‘A True WAF Warrior’: In Memory of Helen Lowe

Clara Connolly remembers Helen Lowe’s participation in Women Against Fundamentalism  in this edited version of  her tribute at Helen’s funeral in June 2011.  More about Helen here.

Copyright © Clara Connolly

Key Words: feminism, fundamentalism

Key Names: Clara Connolly, Helen Lowe, Women Against Fundamentalism

In Memory of Helen Lowe

Helen wasn’t always a member of WAF — which has been around since 1989 — she was part of the new phase of WAF which started with a public meeting on the war on terror, in October 2006. Sue O’Sullivan told me recently that she and Helen joined together and by February 2007 Helen was not only a member, she was compiling the membership list — that is typical of the Helen we grew to love in WAF — quietly determined and committed, a woman who threw herself into the thick of things. No fuss, no drama, just getting on with what needed to be done.

Clara Connolly of Women Against Fundamentalism, speaking at a Protest the Pope demonstration in London. From a photo by Helen Lowe.
Clara Connolly (photo Helen Lowe)

She was a great photographer and took some terrific pictures of WAF related events – for example the Protest the Pope rally last year — but was always behind the camera not in front!

As Sue reminded me, it was hard for the new girls to establish themselves in WAF — but Helen absolutely cracked it. She was a good listener in discussion, always gentle and modest about her own abilities but always also curious and never afraid to ask the challenging question and stand for what she believed in. She wrote the WAF leaflet ‘No To Fascism. No to Fundamentalism’ for distributing at a United East End rally against the English Defence League, this time last year — which pulled no punches. Her intelligence was not at all academic or abstruse — it was always concentrated on the political struggle, and all the more impressive for that.

Julia Bard tells me how much she was strengthened by Helen’s presence at that rally, and charmed by Helen’s ability to engage the most unlikely people in discussion and disarm them by her calm but persistent manner. She took on the young Bengali men there, initially very sceptical about our leaflet and our presence, but who ended up listening to her ideas and discussing them respectfully. After that rally, she attended a follow-up organising meeting on behalf of WAF, in July 2010, and in an atmosphere of mostly male self-congratulation raised a number of challenging points such as the lack of women at the rally, and the need to mobilise women for the future; and asked that these meetings should be held in secular spaces not in mosques so that lesbian and gay people and secularists could feel welcome. It was a tribute to her tactful and quiet but uncompromising way of putting things that she was not treated with hostility — and indeed was invited to continue the discussion after the meeting.

Sukhwant [Dhaliwal] and I remember her participation in another series of unusual events — unusual for WAF at any rate. As moderator of the WAF website Helen liaised on our behalf with the British Pakistani Christian Association, with her usual skill and persistence, so that Sukhwant and I found ourselves speaking against the Pakistani blasphemy laws, at their rally outside the Pakistani Embassy one cold December day in 2009, in such unlikely company as the Baroness Cox! Sukhwant says she will never forget the moment when as if by magic everyone was down on their knees in the street, praying, and Helen, Sukh and I were the only ones left standing! Sukh and I might have been a little put out by the event but not Helen. Helen’s wicked sense of humour was tickled by such incongruity. Although she was a committed secularist, she understood the sense of the sacred and took the clash of cultures in her stride.

Last March, Helen and I attended on behalf of WAF at a condolence ceremony organised by BPCA at the Pakistani Embassy, on the death of Shahbaz Bhatti — the (Christian) Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, who was murdered because of his support of the Christian woman Asia Bibi, condemned to death for alleged blasphemy. We were the only secularists in the group. We were received by the High Commissioner whose own walls were blazoned with pictures of his assassinated ex party leader Benazir Bhutto, and who wrung his hands and lamented what can we do? We laid flowers and signed a book of condolences. I asked Helen what she thought of it all afterwards. I myself was full of conflicting feelings; uppermost was: what on earth was I doing at such an unlikely gathering? But she said she was very moved and fascinated by it, and valued the opportunity to have been there, to express solidarity with Pakistan in its hour of tragedy. That was Helen — a generous, thoughtful, humane, inquisitive feminist and woman of the world.

I will be marching again this Saturday, July 2nd, against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. I had thought not to go but now I am reminded by Helen I think I should. Her spirit will be very much with me — full of fun and courage, a true WAF warrior.

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