Muslim Feminisms: Solidarity Before Censure

There are many ways to be a feminist. There are many ways to show solidarity. It should go without saying that there are many ways to practice Islam.

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the subsequent spate of abuse and assaults against Muslims living in Western countries, it is important that the vulnerability of visibly Muslim women is acknowledged. Even non-Muslim women of colour are at risk for abuse, should they choose to protect themselves from the cold with a vaguely Islamic scarf. As non-veiled Muslim women, both myself and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown carry a certain privilege in our ability to pass through Islamophobic spaces with slightly less scrutiny than our hijabi sisters.

Inclusive feminism necessitates an acknowledgement and acceptance of both the vulnerability of visibly Muslim women and the privilege of non-visibly Muslim women. Muslim women, veiled and unveiled, need to stand together. Feminists, Muslim or not, need to stand together. Without this, we are only perpetuating transcultural patriarchy—which seeks control of women’s bodies—through simultaneous criticism of wearing too much and too little.

Alibhai-Brown’s new book Refusing the Veil is at points a thoughtful and comprehensive walk through important points in the history of Islam and philosophies of practice. At other points, however, it reads as a soft conservative polemic against Muslim women and their agency, fraught with contradictions about how women should walk the fine balance between modest and slutty.

Read the full review at GUTS Magazine.

IslamoWhat?!

October 2011

Dear Mr. Harper,

What is Islamicism?

Is there a Christianityism? Or a Judaismism? What is the difference between Islamicism and Islam?

In all my years of studying, exploring and practising my faith, surely I would have come across such a monumental distinction, or potentially relevant offshoot of what I thought was my religion.

Please Prime Minister, could you break it down for me?

See, I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure I’m on the right track. Is Islamicism like racism, but specifically against Muslims? ‘Cause that’s sure what it sounds like when you talk about it.

Or are you talking about religious fundamentalism? ‘Cause if you are, couldn’t you just say that? And if that is the case, where is the recently and specially coined term for religious fundamentalists that terrorize in the name of Christianity or Judaism or any other religion?

Why does Islam get a special term? Is it because it is so important to you, Prime Minister, to distinguish between terrorists and the rest of us? Because, you know, I think that’s kind of cool, that you would go through all that trouble to distinguish for the population that you don’t think all Muslims are a threat.

Because that would mean I’m a threat.

That would mean my parents, my grandparents, even my little cousins, are somehow threats to the country we call home, simply by virtue of our faith, the language in which we pray.

I’m sure that’s not what you meant. Because Mr. Prime Minister, if what you are really trying to say is that Islam is the threat to your oil-seeking conservative imperialist Zionist enterprise then I’m sure you would just come out and say it.

If you have the guts to justify the deaths of thousands of people every year—Palestinians, Afghans, and the Canadians that serve in your armies, surely you can admit that all of your talk of defence, security and justice is just a front for your racism, intolerance and Islamophobia.

Mr. Harper if you mean to say that every Muslim in this country is a threat to your security, your worldview and your peace of then that I dare you to come out and declare it.

Don’t add innocuous suffixes to make your words seem less hateful. Don’t make up words so you can avoid saying what your really mean.

You talk about security, but what about my security? What about protecting me from the hate-speech, the verbal violence that I have to fight every day when the topic of my religious persuasion comes up in conversation?

Then there is the physical violence, women assaulted because they are wearing hijabs, mosques vandalised, anti-Islam terrorism that goes unacknowledged.

Why is it that Norway’s recent tragedy, and attack by a white man was “out of the blue,” But “Islamic terrorism” is a constant and international threat?

Why is it that even though it has been reported that the perpetrator was actually targeting Islam and multiculturalism, his 1,500 page manifesto is being compared to “a jihadist manifesto,” a “a complete mirroring of al-Qaeda”? (Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense Col- lege, told TIME.com. Read more here. )

Did you know Mr. Harper, that the Prime Minister of Norway made a public address in a mosque to show support and empathy to the Norwegian Muslim community?

He reached out to the Muslim community to strengthen bonds and com- bat Islamophobia.

What the hell are you doing? You’re just feeding the fire with your created “isms” and your talk of terror.

You know who the real terrorists are, don’t you? Mr. Prime Minister don’t you see that by perpetuating Islamophobia, by propagating fear and hate among your citizens you are alienating a good chunk of them?

I have enough trouble justifying the fact that I am even Canadian, being a woman of colour, never mind having to defend my faith from the assumptions people are left to make after watching conservative news broadcasts with im- ages of oppressed women and suicide bombers.

What I’d really like to ask you Mr. Harper, is when you say “Islamicism” could you just qualify who you are talking about? Either come out and say you are accusing all Muslims, from my 92-year old great-grandmother down to my future children, of being terrorists, or differentiate between religious funda- mentalism and religion.

And while I have your attention, could you please not generalize, essentialize and then demonize an entire faith? Unless your goal as Prime Minister is to lead a country full of fearful, accusative and ignorant people I suggest you lead by example.

Sincerely,

Haseena Manek

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2011

Islamophobia in the U.S.

October 2010

Islamophobia is not like a man who was stabbed on the street and whose wound is now healing. Islamophobia is a chronic and resilient disease, predating 9/11 and ingrained in Western society.

Cases like Reverend Terry Jones of Florida and his Qur’an burning madness are often treated like random cases of violent hatred, longstanding products of a ten-year-old tragedy.

But the 2001 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Centre, and the subsequent media circus surrounding pseudo- revenge plots and invasion of the Middle East did not create islamophobia in the United States. It has been a by-product of a litany of incidents in a lengthy political history of East/West relations.

The media frenzy surrounding Reverend Jones’ retaliation to controversy surrounding plans for an Islamic centre, (sup- posedly two blocks away from 9/11’s Ground Zero in New York) sensationalized the incident, making it appear like a random or unique example of a hate crime in America.

The goal here is not to understate the issue, or to imply that bargaining burned holy scripture in exchange for moving the Islamic centre is anything but abhorrent, but the question that needs to be asked is: Is this really something new?

Reverend Jones is obviously not the only American citizen plagued by intolerance. Close to this year’s anniversary of the at- tacks, the editor of a Maine newspaper had to issue a front-page apology for putting an image and accompanying story about the end of the holy month of Ramadan on September 11, 2010.

This came in response to local readers being ‘offended’ by the sight of peaceful Muslims, one Portland Press Herald reader wrote to the paper, “I don’t want to hear how caring the Muslim religion is on 9/11” (as reported by news.gather.com).

By continually overstating and re-examining these inci- dents, media is not necessarily exhibiting how rooted islamo- phobia and anti-Arab racism is in America, which is what it should be doing.

These examples should be used to reveal the depth and reach of islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, which in turn would be helpful in deconstructing the historical and contem- porary processes that foster this hatred.

Instead, Reverend Jones is a mascot for the supposed “randomness” or unsystemic nature of islamophobia, which only serves to gloss over the particular features of this painful and destructive phenomenon.

Additionally, media coverage is then forced to shift to the response to Reverend Jones’ crass pronouncement, which included a number of violent protests across the globe.

Quotes from General David Petra- eus, the U.S. and NATO commander Kabul, Afganistan, Robert Gates, the U.S. defence secretary, President Obama himself and even the Vatican peppered online media coverage on the incident.

They appropriately denounced the burning of the Holy Qur’an, but by this time, who can even remember that the Reverend Jones’ controversy was in response to another storm altogether?

American citizens had taken issue with the idea of an Islamic centre being built so close to Ground Zero, so close to the anniversary of the tragic incident.

The Associated Press quotes Editor Richard Connor of the Portland Press Herald as saying “the newspaper should have shown sensitivity ‘toward the painful memories stirred by the anniversary of 9/11.’”

What I would like to see discussed is why painful memories of this national crisis are so profoundly and acutely linked to Islam.

Why do the uncreative antics of a bigot get more headlines and more dis- cussion than the root issue itself? Let us revaluate how and why the very sight of American citizens practising their faith is immediately linked to the media-cultivated and propagandic enemy of the American people.

Terry Jones is a dime a dozen, and will remain so as long as the Western media climate persists in avoiding the genesis, the ground zero of islamo- phobia and instead favours the token attention-seekers of hatred and racism.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2010