Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Somali-born campaigner has bravely spoken out about the tyranny of cultural relativism. (credit: Getty Images)
During the past decade, something insidious has happened to global feminism. White Western women are being punished, insulted and demonised for speaking out against the atrocities heaped on our sisters from Muslim cultures. Despite the fact that the international women's liberation movement has helped bring about worldwide recognition of and action against the many forms of male violence and abuse of women and children, the new "cultural sensitivity" towards Islamic practices has resulted in a two-tiered system. It is fine, for example, to be appalled at widespread child sexual abuse by the likes of Jimmy Savile, but "racist" to respond in the same way to forced marriage, gender segregation, or the requirement that girls and women are veiled from head to toe.
I am a deeply committed radical feminist who, for more than three decades has fought against sexual and gender-based violence, but am I within my rights to speak of a universal war against women? Not according to the appeasers of Islam. I am, it would appear, allowed to speak about the abuse of women by men, so long as they are within my demographic. But if I stray from my own turf and begin to speak of such abuse within Muslim communities, I am sticking my nose in where it is not wanted. Worse, I am imposing my white, Western imperialism on what is described by my critics as a much misunderstood, maligned community.
Or so goes the logic of the cultural relativists such as Ken Livingstone, the former Respect party leader Salma Yaqoob and countless scared and misguided individuals who believe that to highlight specific acts of violence that disproportionately affect Muslim women is to imply that they only occur in communities of "others".
The oppression of women, for those defenders of Islam, is not a major concern if it is done in the name of religious and cultural freedom. But whose freedom? Not the women who escape Islamic regimes and come to the UK hoping to live under equality, or those feminists born into a Muslim faith who campaign passionately for the right not to wear the full-face veil, enter into an arranged or forced marriage or have their daughters undergo genital mutilation (FGM). These women and their freedoms matter less to the cultural relativists than the freedom of Islamist men to practise such discrimination under the guise of freedom of religious expression.
This magazine has led the way in exposing both the atrocities faced by women living under Muslim laws in the UK and the hypocrisy of those on the Left who defend such practices. From Pakistani grooming gangs, forced marriage and the gross homophobia of young Muslim men in the East End of London, it has refused to go the way of some publications by blaming the "Islamophobia" of those speaking out about such human rights abuses.
Over the last decade, those feminists who seek to condemn violence and abuse towards women in the name of culture or religion have often been accused of condemning an entire community or faith. Muslim women who publicly support harmful cultural practices by arguing that polygamy, FGM and the wearing of the full-face veil are merely expressions of a Muslim identity are held up as evidence that such practices are nothing to do with male dominance and patriarchal power.