By Youssef Harrak
By Youssef Harrak
Oujda, Morocco – Feminism in North Africa, as I have claimed in the title, is a sort of ideological principles. Even the epithet of feminism reflects a certain ideology; it evokes strong emotional responses which might be developed into a set of ideas or political demands. This can be noticed clearly in the current hard-talk which is launched by feminists. Perhaps we cannot make sense of the world we inhibit in the absence of such trends.
However, I am not calling for the withdrawal of women’s rights defenders; rather, I am calling for a comprehensive political supposition which can compartmentalize human rights and human commitments. So, my contention is that North African feminists should rethink their ideologies, because the fact of defending women’s rights depending on different ideologies might lead to an ideological clash.
“Through our diverse ideologies, we provide competing interpretations of what the facts might mean. Every interpretation, each ideology, is one such instance of imposing a pattern _ some form of structure or organization _ on how we read (and misread) political facts, events, occurrences, actions, on how we see images and hear voices” (Freeden: 2003)
It is true that feminist ideologies will often contain a lot of common sense, even worldwide. It connects feminist discourse to an international identity or what has been called multiculturalism, in the sense of cultural coexistence and personal freedom. However, since people possess their own specificities, it is likely to defend the assertion that there cannot be one international theory of feminism or one international chart on human rights. Peoples always tend to draw distinctions between the notion of “us” and that of “them.” Therefore, the values which are shared by “us” are different from those shared by “them.” It is this difference which is calling for each society to have its own specific laws or sort of human rights. So, if we take all this in consideration and balance it against the famous “Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women,” we might understand the nature of clash which I mentioned above. This does not mean it is undependable, but it is more liberal.
For example, when we contemplate Moroccan society, one could argue that the shared sociological and psychological values are decisive elements in the process of identifying women’s rights. I put emphasis on these elements, because they reveal the nature of Moroccan women’s “inter-subjectivity”. As a simple definition, “inter-subjectivity refers to the “common-sense,” shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. If people share a common sense, then they share a definition of the situation.” wikipedia. Accordingly, Moroccans’ “inter-subjectivity” can be understood as the determiner of a disciplinary ideology through which women’s rights can be defended. Here, it is worth explaining that disciplinary ideology, as I have defined it myself, is the authoritative power; it is the social consensus and the shared cognition of civil values. Normally, this disciplinary ideology has to stem from three essential sources: history, culture and religion.
I- Secularism versus Islamic Feminism
It is a well-known fact that every society tends to promote its legislations. The more educated peoples are, the more democratic the state. The slowdown of human rights is due to backwardness, intellectual stagnation and ridiculous political ideology. We are living in times that will be severely criticized by the coming generations. The reason for this is our failure to do justice to the components of our society; our fear of others, mistrust and narcissism are key elements of this failure.
My contention here is that we can develop our societies; we are qualified enough to identify women’s rights as well as those of men. We don’t lack ideas, but the true choice. To be more precise, whatever we think of North African women rights defenders, they do not hold the same convictions; some of them are conservatives and some others are secular/ liberal. This is another example of the clash of ideologies which is promoted by the notion of feminism. This clash might go further, because secularism is both a process of state/ society formation and a form of identity construction.
Equally, there are people who defend Islam as a religion, source of identity and a constitution for the nation. Its defenders are calling for an Islamic modernity, a new vision of state formation. Of course, in an Islamic modern state, women’s rights are Islamicised. Islamic feminists argue that Islam should be theorized as part of modernism rather than as an isolated and primitive ideology. The extent of success of Islamic feminism is a challenge; the success of Islamic feminism might be a cultural and political resistance against liberal/ secular feminism. The trouble is: what is Islamic feminism? Is it women’s rights as they are stated in the Qur’an _ and the words of the prophet Mohammed Peace be Upon Him_ or women’s rights as they are stated by modern scholars and feminists _ such as Tariq Ramadan and Fatima Marnissi? If North African feminists do not answer these questions, resistance against other foreign ideologies, those which claim women’s rights, might be more vulnerable.
With regard to women’s rights, the tense conflict between the religious versus secular dichotomy in North African countries might be understood in the context of history. Stated otherwise, it is awkward to ignore the role of the colonial, post-colonial and global period in the current conflict of Islamic and secular/ liberal feminism. Other factors such as geopolitical location and regional interactions are very decisive. In this context, there is no room for hesitation, but to be bold enough and choose between Islamic and liberal/ secular feminism. This choice might determine the margin of women’s rights as well as the type of change. If we choose Islamic feminism, the altitude of women’s rights will be linked to spiritual and ethical limitations; then, the change will start from inside. If we prefer secular views, women’s will be judged in a reasonable way and change will come from outside.
II- Gender Division: Women versus Men
If we define feminism as the movement which defends women’s rights, then, we can notice an implicit confession that women are marginalized, abused and exploited. Therefore the question is: who abuses/ marginalizes/ exploits women? Is it men or somebody else?
Women in general, North African women in particular, design men as their first enemy. This is a shift in the natural perspective of humanity. Neither religion nor nature encourages humans to divide themselves on the level of gender. When males and females launch a war against each other, they start working against the true process of life. Humans are supposed to work together to achieve happiness and progress; they are supposed to collaborate and endeavor against the evil of nature and tyrannical powers. When we divide a particular society into groups, there might be only one beneficiary: the tyrannical power/ the governor. My view is that instead of launching wars against each other, we have to start working on a perception of surviving/ coexistence.
“Sociologists have shown that all societies are stratified or divided into layers, based on caste, class, gender, or race. As a result, some people in a society have greater advantages than others, leading to social inequality.” fact monster. Therefore, the way out of this crossroad of misunderstanding should be based on our capacity to construct a firm society. Yet, a firm society cannot be achieved in the absence of a just law. For example, when it comes into a law which can do justice to Moroccan women, there stands three sources of this law: religion, culture and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this case, I can say that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has lost its credibility, because it becomes a political bridge.
Henceforth, women’s rights in Moroccan society cannot be imported from the EU or the USA; at a certain point, it must arise out of a deliberate social agreement to do justice to women and men. If we accept western feminism as the most appropriate perception of women’s rights, then, we decide implicitly that politics cannot be related to culture and religion. In this context, it is likely to say that the realm of politics might never remain autonomous from that of culture and religion. In stark contrast, liberal democracy has always defended the idea that politics has to distance itself from religion and culture. However, humans have revealed their inability to live without religion and culture. Therefore, feminism, both as a social and political decision, has to be associated with the nature of each society.
Fraser, Nancy. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “post-Socialist” Condition. (New York and London: Routledge, 1997)
Miller, David. Political Philosophy: a Very Short Introduction. (Great Britan: Ashford Colour Press Ltd, Gosport, Hampshre, 2003)
Michael, Freeden. Ideology: a Very Short Introduction. (Great Britan: Ashford Colour Press Ltd, Gosport, Hampshre, 2003)
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Taylor, Charles. Multiculturalism and “the Politics or Recognition”.(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992)
Harrak Youssef is a PhD student at Mohamed First University in Oujda.