Given last week’s furore over the latest Islamist plot (executed naturally via their “regressive left” useful idiot proxies) to subjugate Britain to Shariah law I thought it might be in order for yours truly to pen a few words on the topic. Oh and this time ladies and gentlemen please do try and leave a comment…yes I know you’re reading this…so don’t pretend you didn’t see my request.
Let’s start with a timeline of the salient events:
(i) Nov 22 – Universities UK (UUK) issues guidance on external speakers “External speakers in higher education institutions”
(ii) Secularist, ex-Muslim and feminist groups begin an online campaign to raise awareness of UUK’s alleged complicity in enforced gender segregation.
(iii) Dec 10 – a protest attended by around 100 people held in Tavistock Square outside the headquarters of UUK. Notable (well in their own minds anyway) attendees were Maryam Namazie and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
(iv) Dec 12 – Labour MP Chukka Umunna states that he is “horrified” by UUK’s position and that a future Labour government would outlaw gender segregation. Education Secretary, Michael Gove accuses UUK of “pandering to extremism”.
(v) Dec 13 – Prime Minister David Cameron enters the fray declaring that he wants gender segregation banned on campus whether voluntary or forced.
(vi) Dec 13 – UUK withdraws the original guidance pertaining to gender segregation pending further legal review by lawyers and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
As the spark that ignited this latest conflagration I thought to take a look at the UUK guidance and specifically the offending case study where the scenario of an external speaker addressing a gender segregated audience is considered. I quote here the segment lying at the crux of the current debate:
“It should therefore be borne in mind – taking account of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances, concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully. Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues, but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief. The s.43 duty requires an institution to secure freedom of speech within the law.”
The section 43 mentioned in the excerpt above is a reference to the Equality Act (2010).
In order to ensure the legal rectitude of the above guidance UUK sought advice from QC Fenella Morris a specialist in Human Rights law. In her advisory opinion she states:
‘9. The Guidance recognises that segregation is capable of amounting to discrimination. This is in line with the Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education issued by the Equality & Human Rights Commission which states at paragraphs 4.8 and 4.9 as follows:
“4.8 When the protected characteristic is race, deliberately segregating a student or group of students from others of a different race automatically amounts to less favourable treatment…
4.9 Segregation linked to other protected characteristics may be direct discrimination. However, it is necessary to show that it amounts to less favourable treatment.”
It is unlikely that this will be the case where segregation is voluntary, or a non -segregated area is available. While segregation on the grounds of sex is not automatically discriminatory, a requirement to sit separately which is not accepted, and is then enforced may be a detriment. The question in any case of indirect discrimination will be whether any disadvantage is justified and\or outweighed by the other considerations involved such as freedom of speech and the manifestation of religious belief‘
So in light of the guidance and concomitant legal opinion let us consider the scenario of an Islamic society event where the audience is overwhelmingly Muslim and in favour of a segregated seating arrangement. If at such an event there happen to be a couple of non-Muslims (or maybe even a few Muslims) present who demur from sitting in their gender designated areas then asking these individuals to defer to the wish of the vast majority is neither unreasonable nor illegal according to current legislation. Should a few individuals prove obstinate in their desire to stamp upon this particular religious and cultural sensitivity of the majority attendees then the guidance and legal opinion seems to lend weight to the combined wish of the majority and the speaker trumping the supposed right of these individuals to sit where they want. Quite what such recusant behaviour would seek to achieve at any rate – other than to annoy and offend – is beyond me. As an aside I recall an event some time back where a male Muslim attendee was adamant that he would sit with his spouse regardless of the segregated seating arrangement. After some toing and froing with the event organisers he was allowed to remain where he’d sat (much to my chagrin as I recall).
From my own recollections of Islamic society events and on the basis of current anecdotal evidence it is mostly Muslim women who request gender segregation. So to David Cameron and those supporting his position of outlawing gender segregation – voluntary or otherwise – I challenge them to answer this simple question: if it transpires at a university event that all the women attendees have decided to congregate in a particular section of the auditorium, what precisely can and will you do? Are you seriously proposing to send in security guards to forcibly pick them up and reseat them according to your preferred arrangement? If you’re not prepared to do that then how do you propose on policing and enforcing your proposed ban? Put bluntly this whole campaign smacks of the usual Islamaphobic (a term I’m normally loathe to use) conceit that Muslim women don’t know what’s best for them and need rescuing from themselves.
While ostensibly claiming that any proposal to outlaw gender segregation would only be applied to publically funded institutions I have no doubt that many of the proponents of such a ban would soon start agitating for it to be extended to private institutions and then ultimately to places of worship also. I’m in no doubt that is the ardent desire of certain individuals even if they choose not to make it public for the moment.
Returning to the matter of the guidance; in order to allay fears that Britain had embarked upon the road to Saudi style sex segregation UUK released a follow up statement by way of clarification and from which I reproduce the following snippet:
“It is very hard to see any university agreeing to a request for segregation that was not voluntary and did not have the broad support of those attending. As the guidance explains, there may be many other reasons why a university might refuse a request for segregation.”
Needless to say none of this served in any way to palliate the histrionic outrage of the anti-Islam brigade, already busy drawing parallels between their “struggle” and that of the recently deceased anti-apartheid icon, Nelson Mandela. While superficially appealing such a bizarre parallel with the anti-racism struggle of previous decades is easily shown up as mere casuistry.
Well before UUK published their guidelines we already had publically funded boys-only and girls-only grammar schools. Cambridge University, no less, has two women-only colleges. The Prime Minister himself attended a male-only school, Eton – admittedly a privately funded institution but the principle still applies if you’re conflating gender and racial segregation. Perhaps I missed it but I’ve yet to see the likes of Maryam Namazie, Yasmin Alibhai Brown et al standing outside such venues with placards proclaiming “Stop gender apartheid!”? Or is such activity only warranted if a nexus to Islam is present?
An interesting question I recently posed to some of the anti-segregationist faction was whether they also supported desegregating toilet facilities. The most common retort I received to this line of argument was that this should be considered an exceptional case based upon the obvious exposure of the male genitalia during use of the urinals. Well surely that’s easily solved by taking them out and installing individual cubicles. Now consider firstly how many women would feel comfortable using such a toilet facility. Then further consider those women who didn’t feel comfortable being told their views were inconsequential because a coterie of self-appointed women’s rights defenders had decided that integrated toilet facilities were in their best interests. Perhaps at the next university event I attend or the next public building I venture into I should walk into the women’s toilets proclaiming my right to “not be discriminated against” or that “separate is never equal”?
For the time being, as a result of the UUK decision to remove the offending case study from its guidance, the crisis has abated but I’ve no doubt that it is not the last we will be hearing on the subject. With anti-Muslim sentiment simmering across a large cross-section of society – stoked periodically by the right wing press and their political allies – I’ve no doubt that the attack on gender segregation will prove but one facet of this incipient crusade against Islamic morality and practises.
As Muslims living in a predominantly non-Muslim country I think most of us recognise that gender segregation is not a viable proposition on a societal level and consequently you don’t see Muslims demanding, for example, separate bus services for men and women or designated train carriages for women (as apparently they do have in Japan, Brazil, Taiwan and Mexico). We also aren’t demanding that hospitals, libraries, civic centres or any other category of public building maintain separate areas for men and women. What we would, however, be ever so grateful for is the right to hold our ceremonies and to organise our events in accordance with the rules that we voluntarily submit to – however much you may detest them. Would allowing us to do so really constitute capitulation to Shariah law?
May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon our Master Muhammed. Ameen.