Thursday, May 07, 2015

Worries about the Secular Critique of Islam

Once upon a time The Spectator was a conservative publication, but there is nothing socially conservative about what Kate Maltby had to say on its website about the Labour Rally in Hodge Hill, Birmingham, from which Labour MP Sion Simon tweeted this image.

There can be no excuse for requiring women to sit separately at an event at which they’re supposed to use their brains as engaged citizens, not as sex objects or as baby machines. True, orthodox branches of both Islam and Judaism require men and women to sit separately in their religious services – one reason why I’m not planning to convert to either any time soon – on the grounds that proximity to the opposite sex may distract worshippers from meditating on God. As yesterday’s rally wasn’t a religious service, I can only conclude that rather than meditating on God, the organizers were anxious that no sexual thrill should distract the watchers from meditating instead on the noble figure of Tom Watson.

Maltby's objection appears to be to (what she imagines to be) Islamic theology and culture.  But not only does she not like it, she thinks it is intolerable that anyone should disagree with her.

As I’ve written before, simply having the option of separate seating sends a message that anyone who doesn’t conform to traditional male and female roles is a problem.

Maltby may be right that the organisers - notably a Muslim Councillor, Ansar Ali Khan - regard the rejection of traditional gender roles as 'a problem'. Why, exactly, shouldn't they? Maltby seems to suggest that their position should not be tolerated: even the option of separate seating is wrong, political parties should not go near such events, they should be run out of town.

Catholic commentators jumping on this bandwagon should note that it is not only Jews and Muslims who have, historically, separated men and women in places of worship: Catholics did as well. The practice is commended, though not regarded as compulsory, in the 1917 Code of Canon Law - Canon 1262.1:

It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.

I have even seen this in practice, in country districts in Africa, though I don't think it has happened in Europe for a century. To say it is about 'distractions' is not quite right. It is an expression of female modesty and reserve, and male respect for that modesty and reserve. As such, it is particularly appropriate in church, but its extension to other contexts is perfectly comprehensible.

Islam, Judaism and Catholicism may be oppressive to women - that's for Maltby to argue - but for the life of me I can't understand why a practice of men and women sitting in separate parts of a place of worship, meeting hall, or indeed classroom or cinema is in itself oppressive to women. The separation applies to both sexes, for heavens' sake. This arrangement at a rally may, like the wearing of headscarves, be indicative of a serious-minded Islam which does other things to oppress women, but this is surely the wrong issue to pick a fight over.

Modern western society wants to deny women modesty and reserve. The fashion industry, sex education, feminist ideology, and peer pressure, conspire to strip women of their reserve, their sacredness. Muslim women, so many of whom are adopting veiling practices which go beyond what was commonly done by their immediate cultural predecessors, are reacting against this: if Maltby and her like imagine this is all imposed by men, they are living in a fantasy world. Is this cultural and spiritual response to modern conditions by Muslim women allowed? Is any rebellion by women against the cultural hegemony of a brutalised and exploited image of femininity permissible? It would seem not.

Maltby can read what she likes about the oppression of women in Islam into what happened in Birmingham, but I know what I read into her article: just another version of the liberal attempt to flatten out all cultural variation in the name of the one true ideology.

Regular readers know that I am a long, long way from endorsing any kind of politically correct, cringing, apology for Islam. I am not a Muslim and, ipso facto, I do not agree with Muslim theology. But we need to be careful about how we disagree with Islam. To repeat what I said in an earlier post, we need a Catholic critique of Islam. Buying into a secularist critique of Islam is, for Catholics, even more dangerous than buying into an Evangelical critique of Islam.

The other day, in France, a Muslim schoolgirl was sent home because she was wearing a skirt the authorities considered too long. If she had turned up looking like a prostitute, I suppose that would have been fine. Are we all quite sure that Islam is more oppressive to women than prostitution?

See my related posts about head coverings in church and the complementarity of the sexes.

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  1. I don't know if it is still in operation but there was bar in gay Brighton's homosexual district that was 'out and proud' in its proclamation of "Wimmin only".

    But then we also have 'gender non-specific' lavatories as a balance, but on the whole we have more groups around that exclude men than women in the city, that seems to be more acceptable.

  2. Ansar Ali Khan is a man. His wife (whose name eludes me) is also a councillor and a Muslim.

    1. My mistake; corrected.

      I think his wife is called Mariam Khan.

  3. Catholic bishops and politicians in England are not affirming the Social Reign of Christ over all political systems because of the misunderstanding on Vatican Council II.

    Questions and Answers : Vatican Council II affirms the Social Kingship of Christ the King

  4. When I lived in the French Basque country in the early 1960s the men sat in the main body of the church and the women in the galleries on three sides (or vv - I am having a "senior moment"!

  5. The liberals have really got themselves in a mess over Islam.

    From Blair's admitted desire to force multiculturalism on the country, to his colleagues ( including many in the last and current government) plan to "punish" and squash Christianity they have encouraged the progress of Islam in the UK.
    The speech made by Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference where she promised that "British values" would have to promoted got widespread Media support.
    The sheep in the audience, to the extent that they thought at all, believed that she was talking about extremist Muslims, and applauded her to the rafters. Of course anyone with any sense knew that it wasn't only Islamic State and their followers that she was after, but also anyone who objected to the Cameron Project. And sure enough, one of the first sour fruits of this legislation was that OFSTED closed down an Evangelical Christian school because it refused to teach its pupils "what lesbians do in bed".

    The majority of Muslims have settled in and taken the bad with the good. Kept their heads down. Many because they accept the host country culture, many others because they don't have the numbers. Of course some of them are not so patient.

    The idea that Islam would get on with liberalism is an insane one. The fact that they ( the liberals) thought it would just shows how stupid they are. Ed Miliband's promise to make (anti-) Islamist insult a specific criminal offence would have had this woman in Court as someone would have decided that this was an attack on Islam worthy of the police's attention.

    This is clearly one of the first fall outs. And this is from an all-Muslim event.

    Just imagine how upset the liberals will be if the Muslims start laying down the law for the whole of society, or even when they try to. As of course (trying to at least) is the democratic right of everyone provided it's done within the law.

    Of course there is no danger of Catholics wanting to lay down the law. The Church in England and Wales is too determined to give in to the liberals, or in some cases lead the liberal march. "Catholic" commentators supporting this woman will do so with the full backing of many "leaders" of the Church. As I think you well know

  6. There is, incidentally, an Anglican chapel where at the (admittedly less than frequent) services, the old tradition of separate seating is still maintained:

    And the Anglican church of All Saints Margaret Street London reverted to the practice during the Second World War, when the vicar was an Anglican Benedictine monk from Nashdom.

  7. I recall attending Mass in a parish church in the Tyrol in the mid-1980s, where 'women on the left, and men on the right' was very much the order of the day.