Wednesday 31 October 2007

Cherie's cautious criticism of religious discrimination against women

Further to this post, Cherie Booth (Blair) today restated her belief that 'culture and religion cannot be used as an excuse for discriminating against women'. In many parts of the world, she argued, 'proclaimed adherence to a specific religion or system of belief or culture is intimately tied to women's continuing discrimation and abuse'. Moreover, she rejected the view that human rights could not be exported to some countries because of religious or cultural differences, saying 'human rights are universal'.

Perhaps mindful of her husband's new role as a Middle East peace envoy, Booth wouldn't be drawn into supporting protests against the visit to the UK of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah. And some will think she was too cautious in her criticism of specific religious practices. Comparing the Islamic veil with the headgear of Catholic nuns, she said she had 'no problem' with women covering their heads. But on the niqab she was more forthright:

I think ... that if you get to the stage where a woman is not able to express her personality because we cannot see her face, then we do have to ask whether this is something that is actually acknowledging the woman's right to be a person.

Booth stopped short of identifying religion as such, or even a particular religion, as patriarchal or misognynist. Instead, she fell back on the well-worn formula of blaming 'fallible human beings, mainly men' for misinterpreting the 'true precepts' of their faith. She 'rejected the notion that Islam was innately discriminatory towards women by suggesting that the use of Sharia law in some Muslim countries went against the true precepts of the faith.'

This is reminiscent of her husband's claim after 9/11: 'There is nothing in Islam which excuses such an all-encompassing massacre of innocent people, nor is there anything in the teachings of Islam that allows the killing of civilians, of women and children, of those who are not engaged in war or fighting', and George Bush's 'The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.' These claims, which some would argue are based on a misreading of Islam through a western, christian prism (in which a perceived dichotomy between 'true' and 'false' religion has been a persistent dialectic), are discussed - and challenged - in an excellent article by Malise Ruthven in the current edition of the New York Review of Books.

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