The Islamic State is not a feminist issue
Not every problem in the world needs to be gendered.
It often seems that for a cause or an issue to be taken seriously, it has to be dressed up in the latest, most fashionable worldview. Take the initial surge of interest in the UK in the Mediterranean migrant crisis. It wasn’t until British rent-a-gob columnist Katie Hopkins called drowning people ‘cockroaches’ that there was an outcry. In other words, it was Hopkins’ giving of offence, her violation of PC etiquette, rather than the plight of the migrants themselves, that fuelled the media-led outrage.
However, the most fashionable political view on which to hang your cause today is feminism. Possibly the most mainstream political movement to date, feminism is about as radical as a ham sandwich. And, like any idea that generates agreement from the commentariat knitting circle otherwise known as Twitter, it wasn’t long before the political class, in its desperate bid for a big legitimising idea, took up the cause of women. Once opposed to the power of the state, feminism is now the right-hand woman of the establishment.
It’s not a surprise, then, that feministy arguments are now often made in the face of complicated political problems. Take the Islamic State (IS), a murdering, barbaric enemy of freedom. Western elites have struggled to make a coherent political and moral case against IS, with US president Barack Obama even calling for the West to step down from the moral high ground when it comes to Islamist violence. But, in the shape of feminism, the West has found its moral voice: the real problem with IS, runs the now feminised argument, is that IS is sexist and full of rapists.
An article in the New York Times reported that IS had admitted to ‘reviving slavery as an institution’ and using the ‘systematic rape of women and girls’ as part of its religious practices. All of which is utterly horrific. But the same article also describes how male captives old enough to be viewed as a potential threat to IS ‘[are] forced to lie down in the dirt and sprayed with automatic fire’. And yet this isn’t deemed worthy of an article. Of course, everyone is shocked at stories of young girls being forced into having sex. But why is the mass murder of young men deemed to be less morally abhorrent?
This same desperate need to gender an issue or a cause in order to win some semblance of popular support can be seen in relation to the migrant crisis in Calais. The Guardian ran an exposé on the situation of women living in the migrant camp known as the ‘jungle’. Describing the conditions, the Guardian noted that women ‘must take their chances in the main camp, which has no security or street lighting, let alone dedicated toilets or bathrooms for women’. Not only is this suggesting that migrants travelling from Africa and the Middle East have made the treacherous journey to France for the chance to attack women — it is also arguing that these squalid conditions affect women more than men.
The need to gender these issues and problems speaks to a culture that is obsessed with identity. It would be easier, it seems, to garner support for segregated LGBTQ, women-only and black-minority camps in Calais than it would be for open borders. The shoe-horning of political problems into the micro struggles of identity politics moves issues away from what they really ought to be about – the struggle for human freedom. In the West, of course, it seems we are valuing freedom less and less. Not only are we unwilling to defend our own freedoms, with the state comfortably and without challenge taking away our ability to think, write and speak freely, but we are also unwilling to defend the freedoms of those abroad unless the argument can be made in feminist, gendered terms.
Gendering political challenges, like the fight against IS or the migrant crisis in Calais, is a way of avoiding the difficult discussions necessary to change the world. Women’s issues have become the go-to political stance when one is unsure of how to deal with a problem. If in doubt, search out the sexism; if in disagreement, label people rapists. It doesn’t matter if there is truth behind these claims – in Calais there probably isn’t, but in Syria there sadly is – the opportunism is shameful.
Women gain nothing from being singled out as especially at risk either from IS or in the Calais ‘jungle’. In fact, women lose their autonomy in this act of singling out. Writing articles about how sexist IS is won’t stop militants raping girls, and it won’t stop them beheading men. Women in Syria aren’t damsels in distress, and they don’t need Western feminist campaigns – the many female fighters in the Kurdish PKK who refuse to be defined by their gender are a testament to human strength and courage.
That IS fighters are raping women is abhorrent, but it is best seen as part of this nihilistic group’s war on freedom. So let’s start tackling issues and problems on the basis of what we all want from the world, be it open borders or the end of IS. And let’s stop kowtowing to political fashions at home and start engaging in the hard arguments about challenges that affect all human beings, not just women.
Ella Whelan is staff writer at spiked.