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Selma Yacoob : The Queen of Truism

jeudi 9 septembre 2004

According to the Webster dictionary, a truism is « an undoubted or self-evident truth ; especially : one too obvious or unimportant for mention ».

It’s difficult to find a better definition to qualify the content of a 23-page article published in International Socialism Journal n° 100 and written by one of the leaders of the Stop the War Coalition. On the front cover of ISJ, the quarterly journal of the British SWP, this article is announced as « Islam and the Left » so one expects to discover what are the main positions of these Muslims who want to be active in politics and consider themselves to be victims of « islamophobia ». Unfortunately this article is very disappointing.

The author informs us that she is married, had two children and was expecting a third one at the time of the big antiwar demonstrations last year and works as a psychotherapist. Her profession may explain the naïve and sentimental language of this text. According to Selma Yacoob « Muslims » and « non Muslims » (two words frequently repeated in her article and which perfectly reflect her vision of the world) should understand eachother better, in order to enrich themselves mutually and to achieve a personal transformation.

Although she had plenty of space in ISJ to explain it, the author never tells us what Muslim religion can concretely bring to « non Muslims ». We learn that the Qoran preaches peace and djihad (a word which means « holy war » but also « personal effort »), and therefore the struggle against injustice. But in 23 pages the author evokes only three « injustices » : the war in Irak, the occupation of Palestine by Israël and the firemen’s strike, strike which was supported by a fund raising at Birmingham’s mosque. And she devotes only a few lines to these « injustices ».

Nowhere in this article she explains her position about the political regime of all « Muslim » states, from Indonesia to Pakistan, from Iran to Marocco. A silence which is quite eloquent in an article designed to explain a Muslim political vision to leftwing militants.

Mrs Yacoob makes essentially two points :

- British Muslims are victims of « islamophobia ». Unfortunately the article only includes some personal stories and not even one statistics about it. The rest is a long complaint full of vague general ideas about racism and intolerance but it offers us no concrete information ;

- Muslims are in favor of women’s liberty and equality. To demonstrate her point of view, Selma Yacoob does not quote any religious text, and does not talk about the legal and concrete situation of women in all « Muslim States ». She prefers to describe the supportive attitude of her husband who took care of her children while she was actively participating to the antiwar movement. She evokes the active role of veiled women in antiwar demonstrations but she does not explain us why this positive fact shows that the revolt of these women against the American-British intervention in Irak flows from any typical Muslim political conception.

She pretends that when women were sitting apart from men in political meetings, they were just respecting a « cultural tradition » and that they were acting totally freely.

One understands better what « freedom » means for Mrs Selma Yacoob. When the feminists in the 1960s and 1970s organized separate meetings, exclusing male participants, inside or outside the revolutionary groups it was not because they were defending their feminine pudor. It was to better prepare a strategic offensive against the male chauvinism which dominated society and the so-called revolutionary organizations.

One can disagree with this attitude but it was not dictated by pudor ; it started from real difficulties of expression for women in political groups and from the domination mechanisms used by men against women. But the fact that women « voluntarily » decide non only to wear a veil (i.e. to hide their body from men’s libidinous looks), but also to sit all together in one corner of a meeting hall, « voluntarily » separating themselves from men, is only an importation (and an imposition) in the public space of religious practices which are compulsory in places like mosques.

And what is hiding behind this socalled « cultural » argument ? A valorization of sexual segregation which leads, in « Muslim » countries, to the fact that women cant circulate freely in the streets, shops, coffee-shops, restaurants, etc., without being accompanied by a man and being covered by a veil. The dimension of this veil varies but its omnipresence transforms women into creatures who dont enjoy the same fundamental rights as men. If this is what Selma Yacoob calls « freedom » and « equality », no revolutionary can agree with such conceptions.

In fact this article is only reproducing the arguments of a Muslim cultivated elite living in the Western World : using themes like the « respect of the differences » or « multiculturalism », themes which were very popular in the Far Left in the 1960’s and still today, this elite wants to mobilise women in the political field. One can see it clearly in France where veiled Muslim women regularly denounce during TV interviews the socalled « intolerance » of the secular state. It is interesting to note that these women never comment the situation of their beloved « sisters » in « Muslim » countries where there is no separation between Islam and the State. Journalists or specialists often say that Islam does not admit this separation, and that thefore Islam is antidemocratic by nature. But they « forget » to say that all religions share the same belief.

In Western countries, Christian churches have accepted to make some concessions ; but this process was imposed to them by Republican secular movements and by a social evolution which has led to a very important diminution of religious practices. All religions forbid divorce, sex before mariage and abortion. But in reality a significant part of Western Christian women divorce, are not virgin before their marriage and even abort. Churches cant control anymore their sheep and therefore cant impose anymore their social and moral norms to the non believers. But they would love to come back to the « good old days ».

After reading Mrs Yacoob’s article, the only thing one can remember is a collection of truisms : Muslims dont like violence, war and poverty ; Islam is in favor of « social justice », « ethical domestic policies and ethical foreign policies ». If this is all she has to say to the Left, one wonders what kind of socialists can take her seriously !

Yves Coleman

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