Free speech: one woman’s view

A guest post.

Much has been said about Lauren Southern and Stephen Molyneux’s planned tour of New Zealand, a good portion of it unsubstantiated politically biased rhetoric.

Deeper issues lie beneath the surface of the debate that need to see some light if? we are to progress the conversation.

The targeting of this young women by male community leaders and her excoriation by numerous male journalists is a concern. In attacking her they have defended and colluded with the most misogynist religion on the face of the Earth. She has declared an interest in investigating and discussing the central tenets of Islam that view women as inferior, impose a form of gender apartheid on their followers and force women to live under restrictive laws that deny them basic rights and freedoms. At what point did the New Zealand political establishment, and for that matter the left in general, decide to stop challenging oppressive patriarchal systems and, instead, defend their interests?? ??

Lauren Southern was coming here in part to talk about the potential threat Islamic doctrine poses to women in New Zealand. Her concerns are based on developments in Europe and the United Kingdom where large-scale migration from countries governed by Islamic law has resulted in a significant rise in crimes against women, including increases in sexual assault, widespread grooming and rape of vulnerable girls. According to recent reports, forced marriage, purdah, body veiling, polygamy and female circumcision are also being normalised. I would liked to have listened to these speakers to gain a greater understanding of the possible risks these ‘sacred religious rights’ pose to my freedoms but several men denied me that opportunity.

What I do know is that women in New Zealand enjoy unprecedented freedoms and we have a moral obligation to make sure these are extended to every woman who arrives on our shores. The single most important message we can send to new migrants is that they will not be sanctioned, arrested, tortured or killed for speaking freely. Islam forbids criticism of its faith and those who do so face serious punishment, even death, for questioning Islamic doctrine and law. The idea that we would simply accommodate religious sensitivities and not subject the Muslim belief system to the same feminist critique that we have subjected our belief system to is extremely problematic because it means we are reinforcing Islam’s blasphemy laws and undermining our own democratic values.

Women who have experienced persecution by Islamists in their countries of origin, whatever their religious faith or personal choices, must be assured that if they come to New Zealand they can talk about their experiences without any form of censure. Phil Goff, Iain Lees-Galloway, Hazim Arafeh and all those who supported their stance or remained silent have failed to promote the cause of global freedom that women in places like Iran are clamouring for.

PHOTO-Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ
Friend of hacker Rawshark and author of Dirty Politics, Nicky Hager looks on as president of Manawatu Muslim Association Hazim Arafeh answers questions during a public talk at a Te Manawa meeting on New Zealand’s role in the war against Isis. The meeting was hosted by Bruce Thomson, left.

Most of us are aware that women suffer extreme disadvantages in Islamic countries but it is becoming apparent that illiberal aspects of their ?customs have penetrated the West through immigrant communities.? That is why the argument that Islam needs to be subjected to major reform in order to coexist with western society is compelling and necessary. Our political leaders need to future-proof? New Zealand from this archaic and sexist legal system instead of giving succour to male Muslim leaders who are stridently resisting efforts to ameliorate the extreme aspects of their doctrine.

Support needs to be given to reformers and modernisers within their community, especially female ones pressing for change who are routinely marginalised, and it must be signalled that barriers will not be placed in the way of efforts at innovation. Banning speakers critical of this ideology weakens and undermines such progressive moves and, as scholar Phyliss Chesler writes, ?If we do not oppose and defeat Islamic gender apartheid, democracy and freedom cannot flourish in the Arab and Islamic world.? End of quote.

We cannot live harmoniously alongside people who believe female sexuality is a threat or who regard our gender equality laws as secondary to their own, or who believe gays and adulterers should be put to death.

The emancipation of women is inextricably tied to democratic principles, therefore it is vital to create safe spaces for women like Lauren Southern, who are questioning discriminatory patriarchal ideologies, and for Muslim women who are striving to free themselves from religious tyranny.

Phil Goff made the assumption on our behalf that this was an issue of racism and bigotry. It was not. It was about the right of free people to debate contentious ideas and for women to feel free to challenge discriminatory practices that restrict them. Instead, he has sent a clear message to Muslim women or anyone wishing to contest this supremacist ideology that they are not welcome to do so.


Susan Nixon – a contributor to the Free Speech Coalition.