Against stoning and religion’s role in it
November 17, 2002
Azar Majedi
November 17, 2002

Dear Ms. Natasha Walter:

As a veteran activist for women’s equality, as one who has been the subject of political Islam's brutality and has devoted her life to combat it, and as a member of the Committee against Stoning, I would like to address what I see as shortcomings in your article entitled Miss World and the power of female protest, published in The Independent, Thursday 7 November 2002.

It seems that the boycott of the Miss World contest in Nigeria by some contestants has drawn your attention to the brutal and dehumanizing act of stoning to death which takes place in some countries under Islamic rule. However, the tone of your article is indeed patronizing towards these brave young women, who apparently - against all the stereotypes and condescending attitudes of the feminist world - have decided to throw away their great hopes of making it in this competitive, money grabbing, beauty fixated world, to protest against this cruel act and to defend women’s rights. They certainly must be applauded for their decent and compassionate action. I wonder why your condemnation has not appeared before. The Committee against Stoning has been campaigning relentlessly for nearly two years to mobilize the world to condemn this act and the states that practice it. We have been received warmly by official bodies and the media behind closed doors but open actions have been short of a categorical condemnation. I do not believe it necessary to point out that without their boycott, your article would not have been written, and the Independent would not have given any space to expose this outrageous practice. Why is it necessary then to remark more than once that 'it is hard to give serious attention to anything to do with Miss World'? Is it perhaps embarrassing for a distinguished feminist to appear to have been enlightened on an issue regarding women’s oppression by certain Miss World contestants? I must add that I am sorry to see that such a boycott was necessary to attract some serious attention to the plight of women under Islamic rule, albeit only to one of the most brutal sides of their oppression.

I was pleased to read, however, that you are not one of those feminists who adhere to the concept of 'cultural relativism', and rightly call this practice absurd but your article comes short of exposing political Islam and the humiliation, oppression, and deprivation it imposes on millions of women in the world, including in Iran, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and so on.

I believe we must in fact emphasize the role of religion contrary to Ms. Ibrahim, Amina Lawal’s lawyer, a 'devout Muslim' who says that if women in these regions became literate they would 'not allow Islam to be used as a tool against them… The focus is not religion. The focus is the rule of law'. We must unequivocally call for the separation of religion from the state and for a secular state in these societies. As long as religion is permitted to intervene in the rule of law, the state and the educational system, talk about 'rule of law' will not safeguard any woman from the tyranny of backward and reactionary ideas and traditions dominant in the society. In a society ruled by Islam, the rule of law is bound to be oppressive, misogynist, and dehumanizing.

Yours truly,

Azar Majedi
Editor in Chief of Medusa, journal of the Centre for Women and Socialism
Chairperson, Middle East Centre for Women's Rights
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