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Warning to women living in the West!

Homa Arjomand

Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada

Coordinator of the International Campaigns to Closedown Iranian Embassies

Coordinator of the International Campaigns for One Secular School System

Coordinator of Campaign Open Border for Afghan women and Children.


Warning to women living in the West!

Legitimizing the Taliban by the West will pushback, the women’s movement for freedom and equality globally!

Political Islamists has expanded its wing in the Middle East once more as the Taliban occupies Afghanistan. Next, Islamists will push for the West to legitimize the Taliban. The Islamic movement will do everything it can to push back those opposing their movement and seek to gain recognition by governments in the West. This is sometimes done behind the closed doors with the leaders of the Western countries and sometimes through terrorizing people in the West by planting bombs in the busiest streets, cinemas, subway stations, hospitals, and schools. This creates a parallel power structure within the surrounding societies. This movement will take advantage of Western laws such as the bad piece of legislation like the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 or by taking the law into its own hands by creating completely different human relationships within society. This is done by removing civic laws where citizens are free and equal and replacing it with ethics laid down by Sharia law.

What can be done?

To defeat political Islam, we must recognize that it needs to be confronted both politically and economically. That cannot be done without recognizing the obstacles that the women’s rights movement face globally for full equality and freedom. We also need to identify the trends within the movement. The following two obstacles need to be challenged constantly. First a view that considers women’s rights are merely economical rather than political. And secondly, the view that does not consider women’s rights are universal so therefore there is no global demand.

We also need to have a focused strategy.

I was involved in the fight against implementing “Sharia Courts in Canada” along with hundreds of leading activists. From this experience, I came to realize there are obstacles within women’s rights movement for freedom.

There existed several biases in the movement against implementing Sharia Courts in Canada. The conflict among these biases grew in different forms. Each tried to influence this movement. Obviously, no one can deny the fact that these biases were the result of real social pressure. The complicated issues that were put forward by these preferences, its contributing factors, conditions, and its outcome, has not yet been solved. Its strengths and weaknesses have yet to be evaluated in near future.

Today I am not going to discuss the external obstacles that are outside of the movement for women’s rights even though we are constantly struggling with it. Instead, I would like to discuss the obstacles within the movement as I strongly believe these obstacles are exhausting the most progressive part of this movement and that is to have a clear ambition. No doubt some of these obstacles are influenced directly by those outside forces.

One of the obstacles is that the issues of women’s rights are considered economical rather than political and therefore the struggle for social and political changes quickly transmits to minimum achievements. Their political demands for extensive intervention in economic, political, cultural, and intellectual life of society fade away. This is more visible in the West. The struggle for economic equality in society, the struggle for equal pay for equal jobs, struggle for obtaining a wage for housework, struggle for social welfare and economic security, struggle repealing laws and regulation that eliminates women in participating in a full capacity in politics and administrations, struggle for homosexual rights, or even the struggle for total separation of religion from the State and education or obtaining rights to abortion, are all are being addressed by lobbying through various organizations. These organizations clearly say in their mission statements that they are non-political and non-partisan while receiving funds from governments or parties in power. No wonder when an external anti-women force or movement attacks women’s rights or children’s rights, these organizations do not challenge it at all or if they do it will not be politically challenged. Therefore, part of their activities will not be an awareness or attempt to mobilize of the whole society around that particular political, struggle. The best example I can give in this respect is the struggle we had against Sharia Courts in Canada. Even some of the opposition who were strongly against the establishment of Sharia Courts in Canada and finally joined a coalition against it, could not see it as a political attempt of the Islamic movement towards women’s rights and secularism. The most one could hear from these activists were “the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 is a bad piece of legislation” or this should not be considered as a political attack towards women’s rights. It should be acknowledged as another choice for Muslim women. Muslim women could go to a secular court if they wished, or they could choose a Sharia Court. To challenge a Sharia Court might hurt Muslim women. They were insisting on protecting the rights of Islam!

This bias was not concentrated on educating the grassroots and mobilizing them. They were not interested in involving people and leading activists. To them the issue could be addressed by simply writing a letter to the ministry in charge and to request an explanation. They only knew how to lobby. I personally have no problem with lobbying as one of the avenues, but it must not be the only one.

Our approach with the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada was different. We recognized it as an attack to women’s rights, and we attempted to educate the public about the real reason behind the establishment of a Sharia Court in Canada. We let the public know that the next step of this political attack if it is given recognition in Canada, will be global attacks on the women’s rights movement by Islamists. We provided the public with many examples and a clear picture of what had happened in countries when political Islam gained power, through mainstream media, the internet, websites as well as information stats. These were organized by the activists and volunteers and grew in numbers across Canada and the Western countries. We encouraged the victims of political Islam to become the spokespersons on the front line. We called for various public meetings and encouraged all defenders of women’s rights to do the same. The organizers and spokespersons of this campaign attended various meetings in communities and run workshops. While meeting with ministries in charge and potential supporters of parties in power, we were also organizing conferences and panel discussions as well as organizing demonstrations nationally and internationally.

We relied on grassroots and their actions to gain the support of influential people. Of course, lobbying has never been part of the women’s rights activists in countries governed by dictatorships, but the above-mentioned preferences is to persuade people that this is one of the ways to effect reform.

The other internal obstacle of the women’s rights movement for freedom is that women’s rights are not considered universal and therefore has no global demands.

The notion of cultural relativism and whole notion of “minority rights” which defines women’s rights according to her cultural and tradition is no coincident. This notion divides the world in two. In one part there exists in progressive countries with Western culture and in another part, there exists countries with backward cultures and religions. The sad part of believing in cultural relativism is the movement of women’s rights in the West acts very passively towards the political and social demands of women’s in those regions. Under the notion of cultural relativism, the rights of immigrant women living in marginalized communities in the heart of the West is being ignored. Or if it is not ignored, it is being validated in such away, that face covering being imposed on women from the East, child brides, forced and arranged marriages, women being slashed and stoned to death for having sexual relationships outside of marriage, are accepted as part of her culture and it is legitimized. Because of this notion women in the East were not able to gain the same rights as women in the West. This notion provided the best excuse for political Islam to introduce Islamic feminists. You all know that for the past two decades a movement was pushed forward by political Islam under the name of Islamists feminists. The activists of this movement in the recent conference which was held in Spain with other Islamic groups and organizations “stated that the freedom we are after is very different from the freedom of women in the West are after” or “We cannot measure the freedom in Islamic countries with the same way one measures the freedom in the West”!

Unfortunately, we have faced with the same phenomenon in the struggle against Sharia Courts in Canada and now the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some of the Western organizations which were supposed to fight for universal rights of women in conjunction with women’s organizations and visible minorities, were insisting on allowing other religious organizations practice their rights and they called it freedom of religion. They were the defender of cultural relativism. These groups later joined the coalition for “No faith-based arbitration” but did not sign the resolutions or declarations that was put forward by us simply because we did not identify ourselves with our nationalities, religion, or culture. These groups tried hard to ignore us but would join any group with an Islamic suffix or prefix and their excuse was not to be identified as racists or they worried about Islamophobia! The life and safety of women and children were less important than being tagged as a racist.

The other obvious obstacle that the women’s rights movement for freedom is facing, is not having a focused strategy. It seems the movement has lost its ambition. It is busy with its day-to-day resistance. It is busy repealing the attacks which it receives from various angles. In the West it seems that it is pleased for what it has but not realizing, if we don’t organize ourselves against the expansion of political Islam in the Middle East soon, women in the West will be targeted too. Right now, women in Afghanistan are struggling for the most basic rights to survive to the next day.

Obviously, any movement that has no focused strategy with maxim list demands, any movement that does not understand the move of social and political forces that exists in our society and their attempts, will never seek universal demands. This movement is not pro-active.

The women’s’ rights movement in general does not have a firm focused strategy towards the conflict of two obvious poles. For American militarism and political Islam, the activists of this movement do not take any serious actions when it realizes that the rights of women in Islamic countries or communities are under the constant attack. It has no plan to stop the interference of religion with State and education even though it is growing globally.

The rights of women immigrants and refugees are being violated. The standard of life even in the West is deteriorating and all parties in power in the West, be it liberal or right-wing conservatives, are trying hard to use this condition as an excuse to enforce their new policy to investigate and interfere with the private lives of individuals, implementing the policy of censorship and putting in place laws and regulations to stifle any struggle. Unions are under constant pressure and rights to strike are being limited. In these circumstances the women’s rights movement is not taking an active rule. And unfortunately, if it takes any stand, it would be in support of one of the parties in power, with respect to conflict of two obvious poles. American militarism and political Islam either defends American militarism or political Islam. In general, it takes no rule to demolish the root of inequality and women’s oppression. It sees men as the cause of women’s oppression and does not want to harm the system that is behind human exploitation, women’s oppression, repression, and discrimination.

Once again in the International Campaign against Sharia Courts in Canada one could easily see how the movement of women’s rights could not see the conflict of the two poles of political Islam verses secularism. One being anti-women, anti-modernism, and anti-secularism, the other defending the unconditional equality of men and women and total freedom. Its opposition was towards arbitrators who were ready to empty the pockets of people. Or argue that the Ontario government really wanted to resolve the back log at the court system and reduce bureaucracy. Not being able to see the big picture, not having a clear strategy caused frustration and instability among its activists to obtain a firm position.

It was indeed hard to defeat Sharia Court in Canada, but it was done. We need to act immediately and confront Islamist’s aggression. if we don’t, we will face severe consequences.

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