|Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her column in the Independent yesterday returns to the topic of gender segregation in universities relaying the protest that is to take place in opposition to guidelines published a couple of weeks ago by Universities UK.|
The guidelines deal with the subject of external speakers in higher education institutions following controversies and witchhunts sparked by vested ideological interest groups.
Alibhai-Brown picks up on the reference in the guidelines to the permissibility of segregated events on university campuses: “concerns…[for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems”. Deriding the provision as a ‘capitulation’ and a ‘disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism and progressive ideals and for Muslims most of all’, Alibhai Brown argues that "Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men – though there are always willing maidens who say “yes, yes, yes” to such diktats”.
With echoes of her remarks of niqab and burqa wearers being 'proxy maidens to the Taliban’ on account of their choice of dress, Alibhai Brown offers ‘Saudi Arabian obscurantism’ as the reason behind segregation opted for by some Muslims.
Indeed, Alibhai-Brown decries the ignominy these ‘obscurantist Muslims’ are left to wallow in because “our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam but rather encourage them.”
“…reactionary religious practices stealthily enter heads, homes, citadels and national institutions” and “our noblest sanctuaries have been infiltrated, our faiths corrupted by zealots abetted by Western liberals, our so-called friends,” she writes.
Alibhai-Brown fails to see her own betrayal of liberal values with her uncompromising stance against accepting the right of others to practice religious as they choose, liberal or conservative, as long as it remains within the law. To set the normative standard on Islam as a parochial understanding of ‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’, to the exclusion of all other forms of practicing religion, is hardly the mark of a ‘liberal’, much less a ‘progressive’.
Nor is the claim that such practices are ‘reactionary’ or ‘retrograde’ in the least bit accurate. Muslims who choose the burqa or niqab, or who opt for segregated seating at events, display the tendencies of a modern subject exercising choice and agency.
Alibhai-Brown would do well to reflect on the words of President Obama, in his Cairo speech, when he said:
“We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism."’