Yasmin Rehman evaluations Christine Delphy’s Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror

The sociologist and theorist Christine Delphy has been some of the influential figures in French feminism because the Nineteen Seventies, when she was lively within the Mouvement de libération des femmes (Women’s Liberation Movement), and co-founded the journal Nouvelles questions féministes with Simone de Beauvoir. Separate and Dominate is a group of ten essays which she started writing in 1996. Originally revealed in French in 2008, that is the primary English translation, and it incorporates a gap chapter written particularly for this quantity.

I learn the ebook within the midst of the fierce social media debate surrounding the Charlie Hebdo cartoon that includes Aylan Kurdi, by which those that criticised the satirical journal for utilizing a picture of the lifeless toddler have been accused of failing to know satire and/or the French.[1]  I used to be conscious that my very own lack of inside data may have an effect on my understanding: Delphy makes repeated reference to particulars of French governance, political controversies and items of laws with which I’m unfamiliar. But the problems and arguments raised by the ebook—terrorism, racism and imperialism, id—are related and well timed for British readers too.

I’ve taken the title of my overview from a query Christine Delphy herself asks (p.65), although it has additionally been requested by politicians and policy-makers, teachers, group activists, religion leaders and others in numerous components of the world. With every terror assault within the West and every new report of Western-born Muslims and/or converts travelling to hitch Daesh (ISIS), the inevitable query is: how have we come to this?

Delphy’s intention, which she units out within the opening sentences of the ebook, is ‘to elaborate a materialist strategy to not solely oppression and marginalization, but in addition domination and normality’ (p.1). She explores the way in which social divisions and hierarchies are constructed, and focuses on ‘the oppression of girls, of non-whites and of gays’, which ‘divide the entire of society into two classes, two camps …. the Ones and the Others’. Domination depends on classification and separation as a way to exert and retain energy. Her goal is to exhibit that hatred of the Other isn’t a pure, human trait however is socially constructed by concrete materials practices, together with ideological and discursive ones. She is excited by the way in which dominance operates and is imposed by the Ones, contrasting this with the ‘psychic struggling’ of the Others.

This juxtaposition of the dominant and the dominated is thought-provoking and difficult, however there are issues with Delphy’s binary opposition. It ignores the variety that exists inside each teams, and significantly among the many ‘Others’.

Delphy means that Muslims in France are a homogenous group originating from former French colonies. She doesn’t make reference to minorities inside oppressed teams, or acknowledge differing cultural traditions (the Pew Forum estimates that there are 4.7 million Muslims in France, and while most hail from North Africa, there are additionally lots of of hundreds from the Indian sub-continent, Turkey and elsewhere bringing with them their very own various experiences of Islam). She additionally fails to differentiate between Muslims, Islam and Islamism. She doesn’t talk about Islamism as a political motion which has unfold by communities internationally, nor the opposition to Islamism that exists throughout the identical communities. As Karima Bennoune observes, we hardly ever hear ‘the views of secular folks of Muslim heritage involved with each rising fundamentalism and rising discrimination towards Muslims’.

In Britain because the ‘Rushdie affair’ in 1989 (when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the demise of Salman Rushdie after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses), there was a shift away from id classes primarily based on racial, ethnic or nationwide affiliation, and in direction of identities primarily based on spiritual religion. South Asian communities specifically at the moment are divided and recognized alongside spiritual strains, and there was a rising demand for extra sensitivity to spiritual values, particularly within the gentle of rising anti-Muslim racism. However, framing a feminist political response to those calls for requires us, as Pragna Patel factors out, to think about who defines ‘spiritual values’ and for what objective.  Although Delphy discusses the conflict on terror and its affect on Muslims dwelling within the West, she glosses over the conservative, fundamentalist forces which can be at work inside these identical Muslim minority communities.

To veil or to not veil

Very few points appeal to as a lot consideration or public dialogue because the niqab or face veil. Is it a logo of oppression or of minority ladies asserting their spiritual id? In 2004, when France turned the primary nation in Europe to introduce laws banning the sporting of non secular symbols in colleges, the regulation was initially introduced as a matter of laïcité (state secularism) and what it means to be French. This ban in colleges was later prolonged to sporting of the hijab in public areas in 2007. It was adopted by a ban on face coverings in 2011 primarily based on safety considerations. Delphy places these occasions within the context of accelerating anti-Muslim racism and rising assist for the far proper in France. She argues that banning the veil will additional marginalise and isolate the very ladies and women the State says it needs to guard.

Other feminists take an opposing view. Marième Hélie-Lucas, an Algerian dwelling in France, argues that

When speaking of veils in colleges, one robotically refers back to the veiling of under-aged women, i.e. not the veiling of girls. The query thus turns into: who’s to determine on women’ veiling—themselves or the adults who’re answerable for them? And which adults? This level requires particular consideration given the brand new development to veil women as younger as 5 as proven within the quite a few campaigns occurring now all through North Africa.

Hélie-Lucas locates the controversy in regards to the hijab/niqab inside a context that after utilized to FGM and compelled marriage. She asks, who’s the grownup answerable for defending the girl-child’s rights? The state already performs this function when it prevents households from performing FGM on women, or subjecting them to compelled marriages. Why ought to it not additionally take accountability for stopping the deep psychological injury induced by sporting a veil earlier than maturity? Why ought to the state be seen as authoritarian when it prevents the veiling of women however not when it protects them from FGM? In the Nineteen Seventies in Europe and North America there have been many on the Left, in addition to some feminists, who defended FGM as a ’cultural proper’ and denounced efforts to eradicate the follow in Europe as ‘western imperialism’. At no level was any reference made to the struggles of girls on the bottom to eradicate FGM in components of Africa. We see the identical sample replicated concerning the ‘proper to veil’, which is now seen as a ‘spiritual proper’ even supposing quite a few progressive interpreters of the Qur’an have acknowledged that it’s not an Islamic injunction.

Delphy accuses feminists who assist the ban of failing Muslim ladies by supporting racist legal guidelines. She additionally criticises organisations like Ni Putes Ni Soumises (‘neither whores nor submissive ladies’), which was established by Fadela Amara—an activist with roots within the anti-racist group SOS Racisme—to interrupt the silence about violence towards Muslim ladies in French immigrant communities. She commends the group for difficult sexism however accuses it of supporting a racist agenda as a way to safe authorities funds (p.154). This assault on minority ladies makes me deeply uncomfortable. Delphy fails to recognise the very actual dangers minority ladies face after they problem violence towards ladies and women and the ability constructions inside their communities. Why ought to the federal government not fund organisations to guard these susceptible to violence and abuse?

The veil is just the newest instance of males in minority communities utilizing the imposition of conventional/spiritual gown codes to regulate ladies and women. Many South Asian ladies and women have spoken prior to now about being compelled to put on shalwar kameez as a way to keep modesty and conform to group norms. Over the years colleges in lots of areas adjusted their uniform coverage to permit the sporting of trousers for ladies and/or shalwar kameez at school colors. This lodging to group gown code calls for later included the hijab/ scarf, however not the face veil.

In 2002 Shabina Begum, a younger Muslim woman, took authorized motion towards her college for refusing her permission to put on the jilbab (full ankle-length gown). She claimed that this breached her human proper to manifest her faith, and likewise her proper to an schooling, since she was barred from the college except she complied with its uniform coverage. In 2006 the House of Lords delivered a judgement stating that Shabina’s rights had not been violated, and that any infringement was essential and proportionate for the safety and well-being of the broader college group. The judges acknowledged that college’s uniform coverage already took account of ‘mainstream’ Muslim opinion.

According to Pragna Patel, this resolution mirrored an understanding of the political context: Shabina’s problem had been motivated by the will of others to impose a politicized spiritual id on ladies and women on the college. Shabina was represented by her older brother, who seemed to be a part of an excessive Muslim political group. The group had protested exterior the college—not towards the uniform coverage, however towards the schooling of Muslim kids in secular colleges.

However, some feminists, like Maleiha Malik, criticised the judgement for failing to recognise that Shabina was exercising her autonomy by sporting the jilbab in an surroundings the place Muslims are consistently demonised and discriminated towards. Like Delphy, Malik positioned the controversy primarily in relation to the difficulty of anti-Muslim racism. But what each overlook is that for a girl to put on the veil isn’t essentially an act of particular person company, however is profoundly formed by political processes that contain the privileging of a spiritual id over others.

This is to not deny that Muslim ladies might put on the veil by alternative. Muslim ladies themselves have talked about sporting the hijab or niqab as a visual image of their spiritual id, or to guard themselves from male consideration and aggression. As Mona Eltahawy says in her ebook Headscarves and Hymens,  the act of sporting the hijab is much from easy. But allow us to not neglect that some Muslim ladies face violence and abuse for daring to problem group norms justified by so-called codes of honour. Both Eltahawy and Aliyah Saleem, an ex-Muslim and former scholar at an Islamic college, have written about their experiences of being compelled to put on the hijab. Aliyah has not too long ago produced a sequence of movies discussing the challenges she confronted when she determined to take away her hijab.

The veil continues to be a supply of problem in each Muslim majority and minority contexts. There is an extended custom of Muslim teachers and theologians providing feminist interpretations of Qur’anic verses together with references to the veil. The late Fatima Mernissi, a number one Moroccan sociologist and feminist, Leila Ahmed, an Egyptian American scholar, and Amina Wadud are among the many ladies who’ve argued that the Qur’an prescribes modesty, and never particularly veiling. Delphy, nonetheless, makes no reference to those arguments.

Racism, Identity and the War on Terror

Like the controversy on the hijab, discussions of the ‘conflict on terror’ are polarised, with neither facet transferring in direction of the opposite. Are there solely two positions? Must we both assist the conflict on terror and recognise the Islamist menace, or else keep that the conflict on terror is a conflict towards Islam and an excuse to demonize Muslims?

It would seem that the French Left, like its British equal, views terrorism as the results of imperialist interventions in Iraq and elsewhere, or on account of earlier injustices throughout the interval of colonial rule. Yet the primary of those arguments appears unconvincing in relation to France, which opposed the conflict in Iraq however has nonetheless seen terror unleashed on the streets of Paris. If we settle for the argument that terrorism and violence are a response to the West’s assaults on Muslims, then as a technique I’d argue it has failed spectacularly. Every act of terrorism, from the bombings of American targets within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties to the latest killings in Paris and Brussels, has prompted elevated navy motion by the West and its allies, leading to additional lack of Muslim lives. In the West it has led to elevated surveillance of Muslims, fuelled the expansion of anti-Muslim racism and promoted the rise of the far Right.

In the context of accelerating anti-Muslim hatred and discrimination it’s extremely troublesome to boost considerations about political Islamist actions, violations of human rights by Islamists or the oppression of Muslim ladies, with out feeding an anti-Muslim discourse. In Double Bind: the Muslim Right, the Anglo-American Right and Universal Human Rights, Meredith Tax asks:

When US diplomats invoke the oppression of Muslim ladies to sanctify conflict, how will we follow feminist solidarity with out strengthening Orientalism and neo-colonialism? When the US targets jihadis for assassination by drone, ought to human rights defenders fear about violations perpetrated those self same jihadis or concentrate on violations by the State?

Conversely, how does one elevate the factors mentioned by Delphy with regard to the conflict on terror, drone strikes, Guantanamo, and the denial of any dialogue about the actual or perceived causes for terrorism, with out feeding the Islamist agenda and reinforcing the Muslim sufferer narrative?

In her dialogue of Guantanamo Bay, Delphy is correct to denounce the utter lack of due course of and the incarceration of prisoners with out cost, however I disagree together with her declare that ‘their solely crime is to be of Arab origin or Muslim religion’. The actuality is extra complicated: it’s potential to be each a sufferer of injustice and a supporter of terrorism. Delphy’s portrayal of French Muslims as passive victims of discrimination and prejudice—the Others dominated by the Ones—repeats the exact same argument propagated by Islamists. It might be requested whether or not this helps to provide credibility to the Islamist narrative—a story which is strongly contested in Muslim majority international locations, as Karima Bennoune and others have proven.

Delphy identifies the centrality of racism to a building of Muslim Others as backward, patriarchal and oppressive. That racism is fuelled every day by media portrayals of Muslims as oppressed ladies, rapists, terrorists, youngster abusers, unlawful immigrants and advantages cheats. However, additionally it is unhelpful to disclaim that some folks in Muslim communities do fall into these classes. To transfer ahead, we’d like a extra open and sincere debate, together with men and women, these of religion and of no religion, whites and non-whites, homosexual and straight folks and all minority teams. We ought to heed the decision to motion with which Separate and Dominate ends:

We all have to revisit our mind-set in regards to the articulation and imbrication of patriarchy and racism, in addition to the way in which we ‘do’ activism. The feminist motion can’t survive except it turns into really common, taking all ladies, all their conditions and all their revolts under consideration.


[1]  The cartoon exhibits Aylan Kurdi – the kid whose image, mendacity face down on a seashore, highlighted the refugee disaster – with a message “What would have occurred to little Aylan if he grew up?” The reply, “A groper of girls in Germany.” Under the headline “Migrants”, the cartoon exhibits two males with their tongues out and arms outstretched operating behind a girl. It clearly alludes to the latest incident in Cologne, Germany the place mass sexual assaults have been reported on New Year’s Eve, allegedly perpetrated by refugees.


Christine Delphy, Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror,  translated by David Broder, revealed by Verso Books, 2015.

Find Yasmin Rehman on Twitter @RehmanYasmin



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