Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation

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WLUML statement to the World Social Forum - Appeal Against Fundamentalisms

There is no such thing as the 'clash of civilizations': the clash in the world today is between fascists and antifascists.
The rise of fundamentalisms is part and parcel of the rise of extreme right movements and of the expansion of liberal pro-capitalist politics in the world today. This includes Muslim fundamentalism which is the specific context of our lived reality.

For more than two decades, women have identified fundamentalisms as political forces from the Right and the extreme-Right working under the guise of religion and culture -- rather than the religious and spiritual movements they pretend to be. The present influence of Christian fundamentalism on the politics of the USA, and the rise of terrorist policies and acts in the name of “defending Islam” only confirm our analysis. Moreover, women have experienced on various occasions - starting with the Cairo U N International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) - the mutual support that various forms of fundamentalists and extreme right forces give each other.

For more than two decades, women have identified one of the warning signs of fundamentalisms to be anti-women policies, whether it is the attacks on contraception and abortion in the USA and in Europe, or the imposition of dress codes and forced veiling and the attacks on freedom of movement and on the rights to education and work under Taliban-like regimes. Women have massively mobilized for Afghan women starving under their burqa or Nigerian women sentenced to death by stoning for sex outside marriage, while so-called religious laws were invading these countries.

However, we are now facing a new challenge: what seemed to be clear politically when we were talking of far off countries loses its clarity when fundamentalist policies come closer to Europe and the USA in the guise of 'authentic' cultural identity, and the worldwide support once given to both victims and resisters of fundamentalism vanishes under the weight of considerations of right to 'difference' and cultural relativism.

What is happening? Muslim fundamentalism has opened a new front in Europe and North America. There are numerous warning signs, such as the demand for separate laws supposedly based on religion for resolving especially family matters within the ‘Muslim community.’ Our experience in our countries shows that these will operate as deeply discriminatory and anti-women. Yet fundamentalism’s proponents seek support from progressive forces, in the name of the very values that we too defend: equality, anti-racism, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. Human Rights organizations, the Left and progressive forces at large, and now even feminists are solicited to support the fundamentalist agenda.

Disturbed by the discrimination and exclusion that more than often affect people of migrant descent in Europe and North America, progressive forces in the West are keen to denounce racism – and rightly so. But subsequently, they often choose to sacrifice both women and our own internal indigenous democratic progressive opposition forces to fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship, on the altar of anti-racism. Or they censor their expressions of solidarity with us for fear of being accused of racism.

Derailed by neocolonial invasions and wars, progressive forces are prepared to support any opposition to the super powers. We have already witnessed prominent Left intellectuals and activists publicly share the view that they could not care less if fundamentalist theocratic regimes come to power in Palestine or Iraq, provided that the USA and Israel get booted out. We have witnessed representatives of fundamentalist organizations and their ideologists be invited and cheered in Social Fora. We have witnessed prominent feminists defend the 'right to veil' - and this sadly reminds us of the defense of the 'cultural right' to female genital mutilation, some decades ago.

To those who attempt to justify their political confusion by saying that fundamentalism is a popular movement, we remind them that Hitler was elected by the people -- i.e. by democratic means -- but certainly not for the best of democracy!

We dare dissent.

We dissent as women, i.e. the most visible victims of fundamentalist policies, and we dissent as progressive democratic anti-theocratic people's movement.

To a situation of exclusion or oppression, there can be several types of responses: from the Left, or from the Right and extreme Right. There can be responses that open to universalism, humanity, democracy, fundamental rights for all, or responses clenched and contorted on particularisms, ethnicity, differences. While our diversities must be recognized and homogeneity not imposed, we should never forget that ‘difference’ has also been used and abused by all sorts of extreme right forces, from nazism to apartheid, to the pro slavery southern States of the USA, to Muslim fundamentalists, ... and to anti women ideologies! - just to name a few..... We should walk the thin line and not fall into the trap that fundamentalists are opening under our feet.

We will not support an extreme right response to situations of oppression. We will not support the coming to power of fundamentalist theocracies. It will only replace a terrible situation of injustice by an even worse one.

We will not support those as legitimate answers to oppression, exclusion, racism, exploitation and invasions.

We will, with all our might, support progressive responses and gender equitable responses to situations of oppression, exclusion, invasions, exploitation.

Fundamentalist terror is by no means a tool of the poor against the rich, of the Third World against the West, of people against capitalism. It is not a legitimate response that can be supported by the progressive forces of the world. Its main target is the internal democratic opposition to their theocratic project and to their project of controlling all aspects of society in the name of religion, including education, the legal system, youth services, etc. When fundamentalists come to power, they silence the people, they physically eliminate dissidents, writers, journalists, poets, musicians, painters - like fascists do. Like fascists, they physically eliminate the 'untermensch' - the subhumans -, among them 'inferior races', gays, mentally or physically disabled people. And they lock women 'in their place', which as we know from experience ends up being a straight jacket. Like fascists, they do support capitalism.

There is no such thing as the 'clash of civilizations', as both the Bushes and the Bin Ladens would like us to believe. The clash in the world today is between fascists and antifascists. And that definitely cuts across national, ethnic and religious boundaries.

We call on the democratic movement at large, on the antiglobalization movement gathered in Porto Alegre, and more specifically on the women's movement, to give international visibility and recognition to progressive democratic forces and to the women's movement within it, that oppose the fundamentalist theocratic project.

We urge them all to stop supporting fundamentalists as though it were a legitimate response to situations of oppression.

In solidarity,

Women Living Under Muslim Laws international solidarity network