Archive for April, 2009

Western secularism and Islamic feminism

Posted in Translation with tags , , on April 25, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

This article, by Ndeye Andújar of the Junta Islámica Catalana [Catalan Islamic Commission] and WebIslam, analyses the impact of both stereotyped and fundamentalist views of women in Islam, and their contribution to Islamic extremism.

It is of interest to the religious and to secularists alike: for the latter, to identify those elements of religious theory and practice that are beneficial is important in the pursuit of an integrated society that respects all its citizens. ‘Fundamentalist’ secularism also has to do this, to show that the source of these qualities is human and not sacred.

The article is equally of considerable interest as regards security and the oft-criticised battle for ‘hearts and minds’ in the European Muslim community.

Islamic feminism: challenges and realities for European Muslim women

In the European context, Islamic feminism is an alternative to dominant patriarchal interpretations. In the face of both religious fundamentalism and aggressive secularism, it demands freedom from all forms of discrimination.

The situation of Muslim women is currently the source of a passionate and polarised debate that presents a stereotyped, simplistic and even dualist vision. Although it is particularly difficult to identify all of the issues that revolve around the question, two primary narratives can be identified: one that demonises Islam and another that idealises it, in terms of the treatment of women in Islam.

As regards the former, an objective view of the realities enables us to affirm that Muslim women are indeed subjected to discrimination. Analysis based on this narrative is, however, mistaken because the origin of that discrimination is fixed within Islam, as inherent to it. The Koran – a spiritual message addressed to all men and all women – is confused with human laws formulated from the 10th century onwards.

The closed circle of the two narratives

A prevailing mistake in the West is to constantly show the negative face of Islam and to ignore those fighting against this injustice. From this perspective, only abandoning the religion will allow Muslim women to become free [a perspective notably expounded by Ayaan Hirsi Ali] . Yet this narrative is perceived by those it targets as a form of cultural imperialism. That is why many Muslims imagine the terms ‘colonialism’ and ‘feminism’ to be inseparable.

Confronted with this ‘colonial feminism’, fundamentalist movements appeal to Islam as a mark of identity for Muslim societies (or as a mark of identity for Muslim communities in Europe), a form of ideological resistance in the face of Western imperialism.

As for the latter kind of narrative, it claims that Muslim women already enjoy all their rights, but only in a complementary relationship with men. Women are placed on a pedestal, spoken of as a “fragile and beautiful pearl” to be protected. This vision infantilises women, prevents them from accessing the public sphere and conceals the obvious discrimination that exists.

We end up with a closed circle: fundamentalism makes separation of the sexes and distinct roles for men and women a battle flag against Western interference, which leads to various kinds of discrimination that are in turn presented by their opponents as conclusive proof that ‘Islam oppresses women’. Fundamentalism as the legitimate ‘representative’ of Islam is thus validated, and all those who fight against extremist elements are marginalised from the debate.

A movement of freedom and spiritual regeneration

In the face of this false dualism, there is a movement of men and women reclaiming freedom from all forms of discrimination within the framework of Islam. This movement believes that a degradation of Islamic tradition has taken place, with a false interpretation of the message of the Koran. Islam contains a significant element of liberation, whose reclamation as a framework for social emancipation is proposed by Islamic feminism. It is a movement of protest, but equally of spiritual regeneration.

These are men and women who challenge patriarchal interpretations and suggest an alternative reading of sacred texts, so as to achieve equality of rights and, at the same time, to refute Western stereotypes. Western culture’s claim to ‘superiority’, on the one hand, and aggressive secularism pitched against the fact of religion on the other, do not make for an effective opponent to fundamentalism. Quite the opposite: this attack on religion strengthens it and leads us into a cul-de-sac.

It is, therefore, essential that governments and civic society support this movement, to liberate the community of European Muslim women from foreign models and break from the monolithic view of Islam that exists in the collective imagination.

Finally, we need to find mechanisms to apply Islamic feminism to the European context, as an instrument to both normalise the presence of Muslims in Europe, and to reconcile their religious beliefs with their European identity.


Racism in Northern Ireland

Posted in On Northern Ireland on April 20, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

Today and tomorrow members of the United Nations are meeting to discuss the issue of racism, and look at progress made since 2001, when the Durban Declaration was agreed. From a Northern Irish perspective, it is important that Ireland and the UK endorse the draft text, based upon much compromise, to ensure institutional commitments are made to combat an increasing problem.

Events surrounding the recent Northern Ireland v Poland football match have been illustrating the need for action to combat racism. Since the riots on the day itself, a campaign against ethnic minorities in the Village area of Belfast, close to the original trouble, has led to over forty people leaving their homes. Five have left Northern Ireland outright.

The reaction has been, in some quarters, denial. Ulster Unionist Bobby Stoker challenged the figures by understating the number of people who had presented themselves as homeless to the Housing Executive. He failed to condemn without qualification the campaign of racial violence, mirroring Sinn Féin’s years of failure to condemn sectarian violence.

A worrying aspect of the trouble was the perceived identification of Polish migrants with the republican “enemy”, a word still used by the First Minister, Peter Robinson. This development raises institutional segregation of loyalist and immigrant communities.

As most Polish immigrants claim Catholic heritage, their children will be educated separately from Protestant Northern Irish children. The contribution of separation to creating an ‘other’, thus increasing the incidence of violence should not be underestimated. The sectarianism that was allowed to thrive in segregated education should not be permitted to evolve into racial hatred. Nor should the fact that most racist crime takes place in loyalist areas exclude republicans from promoting full participation in society.

This conflagration also impacts upon the response of the justice system to racially-motivated hate crime. The most recent figures show that only a third of members of a minority group considered the PSNI not to be racist; more worryingly, those who had had contact with the PSNI were more likely to consider it racist than those who had not. As the number of incidents recorded as racially-motivated rose from 226 in 02/03 to 976 in 07/08, it is essential that everyone has confidence in the PSNI to deal with racism as effectively as possible.

Bearing in mind the 976 racist incidents recorded, in the same period the Public Prosecution Service received 114 files from the PSNI which it considered to have been aggravated by racial hostility. This led to 77 summary prosecutions and 11 indictable prosecutions. There are, inexcusably, no figures available for convictions.

Race relations in Northern Ireland are in the remit of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Neither have commented on increasing race problems in recent times. In 2006, there was an annual plan for implementation of the Racial Equality Strategy – nothing has been published since devolution was restored to Stormont. In July 2007, a debate was held on the issue, proposed by the single Member of ethnic minority origins, Anna Lo. Closing, a Sinn Féin MLA said “Direct rule Ministers, although talking about this issue, may not have delivered much”, and the Assembly agreed on “urgent action.” Thus the issue was closed until the present day, not even registering in the evolution of the Shared Future Strategy into the Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration for a Shared and Better Future, clearly named to capture the attention of the public and journalists alike.

There was a good report published in January by the Equality Commission.

There is a lack of confidence that the police is not racist. The justice system fails to prosecute the vast majority of racist criminals. Ministers, when not suggesting discrimination against foreigners, have little interest in the issue. Yet, in 07/08. there were three quarters as many racial crimes as sectarian crimes. The nature of hate crime is shifting and the institutions are not keeping pace. We can only hope that, once again, the population is ahead of its leaders.

The Pope’s contribution to neo-Nazi propaganda

Posted in Translation with tags , , , on April 8, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

This article, taken from the excellent rue89 website, reveals the now Pope’s agreement to publication in a fascist magazine, at a time when that ideology was gaining traction again in Austria and Germany. It is to be considered alongside the article by philosopher Kurt Flasch looking at the ideological shift in Catholicism, revealing perhaps something of the direction Benedict XVI intends to use his not inconsiderable political influence to pursue.

When Benedict XVI wrote for a fascist magazine

An Austrian parliamentarian has unearthed an old article from 1998, written by Cardinal Ratzinger in a German nationalist publication.

In January 2009, Karl Ollinger, an Austrian Green parliamentarian and specialist in the fight against the flourishing far right in his country, came across a special edition of Die Aula magazine, published to mark the anniversary of the 1848 German revolution.

Amidst the fabrications of holocaust-denying far-right German parliamentarians and members of the German neo-Nazi party, the NDP, he was dumbfounded to come across an article written by Cardinal Ratzinger entitled ‘Freiheit und Wahrheit’ (Freedom and Truth).

It is in fact a virulent attack on individual freedoms and the democratic system which can still be consulted in Vienna, in the Centre for Documentation and Archives of the Resistance (DOW), a body responsible for oversight of extremist movements.

The Church’s embarrassment

In the first instance, the diocese of Vienna stated that Cardinal Ratzinger never gave the green light for its publication in Die Aula. ‘Freedom and Truth’ was in fact an old text dating from 1995, published for the first time in a conservative Christian magazine.

No luck. The person who negotiated the publication with the Cardinal’s Secretary kept their complete exchange of letters: the Cardinal well and truly did give his written agreement to the re-publication.

Today, German extremists still consider Benedict XVI as one of their own and take pride in the fact that the sovereign was published in their magazine. The special edition is also for sale on the internet!

Die Aula defends holocaust-deniers

This information places the ideological shift since Bendict XVI was appointed Pope in a new light. Bavarian by birth, he would have difficulty explaining that he did not know what Die Aula was in 1998, the magazine being published in German. At the time, it openly supported the rise of Jorg Haider, whose unfortunate fame went beyond the borders of little Austria.

Die Aula defends holocaust-deniers and those it calls ‘victims of freedom of expression’, i.e. far-right politicians condemned for causing offence to Islam. It criticises laws that suppress holocaust-denying theories, frequently flirts with anti-Semitism and attempts to re-write Austria’s modern history. On the nomination of Benedict XVI, it loudly declared its joy.

NATO Summit – draconian response to protest in Strasbourg

Posted in Translation with tags , , on April 1, 2009 by belfasttobrussels

With the G20 controversy, one could almost forget the NATO summit this week, hosted by Strasbourg. The preparations of counter-protests have been received with an authoritarian response, recalling the revelations that a UK government databank has been created on protesters. It seems the practice is international.  A few miles away is the European Court of Human Rights.

Removal of anti-NATO flags “is not acceptable”

Strasbourg – the Socialist mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, has declared in a press release that “it is not acceptable” that “certain residents of Strasbourg have been ordered to remove from their windows the rainbow flag, a symbol of piece.” According to the joint anti-NATO committee, which has sold 360 of the flags bearing the words “peace” and “No to NATO”, at least three “clearly identified” people have been visited by police officers requesting that they put away this dangerous piece of cloth.

Police chiefs for the département deny giving orders on the matter. It is a mystery who is responsible. In any case, the vocal indignation provoked by the initiative seems to have put it to an end. According to Roland Ries, “holding the NATO summit in Strasbourg must be compatible with the fundamental democratic right of freedom of expression, respecting the law and individuals, and within the framework of security measures as decreed by the police at departmental level.” “No cause, no event can justify the restriction of the freedom of expression of our fellow citizens,” declared the joint Socialist-Republican-Greens group of the Strasbourg city council.

At the same time, via a letter distributed to the residents of Strasbourg, the group has approved “the exceptional security measures put in place on this occasion, notably concerning the protection of certain sites and restrictions on movement of traffic in areas termed red or orange.” According to the group, “these arrangements are necessary to ensure all protests and journeys can run smoothly, to caution against any possible acts of violence and to ensure the optimum level of security in the town.”

and from the organisers of the protest:


Freedom of assembly and police harassment

The Strasbourg joint anti-NATO committee is outraged at the willingness of the police to criminalise residents of the cooperative Village taking place in Ganzau [on the outskirts of Strasbourg]. Several identity checks took place on the site of the village, by the same police officers, during a period when the initial contact with local residents gave rise to rich exchanges.

Thursday 26th: Police officers perform checks on the first residents of the village, explaining that it was the new policy of the departmental police to perform identity checks on all village organisers until it became operational.

Friday 27th: The same police officers return for further identity checks.

After several requests to the departmental police for an explanation, on Friday we were informed that it was simply a case of over-zealous police officers.

On the night of the 27th, new identity checks were performed in the surrounding area, by officers openly seeking to file the details of the participants in the alternative village.

This raises several worrying questions:

– Are the authorities capable of controlling their workforce?

– As systematic and collective identity checks can only be effected on the order of the public prosecutor, one must wonder whether such an order was given, or whether it was a case of illegal actions by police officers.

– Is it a deliberate strategy of harassment aiming to aggravate the climate of tension?

The joint anti-NATO committee requests that these practices, worthy of totalitarian systems, cease, so that the village might take place in a town that may thus display its respect for human rights and the right to opposition, in a democracy that claims to be participative.