It is irrelevant

What was Seyran Ates saying a year ago?

Why are a few particularly estimable, highly intelligent women and men in very prominent positions, blind in one eye when it comes to the protection of minorities? Why are they blind in that eye with which they have otherwise promoted equal rights for the sexes, and still do? The so-called minority protection with respect to Islam and religious freedom can only be had at the cost of the equal rights of women, and ultimately only serves to perpetuate and reinforce obsolete, archaic, patriarchal structures.

That’s what. That ‘minority protection’ and ‘religious freedom’ for some boil down to subordination and oppression for others; that you can’t have everything; that toleration and respect are good things, other things being equal, but not if they mean toleration and respect for subjection of women.

I want to know, and many thousands of Muslim girls and women have a right to know, why understanding and infinite tolerance is practised with particular cultural traditions that are clearly oppressive of women. Human rights are universal and unconditional. And that goes most certainly for religious objectives. It is only girls and women who are forced to wear head-scarves. And it’s also a majority of girls and women who are affected by forced marriage. I don’t want to enter into the debate about women and schoolgirls who wear the headscarf of their own free will, or about the difference between arranged and forced marriages. Just one note: silence cannot be understood as assent. But very many girls are brought up to be silent on such topics.

Silence cannot be understood as assent, and neither can non-appearance on radio and tv and in newspapers, especially when the people who don’t appear are to varying degrees prevented from appearing in such public fora precisely by their own subordination and segregation. It’s a vicious cycle. Part of the subordination consists of segregation and concealment, so radio producers and newspaper reporters don’t interview Muslim women as much as they do men partly simply because they’re not as visible and audible, they’re not in such conspicuous positions, they’re not as accessible, and perhaps partly out of a bashful idea of good manners or respect; so their voices aren’t heard; so silence keeps on being understood as assent. It’s something to watch for. If an oppressed group’s oppression consists partly precisely in being kept systematically out of the public eye, then that fact should be kept firmly in focus.

Many judgements have been handed down in Germany which have excluded Islamic girls from school classes. The arguments always tend in the same direction. The “others” don’t have to live like we do. For example, in its judgement of March 24, 1994 (InfAuslR 8/92, S. 269), concerning the exemption of an Islamic schoolgirl from gym class, the higher administrative court in Bremen ruled: “…it is irrelevant that adolescent Muslim women are prevented by the demands of their religion from achieving equal status as women in Western society…”

Ouch. Well, what a good thing Seyran Ates is staying. Go, sister.

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