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Similarly, to return to my main theme, it should be permissible to say that if Islamic leaders really believe that the Koran is a book of justice, they should enforce its spirit. It took Western civilisation almost two millennia to do a decent job of enforcing the spirit of the New Testament, and part of the job consisted of imposing a separation between church and state, which couldn't be done until the book was subjected to critical scrutiny, so that it could be taken as a source of benevolent metaphor rather than a set of inflexible precepts. In this regard, the enforced halt, in the 19th century, to any critical scrutiny of the Islamic sacred writings had such deleterious effects that they were regretted even by Edward Said. But even in less enlightened times, the New Testament had one salient virtue: the merciful teachings of Jesus Christ. In Italy, perpetrators of crimes of passion were still being given a free pass well into my own day, but finally even the Catholic Church felt obliged to remind the legal system that the Son of God might have taken a dim view. It would be a blessing for Islam if its book featured a leading character imbued with the belief that when a woman is taken in adultery the best idea is not to throw stones at her unless you are certain of being without sin yourself. Jesus never said that if four of you catch her in the act, you can stone her to death. 

But at least the Islamic holy writings say that Allah is merciful. Some kind of Islamic protestant reform might start from that assurance. In the case of Christianity, protestant reform started with pointing out what was actually written in the book, instead of concocted by a priesthood. Islamic protestants might have less to go on, and it could be that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is correct in wanting the whole religious edifice pulled down. But if we think that a reformation, rather than a dissolution, is more desirable, or at least more likely, then surely a movement that puts the emphasis back on the less fanatical interpretation of the texts that prevailed before the Wahabist aberration is one to be encouraged. Islamic protestants, however, seem more likely to come from among women than among men. Recent initiatives from putatively liberal thinkers among Islamic men have not been very convincing. Paul Berman has dealt in detail with the thought processes of Tariq Ramadan but really Nicholas Sarkozy had already done the necessary when, before he was President of France, he asked Ramadan on television whether he condemned the stoning of women, and Ramadan said that he could have no opinion until the imams had discussed the matter first. And Ali A. Allawi's recent assurances that the Islamic civilisation of the future will be ruled with the aid of a modernised Sharia sounded a lot less promising than his fond reminiscences of what the secular movement in some of the Arab countries used to be like when he was young enough to enjoy it. 

A modernised Sharia? Even the Archbishop of Canterbury would have smelt a rat there. Instances of these nice noises from Islamic male thinkers could be multiplied, but even at their best they sound hollow beside those cries of protest arising from women where protesting is momentarily permitted without penalty, as it was when the admirable Wafa Sultan confronted a studio full of imams on al-Jazeera and told them where they could put their parade of clerical authority. But Wafa Sultan was safe in America when she said her piece, although the assembled male clerics would undoubtedly have thrown stones at her satellite image if there had been any stones available. It's the cries of protest when protesting is not permitted, however, that really tell you what you need to know. The cries tend to be brief, and in the case of the girl we now all know as Neda Iran, we might not have heard the cry at all if she had not been so beautiful. The cult of glamour worked, for once, in the cause of justice. It was a crumb of comfort to offset against the depressing extent to which the cult of glamour has failed to work in the cause of Aung San Suu Kyi. She is beautiful too, and she is still alive: but she is wasting away. 

What is to be done about this worldwide victimisation of women? What else but to condemn it? To do so, it would be a help to uncouple the question from all the other questions that look more pressing but are much more equivocal. Let me end where I started, in Australia, where Pamela Bone asked "Where are the Western feminists?" when she already knew the answer. They were hiding, under the guise of concerning themselves with those pressing questions. In Australia, which is in so many ways the ideal Western liberal democracy, and all the more instructive for being so, it is hard to find more than a handful of pundits, academics, journalists and broadcasters who do not hold the West responsible for world poverty, Israeli imperialism, genocide in Iraq, and the imminent heat death of what they insist on calling The Planet. On each point, they might well be less silly than they sound. They can make a case for their views. The feminists among them are especially eloquent in the condemnation of Western evils. But Pamela Bone wanted the feminists to speak out clearly about a simpler topic, which can be exemplified by a sign on the wall of a temple in Bali. NO MENSTRUATION WOMEN ALLOW. And the fact that there are men in charge of synagogues who feel the same is not really an answer, because except for the occasional ultra-Orthodox headcase no man who runs a synagogue wants to burn the women inside it. 

But there are men all over the world who really do want to kill women on a point of honour. What kind of honour is that? When are these dreadful men, and all who encourage and "understand" them, to be condemned as the homicidal maniacs they are? It could be said that there is not much point in condemning what we can't change, but in our own countries, where it could be changed if the will existed, condemnation would surely be a useful first step, and it might help some of the countries of origin to at least see the point. Jordan, which is sensitive enough to Western opinion for its Queen to see the advantage of regular appearances in Hello! magazine, has recently announced a shelter system for women running away from danger. While the women are in the shelter, the men in their families are given counselling. I suppose that's a start, although some of the women might be wise not to take it on trust when they are told the danger is over. Daddy says it's all right to come home now.

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John Moseley
July 26th, 2014
10:07 AM
I loved this article for the characteristic excellence of James's prose and the passionate concern it expresses. But might the key to western feminist writers' silence on this subject be the same as the hey to James's own up to now? He says himself that he felt for a long time it was not his job, as a man, to take up cudgels on a feminist cause. Might western feminists not equally have felt that it was largely the job of Eastern feminists to argue for their own rights?

Prof. Dr. Wisam Mansour
November 25th, 2009
12:11 PM
Wonderful! I liked Clive's article. It is uncompromising and to the point. I enjoyed the occasional sardonic humor with which Clive describes oppressive cultures here and there and I couldn’t agree more with him. Screw multiculturalism when it interferes with a universal notion of justice! Now who is going to hang the bell for the mediation / eradication of systems and cultures that do not effectively practice the universal declaration of human rights?? The answer is simple and predictable: the west and those who adopt a western perspective. The Billion dollar question is how to do so?? I despair!!

September 22nd, 2009
11:09 AM
The short answer is that any Western feminist/socialist etc is quite happy to criticise their own society but are quite frankly cowards when it comes to assessing and observing other societies. Those other societies could kill you, you know! They know that and will only scream/rant about those who will not harm them.

The Sad Truth
September 17th, 2009
12:09 PM
There is something westerners have failed to understand about ourselves vis a vis the Islamic world: THEY BELIEVE IN THEIR VALUES FAR MORE THAN WE DO AND ARE PREPARED TO DIE FOR THEM. Clive James, like most westerners today, hasn't risk a toenail for any principle, while Muslims blow themselves up daily in pursuit of beliefs. Asking western feminists to fight the cause of Muslim women is as useless as asking pigeons to fight global warming. They have far more resolve than we do and will never bend an inch in our direction We have to learn to live with that.

September 12th, 2009
1:09 AM
Bravo! One day in the not so distant future you western people will realise that you have been colonised and that the very tenants and fabric of your society have been erased. This implosion or indeed suicide is entirely lamentable but your own doing none the less.

Shakira Hussein
September 10th, 2009
3:09 AM
Apologies, I did not intend to post my previous comment (with the query about Helen Garner) anonymously - clumsy mouse-click. I would still be interested in a clarification from James on this one - it seems to me as though Garner, having been criticised for things she did say, is now being defended (by James) for things she did not say. Which, frankly, is at least as problematic.

September 7th, 2009
7:09 AM
I wondered whether Mr James could provide some more detail about his discussion of Helen Garner getting into trouble for saying that women make false claims of rape? Garner caused a major stir with her book "The First Stone", but that was about sexual harrassment, not rape - and she did not say that the womens' claims were false, just that they made much too much of a fuss about it. I don't remember her talking about false rape allegations, and if she ever did, they did not attract nearly so much attention as her discussion of sexual harrassment (and in that case, as I said, she concluded that the womens' version of events was basically true, she just disagreed as to its significance). Could James provide more detail about where Garner has talked about false rape allegations? I have not read every word she has ever written, so I don't deny that she may have done so - however I would repeat that if she did, they did not attract the level of attention that James describes - that was in relation to her discussion of sexual harrassment - and again, she did not claim that these allegations were false.

September 3rd, 2009
11:09 PM
Where are the Western Feminists? Would that not be you, Mr. James?

September 3rd, 2009
3:09 PM
The point of this artical may be to wake up the silent west but it is the content that I find amazing. Amazing that people can still come on here and find cause to argue against the writer. People should be aware of the crazy actions that are happening on a daily basis and if in the correct position do something about it! I know I would if i knew how. And to all that are going to make comment on spelling and grammer, get a life and think about the consequences if you were born in the "wrong" country. Great Artical.

September 1st, 2009
2:09 AM
Kimserca resorts to "blah blah" as a supposed counter-argument. James's principal point is the *silence* of supposed intellectuals, whether inside Oz or out, and it's pretty hard to provide a quote of a silence. Plus, James refers to the extremity of the Northern Alliance that were used to displace the Taliban and by implication, the continuing Islamic misgyny of the present Afghan regime. He refers to the brutality of one of our principal allies, Saudi Arabia. He was clearly condemning all such oppresive regimes - does he have to list all of them? Harrah for Clive James. As he himself suggests, the only thing unfortunate about his piece is that it is not a woman who has written it.

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