Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of the book Love in a Headscarf, earlier posted a link to a ridiculous article by one Liam Deacon (whose other writings are at the Huffington Post) which was briefly published on the Spectator website and is due to go live on Monday, claiming that there is no such thing as “rape culture” in popular western culture, only among “minority non-western cultures” and, in particular, Muslims. He offers the examples of the supposed reasons why the hijab is worn, the (alleged) mass rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by ISIS, the “abuse of 1400 non-Muslim girls in Rotherham by predominantly Muslim men and the presence of concubines throughout the Islamic tradition”. He also accuses feminists of being too keen to point out examples of “rape culture” among westerners but too cowardly to accuse Muslim men.
He gives an unconvincing explanation as to what ‘rape culture’ is:
What is rape culture? The popular definition is a culture in which sexual violence is considered the norm — in which people aren’t taught not to rape, but are taught not to be raped.
This is really only one possible definition of it, and is perhaps a consequence of it rather than being rape culture. I suspect it is a phrase that means a different thing depending on who is using it, but generally means a culture in which rape is normalised, in which (many) men believe they are entitled to do it, or that some women deserve it, or know they have a reasonable chance of getting away with it, in which there is a ready supply of pornography which depicts women pretending to enjoy degrading and unhealthy sexual acts, and in which rape is difficult to prosecute because juries believe myths about rape and the defence will exploit this, in which rape is seen as trivial enough that it can be used as a joke (and rape jokes appear in mainstream comedy, some of them even directed at specific individuals), or that a defeat in a football match, for example, will be compared to it. At least some of these things are true in our culture, even if it is not saturated with rape and references to it.
Like so many, I simply didn’t recognise this cynical assertion about British society, which has become so widely accepted. British women may be the most liberated and safe in history; men are more socialised than ever; rates of recorded sexual violence are at near historic lows.
This should read “like so many men”. The vast majority of rapes happen to women and girls, and the vast majority of men and boys (the exceptions being mostly in institutions) have no reason to fear it. Liam Deacon, the author, lives in Sheffield, and I am sure he is well aware of a local football team which was on the brink of taking back a former player who is on parole following a conviction for rape, and of a campaign of harassment and intimidation against those (mainly women) who campaigned to keep him out, and that those fans refused to accept, despite ample evidence, that he was guilty.
Yet the hysteria over Britain’s supposed rape culture has brought with it ‘consent classes’ at many universities and the advent of new rape guidelines: men accused of rape will now need to prove a woman said ‘yes’. In general, British society has become ruthlessly opposed to rape culture. But if one does indeed exist, it is predominantly in relation to minority non-western cultures.
He will not actually have to ‘prove it’ in the sense of providing video evidence or a signed form, merely explain how he made sure there was consent, rather than claiming that the lack of obvious resistance is proof of consent.
Consider, for a moment, why the hijab is worn. According to some interpretations, it is needed to ‘preserve the modesty’ of women from men they are unrelated to. It is also meant to shield the men from ‘impure thoughts’ and temptation. Muslim women pressured to wear the veil are essentially being told they are responsible for the sexual conduct of men, and their uncovered selves are somewhat shameful. This is, quite inescapably, a type of ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’ – two other central tenets of rape culture.
These ‘interpretations’ he refers to are merely attempts to explain why Muslims obey the commands in the Shari’ah. The truth is that we obey them because they are there; “because Allah and His Messenger say so”. In fact, in the Qur’an God explains why women are to cover their bodies: “so that they be recognised [as religious or respectable women] and not annoyed” (or molested, in some translations). The issue of anyone being responsible for controlling other people’s behaviour is a later accretion, and one over-emphasised in hostile western interpretations. Most of the material I have seen advocating that women wear the hijab focus on the textual proofs, not flimsy interpretations.
When a Muslim woman is sexual assaulted, too often it’s her own ‘honour’, over that of the assailant, which is regarded as compromised. In extreme cases, women are subjected to ‘honour’ violence for simply exercising their autonomy. Forced marriage (only recently made illegal) can directly facilitate rape. My intension here is not to be deliberatively provocative, but if there is a ‘rape culture’ alive in Britain today, it is most probably Islamic.
Forced marriage and honour-related violence occurs in specific ethnic communities in the UK. Some of them are Muslim, some not. It is not unknown for white men to kill their daughters for similar reasons either.
What is more shocking still, and even more fiercely avoided by western feminists, is the apparent permissibility of the rape of non-Muslim women according to some interpretations of the Koran. Such readings may be routinely denounced as ‘un-Islamic’. Yet the mass enslavement of Yazidi women by Isis, the abuse of 1400 non-Muslim girls in Rotherham by predominantly Muslim men and the presence of concubines throughout the Islamic tradition make the reality quite unavoidable.
What he has done is pulled three scrappy examples of things which aren’t typical of Muslim behaviour here in the UK, now in 2015, two of them not even happening in the UK at all, and presented them as if they are. Concubines existed across the ancient world, not just in the Muslim world, and in some places they were at the royal courts and in positions of political power, as with certain groups of slaves generally, notably in Egypt. It is assumed that the life of slaves was the same miserable one as found in the United States and that slave women whose masters had sex with them were always, or nearly always, raped. This is a misplaced assumption. Slaves had rights in the Muslim world that they did not have in the west, including the same quality clothing as their owners, and among other things the sale of slave women who had borne their masters’ children was banned. This was not the case in America.
The alleged use of Yazidi women as sex slaves by ISIS is completely against Islam. ISIS are not entitled to enslave anyone; the Yazidis and other non-Muslims in Iraq were allowed to live freely under (genuine) caliphal rule for centuries, and no new ruler can simply decide to enslave people at will. This is only done when new lands are conquered, and when the Muslims conquered that region, they did not enslave vast numbers of non-Muslim civilians, whether they were “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) or otherwise. In addition, having sexual relations with a slave woman is only allowed if she is Christian or Jewish; Yazidis are neither. Any Muslim with a modicum of knowledge of the Shari’ah knows this; I suspect the story may be fabricated, or at least exaggerated.
As for the abuse in Rotherham and other places, the perpetrators were particular gangs, most of them involved in the cab and fast-food trades. It is now well-known that they were enabled to do this by police and social workers who often assumed that the girls were perfectly willing and underestimated the abuse they were being subjected to, and in any case were powerless to physically stop the girls leaving the care homes (the number of secure children’s homes is tiny, and dwindling). While the gang involved in the Rotherham abuse were Asian, a separate case in Derby involved white men. It’s not as if the only cab drivers who ever abused their women and child passengers were Asian (I dealt with plenty of abusive cabbies as a child, although the abuse was physical rather than sexual), and as we are now seeing a raft of cases of abuse going back decades, mostly by white men, some of them celebrities and politicians, it hardly proves that the only “rape culture” in the UK comes from Muslims.
Feminists are currently very keen to identify ‘rape culture’ in modern Britain, but are too cowardly to mention – let alone confront – the fact that facets of Islam are just what they’re looking for.
The most significant battles for this generation of feminists are within non-western cultures. But much feminism today is completely beholden to a crippling moral and cultural relativism. Feminists will often go as far as proclaiming the hijab a symbol of liberation, even of feminism itself, yet have a debilitating fear of confronting the more pressing plight of minority women. They are determined not to break their unshakeable commitment to both equality and diversity.
Accordingly, feminism has ended up pedalling a myth about wider British culture, while ignoring the women suffering the most. In doing so, they betray those who may genuinely be living within what they wish to brand ‘rape culture.’
Feminists are certainly not cowards; some of them face a barrage of abusive and threatening messages, including threats of rape, for sometimes very mild feminist stances such as demanding that there be a woman on at least one British banknote, or criticising the prevalence of objectification and violence against women in popular computer games. Most of this does not come from Muslim men but from white men. Only last week a man posted a video of himself screaming after he had crashed his mother’s Prius on the way to “sort out” Brianna Wu, a prominent feminist critic of violence in video games, and in the text below he accused his intended victim of sabotaging the car. In addition, feminists who criticise Islam on its position regarding women’s rights, or even advocate banning hijab or openly vituperate women who wear it, have never come to harm in the west for doing so, so they have nothing much to fear, perhaps because their attacks will hurt only Muslim women. In some countries the state will join their attacks.
It is not courage to attack perceived misogyny in a minority; it is attacking an easy target. If they do this, they will have the tabloids and politicians on their side, as we saw with the tabloid attack on the niqaab following Jack Straw’s comments in 2006 (accompanied by a whole lot of concern trolling about deaf people, none of it actually from deaf people, as far as I could remember). And it is not as if nobody has been concerned about forced marriage for the past 20 years before Liam Deacon noticed (it doesn’t take minutes to make a law, it takes years), or that there have not been groups of black, Asian and/or Muslim women forming groups of their own to protect abused women in their communities, or to change the attitudes that lead to these kinds of abuses. When outsiders (whites) try to interfere on the basis of what they think is best, they often do so from a position of ignorance and assumed superiority (it took years, for example, to grasp the difference between arranged marriages and forced ones). There is a tendency among white feminists, particularly in Europe, to think they know what is best for all women.
It’s a piece that fits neatly into a genre of defence of western culture from any criticism from within: “why not have a go at the Muslims, they’re worse than us! You only have a go at us because you know we won’t bomb you unlike them!”. Surely, women know better than a white male libertarian writer what threats they face, and where they come from. Mainstream feminists are better off criticising the faults in their own societies than launching clumsy attacks on minority communities for things they do not fully understand; Muslim women have demonstrated that they can speak for themselves and if they want the help of white feminists, they can ask for it. It is a lie that nobody will discuss Islam negatively or talk about problems in the Muslim community for fear of reprisal or being branded racist; the media has been saturated with it at least since 2001. The same newspapers that would be your ally if you attacked the Muslims are those that print topless pictures, that dissect and criticise women’s appearance but not men’s, that vilify feminists and others who challenge the status quo. “Rape culture” may not be typical of modern western culture, but it’s real and if you can avoid ever noticing it, you’re either very lucky, male, or both.
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