Saturday, 15 August 2015

Anti-Islamic propaganda

I'd lay odds that the people who set up the Muslim-hating Facebook page which posted this meme haven't given a thought to the historical reality of European countries' colonisation and Christianisation of vast swathes of the world; nor to the fact that modern militant Islam was funded, armed and manipulated by the USA and its allies in the furtherance of their fight against progressive and nationalist movements; nor to the fact that the USA and its allies continue to trade with, and sell arms to some of the most extremist and repressive Islamic states - such as Saudi Arabia.

No - instead of encouraging people to think and to seek points of commonality - sites like Crusade Against Islamisation of The World pander to ignorance and bigotry, and actively foment fear and division.  

I detest them. They are not pro-woman, or pro-anything, they are simply and stupidly anti-Muslim. 

I've been a feminist almost my entire life and there is no way I condone any ideology which oppresses women but I know that you do not win people over to progressive change by attacking their religion and culture in this sort of crude and aggressive way.

The reason orthodox Muslim women wear the veil is fundamentally the same reason devout Jewish and Christian women dress modestly, and let's not forget it's not so long ago in our society that women could not have appeared in public in a neck to knee swimsuit, let alone a skimpy bikini. 

There's also the vexed question of what sort of bodies are considered appropriate to be seen in skimpy swim wear. An old woman, a too fat or a too thin woman would likely be an object of ridicule if she wore the sort of bikini that features in the picture above.

The notion of women in Christian countries being free to dress as they want whilst women in Islamic countries are forced to wear the veil ignores essential realities on both sides.

Why do women in the Christian tradition still wear hats or silly approximations of hats at weddings? Why do brides in the Christian tradition wear white, are veiled, 'given away' by their fathers, and take their husband's name? Why until recently was being a virgin at marriage so important for a woman but not a man, and why was having a child 'out of wedlock' considered a cardinal sin?  

These traditions and prejudices have their roots in the same patriarchal ideology that underpins Christianity's parent religion, Judaism, and its brother religion, Islam. 

It's interesting to consider why, in English law up to the end of the 17th century, the punishment for a woman who was convicted of an act of high or petty treason was to be burned at the stake while the punishment for a man was to be hung, drawn and quartered. (1) Both were hideous and monstrously cruel punishments but why the distinction? One explanation was that drawing and quartering involved exposing the body and it was considered inappropriate to expose a woman's body to the huge crowds that attended public executions.  Another suggestion was that, if hanged, a woman would wave her legs around and, possibly because knickers didn't exist in those days, the sight may have inflamed the passions of male on-lookers. 

The perverse logic that immolation preserved female modesty and thereby avoided inflaming men, flowed from the patriarchal religious dogma of the essential weakness and wickedness of woman. 

It might be argued that barely-there bikinis are a product of the same religious dogma that led men to burn a woman alive rather than risk her 'private parts' being exposed to public view. 

Why else do women in most modern western societies have to, by both law and custom, wear token strips of cloth to cover their nipples and vagina when in public? If Western women are so 'free' why can't they go completely naked where and when they want instead of being required to make such absurd gestures to 'feminine modesty'. And of course there is the fact that very different standards of dress and undress apply in different sorts of public spaces, some codified and others policed by public opinion.

What feeds such patent absurdities and contradictions?  Why do people remain so chronically conflicted about bodies and sex?  In the mainstream western media these days male buttocks are acceptable but we won't see a penis or testicles.  We see lots of female buttocks - in fact it's almost impossible to avoid them - and we see loads of breasts but we never see a vagina or a hint of pubic hair.  Male nipples are sexually neutral but female nipples are definitely not. In fact, so bizarre and contradictory is the attitude to women's nipples that pulp magazines run stories about celebrities' accidental exposure of them. The phenomenon even has a name - a nip-slip. 

The things that offend me most about the Islam-haters are their ignorance, their ahistoricism and their hypocrisy. I understand that it's hard for people who have been schooled into a hatred and fear of Islam, to accept the fact that for centuries Islam was a more progressive and woman-friendly religion than Christianity. (It must be said that wasn't difficult given how reactionary and viciously anti-woman much of Christianity was - not to mention how reactionary and anti-woman some of it remains.) However, whilst I understand it, I cannot forgive it. 

Any dispassionate review of the history of the last century must conclude that the greatest blame for the current trend in some parts of Islam towards a full blown patriarchal, repressive and reactionary form, lies with the USA and its allies, not with ordinary Muslims - the overwhelming majority of whom want to live their lives in peace and security. 

(i) Religious heretics of both sexes were burned at the stake in England until 1677 but burning was used for women convicted of a number of secular crimes that fell under the umbrella of both high and petty treason. High treason was a crime against the King and included counterfeiting; petty treason was a crime against any lawful superior, including a woman's husband or father. 

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