Responding to Rod Liddle . . . Sigh

I don't know whether to ignore or engage with this self-proclaimed champion of Islamophobia.

Remember Rod "Islamophobia? Count me in" Liddle? He produces the same upmarket, Richard Littlejohn-esque, "It's all political correctness gone mad" column in the Spectator week in, week out.

So I'm never sure whether it's best just to ignore his attention-grabbing attempts at garden-variety bigotry or engage and debate and rebut.

His column this week, on page 19, claims that "the ideology of Islam" lends itself to:

. . . a) homophobia, b) the subjugation of women, c) anti-Semitism, d) viciousness towards so-called apostates, e) authoriatianism and f) a somewhat medieval approach towards crime and punishment.

He adds:

And then there's the barbarism of female circumcision, forced marriages and the notion that those who are not Muslims are not quite human -- that their lives are worthless.

I have a few questions for the editors of the Spectator: 1) Do you have fact checkers? Do you not think it'd be worth providing some evidence from the Quran or elsewhere for such serious and inflammatory accusations against the 1,400-year-old faith of 1.2 billion people across the globe? Find me a single verse of the Quran that justifies or allows "forced marriages" or "female circumcision", or which portrays non-Muslims as "not quite human". I dare you. 2) Would you publish a similar screed on page 19 if the author was a Mr N Griffin of the British National Party? I mean, let's be honest -- Griffin and his ilk would probably not disagree with a single word that I've quoted above.

In such columns, Liddle often claims, as he does here, that he draws "a distinction between Islam and Muslims" -- ie Muslims as people = good; Islam as ideology = bad. I tend to take the reverse view -- Islam is a religion of morals and justice and peace; it is Muslims who fail to adhere to its tenets, pervert its principles and hijack the faith for self-serving, politicised and/or criminal purposes. As George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked, "Islam is the best religion but Muslims are the worst followers." I'd add: judge Islam on its own principles and not the barbaric and backward practises (female circumcision, suicide bombings, anti-Semitism) of a minority of its followers.

On a side note, God bless Peter Oborne, on page 16.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Female genital mutilation is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue

A new play explores how two women react when their daughters' friend is subjected to FGM.

Alice Denny was born into a body that didn’t feel like hers. There is no one ‘right’ way to live and no one should have to hide who they really are.  For years, she accepted the guise before eventually making the transition she deserved.

“A life and body to finally match my mind,” she says softly, quoting one of her own poems to me. “I know, it’s silly,” she adds in a fluster, but Alice needn’t be so modest. In fact, she should be very proud.

We’re at The Joker, an offbeat bar in Brighton, and Alice explains how the realisation of her womanhood inspired her to take up a leading role in CUT, a community play highlighting the horrors of female genital mutilation (FGM), which premieres in Brighton next week.

“For anything to stop women from being women, I find so upsetting,” Alice tells me with a communicable heartbreak in her voice.

FGM involves the removal of a woman’s clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate – depending on the variation. Typically, FGM is carried out with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 15, often without any anaesthetic.

This misguided practice, fed by some faux-rationale about raising girls properly, is most common among cultural and religious groups in Africa and the Middle East with the World Health Organisation estimating around 125 million cases across the globe. Many of these communities believe FGM will serve to limit a woman’s libido, discourage sexual promiscuity and strengthen the institute of marriage.

“It’s brutal and makes me almost ashamed to be a human being,” Alice states emphatically.

Of course, to take solace in the fact FGM is not as common in Britain, where it is illegal, is to cataclysmically miss the point. It shouldn’t happen anywhere or to anyone. As it is, an approximate 137,000 women in Britain are affected by FGM, but even that number could be more given the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.

Daughters of some first-generation immigrants and asylum seekers can be at a particular risk, with these girls taken to their countries of origin against their will during the school holidays for the procedure, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before their return. In reality, the lasting effects both physical and psychological never cease completely.

It is a terrifying thought and one that the incisive CUT, written by Suchitra Chatterjee and Susi Mawell-Stewart, explores. The play chronicles the lives of two women, Brona and Kiva, neighbours forced to face up to the problem of FGM on their doorstep when a shared African friend of their daughters is about to be sent away to be mutilated. Parent of two Alice stars as Brona, while Norma Dixit portrays Kiva. 

So what does CUT hope to achieve?  “It’s about trying to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding this issue,” an impassioned Alice reveals.

The former psychiatric nurse continues: “FGM isn’t something that’s isolated to one place or one group of people. It’s a wider feminist issue, a human issue, which needs to be addressed collectively. The play is about raising awareness, a vehicle to say to women to make the world a better place for each other.

“Women matter, never mind culture, never mind traditions of people being subjugated. We matter and we can make our lives what we want them to be. I’ve made my life what I want it to be and I feel so happy about that.

“People who say ‘it’s nothing to do with us,’ of course it is. It’s brutalizing women. I would love people to say, ‘actually I do know something that’s going on and I will go to the police and they will listen to me.’ I want people to be energized and make it their business.”

Admittedly, CUT, directed by Rikki Tarascas, is not for the faint hearted and will no doubt leave the audience shocked in their seats. Then again, that’s the idea.

CUT will premiere at the BrightHelm Community Centre in Brighton on May 10 and features a pre-show event with speeches from, among others, Khadijah Kamara, an FGM survivor and Heather Knott, a former Soroptomist International UK committee member.