Muslim Women and Discrimination


Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in our society. They are three times more likely than other British women to be unemployed or looking for work and twice as likely to be economically inactive. Those who have the same educational qualifications and skills as white Christian women are 71% more likely to be unemployed. These bleak findings appear in an MPs report published this Thursday. This is bad news for Muslims, feminists, anti-racists and for the nation. Britain cannot be highly productive, functional, inventive, internationally competitive  or properly meritocratic while so much human potential remains dormant or suppressed. Muslim families and communities with unemployed females cannot be hoisted out of privation and hopelessness. So why is this happening? Why now?

British Muslim women have come a long way since the eighties. Many have then been dragged or tossed back from where they might have been. Forty five percent more of them are in work than were in 2011. That is a remarkable figure. In 1894 a seminal Government study, Black and White Britain, was published by the Policy Studies Institute. The author, Colin Brown, is now my husband. He found that though vastly fewer Asian females than black or white females were in the workforce, among those in employment only 18% were Muslim. Today he has a senior job in financial regulation and his boss is a young, smart Muslim woman. Eight Muslim women are in parliament, several are Peers. More British Muslim women are getting degrees than Muslim men. (Until 1990, such women never got into higher education). I am a part time professor at Middlesex University where many of my students are feisty young Muslim women. One of them, Saira ( not her real name), told me recently: ‘ My mother can’t read or write. They got her married at 12, when she was a child. But she pushed me and my five sisters, stopped my father arranging our marriages. She is like a lioness. He used to hit her’. Sharmin was a young, incredibly bright, Bangladeshi mum in Bethnal Green. I used to teach her English. After her husband left her and married a younger wife. She enrolled at a further education college. She is now a social worker.

Some Muslim leaders have been calling for these transformative developments for a very long time. Back in 1924, our worldwide imam, the Aga Khan, instructed his believers to educate daughters because they would then go on to raise educated children and, in time, prepare congregations for a future they could not even imagine. As a child in the sixties, I remember the first time I saw women doctors in our mosque surgery in Kampala, Uganda and teachers clip-clopping in high heels in our schools. Aid agencies today focus on female education and aspirations for the same reasons given by our imam. Some British working class Muslim families finally got that message and did defy cultural norms to educate their daughters. According to this report, ‘ the impact of Islamaphobia cannot be underestimated’ and there is now a ‘chill factor’ which stops them applying for jobs and promotion. What a blow that must be. All that faith, all that money invested in what turned out to be a false promise, a chimera.

Just when things were getting better, they got worse. Attitudes towards migrants, minorities and refugees have noticeably hardened since Ukip and other hard right wing politicians, moved from the fringes to the heart of British politics. Islamicist terrorist cells are undeniably operating here and some have support from British born Muslims. Muslim self segregation is also an evident and serious issue. So too Pakistani grooming gangs in many small towns whose heinous activities were kept hidden for too long. These behaviours play into the narratives of racists and have also turned fair minded people against Islam and Muslims. The most ‘integrated’ of us are insulted, abused or attacked. You can’t fly, walk, talk, use public transport or use public spaces without fear of being seen as a terrorist. Since the late 1960s when the race relations laws were passed, most native Brits accepted the difference between private prejudices and civic or illegal behaviour. Not anymore.

There is another terrible injustice silently endured by Muslim females. Misogynistic Wahabi values are now embedded across the UK. Malignant literature, well produced and written in English, is found in many of our mosques. The books insist women are congenitally deficient and must be beaten and controlled. Farhat Hashmi, who got her PhD from Glasgow university, is one of the most influential internet female proselytisers ever. She orders middle class women to stay at home and give in men’s demands. They obey.

The report does recognise that discrimination and internal oppression both keep Muslim women in their airless, hopeless places. Governments can tackle the first, but who would dare challenge the second in a liberal society?

Edited version published in The Guardian, August 2016


Saudi Arabia


Practising Muslims have only five fundamental religious obligations: we must commit to monotheism, pray, give to charity, fast during the month of Ramadhan and go on pilgrimage to Mecca. I try my best to discharge these duties but will not go to Mecca. Our sacred city, unfortunately, is in Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a base, cruel, corrupt, absolutist, tyrannical, filthy rich, destructive, ungodly clan. They have even bulldozed precious historical and religious sites. I hope God will forgive me for my small rebellion against this evil empire. Many other Muslims are similarly revolted by the Saudi regime. Yet for successive UK governments as well as our biddable royals, powerful elites in the US, France and other western states, these worst of Muslim rulers are the best of friends. The loyalist nations are complicit in abominable  human rights abuses within the kingdom as well as catastrophic Saudi funded Islamofascism, wars and terrorism the world over. It can’t go on. Our citizens need to hold politicians to account for aiding and abetting these crimes against humanity and political integrity.

On Monday, Oxfam issued a stark statement about the hidden war in the Yemen where the Sunni leadership is fighting Shia rebels. We sold the arms to Saudi Arabia now being used against the Yemenis. We are violating the Arms Trade Treaty we backed and signed up to. Yes, that old, shameless British hypocrisy again. ( This trade has brought in 6 billion pounds!!!)  Indiscriminate bombing has killed over 8000 people. 82% of Yemenis are now dependent on international aid. Our government remains intensely relaxed about this military adventure. The US too, has unconditionally backed the Saudi rulers. But, unlike here, influential Americans are getting uneasy, more wary and outspokenly critical of this diplomatic love-in.

Toby Jones is associate history professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. In February this year, he wrote a grim paper for the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank: ‘The kingdom has become increasingly violent, beholden to dangerous pathologies and unpredictable.’ The US government knows all this.  In 2009,  Hillary Clinton wrote in a leaked email: ‘Saudi Arabia remains a critical support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups’. Yes, and Isis since then. Key parts of an official report on Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 killers have been redacted. Not one of them was an Iraqi, but Americans were directed to blame Iraq. Soon after the attacks, 144 Saudis living in the USA were flown home before they could be interrogated. US activist Medea Benjamin in her new book,  (Kingdom of the Unjust Behind the US-Saudi Connection) tells it how it is , how it has been for too long:’ It is not hard to connect the dots between the spread of Saudi intolerant ideology of Wahabism, the creation of Al Qaeda and Islamic State and the attacks in New York, Paris, Brussels and San Bernadino. You can also connect the dots between Saudi Arabia and the failure of some of the historic democratic uprisings associated with the Arab spring, since the Saudi monarchy did not want calls for democracy to threaten its own grip on power’. ( Did you know that Harry St John Philby, father of spy Kim Philby, was a colonial operator and Wahabi convert who helped to create Saudi Arabia?  I have written about him in my book, Exotic England )

Oil and arms trade and business interests explain the tolerance of Saudi Arabia in the west. But now that Islamicists are here among us, causing mayhem, public opinion will shift, is shifting. Saudi Arabia is not only sponsoring violence in the east and south, it is fomenting extremism in Europe, the US and UK. Two British Muslim men are currently being tried for the murder of Jalal Uddin, an elderly imam in Rochdale. Allegedly, they were Isis groupies who, according to the prosecution, hated Uddin’s ‘un-Islamic’ beliefs. Clerics sponsored by Saudi Arabia tacitly back the new unholy holy war against outside and inside ‘infidels’.

Our country is full of angry young Muslim men and women. I have talked to a few reformed Jihadis and can see how intelligence, religiosity, identity clashes and duplicitous  geopolitical games can lead to a nihilist mind set, set off furies. A good number turn to Wahabism  because, like Bin Laden, they want the west to get out of their holy lands. But the majority cannot endure the lies, deceit and western support for dictators. Some fantasize about savage acts while others carry them out and end up in prisons. Now the government wants to separate extreme Jihadis from those who are not that hardened. Again the government prefers to act rather than think. If ministers did stop to consider the factors that produced violent Islamicists, they would have to accept that they are the bastard children of Saudi Arabia and British ‘diplomacy’. How could they bear that responsibility?

Published in the International Business Times August 2016

The New Sex War


A new sex war rages around the world. Men feel they are losing control within homes, communities and nations. They are the unloved, unwanted, sad underclass. None of this is true- except perhaps the sad bit. Countless western males are indeed suffering from internal traumas which remain in-articulated. Tragically, too many become drink or drug addicts or commit suicide. But many more seem to be avenging themselves on females.

Tory Philip Davies MP for Shipley, recently attacked ‘ feminist zealots’ and claimed the courts favoured women at an international conference organised by the hideously sexist Justice for Men and Boys (J4MB) . Evidence seems to contradict his views. He has consistently voted against equalities legislation and wants to repeal the Sex Discrimination Act of 2002. Poor Mr Davies.  He must look back enviously at the Stone Age when real, hairy, hunter-gatherer men  were well served by submissive females and the natural order prevailed..  ( I have tweeted Mr Davies and asked him to have tea with me so I can hear these views from his own sweet mouth).

In the real world meanwhile, trolls relentlessly punish women and girls who are seen and heard in the public space. In the last decade violent crime has fallen, yet violence against women has risen. This, according to professor Sylvia Walby of Lancaster University who analysed and challenged the official figures earlier this year. Women’s organisations warn there is a resurgence of sexism including hard and violent porn, harassment, discrimination, rape, assault  and murder. Up to two women per week in the UK are killed by a partner or ex-partner. These deaths are barely reported. Ava Freebody from Sussex, who stayed with her cruel husband for 27 years before finally escaping, thinks we should calls the abuse ‘domestic terrorism’ which is exactly what it is. Add to this the benefits cuts which disproportionately affect female, and the closure of refuges and women’s centres and you get the grim picture.

It gets grimmer when you turn your gaze on many Asian, African and Arab countries and some minority communities in the west.  In the sixties, leaders of post-colonial nations pushed women’s rights, banned backward practices such as child marriages, female genital mutilation and veiling. They have all returned with a vengeance. Go read a  The War on Women, by BBC reporter Sue Lloyd. And weep. The late Lloyd Roberts, a dear friend, was fearless and morally driven. She wrote the book while in hospital undergoing treatment for cancer.

But hey, we have a female PM don’t we? And so many women in cabinet? And Hillary may become the first president of the USA. In business more women are at the top than ever before. Girls are doing brilliantly in higher education. Aid agencies now focus on mothers and their children and that is leading to societal shifts. But look closely. our cabinet still has a majority of men; Labour has not selected a single women to stand for mayor, Donald Trump is a hero to millions. Successful women endure misogyny every day, from colleagues, constituents, the press and, at times, their own male partners. Five such women I know from the arts, science and business have divorced their husbands because living with them became unbearable. One of them, Sara ( not her real name) described what was happening; ‘ When I was just a small time academic, he loved me. Then I became a professor, had books published, got on to the media. He was also an academic, but was not promoted. He stopped talking to me, badmouthed me to the kids and forced himself on me. The night before I threw him out, he raped me. We were best friends, he was a feminist until words turned to action.’

She encapsulates all the complexities of where we are now. There is no point in denying that globally, women and girls are more confident and ambitious. They are breaking through various barriers. Discrimination continues to block them but is more often overcome. Men of all classes, in contrast, are going through various crises of manhood and relationships and experiencing feelings of disempowerment. (The last is surely premature. They are still in charge, still unfairly advantaged). Millions of them blame feminism for their pain and want to hurt females. One chap used to send me abusive racist and sexist emails every single day. So I met him, to take him on. But he was so pathetic and hopeless that I pitied him. He is maddened by the fear that white men are doomed. Feminists are faced with an unprecedented challenge. This sex war is different from previous ones. While we fight for female rights we must attend to the wounds and rage of the losers. We need a mindful new feminism and creative feminist leadership. Without that neither gender can flourish in this tumultuous age.

Published in International Business Times, 25/8/2016