Statement on attacks on London
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), international
July 14, 2005
The network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) extends its deepest condolences to the families of those killed and to those who suffered terrible injuries in the appalling bomb attacks in London on 7 July 2005.
We extend our solidarity to all those in the UK working against violence and in particular our allies in the women's movements and other progressive people in the UK.
WLUML reiterates comments it made regarding the September 2001 attacks:
’Our sorrow is particularly heartfelt because many of those linked through the WLUML network have directly experienced terror and the devastation that goes with it. We know that indiscriminate violence and terrorism by state and non-state actors are a global phenomenon. However we regard all of these as assaults on the principle of respect for civilian life.’
WLUML continues to believe that ending terrorism requires addressing the roots of inequality: poverty and deprivation, injustice and exploitation both globally and within each country, as well as domestic and foreign policies that are and are perceived to be hypocritical.
Racism and Homogenisation
The London bombings took place in a city with a significant migrant population from Muslim contexts, including a third generation.
By emphasizing the ‘Muslim community’s responsibility’ to denounce the attacks and by highlighting statements from ‘religious leaders’, the media and government officials in effect accept the claim from extreme-right politico-religious groups that these acts were somehow related to religion. These are violent crimes, without justification. WLUML refuses to allow the hijacking of our diverse identities by forces which, while posing as representatives of ‘Muslims’, in fact pursue their own political agendas, including via terrorism.
Moreover, once again, WLUML witnesses the imposition of religious identity onto people simply on the basis of their birth place, ancestry or skin colour. This focus on supposed religious identity is also at the expense of secular thought.
That the perpetrators are British-born also raises the spectre of the ‘enemy within’. WLUML is concerned that this has led to a rise in racist attacks in the immediate instance and more deeply ingrained racism in the long term.
WLUML is also concerned that this indigenous connection does not seem to raise questions regarding the UK authorities' long-standing complacency regarding the activities of extremist right-wing politico-religious groups on their soil. London is home to many secularists from a Muslim cultural background and progressive Muslims, as well as harbouring numerous extreme right groups who seek to (mis)use Islam to advance their goals of political and social dominance. Among many possible examples, the website of a registered UK Muslim charity group advocates female genital mutilation, using religious texts to support such harmful and degrading practices. Rachid Ramda, accused by the Paris Courts of managing the finances of the 1995 Paris bombings, is detained in the UK and, ten years later, has yet to be extradited to France.
The Impact on Human Rights Struggles and the Silencing of Secular Options
WLUML is equally concerned that such extreme right groups based in the British Muslim community will seek to turn a very real racism to their advantage.
Policy documents from governments and multinational corporations in Europe and North America increasingly recommend dialogue with ‘moderate Muslims’:
Preventing a 'clash of civilisations', BBC, 13 April 2004
Leaked No 10 dossier reveals Al-Qaeda’s British recruits, The Sunday Times, 10 July 2005
without ever questioning who gave them the authority to speak on our behalf or on behalf of Muslim communities. Such an approach fails to recognise that many thus labeled groups hold extremely regressive positions on women’s human rights and the rights of other marginalised groups, such as gays and minorities, such as Shias and Ahmadis/Qadanis. Meanwhile, parts of the global Left mistakenly see supposed ‘moderates’ as allies in the struggle against capitalism and Washington’s global domination.
WLUML fears that following the London bombings, certain politico-religious groups will seek to further this ‘Unholy Alliance’ which will increasingly invisibilise progressive believers and secularists in all Muslim contexts (including in Europe and North America).
Also, playing upon liberal guilt at the racist backlash to the attacks, we fear these extreme right groups may increase pressure for the passage of legislation creating the offence of ‘religious hatred’ already under consideration in the UK, and ‘blasphemy laws’ elsewhere. As WLUML has seen in our networking contexts, such laws are largely used to silence progressives and secularists, impose religious identity on people, and strengthen monolithic interpretations of religion.
Impact on Women
Women are likely to bear the brunt in several ways. In an overall context where all ‘Muslims’ are constructed as potential terrorists, women also will be branded as part of extremist groups; at the same time, they will remain the target of fundamentalist forces within their own communities.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, the potential impact on women’s rights within Muslim communities, especially migrant communities in the UK, was already visible. The president of the Muslim Association of Britain was prompt to warn: ‘women in headscarves, particularly, should be vigilant and avoid unnecessary journeys’. Thus, racist violence is already being exploited to restrict women’s mobility and further enforce gender segregation.
This creation of a siege mentality, along with the silencing of alternative voices, will make it all the more difficult for women within Muslim communities to speak out against patriarchal and regressive practices. Indeed, such developments will also backlash violently on women in other Muslim contexts: discriminatory moves are likely to be justified in the name of protecting ‘threatened Muslim values’. Demands for separate family laws which are highly discriminatory towards women may increase under this guise. It is our experience that when politico-religious movements are legitimized in one context, this has a direct impact on the struggles for human rights in other contexts, crossing both boundaries of geography and religion.
Finally, it is likely that civil liberties will be further curtailed in the UK following the attacks. This, too, by example will strengthen the power of governments in WLUML networking countries, which have opportunistically used their participation in the ‘war on terror’ to clamp down on progressive political opposition.
Ultimately, WLUML fears that the suppression of progressive opposition, the silencing of alternative voices and the enforced homogenisation of Muslim communities both in Europe and elsewhere that are likely to result from the reaction to July 7’s terrible bombings will feed into the agenda of the extreme politico-religious right. This may contribute to making future such atrocities more likely.
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is an international solidarity network that provides information, support, and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned, or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.
From Women Living Under Muslim Laws, July 14, 2005.