by Mary Jackson (July 2010)
The following is the speech Ms. Jackson delivered to the 2010 New English Review Symposium, Decline, Fall & Islam on June 19th, 2010.
Good Evening – it’s lovely to be in Nashville. As you can tell, I’m from England, but I’m learning to speak American with the aid of a handy little dictionary. As well as the obvious differences – lift and elevator, lift and ride – I was surprised to learn that the American for “turnip” is “turnip”, and the American for “swede” is also “turnip”. For “funny bone” Americans say “crazy bone” – that seems like a bit of one-upmanship to me – and what we English call a “fish slice”, you call a “pancake spatula”. Then I looked up “tomato”, which it gave as “tomato” – very confusing. Still, I’ll get the hang of this eventually.
Anyway, looking around the room, I can see that there are quite a few women here – probably about a third – and not a single hijab. Ladies, what can we be thinking of? All that exposed hair is really quite wanton – I am surprised the men can control themselves. How different from parts of London or Bradford, made “vibrant” – so they tell us– by flocks of hijabs and niqabs. Yes, England is vibrant now, when forty years ago it was so static, so monochrome - and so English.
Vibrancy – Islamic vibrancy - is contagious. It has spread to our newspapers and magazines, where scarcely a day goes by without a parade of happy hijabettes. Many of these are not born Muslimahs but Western converts, or reverts as they call themselves. I have another term for them: dozy bints.
I’ve cherished the word bint since Basil Fawlty of the Towers called his underling, the put-upon Polly a cloth-eared bint. The word is, of course, of Arabic origin, meaning “daughter”, as in Asma bint Marwan, the hapless poet butchered by Mohamed’s henchmen. It was adopted by English servicemen as a slang word for girl or woman, and, while not exactly polite, is affectionate rather than abusive. Bint, then, is Arabic, but it sounds deliciously Anglo-Saxon, in every sense. In fact,“bint” sounds ruder than it really is, an excellent thing in word and woman.
A few months ago The Independent, an English newspaper known for its pro-Islamic stance, attempted to whitewash Islam with a colourful bunch of hijabettes. The Children of God used to do flirty fishing, and now Muslim apologists do the hijab honeytrap. Listen out for the words “oppression”, “empowerment” and “stereotype”:
Today The Independent speaks to five British women from different walks of life about what form of hijab they choose to wear and why they wear it. Their stories are as varied and colourful as the scarves on their shoulders. […]
Of course they are. Islam isn’t monolithic, after all. Let’s hear from one of them:
People say the veil is a tool of oppression but I’ve found it a tool of empowerment. It gave me the freedom to be who I want to be and not worry about what people might think of me physically or whether I'm up to date with the latest fashion trends. All of that went out of the window and you could then focus on the things that really matter in life. That gave me much more confidence to go out into the world and hold up the banner of truth and respect. […]
And so on, and so forth. bla bla bloody bla.
When we talk about headscarves, the first thing that comes into a lot of people’s heads is ‘oppressed woman’. It’s hard for some people to accept that it’s a sign of liberation. You don’t always have to conform to a certain stereotype or fashion statement.
So far, so predictable. The usual protests; the usual shallow nonsense. More recently The Sunday Times sported another cunning array of stunning bints, each less original than the last. Listen out for those words again:
I remember desperately trying to play the role of the young, single, career woman: obsessively dieting, shopping and going to bars – but I never felt truly comfortable.
“Then one afternoon in 2004 everything changed […]It took me a while to work up the courage to go to a women’s social event run by the Leeds New Muslims group. But when I walked in, none of them fitted the stereotype of the oppressed Muslim housewife.. I was struck by how content and secure they seemed.
As well they might be – content in an ideology that has all the answers, and secure in its mind-forged manacles. Here’s another party-goer who trades a hangover for a headscarf:
At university, I lived the typical student existence, drinking and going clubbing, but I’d always wake up the next morning with a hangover and think, what’s the point?
“It wasn’t until my second year that I met Hussein.
Ah, yes - Hussein. Somehow I knew that there would be a man involved. It’s flirty fishing again, but with more exotic bate. And where there’s a Muslim man there’s a Muslim’s moll. Needless to say, the sisters encouraged Hussein’s catch in her “reversion”.
… I started talking to Muslim women at university and they completely changed my view. They were educated, successful – and actually found the headscarf liberating. I was convinced, and three weeks later officially converted to Islam.
I must be missing a trick here. It took me over a year to understand Islam, yet this woman was hooked in three weeks. Then again, I haven’t met Hussein. Still, plenty more fish in the sea. Or pancakes, if you prefer.
Yet another clubs and bars type – do these people ever do any work? – finds her true self in Islam. Listen out for the e-word:
I was used to getting a certain amount of attention from guys when I went out to clubs and bars, but I had to let that go. I gradually adopted the Islamic way of thinking: I wanted people to judge me for my intelligence and my character – not for the way I looked. It was empowering.
Change the record, you may be thinking. And for the record, notice that all of the “reverts”, embraced Islam and the hijab as an alternative to partying, clubbing drinking and mini-skirts. None of them turned their back on a dissolute life of scientific research, of poetry, of painting, sculpture, music or Christian devotion. Yet in Islam, science, art and Christianity are every bit as haram as the drinking, clubbing and partying which our pandering reporter portrays as the be all and end all of the West.
Speaking of poetry, Asma bint Marwan, mentioned earlier, wrote poetry in protest against Mohammed. He had her brutally murdered. Was she partying, drinking, wearing mini-skirts? No, merely writing satirical verses. Not that any of today’s dozy bints have heard of this wise, prescient woman from Mohammed’s day – or if they have, in concealing their knowledge they are not dozy but duplicitous.
Don’t they know how Islam - real Islam - treats women? The women in this room know. I can only speak for myself, but I would hazard a guess that Islam’s treatment of women is a strong factor in our opposition to it. Women’s inferior status in Islam has been fully documented. Their wretched half-lives are lived out in all Muslim countries, and the more Muslim the country, the worse it is for them. This is an ideology – I hesitate to use the word religion – that classes us as inferior, that could have married us off at nine, that allows our husbands to beat us and our three co-wives, and would have us stoned to death for “adultery” even when this results from rape. Moreover, the treatment cannot be ascribed merely to culture or custom as it derives from the Koran itself and from the example of Mohammed. By way of illustration, Mohammed had a nine-year-old “wife”, and it was on his “perfect” example that Ayatollah Khomeini passed a law lowering the age of “consent” for “marriage” of Iranian girls to nine.
Why do Muslim women put up with this? Why do North Koreans and Chinese put up with Communism? They have no choice. In countries – even nominally secular countries – where Islam holds sway, any rebellion would invite ostracism, beatings or even honour killing. But in the West, in the free world, where the individual is valued and where women are starting to attain something resembling equal rights, we do have a choice. Not just one choice, but many choices, from atheism to pantheism. So why Islam?
In the examples quoted in The Independent and The Sunday Times, conversion to Islam is portrayed as an escape from Western decadence, as if decadence were all the West had to offer, and as if Islam were the only alternative. This surely doesn’t hold water, so what is the real reason? Why do Western women become handmaids of Allah, a God, who, in the words of Wafa Sultan, hates them?
I asked this question a few years ago in an article for the New English Review, and came up with a few categories of dozy binthood, which I will explain and amplify.
First come the stooges, the victims, the bints more sinned against than sinning. Such girls – and they are young girls – are dominated by Muslim fathers and brothers. Living in the West they are not of it. Their choice to wear a jilbab to school, like thirteen-year-old Shabina Begum, is a choice between doing what they are told and being beaten..
Second we have attention seekers. Their Islam screams “Look at me, I’m different!” And in the West, a niqab or burkha does stand out in the crowd. Long may this continue – if it were the norm, we would be lost. Far from suggesting modesty, the Islamic tent appeals to vanity. Under it, every woman, no matter how plain, can imagine herself irresistible. The vanity may not be physical; it could equally be that the otherwise dull convert wishes to appear interesting and enigmatic, as if she knows something you don’t. What, she wants you to ask, is a clever clogs like you doing in a religion like that? These women are so vain, they probably think my talk is about them.
Overlapping with attention seekers are the contrarians. Such women do not usually convert, but praise Islam simply because it is anti-Western. The British Journalist Yvonne Ridley is a case in point. Her opposition to all things British has recently taken such a perverse turn that she accused the BBC of being biased in its coverage of Israel. Biased, that is towards Israel. Germaine Greer, High Priestess of feminism, supported Shabina Begum’s decision to wear the jilbab, a symbol of oppression which she would abhor were it worn by Christian fundamentalists. Opposition to the West, or rather a caricature of the West, is all that matters. Slutty skirts and bikinis are contrasted with the “portable seclusion”, which, contrarian Leila Abu-Lughod claims enables women to move around freely in societies with what she opaquely calls “culturally variable meanings of personhood”.
My favourite species of dozy bint is the swooner. A swooner is a Western woman whose heart goes pitter-patter and whose knees – and brain – go weak at the sight of a Son of Allah. Read my last article to see journalist Rosemary Bechler swooning over Tariq Ramadan, or Madeleine Bunting over wife-beating advocate Sheikh Qaradawi. This is nothing new – those liquid brown eyes, those sensuous yet cruel mouths have been mesmerising the English rose for at least a century. The BBC reported on Sheikhs’ appeal in Mills and Boon, a publisher of romantic novels:
It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance.
The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.
Tawny sands, perhaps, but Sheikhy ground. The escapism works only one way, as any apostate will tell you, and this brings me to a new type of dozy bint that I have identified in recent months: the Marie Antoinettes. Marie Antoinette, as we know, played shepherdess, knowing that it was a game, and that she could stop at any time. This is what some Western converts to Islam imagine – that they could go back to their partying and drinking and mini-skirting if they so wished. In the West, they generally can – although times can change suddenly, as Marie Antoinette found out. Not so in the Muslim world, and Western converts insult apostates every time they don the hijab.
Finally, not least among dozy bints is Mrs Whatabout. You know her – she’s so called because whenever you criticise Islamic misogyny, she reflexively counters with “But whatabout ….” Tu quoque, "whataboutery", "yesbuttery", whatever you like to call it, is a classic strategy of denial. Reluctance to criticise Islam has led Mrs Whatabout into all kinds of contorted attempts at moral equivalence. Don't you know, she squeals, that one in five American women has been assaulted by her partner? And that only one in twenty British rapists is convicted?
It is wearisome to explain that wife-beating in Islamic countries is not even a crime, that the reporting of rape is only possible where the victim herself will not be punished, that, in short, the country to worry about is one that does not admit to problems. It is exhausting to repeat ad nauseam that the glass ceiling is not the same as the chopping block. But repeat it we must, until the wall of stupidity and dozy binthood is toppled - preferably without crushing a homosexual.