I haven’t written any blogs lately because I’ve been finishing a book. It is called Double Bind: The Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Left, and Universal Human Rights and is published by the Centre for Secular Space. You can order it online from lulu.com.
I came to issues of women and Islam through free expression work. First in International Pen and then in Women’s WORLD, I couldn’t help noticing that increasing number of women writers were being targeted by fundamentalists. Not all these fundamentalists were Islamists; some were Christians, Jews, or Hindus. In fact, one of my own books was targeted by the Christian Coalition.
Nobody on the left ever objected when I criticized Christian or Jewish fundamentalism. But when I did defence work for censored Muslim feminists, some people would look at me funny, like, who are you to talk about this? This tendency has become much more marked since 9/11 and the “war on terror.” Today on the left and in some academic circles, people responding to attacks on Muslim feminists in other countries are likely to be accused of reinforcing the “victim-savage-savior framework” or preparing for the next US invasion. This puts anyone working with actual women’s human rights defenders in places like North Africa or Pakistan in an impossible situation. Thus the title of my book, Double Bind.
Three years ago, Gita Sahgal, founding head of the gender unit at Amnesty International, was driven out of the organization for raising a similar issue—in her case, Amnesty’s alliance with Cageprisoners, a UK organization set up to defend prisoners at Guantanamo whose leaders openly promote the doctrine of “defensive jihad.” People all over the world came to Gita’s defense and some of us formed a thinktank called the Centre for Secular Space, of which I am US Director. Our mission is to strengthen secular voices, oppose fundamentalism, and promote universality in human rights. Double Bind is our first publication. It discusses questions like these:
Double Bind looks at salafi-jihadi history, ideas, and organizational methods—with particular emphasis on Cageprisoners, demonstrating that it is not actually a human rights group but a public relations organization for jihadis. Double Bind also discusses the practice of the Anglo-American antiwar movement and examines five wrong ideas about the Muslim Right: that it is anti-imperialist; that “defence of Muslim lands” is comparable to national liberation struggles; that the problem is “Islamophobia;” that terrorism is justified by revolutionary necessity; and that any feminist who criticizes the Muslim Right is an Orientalist ally of US imperialism.
What do we mean by the Muslim Right? Double Bind defines it as follows: “The Muslim Right is a range of transnational political movements that mobilize identity politics towards the goal of a theocratic state. It consists of those the media call ‘moderate Islamists’ who aim to reach this goal gradually by electoral and educational means; extremist parties and groups called ‘salafis’ that may run for office but also try to enforce some version of Sharia law through street violence; and a much smaller militant wing of salafi-jihadis that endorses military means and practices violence against civilians. The goal of all political Islamists, whatever means they may prefer, is a state founded upon a version of Sharia law that systematically discriminates against women along with sexual and religious minorities.”
People on the US left often hold back from talking about the Muslim Right because they are afraid that doing so will strengthen racists and nativists here. Of course we must stand up to right wing demogogues in the US who characterize every Muslim as a potential terrorist and try to whip up violence against civilians. These people are fascists. But the fact that we have a problem with white fascists in the US should not lead us to overlook the fact that people in various parts of the world have problems with other kinds of fascists, some of whom claim to be the only true Muslims and try to enforce their version of Islam through violence. And in fact, a number of jihadis are Western exports who grew up in Canada, the UK or the US. We cannot think only in terms of domestic problems when we live in a globalized world. We have to pick apart the knots of this double bind in order to find our way forward.
The Centre for Secular Space is holding two panels to launch Double Bind. The London launch will be at Toynbee Hall in London on Monday, Feb. 11 at 7 PM. Gita Sahgal will chair and the panelists will be Ansar Ahmedullah of the Nirmul Committee, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All, Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, and me.
The New York launch will be at Wollman Hall, 65 W. 11th St., at 7 PM on Friday, March 1, and will be co-sponsored by Gender Studies at the New School and the South Asian Solidarity Initiative. Ann Snitow will chair and the panelists will be Anissa Hélie, former coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, Afiya Shehrbano Zia of the Women’s Action Forum in Karachi, and me.
Seating is limited at both events. To get on the list for either, RSVP to admin [at] centreforsecularspace.org and put either RSVP London or RSVP New York in the subject line. And if you can’t come to the launch, do order Double Bind from lulu.com. The CSS will be glad to help organize other events around the subject of the book; write us at admin [at] centreforsecularspace.org.