News Carol Hunt

Thursday 2 October 2014

Feminism fails to confront rise of Sharia law

Carol Hunt asks why 
our political feminists 
ignore the suffering of their sisters under
barbaric legislation?

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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‘I FELT LIKE A BIG PART OF ME WAS MISSING’: Senator Averil Power who was adopted as a baby. Photo: Tom Burke

There was a lot of emotion on display in the Seanad during last week's passionate discussion on the Israel/Hamas conflict.

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Some of it was hysterical hyperbole, such as Marie Louise O'Donnell's rant against a "toothless and insular Europe"; some was offensive, such as the Sinn Fein comment that "the English were never coming to the table until Canary Wharf happened" but much was reasoned, thoughtful and sincere.

The always impressive Averil Power said: "As a country we have always prided ourselves in using our voice in international organisations like the UN to promote human rights and stand up for the oppressed".

If only this were true. But it's not. Because just one week after the UN damned Ireland for its inhumane treatment of vulnerable women, we are once again shamed in the eyes of our neighbours.

Last week the Council of Europe brought into effect the Istanbul Convention which aims to combat violence against women. Fourteen countries have so far ratified the convention and 36 states have signed it. Shamefully, Ireland has done neither. Where is the outcry from our feminist women in the Oireachtas?

Amongst other measures, the Istanbul Convention defines and criminalises forced marriages, female genital mutilation and sexual violence. Recently, we saw the first clinic open in Dublin to treat the almost 4,000 women here who have suffered from female genital mutilation. Globally, FGM is on the rise, as are child marriages, honour killings and forced gender segregation due to the increase in radical Islamism worldwide.

And yet western feminists, including our own female politicians who spoke so passionately last week in the Seanad about Israel's crimes, are strangely silent on these topics. Why? Are they afraid?

Because it's "politically correct" not to mention the increasing gender apartheid in Gaza for instance. Because you risk accusations of being "racist", "Islamophobic" or "bigoted" if you dare voice concern at the rise in radical Islam and the corresponding destruction of human rights for women and LGBT people. The popularity of "cultural relativism" in leftie, liberal circles has led to a two-tier system of human rights.

In May, the Sultanate of Brunei introduced Islamic criminal (Sharia) law - including stoning for alleged adulterers. In April, the Hamas justice minister announced a new criminal code based on Sharia into Gaza - where, according to Human Rights Watch activist Bill Van Esveld, "the Hamas government is trying to shore up its image as an Islamic reform movement in the face of challenges from more radical Islamist groups, is consolidating its social control by upping its efforts to 'Islamacise' Gaza."

Meanwhile, according to the UN, the two countries which have seen the most disturbing roll-backs in women's rights in recent times are Afghanistan and Syria - both implementing radical Sharia practices with greater and greater ferocity. Hilariously (not really) Iran, whom the UN has accused of "introducing [Sharia] laws that permit gender discrimination and promote violence against women", has a seat on the UN Women's Rights Commission (Status of Women).

But of course, when we speak about Sharia law we need to clarify exactly what it is. This is difficult in that Sharia can differ widely in theory, practice and implementation across the Islamic world.

For instance, there is much dispute about whether FGM is actually required under Sharia law or not, some scholars insisting that it is a cultural rather than religious practice. Therefore I quote the Sudanese Women's Rights activist Nahla Mahmoud on her experience an Islamic regime:

"It is important for me to clarify what I mean by Sharia," she begins. "To be precise, I am discussing the laws and legislation which are already in the UK and abroad, not theoretical or utopian ideals that only exist in the minds of those who defend and are usually in favour of Sharia.

"Sharia discriminates against women ... a woman's testimony is worth half a man's in Islam. She gets half the inheritance of her male siblings; a woman's marriage contract is between her male guardian and her husband. A man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation . . . child custody reverts to the father at a pre-set age, even if he is abusive. Girls are eligible for marriage at their first period."

Mahmoud describes what is allowed under Sharia when it is radically implemented, including marital rape, honour killings, violence against women, stonings, public floggings and child marriage. She also mentions that fact that homosexuality is punishable in most Islamic states with fines, public floggings or imprisonment - however in 10 Islamic
states it is punishable by death.

Mahmoud also notes that under Sharia law, a person who wishes to convert to another religion or become an atheist is considered an apostate and can be sentenced to death. And, of course, we've seen the escape of Christian Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan where she was sentenced to death under their Sharia law.

No doubt, as suggested by Minister Charlie Flanagan last week, "Senator Averil Power will acquaint herself with the attitude of Hamas [and other Islamic states] towards the treatment of women and the imposition of Sharia law in certain parts of the region, about which we might not be so vocal".

Only then can we truly 
begin to say that we use our voices to "promote human rights and stand up for the oppressed".

Sunday Independent

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