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Priyamvada Gopal on segregation

In a recent post, Priyamvada Gopal voices suspicion of ‘muscular liberals’ who try to promote:

an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’ passing itself off as ‘secular’, ‘enlightened’ and more knowing-than-thou.

As others have noted, her focus on Student Rights/the Henry Jackson Society skews the (very varied) profile of those who have been protesting against segregation.  And she goes on to gloss ‘muscular liberals’ thus:

generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best

I hadn’t up till now felt the need to do a gender/race/politics audit of those concerned about the Universities UK guidelines.  But it only took a nanosecond to come up with the counterexample of Maryam Namazie, who is clearly not a ‘deeply conservative white male’.  Here’s a little more context:

The battle lines were drawn once again between so-called ‘muscular liberals’ (generally, in fact, deeply conservative white males with a commitment to the idea that West is Best) and defenders of the rights of minorities to their own customary or traditional practices.

She goes on:

Those of us committed to both anti-racism and feminism must ask, however, whether we are really constrained to make our choices within this exhausted binary.

But it’s easy to find examples of people who don’t fit that binary: Lejla Kuric, Sara Khan, Ophelia Benson, Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Rather than attack people who happen to be white and male but who are supposedly on the side she has picked – those opposed to very conservative religious practices – why does she not scrutinise white male apologists  for reactionary clerics whose words and actions have a disproportionate impact on non-white women?  Bob Pitt, for example, or Socialist Unity.  Perhaps some of those speaking out against segregation do have unwelcome views, even dubious motives.  But from an anti-racist and feminist perspective I would have thought better targets would be those who would rather turn a blind eye to practices which impact on non-white women – FGM, forced marriage, honour killing – than risk being thought racist.

Gopal asserts:

Many Muslim women and men, individuals and organisations, have also long queried such practices and, regrettably, such voices are often pushed to the side.

I don’t think they are pushed aside by people like Nick Cohen, but by some from their own communities – and their illiberal allies on the far left.  She does in fact advise that dissenters within Muslim communities should not allow themselves to get distracted by the company they may be keeping.  But I remain unclear what is the correct response for non-Muslims to adopt – how can I support those dissenting women and men without becoming an evil ‘muscular liberal’?