Boys on the right, girls to the left.

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.

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. stevensayers says:

    I do like the way you write 😊. I disagree with some of course. Equality before law and society constantly moves forward in the UK, we have mixed toilets in many places, red herring, the objection to segregation is in public places, toilets might have the word public in front sometimes but they are often not public. Go to music festivals, no problem with mixed sex toilets there, British just mildly old fashioned sometimes.
    Feel sorry for UUK, they probably think they can’t do right for doing wrong. Politically correct will eventually backfire.
    However, the majority of the none Muslim British object to gender segregation based on equality and religion. I’m glad, very glad, you admit gender segregation is societly none viable. There will be little active policing, lack if policing does not make a case for allowing segregated meetings. If that’s what Muslim women want, I find that hard to believe, then have the meetings in private buildings, problem solved. Yes, you are right, there is an anti Islamist edge to some peoples objections, in mine for one. We should move forward with the idea that integration with British culture involves Muslims in modernised treatment of gender segregation.

  2. @RealLeeT says:

    Unfortunately, you decide to label a response I’d like to make, ‘Islamophobic’ – you were bound to eventually I suppose:

    “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.”

    The point is, (your meaningless labeling aside,) that I do believe religious indoctrination, backed-up as it is with all manner of threats, has a detrimental effect on a healthy human mind. I’ll assume it unnecessary to give examples of polite, happy, tolerant people becoming psychopathic killers after being subjected to such indoctrination. So, yes, oftentimes religious people need, if not rescuing, then protecting from themselves.

    It is logical and reasonable that you raise the matter of gender segregation in non-religious contexts (in schools, colleges and toilet facilities). Disregarding the common Muslim appeal that two wrongs DO, in fact, make a right, I categorically disapprove of gender segregation in ALL aspects of life. I attend many public places (in a more enlightened part of the world) where toilet facilities are shared without ANY problems (I’m not a big fan of using urinals anyway!) Admittedly, it may take time for some people to get used to this if they have only ever known segregated facilities but, that is no reason to continue with the segregation.

    So, given my stance, do you accept that my opposition to religious segregation is rational, consistent and without prejudice?

  3. @RealLeeT says:

    The last sentence should read “…to religious gender segregation…”

  4. 'Uthmān says:

    Excellent article!

    Regarding the analogy with gender-separate toilets, I would add that I’ve yet to see anyone actually rationally justify why exposure of genitalia makes separation reasonable. Rationally speaking, why should genitalia only be exposed to members of the same gender? Ultimately, I feel it comes down to one’s social/cultural conditioning, because of which it just “feels right”. But if one believes that gender-separate toilets is acceptable on the basis that it “feels right”, then on what rational basis can they object to others for whom gender-separate seating at an event may “feel right”? Further, some arguments against gender-separate seating such as what transexuals are supposed to do, never seem to have been raised at any significant level against gender-separate toilets.

    Also, I fail to understand why many have said that it should be banned in public institutions, but not private ones. What is it about public institutions that means it should be banned in them? Upon trying to ask for clarification on this, the answers I have been given do not make any sense to me. And is it related to the fact that they consider gender-separate seating to be somehow immoral, or would they want it banned from public institutions regardless of whether they considered it immoral or not?

    A question I would ask you is whether it is truly accurate to say that the campaign against it is motivated by Islamophobia (if by this, you mean anti-Muslim bigotry), given that some of those who campaigned against it have themselves been reformist Muslims, and others involved have been people sympathetic to reformist Muslims, even if not orthodox adherents?

    1. Thanks for the comment. Of course not all people who campaign against gender segregation are anti-Islam but I believe the campaign is lead by such people.

  5. stevensayers says:

    Public means it belongs/ is accessible to to the general public. It should be banned because it nit socially acceptable in the UK , just because a small portion of 4% of the Muslims in Britain want segregated public meetings does not give it legitimacy. There are plenty if examples of minority preferences that are not acceptable, urinating in the street, public nudity etc. if a desire for socially unacceptable/abnormal behaviour is derived from religious beliefs it does not have carry any more weight, belief is just that, what someone believes.

  6. Don says:

    For me the problem is with enforcing segregation. I sighed when Cameron waded in with his comments. I’m not sure he’d thought it through. But if the uni can force 2 or 3 people to separate, say a mixed group of friends, for the benefit of the majority wanting segregation, at what point does it become too much to ask? 5% of the audience? 10%? And can’t this argument be extended to a computer science lecture where the professor and most of the audience are pro segregation?

    I think people, especially a mixed group who want to sit together, however small, should be allowed to sit where they like, barring obvious stunts that approach harassment like sitting next to an isolated group. Inevitably that will often mean it dilutes the segregation others want, but it’s the pro segregation who would otherwise be requiring something of others, putting conditions on where they sit whereas those who don’t want to be segregated are not requiring anyone else to do something. At a uni the default is no requirement, so they are not adding anything.

  7. Super Nova says:

    I enjoyed this no end. Besides the fact that the gender segregation row has been hijacked by ex-Muslim’s who constantly bemoan their oppressive situation, loudly and overly, which is in complete contradiction to the image they are trying to portray of them fearing for their lives due to their transgression. It seems that they have found common ground with right wing fascists and therefore Muslims once again have the joy of constantly being in defence mode. I’m of the opinion attack is the best form of defence.
    So if they want to moan and grumble like a broken record whenever Muslims make any decision based on their faith, then they should be prepared to defend their own beliefs also. When this occurs I’ve found that they will mostly retreat. In this world of surveillance and rights being stripped away each and every day, Muslims as every one else, need to be aware that the struggle is never ending. Other than that, this is an excellent blog and I’ll no doubt return.
    Well done.

    1. realleet says:

      It’s a pity you feel that you need to attack in order to defend. I find that approach to be the least effective way of debating an issue. The arguments usually become lost under a barrage of insults and ad hominem attacks. As a result no one benefits from learning something new, and everyone suffers from the experience.

      Personally, I prefer to either debate another person’s beliefs, or debate my own. Also, I never ‘retreat’, if, by this, you mean abandon the debate on my own terms. I will concede defeat, or ask that we respectfully agree to disagree, but I won’t just disappear. So, whenever you’re ready:

      realleet.wordpress.com

      @RealLeeT

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