Universities and Gender Segregation

The 10th of December, this Tuesday is Human Rights Day. It is my birthday too and insha-allah ( God willing) I plan to mark both by joining a demo outside Woburn House in Tavistock Square, London. These are the offices of Universities UK, ( UUK) an affiliate which describes itself as ‘the voice of UK universities’, being a bit presumptive I think, especially now.


In its wisdom, this august body has published guidelines on gender segregation at universities. The issue has been raised over the last few years by lecturers and students who complain that, for certain events, organisers and speakers expect men and woman to sit apart or not attend. Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men, though there are always willing maidens who say yes, yes, yes to such diktats. UUK okays this Apartheid and offers up nauseating justifications. It’s done  in the name of free speech, yes really. ; ‘Concerns …[for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems’. Furthermore, staff should not worry unduly about the rights and wrongs of this small matter.  


So as of now, separation in lecture halls and seminar rooms is fine so long as women don’t have to sit behind men (gee thanks!) but can be seated in lecture hall reservations. Separate but equal. Just how Boers ordered society in pre-freedom South Africa. So should gays have to sit apart from heterosexuals? Hindus be kept equal and apart from Muslims? If EDL members want to have meetings and insist blacks can only sit in designated areas, I suppose UUK would not object. Having conceded to the most objectionable demands once, they would absolutely have to again and again.


What will they do if a Muslim, female Mandela goes sits with the men? Will they carry her out and throw her down the steps? Some preachers on campus are today telling women to get back into the home, out of public life. Muslim women in jeans or with hair uncovered have been asked to leave lecture rooms by clothes vigilantes. Two Muslim LSE students harangued me for my unholy attire and views just a month back. The guidelines effectively endorse the most offensive prejudices about women: that they are a social and moral peril and if they sit with men, pornographic fantasies or molestations will make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on lectures, say, on Plato or the Life of the Prophet. Think of how grades will tumble, and league table results. One wonders who and what else universities will accommodate to get their hands on £9000 per year.


Throngs of students, academics, parents, politicians, and feminists should fill Tavistock Square and shout out loud. Not that they will, what with Christmas shopping and perhaps inchoate fears. Various student unions roll over, again and again before Islamicists and their outrageous demands- backing full veils, speeches by Wahabis- and thus far, there has been no clear condemnation from the NUS of this disgraceful document penned by the deluded UUK. This latest capitulation is a disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism, for progressive ideals and for Muslims most of all.   


 Muslim education achievements are so abysmally low because our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam and instead encourage those. (Perhaps it’s a cunning plot to keep them down and out of mainstream life!) I know of female medical students – three Muslim and one Orthodox Jew- who will not touch male patients, of all male religious professional networks and even worse examples.     


I end with a poem by American poet Stephen Dobyns.    


A cry was heard among the trees,

not a man’s, something deeper.

The forest extended up one side

the mountain and down the other.

None wanted to ask what had made

the cry. A bird, one wanted to say,

although he knew it wasn’t a bird.


… They waited

for it to come a second time. It’s lost,

one said. Each thought of being lost

and all the years that stretched behind.

Where had wrong turns been made?

Soon the cry came again. Closer now.
To me it expresses the unspoken dread felt by millions of us, as reactionary religious practices stealthily enter heads, homes,  citadels and national institutions. How many wrong turns have been made by guardians of nations and other leaders? How many more twisted paths will they take us down? Our noblest sanctuaries have been infiltrated, our faiths corrupted by zealots abetted by western liberals, our so-called friends. Instead of being free and enlightened our universities are now closing off and surrendering to Saudi Arabian obscurantism. God, please, please help the young.  

 The Independent, 10th December 2013

Gender Segregation 2 

RESULT! In one week, we, a small group of stalwarts, Muslims and non-Muslims, who opposed sex apartheid in universities raised slumbering politicians and jolted gutless academics. Universities UK  (UUK) will reconsider its guidelines sanctifying gender apartheid in the name of freedom of speech and equal access. 

My column denouncing this advice appeared last Monday. On Tuesday, Human Rights Day, a bitterly cold night, protestors demonstrated outside the UUK Headquarters in central London. No UUK rep came out to speak to us.  ( Dear readers you should have been out there with us) .That evening, on Channel4 news I took on Omar Ali of the federation of Student Islamic Societies. He said uni segregation was no different from what happens in synagogues and mosques and that a liberal society should accommodate such ‘choices’. I argued that prayer houses were not state funded public spaces and that some choices ought never to be accommodated. The next day, Nicola Dandridge, UUK’s CEO was on the BBC Radio4 Today programme,. Presenter Justin Webb, probing, yet reasonable, put to her the arguments against male-female separatism. She rebutted them all, alight with self righteousness. I threw a glass of water at the radio. Missed the radio, broke the glass, picked up the pieces, almost weeping with rage. Such white liberals from left to right need to grow up. By Friday UUK had shed its earlier overconfidence and seemed to be wavering. I predict the guidance will be binned.

 This Talibanisation of British universities has got to stop. Now I think it might be.

The Independent, 17th December 2013