Those who have denounced Nawaz for his strip club visit are not usually so concerned for women's rights
Can you be a feminist and visit a strip club?
That is the question some people are asking after footage obtained by the Daily Mail showed Maajid Nawaz, the Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn and co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation, on camera allegedly harassing a dancer in a strip club.
The Mail has described Maajid as a married father-of-one, but it is worth pointing out that he was not married at the time. His child is from a previous marriage. He got married in October and the ‘stag do’ took place in July. His wife, Rachel Maggart, took to Twitter to defend her husband and said she was fully aware of his actions.
Yesterday Maajid took to Twitter again to blast the ‘hatchet job’ against him.
It would seem as if a Muslim can own and manage a strip club, just cannot visit one. The club owner Abdul Malik said he wanted the video to be seen by the public because of the way Nawaz portrays himself as a feminist and a family man:
“He’s always talking about religion on TV and I thought, what a hypocrite,” he said.
Mr Malik claimed ‘arrogant’ Nawaz acted like a ‘spokesman for Islam’ but visited the club during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Thank goodness we had Mr Malik defending the honour of Islam and the dancers in his club. So concerned was he that he waited nine months before speaking out. The timing of this story is very suspicious. Why wait until now to release the video footage unless the intention was to damage Maajid’s political campaign?
Maajid has openly said he is a ‘non devout Muslim‘ and he has said on several occasions that there are no spokespeople for Muslims. But he does still identify as a Muslim. As a friend of mine told me upon hearing of the scandal:
“You can never escape the Islam police. Like being caught with a Marlboro light as a teenager by a friend of your third cousin’s neighbour. And suddenly it’s all around the community that you are a chain smoking junkie. Its that – amplified.”
Whatever you think about strip clubs, it was very stupid of Maajid to have gone to one, and in East London of all places. He is fighting an election; he should have known better and he has handed a gift to his enemies on a plate.
His spokesperson said he denied touching the dancer ‘inappropriately’ and added that his reputation for advocating women’s rights was ‘in the context of Islamic extremism’. What does that mean? This needs clarifying.
The frustrating part of the strip club controversy is the hypocrisy. Maajid’s enemies are suddenly declaring ‘concern’ for the vulnerable women in the sex industry and discussing issues of consent.
Yet some of these are the same people who, for example, would not challenge the Muslim scholars who refuse to condemn domestic violence or female genital mutilation. The same people who were happy to blame Western culture for the groomers who sexually abused and exploited children. Any woman who does not conform to their standard of Islamic modesty are treated with contempt.
Take Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5 Pillars, who has been enjoying the drama unfold. He was exposed last year for comments towards a blogger of Muslim origin whose timeline he stalked, then copied and pasted pictures of her (which had been edited) with the words ‘pisshead, drunken liberal garbage’. He also apparently views Ahmadi Muslims as lower than monkeys.
Opinion is divided over this story. Some deem it not to be newsworthy because visiting a strip club is what most men do – what’s the big deal? – and others, including Tory Nadine Dorries, have called for Maajid to resign.
I’ll be honest – Maajid’s behaviour has really disappointed me; I expected better from him. Perhaps that is my own issue, because I place too much faith in people and will inevitably be let down when they fail to live up to my (impossibly high?) standards.
At the end of the day, though, it is up to the public to make up their own minds over this story. Those who support Maajid can only hope that the accusations of harassment are revealed to be tabloid sensationalism. I doubt this will make much difference to his chances in Hampstead and Kilburn, as the odds of him winning that seat were slim anyway.
But has it damaged his reputation in the long run? Maajid’s work is indispensable; it would be a shame if this were to distract us from the good work he has done.
Iram Ramzan is a freelance journalist. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.