Abortion Rights Blog

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Comment: Mehdi Hasan, Abortion and an Asymmetric Debate

twitter crashFarzana gives her personal response to Medhi Hasan’s abortion article and the ensuing twitter-storm

On the 15th October, 2012, a brief media storm exploded, much of it conducted via today’s judge, jury and executioner: Twitter.

The accused: Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece for the New Statesman framing abortion in the context of political ideology. Mehdi’s main premise in the piece was that being ‘pro-life’ doesn’t make him any less of a lefty.

Reading through his abstract academic, philosophical and ideological presentation of his views, I was struck by this one sole point which I begrudgingly thank him for (and I will explain):

“You might assume that my own anti-abortion views are a product of my Muslim beliefs. They aren’t. (And the reality is that different schools of Islamic law have differing opinions on abortion time limits…”

It is possible that many will miss this in the wider debate about the piece. I agree with some of my Twitter friends that him bringing his Islamic faith into the piece is a bit pointless and a bit of a distraction. But to me (also brown and also Muslim), I am glad that he clarified this, because feminism is not one monolithic collection of movements or ideologies.

Within feminism are the oppressors and the oppressed; the over-represented and the under-represented. There is a risk that those feminist thinkers who are opposed to Islam and assume it is anti-feminist (according to their cultural-social contexts) will present Mehdi’s article as supporting their own anti-Islamic views.

I’m sure a lot of feminist men and women will shake their heads at me and mutter ‘sodding intersectionality’ under their breath. But I need to make clear that the one thing the majority of Muslims cannot be accused of is being anti-choice.

There are disagreements, fatwas (religious rulings) and some enlightened and unenlightened views on abortion within Muslim communities, just as there are in non-Muslim communities, but the last thing we need is to assume anti-choice as being the default Islamic position.

Some of you are going to start furiously digging out stats and laws from Muslim countries which contradict what I have just said. Before you do, I would ask you to consider this and this oh and this too.

That is, however, as far as I can go in rationalising Mehdi’s piece. The rest of his article, the manner in which it was deployed by him, the arrogant posturing of his argument as being “rational, sound and reasoned” as opposed to the reactions to it as being “sexist, irrational and vulgar” were staggeringly belligerent and dare I say it disrespectful.

I genuinely like Mehdi Hasan. A lot of young, brown and Muslim young people look up to him as a supposedly progressive thinker who has contributed greatly to equalising and humanising how Muslims are represented in the British media. His piece here in the Huffington Post UK, of which he is the Political Director is a brilliant open letter to the extremely loud Muslim protesters who brought my faith into disrepute with their violent, heinous, paranoid and murderous reactions to the now infamous Sam Bacile film.

Am I disappointed by his strange articulation of his views on abortion? Yes. Does he have the right to voice them? Yes, of course, the same way I too, have a right to voice my disappointment and present my case as to why I believe it is imperative that women have access to safe and legal abortion.

I know someone personally who had a premature baby at 26 weeks, her baby requires a lot of care to support her severe disabilities on account of her premature birth. My friend’s partner left her as he ‘couldn’t cope’. He didn’t even bother to file for visitation rights, so relieved was he to be shot of his child with severe disabilities. He has since remarried and has two children with his second wife.

My friend is single, she works when she can. The rest of the time, she is devoted to the care of her daughter who is now 5 years old. She has her good days and her bad days, on her bad days, she screams without reservation, “I should have had an abortion.”

This comes from a place of hurt and utter frustration that the very people around her who promised support and a shoulder to cry on, quietly backed away as Ain’s disabilities became more complex. Ain, by the way, means “precious”. My friend named her as soon as she knew she was pregnant.

Many of Mehdi’s supporters and defenders on Twitter argued that it was impossible to have a “sound and reasoned debate” about the issue. People will react differently to what is clearly an emotive and very personal decision for most women and men.

However, when trying to disentangle what is reasoned and rational from the debate (see Mehdi’s timeline), you begin to lose the will to live. There is right and wrong on both sides: we cannot over-simplify what is a complex issue (especially for women), point-scoring over semantics and language.

The level of fury, I think, has to do more with the couching of Mehdi’s piece in gendered terms – he even mentioned male foetuses at one point. Pitch forks came out in their masses, calling out Mehdi, criticising those who disagreed with him – it was like an episode of Glee, when the cool kids and the social misfits square up to each other.

One of the best early responses to Medhi’s piece comes from Musa Okwonga. He rightly argues that to reduce to a badge of political allegiance and left vs right is reductive. Mehdi’s appropriation of Christopher Hitchen’s “Me Decade” to further his point that women who terminate their pregnancies are coming from a place of nascent selfishness and even a “lifestyle choice” is incredibly insulting.