Labour, Muslim Women and The Three Fingers of Responsibility

"When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you." My grandma’s wise words struck me as a telling lesson for today’s blame culture, in which the three fingers of responsibility pointing back at us are often ignored.

With one particular recent issue this seemed especially pertinent: the Labour party scandal of male Muslim councillors discriminating against their female counterparts. As with any controversial case, the immediate impulse to identify potential scapegoats with the finger of blame became a number one priority. The designated culprits ranged from the ‘traditions’ of Islam, the male Muslim councillors and even the self-proclaimed ‘champion of the most vulnerable in society’, Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Whilst desperate attempts to shirk the burden of responsibility ensue, the case remains unresolved and the Muslim women who dared to speak up about the injustice are no better off. So to tackle the issue head on, those agitated index fingers must be crushed, to instil a much-needed sense of responsibility in the party. To do this, we must undermine the legitimacy of those chosen scapegoats.

cultural traditions ebb and flow with shifts in societal attitudes and an abstract notion of culture no longer serves as a reliable scapegoat

Our first culprit: the sacred Islamic culture. One source of the male Muslim councillors’ justification is the patriarchal ‘Baradari’ system, prevalent in countries of Kashmir origin. The alien sounding term has somewhat justified the preservation of this traditional sexual hierarchy, allowing misogynistic attitudes to be linked to an unknown, religious cultural norm. Categorizing cultural values in a foreign language often has this sanctifying effect, as alarm bells start ringing at the prospect of offending an unfamiliar practice. So we see how the simple assignation of this label makes the unfamiliar ‘Baradari’ system a handy, established target to blame.  

But, as the female Muslim councillors have shown, cultural traditions ebb and flow with shifts in societal attitudes and an abstract notion of culture no longer serves as a reliable scapegoat. The opening of the first female-led mosque in Copenhagen this week is a perfect case in point. It reflects a global trend of assigning managerial roles to women in mosques, such as in Berlin and LA.  As a more gender-equal approach is being adopted in the religious embodiments of Islam itself, the inequality at the heart of Labour politics appears even more ludicrous. So, that rules out the ‘Baradari’ system as an unshakeable factor underlying gender discrimination.

Next up, the male Muslim councillors; inevitable chief subjects to blame. Why should these Muslims remain unaffected by societal progression towards gender equality? Should the democratic principles of our ‘liberal’ society not demand Muslims’ respect? But this is where the lines become blurred. Rather than constituting a tight-knit, isolated clan of misogynists disrupting the general makeup of the political party, they have of course relied on their partners in crime: white British male councillors blinkered by their egotistical drives. With the holy grail of election in sight, gaining Muslims electoral support in exchange for complicity in the discrimination project has struck a smooth deal for both sides. Thus as the network of male politicians continue spinning their sticky threads of the intricate misogynistic web, any hope of accountability has become entangled in a cluster of culprits.

Amidst this disorientating network of cunning manoeuvres, to simplify the scenario we naturally hunt down a sole accountable figure; Jeremy Corbyn, as Labour’s leader, seems an obvious choice. By encapsulating the problem in a single mastermind, a straightforward solution seems to be on the horizon, simply requiring the modification of this individual’s attitude. But the chosen candidate has had the longstanding problem of pervasive misogyny thrust upon him. As blind eyes have successively turned towards gender discrimination throughout the political party’s history, the practice has become embedded in the party and thus remains beyond the control of a single leader. For those seizing the case as a prime opportunity for Corbyn-bashing, the multiple degrees of complexity have obviously remained beyond their grasp.

Religious sensitivity, collective complicity and a nonchalant brushing aside of the issue are all hard nuts to crack

So that’s the easy work done. We’ve ruled out the prime scapegoats to blame and revealed the complexity underlying the continued discrimination of female Muslim councillors. Now for the hard part: the question of responsibility. The discriminatory, secretive schemes that infuse all party politics - with Labour by no means standing as an exceptional case - could easily be met with a hopelessly defeatist attitude. Religious sensitivity, collective complicity and a nonchalant brushing aside of the issue are all hard nuts to crack. But the Muslim women councillors who have brought Corbyn’s attention to the case, have set their sights above such futile cynicism and recognised the necessity to struggle for women’s equal opportunities on the political ladder.

This can only be achieved through a collective sense of responsibility. Male Muslim councillors can no longer hide behind their supposedly cherished cultural norms and their white British partners in crime must abandon their egos in the interest of gender equality.  Corbyn must recognize the futility of Labour’s allegedly inclusive measures, such as the insignificance of female candidate shortlists, and instigate a much-needed change in attitudes across the board. Ultimately, a solution will require that all Labour members recognize the three fingers pointing back at themselves and relax those eager, wagging index fingers.

More about the author

About the author

Hannah is currently doing a Masters in International Relations and has a French and Spanish undergraduate degree from Oxford University. She has done various work placements abroad, such as in a Peruvian Human Rights NGO and a language school in France. As well as writing, she hopes to pursue a career as an academic researcher for an international think tank.

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