “foreign students” into the cauldron containing UUK’s secret motives for publishing the report.
So where do we go from here? Well, reframing the debate would be a good start. UUK has thankfully defended the report, and attempted to highlight blatant fallacies spread against it to fire up the ignorant and the foolish, maybe with the hope of de-radicalising one Useful Idiot at a time. Nicola Dandridge clarified in her BBC radio interview, that elements of gender segregation are “not alien to our culture” with of course separate gender facilities ranging from entire institutions to toilets being normal and completely acceptable in society. I would clarify: that is, when non-Muslims provide them. Funnily enough, rhetoric like “gender apartheid” doesn’t seem to apply to them, it’s a courtesy that seemingly only Muslims enjoy, when they provide separate facilities for men and women. It’s a shame that Channel 4 and BBC et al. not only did nothing to reframe the debate, but continued to dig themselves deeper and deeper into the rhetoric to further mis-frame it (whatever sells, ey?). Channel 4 even shamelessly quoted Student Rights’ lies about “enforced segregation” at a debate organised by IERA. Only they failed to air Saleem Chagtai’s clarification that it was not enforced (they have recorded video evidence), but the hullabaloo was due to an atheist attendee who got up from his (unsegregated) seat next to his friends, and insisted on sitting within a group of Muslim sisters who chose to sit together (separately from men); they complained to the IERA stewards, who then asked him to leave them alone, and the rest is his-story. Of course, Channel 4 forgot to include that clarification in the final broadcast since they probably ran out of time after spending two and a half minutes on the false accusation of enforced segregation in the first place . Libel, anyone?
Another point to make when reframing the debate, is that the UUK report does not highlight new measures to give Muslims more power, or change anything at all; the report merely describes what the law is and how it applies to universities at the moment. Despite this, they have been attacked as someone going against the status quo. Two obnoxious examples of this are in Dandridge’s BBC interviewer and the infamous Alibhai Brown. The former rounded off his interview with a melodramatic, “We believe in the canon of liberal values in universities that has led us to this point in our civilisation in our life, and if people believe differently then they can go and hold their lectures somewhere else!” Alibhai Brown’s offering was a seemingly uncontrolled outburst at Omar Ali, president of the federation of students’ Islamic societies (FOSIS), representing over 100,000 Muslim students across the country, whom she commanded to “go and make [their] own universities, why do [they] want to take over ours?!” Examples all over the internet are replete, of people mis-framing this into an issue of Muslims taking over or wanting to impose something when, the facts are as clear as day that, this is a simple matter of what is already enshrined in legislation. If people like Alibhai Brown don’t like it, they can go and open their own universities, we’re fine with ours, thanks.
Between writing and publishing this article, the Prime Minister David Cameron, in a tyrannical move unprecedented even from him, has put pressure on UUK to overturn their advice to universities regarding allowing voluntary segregation . A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street made it clear that “Mr Cameron wanted a ban on gender-segregated audiences on campus even where men and women voluntarily separate themselves [Emphasis added].” The Islamophobia industry is no doubt celebrating a victory in its list of Useful Idiots penetrating 10 Downing Street and the Ministry of Truth itself. The industry transcends party-politics, embracing the opposition cabinet in the form of Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Streatham, Chuka Umunna . Nicola Dandridge seems to have been put between the rock of integrity and truth, and the hard place of Useful Idiot intimidation. She has enlisted the help of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review the report, although sadly stating that, “Meanwhile the case study which triggered this debate has been withdrawn pending this review.”
I would like to thank UUK for their resilience and standing by logic in the face of such intimidation, and I recommend other Muslims and non-Muslims to do similar. We call upon Muslims and the tolerant side of wider society that still upholds the traditional values of Britain, to work hard to reshape and reframe this hijacked debate, and highlight the sad fact that the Prime Minister of 21st century Britain has the audacity to openly call for a ban on voluntary (yes, voluntary!) separate seating arrangements provided by Muslims. We are confident that those in the legal profession can rely on their training in logic, rationale and rising above emotionally and politically-charged rhetoric. They will, if Allah wills, treat this debate with the nuance, subtlety and intelligence it requires which, I am ashamed to say, the majority of the mainstream media and the Establishment has failed miserably to exhibit. I look forward to the day when Muslims can practice Islam freely again, and their practices are given fair exposure, which Islam thrives upon. Trying to stifle intellectual discourse with rhetoric and banning of free speech only proves that the enemies of Islam are unable to challenge Islam and Muslims on a level playing field.
I cannot help myself but to indulge in one last irony. Those that are—intentionally or otherwise—protesting against Islam and Muslims, wave banners against apartheid, sexism and discrimination. Their belief that these things are indeed evil, is due to their incidental existence in this point in history when, thankfully, the non-Muslim world has, through a long process of trial and error, come to generally view these as morally bad, due to social pressure and public opinion. The Islam that they covertly or overtly attack, however, has consistently held these as vices since its inception, a millennium and a half ago. The fact that some people are protesting against Islamic practices now due to the social pressure around them moulding their morality, makes me wish I could take them back in time, to 1920s’ UK, 1950s’ USA and 1970s’ South Africa, where social pressure—and therefore their moral values—would be in favour of sexual and racial discrimination and apartheid. Those standing in opposition to those vices in fact would be the Muslims holding on to their consistent and unchanging values, that do not blow in the wind of public opinion.
 Dandridge made the Islamophobe hit-list earlier this year when she appeared at an event in the House of Lords in support of Muslim students: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWTfgYPWnoc&feature=c4-overview&list=UUnEUEhhP6IEDQj2eCW7tNrQ