November 1st, 2013

Islam belongs in people's lives, not in politics, says Karima Bennoune |

"....When Bennoune asked her interlocutors what they thought should be done to support them, she says their answers included: clearly support secular feminist groups and the principle of universal rights; openly support those who defend the separation of religion and politics; unpack the myth of the moderate Islamist – especially when it comes to the rights of women, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion – a myth that gives great support to the fundamentalists.

A dilemma for women is whether to challenge the fundamentalists on religious terms. Opinion is divided. For example, Helie Lucas, through WLUML, seeks to build bridges with those who use feminist re-interpretations of Islam to promote women's rights; others are more sceptical about acting within religion.

Mahnaz Afkhami, an Iranian women's rights activist, says: "If you're in the army, the general is always going to win. In the religious context, there is a hierarchy. If you're a woman, the guy who is the general in the religious army is not even going to pay the slightest attention to what your view of the text is."

Ultimately, Muslim fundamentalism is not a question of security for westerners, says Bennoune, but a more basic question of human rights for hundreds of millions of people who live in Muslim-majority countries. And she has little patience with the argument that human rights is a western concept that should not be applied to Muslim countries.

"When people make that argument they think it is counter-hegemonic, but it is a very arrogant argument, claiming human rights for the west," she says. "Proponents for human rights have come from Tunisia, north Africa, from all over the world. Contributions to universality in the past have come from Andalusia and Ibn Rushd, from classical texts that were saved when the Spanish inquisition was out to destroy them. A Tunisian said to me: 'Are there human rights Tunisians are not entitled to? Is the west saying we have human rights, they have culture?"

Religious extremism in Muslim countries and contexts undermines human rights by denying people the freedom to practise their religious beliefs, argues law professor Karima Bennoune

Islam belongs in people's lives, not in politics, says Karima Bennoune | Mark Tran | Global development |

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