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Funerals in Manama

Residents of London and other major European cities will be increasingly accustomed to the sight of a fully-veiled Muslim woman strolling awkwardly down a modern high street. Perhaps the only more depressing sight is that of a fully-veiled Muslim woman with a hijab-wearing daughter, in whose unsmiling eyes one sees a recognition that she too will one day be hidden from view.

And witnessing this sight, a European man in particular may suffer a predictable series of emotional reactions. At first, a potent, uncomfortable disgust and a stupid urge to condemn his own sex; and then after this, a foggy confusion which evolves into a question – As Philip Larkin asked of the old and dying:

“Why aren’t they screaming?”

Do Muslim women realise their condition? Do they care? Do they think the smiles of unbelieving women are painted on, or that the laughter and light-footed calm they exude is merely the symptom of a toxic soul? How do they rationalise themselves?

It is very easy for Leftist commentators to presume such women dress this way because of a personal, independently arrived-at religiosity. This at least allows for a quieting of their conscience. In reality of course, it cannot simply be a coincidence that those veiled women we see are usually the product of hyper-devout families structured according to a patriarchal social tradition; that they are the daughters of long-bearded fathers and house-bound mothers; that they often know no more about alternative ways of existing than someone raised in a cult. Whatever this may be called, one cannot call it a choice. It is a mould into which they were forced to grow, and for which their desires have been forced to deform themselves into enthusiasm.

Every day, a news story from the Muslim world demonstrates the lowly position afforded to the females of that region. Recent weeks have been especially hard-hitting. In Pakistan a woman was stoned to death by her own family for marrying without parental consent. In Sudan, a formerly Muslim woman, having converted to Christianity, was due to be stoned to death whilst carrying inside her body an unborn child. There was also a ‘corrective’ gang-rape in Pakistan, the sentencing of an Iranian actress to 100 lashes, and a brutal sexual assault in rural Malaysia.

Do Muslim women really believe (and with a sincere, non-fearful mind) that they are better off on that side of the cultural divide? And if they don’t, then why don’t they rebel? I could ask these questions all day long, but that would be pointless. Let’s try to consider an answer.

As you’ll be aware, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is death. Despite international efforts aimed at halting the practice, this ruling is still enthusiastically enforced in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen, and occasionally even in ‘moderate’ states like Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco.

The fear of this – that is, of death is obviously an effective deterrent for any human being and requires no further analysis by itself. It might not be however the most effective.

Another deterrent, this time particular to women, is the judicial theft of children. Even in the most moderate and Europeanised Muslim countries, a female apostate will almost certainly lose access to her progeny. Her appeals – if she survives long enough to make any – will be denied. In such situations, her offspring will be placed in the care of the father or a conformist grandparent.

These deterrents, the threatened destruction of both life and motherhood, are easily sufficient to explain female conformity in the Muslim world. They are not sufficient however to explain the behaviour of their sisters resident in the West.

Imagine if a North Korean defector moved to the West with a devout guard of the regime in tow, having been unable to shake him off at the airport. After a day or so on Western soil, the defector would flee into the protective arms of the majority, letting the regime guard be damned. What is different in the case of Muslim women?

Perhaps it’s actually our fault. Whilst we’d surely welcome a North Korean defector to our ways of liberty with a warm smile, we’d be more suspicious of a Muslim woman rejecting her own culture. Why?

The answer is Cultural relativism. Our official policy on minority cultures is that they are like Pandas and Whales – precious species vulnerable to the brutal heat of modernity and therefore in need of protection from it.

Language alone is incapable of portraying the damage this belief has done to individual liberty and individual happiness.