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Guardian: Human rights before religion

Author: Seyran Ates
September 26, 2009

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Seyran Ates, a practicing Muslim, charges that  Germany has been downplaying human rights--and women's rights in particular--in an effort to remain politically correct with respect to religious practices.

Worldwide, women and children are among those most affected by human rights abuses; women and children make up the majority of victims of domestic violence; it is mainly women and girls who are deprived of an education, or even denied an appropriate position in the labour market despite a good education; political opportunities for women are still minimal, despite active and passive suffrage. This is the case regardless of culture or religion. In this sense, achieving gender equality is one of the greatest political challenges of our century.

This standardised picture requires one qualification. Without wishing to relativise violence and human rights abuses or create a hierarchy, there are grave differences between what has already been reached in some countries and a standard that can be denoted as stable. While women and girls in western countries generally no longer, for instance, have to worry about whether or not they are allowed to work or go to school, or whether they will soon be married off to a cousin or a much older man, this is still a reality for countless women in most Islamic countries and in South America, Asia and Africa.

This global perspective is necessary to understand the particular situation for many Muslim women and girls in European countries, especially those who live in parallel societies. In a plural, open and liberal society such as Germany, different cultures and religions jostle together so closely that conflicts are unavoidable and solutions supposedly hard to find. The fear of ostracising foreign cultures and religions and stoking xenophobia has led to a politically precarious situation, in which every criticism of Islamically justified misogyny can make you a racist, an enemy of Islam or even a Nazi. Such labels are thrown around with abandon.

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