Fragile masculinity

Dear crusader against the times,

We hear you loud and clear: feminism is the great scourge of our times, apparently set to undermine our faith — along with modernism, scientism, liberalism and materialism. Thus must you argue at length in every post about the dangers they pose to orthodoxy, irregardless of your simplistic reductions.

Why does feminism lead to apostasy, you ask? Insert generalisations based on casual anecdotes and pure supposition here. By the same token, I may as well ask why reading the Reliance of the Traveller leads to apostasy, given the number of people I have encountered who once followed it to the letter — often adopting and censuring others on the hardest positions — who now disbelieve. Naturally, you will argue that it was liberalism, materialism or feminism which caused them to reject this prescriptive tome, and then Islam as a whole, but I say: prove it. We could equally hypothesise it was the other way around.

Context is everything. Is it possible that you are extrapolating your experience of a particularly vocal, activist-orientated, majority liberal university campus as representative of wider society? Is it possible that in your raging crusade against what you encountered there, you have mistaken that microcosm for the world? Perhaps you rightfully rallied against the campus echo chamber, which rejoiced in the certainties of their positions, as students everywhere do. Perhaps in that context, where conservative voices were perennially silenced, you were a heroic voice of reason. But in the contexts you find yourself in now, is it anymore true?

You rally against feminism, you tell us perpetually, but to those who have lived a little longer, your abstractions are troubling, as you sweep all kinds of movements up together with one broad brush. Organisations which work with victims of domestic violence are castigated for being part of an all pervasive ideology intent on undermining revelation. Groups which seek to promote female scholarship and encourage female participation in community leadership are said to constitute a stealth attack on traditionalism. Collectives which stand against spiritual abuse and sexual exploitation perpetuated by people in positions of authority are written off as a back door attack on scholarship. The battles of feminists on university campuses are not necessarily the same as the causes of activists in Muslim communities in different localities across your nation and beyond, but in your daily rants they are all the same.

Thus do you take your own battle to the world, far outside the contexts you inhabit. Not content with preaching your particularism across your own nation, in communities that may be wholly unlike your own, with experiences you know nothing of, now you preach across the globe, as your disciples translate your articles into other tongues, to be distributed far and wide. Your certainties are a source of comfort for some, as you confront what you claim to be the new orthodoxy of our times, but are a depressing simplification for others. Extrapolating the anecdotes of friends to a reality afflicting communities across your nation is one thing, but to assume that it is a global phenomenon is quite another.

Almost five thousand miles of ocean separate the two of us. I am quite prepared to admit that your context and mine are different, and our two experiences are nowhere near alike. It may well be that you speak of truths in your environment, that I am unfamiliar with in my own. It may well be that Muslim communities in America gravitate ever closer to the progressive ideals of American liberalism, whereas Muslim communities in Britain seem to be, by and large, swimming in the opposite direction. Perhaps that is why your unceasing commentary jars so much. Far be it from me, unfamiliar with your context as I am, to demand that you stop speaking of matters which you believe concern you. But to speak as if they are a global concern, effecting all people everywhere: that is plainly wrong.

Advocates for women’s rights worldwide do so for a vast array of reasons. The fact that you have decided it is because they are pursuing an anti-religion agenda is immaterial. Often the truth is the exact reverse. Here in Britain we have numerous women’s advocacy groups, located firmly within the spheres of Muslim orthodoxy, working to address very real issues of discrimination and abuse perpetuated by practicing Muslim men against practicing Muslim women. We have pious groups working with convert women caught in violent relationships, serial secret marriages or who suddenly find themselves abandoned, homeless and alone. In other countries we find groups working with women disfigured in acid attacks, inflicted with irreparable injuries by jealous and jilted men. In some Muslim countries, we find Muslim organisations working to stem a rising tide of sexual assault and even gang rapes perpetuated in public spaces. To conflate all such issues — as you so often do — with an ideology set on the destruction of faith does us a great disservice.

I suggest that a little humility is in order. Go and spend some time volunteering with grass-roots community organisations working on the front line with people in crisis. Try to understand a little better the prevalence and effects of domestic violence across communities. Try to apprehend the effects of sexual abuse on families, rather than perpetually siding with alleged perpetrators and writing the claims off as a conspiracy against believers. I suggest coming down from the ivory tower every now and then to walk amongst the common people, to share and understand their experiences. Spend time amongst the poor and downtrodden, to advocate on their behalf.

The oppression which you imagine afflicts you is nothing but an embodiment of fragile masculinity at its worst. Your perpetual refrain — that feminism, modernism, liberalism and materialism have robbed Muslim men of their authority and ability to lead — grows evermore wearisome. It is true: if you have to choose a camp, it is always the camp of the oppressed. But that does not mean imagining oppression where there is none. You are asked to diligently take care of others. Taking care is fluid and contextual, depending on your environment. It may mean one thing where you are and another thing elsewhere.

If you are desperate for a cause to champion, then let it be the cause of the truly voiceless. The ones that the braying masses around us seek to silence daily, without end.

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