Thursday, January 07, 2016

Culture clash: on importing misogyny



I feel sorry for Angela Merkel. After responding with humanity and generosity to the Syrian refugee crisis, some of her guests have abused that generosity during a night of mayhem in Cologne and other cities on New Year's Eve. Large crowds of men of Middle Eastern and North African origin behaved appallingly, assaulting women who were out enjoying the festivities and overwhelming the police, who struggled to regain control. It was a gift to all the anti-migrant, anti-immigration organisations, here and in Europe. One man is reported to have told a policeman,
"I am Syrian, I must be handled in a friendly manner. Mrs Merkel invited me here!" 
However shocking, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Refugees may not necessarily be terrorists, smuggling themselves into friendly countries in the guise of the desperate, but they may not know how to behave well either. Think about it.

Whenever you see a crowd picture in the news from the Middle East, it's invariably dominated by men. If there are women, they're usually vastly outnumbered and covered in the burqa. In repressive Islamic regimes, women are not free to go where they please or do as they please. They are treated as male property and even when they're assaulted or raped, the fault lies with them, not with their attacker. You can't simply blame their governments, as it suits most of the men in these societies to live this way. The sexes are strictly segregated, so from a young age they've known no different. These practices are being imported into Britain and other European and Scandinavian countries, where men and women are kept apart in the mosques. British Muslim women who attend mosques dominated by imams from abroad may not suffer the same extremes of repression as their sisters in Iran, Syria or Pakistan, but forced marriage and honour crimes are still a problem, as is the practice of Sharia Law.

Men raised in these societies, used to servile, controlled women, may come to regard women from the UK, Europe and Scandinavia as easy pickings, advertising their sexuality for the taking, because they do and dress as they please. Whether covered by the burqa or not, women aren't worthy of respect. We don't matter. The result is that when they come into contact with women outside their own community, there's bound to be trouble. A majority of the paedophile rings exposed here in recent years have been described as "Asian". The Libyan soldiers being trained at Bassingbourn Barracks took advantage of their new-found freedom to abuse local women - some are now claiming asylum here, knowing that they'll be punished if they return home.

Population growth, the effects of climate change, conflict in the Middle East, are all contributing to the migration of people across borders, but it's not as simple as moving across the map. The cultures of migrants and hosts couldn't be more different. You don't change attitudes during language lessons or through the education of immigrant children in a short time, not when the numbers are so high. Sweden is finding this. It has been generous towards refugees too, like Germany, but things aren't going well. Resentment towards Muslim immigrants in Sweden is growing, and understandable. Integration isn't happening. Canada's Globe and Mail reported,
Sweden’s fantasy is that if you socialize the children of immigrants and refugees correctly, they’ll grow up to be just like native Swedes. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Much of the second generation lives in nice Swedish welfare ghettos. The social strains – white flight, a general decline in trust – are growing worse.
What happened in Cologne may not be an everyday occurrence, but imagine a house guest who ignores all the usual rules of civilised behaviour and abuses your hospitality, then multiply it by thousands. Some kind and generous people from the South of England who took in a refugee who'd come across the channel were lectured by their guest on how to raise their daughter. She was immodest, they were told, and shouldn't expose so much flesh. It didn't occur to this idiot that he was in the wrong, not them. Sadly, there are many more brain-washed idiots like him, who've never been challenged about their beliefs before, and if we observe the convention of "respecting" their beliefs, nothing will change and women, especially, will suffer for it.

Another Canadian writer, Ali A Rizvi, has described religion as the "elephant in the room" in debate about Middle Eastern misogyny.
Having spent the first 24 years of my life growing up in Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan as part of a Muslim family, I can't be so simplistic to allege that all of the misogyny in the Arab and/or Muslim world is a consequence of just one or two factors. But I also can't be naive enough to dismiss or even downplay one of the major, central forces driving it.

Saying that sexism and misogyny in the Middle East has "nothing to do" with Islam (or any Abrahamic religion for that matter) is symptomatic of either denial or fear.

The Quran is written in Arabic. And the people of Egypt, the largest Arabic-speaking Muslim country in the world, largely believe it to be the immutable, divine word of God -- not unlike most people in other Arab and Muslim countries. The majority of Muslims won't even touch or recite the holy book unless they have done wudhu (cleansing) and/or ghusl (bathing). Women are not allowed to recite it while they're menstruating. That is how much it's revered.
For the sake of women everywhere, we can't tiptoe around cultural differences and religion and make excuses for misogyny. I'm in favour of offering sanctuary to refugees from the chaos of Syria and the droughts of North Africa, but it's not possible to ignore the dangerous beliefs that some of them regard as beyond criticism, and which threaten our human rights and rule of law. They have to be confronted.

Updates

A report from Spiegel Online on the Cologne attacks, "Chaos and Violence: How New Year's Eve in Cologne Has Changed Germany."

And now, a happy story about an English woman and her male Syrian refugee lodger.

Refugees to be given lessons in 'Western sexual norms' in Norway.

Belgium to launch 'respect for women' classes for refugees and migrants.