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The comparison with the international anger directed at Apartheid is instructive. The oppression of blacks was once an affront to the conscience of the world. When we turn to the oppression of women, however, we find that the United Nations loses its conscience and encourages the ideologies of their oppressors. In 1990, Muslim foreign ministers challenged the first line of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights by replacing the ringing statement that "all human beings are born free in dignity and in rights" with the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights which announces that "all human beings are God's subjects". The UN's declaration says that everyone is entitled to its stipulated rights and freedoms "without distinction of any kind". The Cairo declaration says that rights can be restricted for a "Sharia prescribed reason". Nothing in it prevents forced marriages of pre-pubescent girls, or the death punishments for apostasy, homosexuality and the betrayal of a family's "honour". 

Far from fighting off this direct assault on women's rights, the UN went along with it and entertained the idea that those who criticise Sharia are guilty of the crime of "defaming religion". In the West, the motion "Is feminism dead?" is a favourite at debating societies, but a glance around shows that it remains in rude health. I do not want to underestimate continuing sexism, the pay gap and the difficulties of working mothers, but wherever women enjoy freedom their cause is advancing. To encapsulate the advance in a sentence, it is now politically impossible for the leaders of parties of the Left or Right anywhere in the advanced world to exclude women from their cabinets.

Yet at the same time, the Archbishop of Canterbury can call for Sharia law to be imposed on British Muslim women, safe in the knowledge that his own women priests will nod their approval. Similarly, the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips can call for Sharia at the East London Mosque and women lawyers will not remind him that the mosque is a centre for Jamaat-i-Islami, which in India insists that husbands who throw out their wives have no duty to pay them maintenance.

The emancipation of women is necessary and essential for white-skinned women in London but not for brown-skinned women in Lahore. Or, to move from the global to the local, the emancipation of women is necessary and essential for white-skinned women in Hampstead and Highgate but not for brown-skinned women in Bethnal Green and Bow.  

When pressed, the characteristic response to accusations of indifference is for hypocritical Westerners to protest that of course they do not support the imprisonment of rape victims. True, but they do not oppose it either. Their bad faith is evidenced by their palming of the moral-equivalence card from the bottom of the deck. I first saw it being waved in triumph in 1993 when Germaine Greer declared that attempts to outlaw female circumcision were "an attack on cultural identity". In her mind, there was no difference between religious traditionalists forcing an eight-year-old to submit to the removal of her clitoris and labia, and an American teenager voluntarily trying out body piercing. "If an Ohio punk has the right to have her genitalia operated on, why has not the Somali woman the same right?" asked the author of The Female Eunuch as she excused clitoral castration. At the time, I thought that Greer was a crass contrarian who would say anything to grab attention. I should have taken her more seriously. In the intervening years, her casuistry became the dominant mode of argument. Not everywhere: you can still find principled feminist comment from Katha Pollitt of the Nation or Joan Smith of the Independent on Sunday. Laurie Penny, one of the new generation of feminists, tells me to look to the internet where I will find campaigns to stop the Home Office deporting women asylum-seekers to misogynist tyrannies. Nevertheless and as before, even when I have made all the caveats, the stubborn fact remains that the treatment of Benson and Stangroom by the liberal mainstream was hardly an aberration.

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Eve
September 18th, 2009
8:09 PM
Good article. Pity the book's actually written badly. And I hope Hitchens isn't your hero, Cohen. You write far better than he does already.

M Sacks
September 18th, 2009
7:09 AM
In Judaism we make women shave their heads and wear wigs. They have no rights over property and we can have affairs with goyim because they are classed as non-human.

Anonymous
September 16th, 2009
4:09 PM
"I accept that this may seem an odd thing to wish for, but what the world needs now is an uncompromisingly militant feminist movement." Aye! Liberals and "progressives" are starting to act suspiciously as they did in the 20's

msmarmitelover
September 9th, 2009
9:09 PM
Just as the middle classes ferment revolutions, it takes a man to write about feminism. Or perhaps this article wouldn't be taken seriously if it were written by a woman? Well done anyway...good piece...

Amanda
September 9th, 2009
11:09 AM
Well said Nick Cohen! The fear of being thought racist for attacking customs and attitudes which are by any other standard profoundly inhumane is one the deserves the most vigorous opposition.

Andy D
September 8th, 2009
11:09 PM
Nick, when are you going to give evidence for your very serious accusations against Nick Davies? if you can't, when will you withdraw them?

winter
September 8th, 2009
10:09 AM
Just a thought, but might Stangroom and Benson's book not have been so widely criticised because it isn't actually a very good piece of work and was lucky to even get reviewed where it did, being as it is yet another anti-religion book written by unqualified bloggers - no reviews AT ALL in the right-wing press including Standpoint, after all. Having flicked through it in a shop, it seems that the accusations of clunkiness and poverty of argument are pretty much spot-on, as are those of Benson being a fundamentalist - it's pretty hard to deny, and I note that Nick Cohen doesn't actually do so, but instead claims that such accusations are lazy. And Buruma and Garton Ash are justified in their claims about hirsi Ali. She *is* an enlightenment fundamentalist, self-confessedly, and she *is* an absolutist. notwithstanding how badly she was treated in her earlier life, her views on Islam are pretty hardcore to say the least - calling it an intrinsically violent religion and claiming that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant because of the influence of Mohammad, for instance, views that i understand a lot of standpoint's readers share but which are intensely debatable at best and I sincerely doubt that Cohen would agree with them - at least in print.

gsw
September 7th, 2009
11:09 AM
Stating that the English police, in an English country, cannot interfere to prevent illegal domestic violence because ‘we haven't got the right to impose our values on another culture' is just one more example of NewSpeak. While claiming that Birmingham or Luton is 'another culture' is downright stupid and inexcusable.

Susie
September 7th, 2009
9:09 AM
There's something patronising about the implication that nothing is being done by women within the areas and countries concerned, so it is up to their Western sisters to show the way. No mention of for example Jordanian journalist Rana Husseini's recent book "Murder in the Name of Honour", which received much coverage in the British print media and on eg BBc Radio 4's Woman's Hour. In Iraq, there are many courageous Iraq feminists working in conditions of tremendous danger to fight the injustices suffered by women: one side-effect of the war in Iraq has been a sharp deterioration in the status and conditions of women. The issues around Iraqi women are examined in detail in the work of the Iraqi SOAS academic Nadje Sadig al-Ali including the books "Iraqi Women" and "What Kind of Liberation?" (the last written with Nicola Pratt). The Iraqi woman filmmaker Maysoun Pachachi has also been working hard to empower Iraqi women through training them in filmmaking to record their lives. Egyptian feminist and medical doctor Nawal Sadawi has for years campaigned against female genital mutilation. There are feisty women working in every country to fight the oppression of women. Issues of child brides being forced into marriage, and of the punitive attitude towards rape victims, are regularly covered in the media and condemned in countries including Yemen and Saudi Arabia. There is a massive tussle going on within all these socities, and women, and a good many men, are far from passive acceptors when it comes to violations of women's rights. the 2005 UNDP Arab Human Development Report, researched and written by a large team of Arabs, male and female, was on women's empowerment, and like the other AHDRs was highly critical of the status quo.

Rucker
September 5th, 2009
6:09 PM
Sue - your comment unfortunately ignores the actual ugly truth. It is not the regimes that enforce the subjugation of women. It's islam, the teachings of islam and the hadith.

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