Muslims face prejudice, but Muslims from the Caucasus face a particular kind of prejudice - the kind born of ignorance so great it perversely imbues everything with significance. “There is never interpretation, understanding and knowledge when there is no interest,” Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam , and until this week, there was so little interest in and knowledge of the Caucasus that the ambassador of the Czech Republic felt compelled to issue a press release stating that the Czech Republic is not the same as Chechnya.
Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs’ motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time. Journalist Eliza Shapiro proclaimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “named after a brutal warlord”, despite the fact that Tamerlan, or Timur, is an ordinary first name in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Her claim is equivalent to saying a child named Nicholas must be named in honour of ruthless Russian tsar Nicholas I - an irony apparently lost on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made a similar denouncement on Twitter (to his credit, Kristof quickly retracted the comment).
Other journalists found literary allusions, or rather, illusions. “They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.
Still others turned to social media as a gateway to the Chechen soul. Journalist Julia Ioffe - after explaining the Tsarnaevs through Tolstoy, Pushkin, and, of course, Stalin - cites the younger Tsarnaev’s use of the Russian website VKontakte as proof of his inability to assimilate, then ranks the significance of his personal photos.
“The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent,” she writes . “In front of them is a dish plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing.” Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance - why is the Central Asian friend more “revealing” than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they “revealing”? - about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.
One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case - and yes, they exist - is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .
Perhaps the first serious consequence of labeling Boston a “terrorist” attack was the Obama administration’s decision to deprive the suspect who was captured of his constitutional right to receive a Miranda warning on arrest, a further thinning of the already threadbare pretense of “rule of law” in post 11 September 2001 America.
You all can stop thinking the Tsarnaev Brothers will enjoy white privilege in mainstream media now. They’re ethnic Chechens and Muslim - they fit one of the most stereotypical descriptions of “bad, evil Muslims.” Read the whole article.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Iran, leaving dozens dead, within 24 hours of the Boston marathon bombing. What is the connection? Well, there isn’t one…
…that is, unless you’re a big asshole:
(The person above deleted their account. But that won’t stop me from finding her shitty tweets and posting them here.)
Yeah, that was some “deep thinking.”
The smoldering remains of one of Meikhtila’s Muslim neighborhoods, which was razed by rioters last week. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)
MEIKHTILA — Sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma spread to at least two other towns in the country’s heartland over the weekend, undermining government efforts to quash an eruption of violence that has killed dozens of people and displaced 10,000 more.
[…] Late Sunday, state television said that mobs burned down a mosque and 50 homes on Saturday in Yamethin, about 64 kilometers from Meikhtila, and another mosque and several buildings were also set ablaze in Lewei, further south near the capital, Naypyitaw.
The government has put the total death toll at 32, and authorities say they have detained at least 35 people allegedly involved in arson and violence in the region. […]
[…] On Sunday night, reports and rumors that groups of anti-Muslim rioters were on their way to Muslim neighborhoods in central Rangoon first began to appear. Around midnight an unidentified group allegedly tried to set fire to buildings in Ma U Gone, a Muslim quarter in Tamwe Township, according to local resident Tha Aye.
“It was near midnight, around seven or eight people came in a van and tried to set buildings on fire. When people tried to catch them they ran away,” said Tha Aye, who is also chairman of the Union National Development Party, an Islamic political organization.
“They threw [Molotov cocktails] at a mosque but it was in vain,” he said, adding that the attackers revisited the area more than one hour later, but they were chased away by residents who carried knives and sticks.
News of the incident quickly reached other Islamic communities who formed vigilante groups to patrol the streets, according to Aye Lwin, a Muslim representative from Burma’s Interfaith Friendship Organization.
At around 3 am Monday morning Muslim crowds could be heard chanting ‘God is Great’ as they marched through central Rangoon’s Pabedan Township.
Residents of Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township, a predominantly Muslim market area, were also on alert after they received repeated anonymous phone calls on Sunday night, saying that the area would be the target of mobs.
Businesses in the area remained closed during a visit by a reporter on Monday. “We want the government to help stop these rumors and reassure the community’s safety,” local community leader Khin Hlaing said. […]
Burmese Buddhists attack Muslims Houses and Masjids at Meikhtilar Township
Photos and videos coming out of the central Burmese town of Meikhtila show rioting and attacks against Muslim-owned businesses, in the country’s worst communal violence since last year’s clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the eastern part of the country. The ungoing unrest has left at least 10 people dead, according to a member of parliament from Meikhtila District.
The source of the conflict remains murky. But both local police sources and Muslim activists agree that it all started with an argument between a Muslim gold-shop owner and Buddhist customers on Wednesday morning. From there, the stories diverge. A police source cited by Radio Free Asia says the shop owner broke an item belonging to the customers, leading to a brawl; Muslim activists, citing local sources, say the customers tried to sell the shop owner fake gold. Either way, the dispute quickly drew a crowd that attacked the goldsmith’s store as well as other Muslim-owned businesses.
A mob attacks Muslim-owned stores in Meikhtila on Wednesday. This video was relayed by Burmese Muslim activists living abroad.
Rioting continued during the night and into Thursday, with plumes of smoke rising around the town; a curfew declared by the authorities was evidently ignored. Several mosques were reportedly torched.
Police say that at least two of the confirmed dead are Buddhists, one of them a monk. An AFP photographer who was able to visit the town Thursday said he saw at least three burned bodies and houses on fire.
According to MP Win Thein, who hails from Meikhtila and belongs to the opposition National League for Democracy party, there are about 30,000 Muslims in the township, out of about 80,000 total residents.
Muslims represent about four percent of Burma’s population, according to the last census. A wave of clashes between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in eastern Rakhine State last year left at least 200 dead and more than 100,000 homeless, with many Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. Last month, a Buddhist mob attacked a Muslim school and Muslim-owned stores in a suburb of Rangoon.
Nay San Lwin is a Burmese Muslim activist living in exile in Germany. He contributes to the website Rohingya Blogger. He was able to speak to Meikhtila residents on Wednesday and Thursday morning; communications became more difficult on Thursday afternoon, when some of his sources fled town and stopped answering their phones.
The eyewitnesses I spoke to told me that hundreds of people gathered to destroy Muslim-owned businesses in a very short time span, which they found suspicious – like it was perhaps organised ahead of time. They said many had sticks with them, and used them to destroy the inside of the goldsmith’s store and others. Later, in the evening, they started lighting mosques and Muslims’ homes on fire. The police just stood by.
Mobs also surrounded an Islamic religious school, trapping teenage students and teachers inside. [Several Muslim Burmese activists, citing local contacts, believe that some of them were killed after the school was set on fire this morning. Local authorities have said that a school was burned, but did not mention any deaths. FRANCE 24 has so far been unable to independently confirm these claims].
The Muslims I’ve talked to in Meikhtila are terrified. Many have shut themselves up inside their homes, for fear of being killed if they leave; but many others have already fled town [Buddhists have reportedly fled the violence as well]. They feel like there is nobody to protect them there.
“Muslims in Burma don’t have anyone to turn to for help”
Several leaders from the 88 Generation Students’ group [an activist group led by people who participated in the 1988 pro-democracy students’ revolt, which was quashed by the military junta at the time] travelled to the town today, to try to calm the situation. But it seems that the mobs aren’t listening to them at all. [Editor’s Note: Min Ko Naing, one of the members of the 88 Generation who travelled to Meikhtila on Thursday, told Radio Free Asia: “We would like to request everyone to stop spreading violence. Most local residents are trying to prevent the unrest from spreading.”]
Over the last few decades, the authorities in Burma have trained the population to hate Muslims. Many leaders use derogatory terms for Muslims in public, like “kalar”. Recently, things have become even worse with the conflict in Rakhine state and the increasing influence of a powerful monk in Mandalay, Wirathu [Editor’s Note: Wirathu is known for his Islamophobic views. According to several Muslim Burmese activists, he recently visited Meikhtila, where he reportedly criticised the fact that many businesses were owned by Muslims]. We don’t have anyone to turn to for help. Not even Aung San Suu Kyi [Burma’s opposition leader, who after years of house arrest, now has a seat in parliament] will help us, because in Burma, speaking out for Muslims means losing votes.
Akiva Freidlin has launched a project, currently raising funds on indiegogo, to buy subway ad space that will counter those of Pamela Geller. […]
Freidlin, like many other New Yorkers, wasn’t too keen on Geller’s latest ad, which features a photo of the World Trade Center exploding in flames next to a quote from the Quran that reads, “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers.”
He writes on his indiegogo page:These ads attack our most basic communal values: they try to exploit the city’s grief and anger over 9/11, and they demonize and intimidate members of a particular religious group. That’s not how we roll. Everyone has a right to feel at home in this city, and that includes our Muslim neighbors.
Freidlin, who describes himself as a “thirty-year-old white guy who lives in Manhattan,” says he’s the “grandchild of Holocaust survivors who came to the United States looking for freedom, tolerance, and prosperity—and found it in New York.”
The “Talk Back To Hate” campaign hopes to raise $7,500 to design and buy 10 subway ads. Contributors are invited to submit ideas for the ads, and will be able to vote on the message. As of this writing, “Talk Back To Hate” has raised $2,480. (Update: it’s now over $6,000). Want to donate? Go here.
This is important. Last month, Sunando Sen was pushed in front of a subway train to his death by a woman who admitted to having attacked him because she thought he was Muslim. Pamela Geller’s ads went up that same week.
Thanks to Subashini for showing me this. Zero Dark Thirty’s Twitter account is promoting drone warfare. I want to be surprised but I’m not. Hollywood is never neutral. This is disgusting.
I’m sorry, what is wrong with drone warfare specifically? While it is not always accurate, that is true of all forms of warfare. Even when we had swords and arrows, civilians would get caught up in the fighting. I think you need to calm down and avoid the hipster critique you seem to have got caught up in. The truth is, you don’t dislike drone warfare. You don’t like war. And ultimately, that’s a very different discussion, and one that really is much more complicated than getting indignant about the use of a weapon. Frankly, drone warfare makes sense. If one side has the ability to attack the other without risking its own men, why wouldn’t it do that?
Ah, white man wants to know why war is wrong. Sweet.
Let’s see. We could talk about how “Of the some 3000 persons killed by US drones, something like 600 have been innocent noncombatant bystanders, and of these 176 were children. In some instances the US drone operators have struck at a target, then waited for rescuers to come and struck again, which would be a war crime. Obviously, children may run in panic to the side of an injured parent, so they could get hit by the indiscriminate second strike. We don’t know the exact circumstances of the children’s deaths because the US government won’t talk about them, indeed, denies it all.” We can talk about the lack of transparency and the infamous, inhumane definition of “military age males”, we can talk about this or we can talk about how Pakistani and Afghan children are reported as dogs after getting killed by strikes. We can talk about the anxiety and the stress, the fear and the nightmares civilians are having because of this constant war.
So my “hipster critique” of warfare - its various forms that ultimately result in dead children, women and rescuers, bombed weddings and funerals by drone strikes, cast aside as mere numbers and “collateral damage” - as a Pakistani woman living in Pakistan is embedded in reality. Something you don’t seem very concerned about.
And while we’re at it, go fuck yourself.
marioncotillard asked me to write a post about why I hate Argo so much and I couldn’t really answer that without going into a history of US-Iran relations so now that Argo has won the Golden Globe here it is. Keep in mind, this is horribly shallow and simplified, I’ve provided sources where I can, but ultimately this should not be used as some kind of source in and of itself.
Preface: I have not seen this movie and I won’t see this movie. If I want to know about the revolution I’ll just ask my dad what it was like since he lived it and not white devil Ben Affleck thanks. Since I haven’t seen it, here is an excellent post that should not be missed, by Farah who did see it, addressing the jingoism and orientalism. Seriously it’s better than what I wrote and you should probably just read that. This post is basically an addendum to that post. Here is another article as well which has this nice nugget:
Argo provides the uninitiated Westerner with a crash course in the nature of the Iranian people as if out of some kind of hawkish fairy tale. Not just the regime, the people. In Argo, somewhere amid the exciting escape of six sympathetic American victims, we are treated to hordes of hysterical, screaming, untrustworthy, irrational, bearded and lethal antagonists. Some of them are pivotal characters that advance the plot. Others are just bystanders in seething crowds. It doesn’t seem to matter. The point is, these are the villains. Or more specifically, the Iranians. All of them. There is not one positive Iranian subject in the entire story.
You should also check this out which addresses the whitewashing of Tony Mendez by Ben Affleck (although I don’t really appreciate that the article only focuses on one set of poc and ignores the others ie drawing attention to the whitewashing without dealing with the orientalism and islamophobia).
So, since most people will always resort to the “but it really happened!” strain of thought with this type of thing, let’s just take a brief and very shallow foray into US-Iran relations just to get some context.
- 1953: US manufactured a coup to depose democratically elected leader Mossadegh since he had the crazy idea that the oil in Iran should actually belong to Iran (fun fact: previously Mossadegh had tried to negotiate with the British so that they would share oil 50/50 but this was so appalling to the British that they took their case to the Court of International Justice in the Hague). Here is a book about the coup. Following the coup, dissidents and those close to Mossadegh were assassinated. Mossadegh was placed under house arrest and remained there for the rest of his life.
- 1953-1979: US provided arms, training, resources etc to the increasingly autocratic shah (including training members of SAVAK) who in turn used them to torture and execute his dissidents since he had no real claim to power etc
- 1979-1981: a small group of radical islamists take 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. 13 women and African-Americans are released as well as a white man who becomes sick later. Ultimately, despite not so great conditions, none of them die. They are also suspiciously released minutes after Reagan’s inauguration. (Reagan would later send the mullahs a cake in the shape of a key symbolizing the key to friendship during the Iran-Contra Affair.) While everyone’s worried about these white dudes, thousands of people in Iran, dissidents, minorities, monarchists are executed, thousands more escape in exile. The entire country regresses culturally, socially, religiously and millions of suffer because of it (and remember the US played a part in making this happen by destabilizing the country to such a great degree. The British did most of the rest of the fucking around prior to that as well as the Soviets. So don’t think the revolution happened in some vaccum, it happened because of close to two centuries of imperialism).
- 1980-1988: US provides Iraq with “several billion dollars worth of economic aid, the sale of dual-use technology, non-U.S. origin weaponry, military intelligence, Special Operations training, and direct involvement in warfare against Iran” during the Iran-Iraq war. This includes the sale of chemical and biological weapons as well as killing resolutions drafted to the UN condemning Iraqi use of chemical weapons in violation of the Geneva conventions. In total, the war “…cost Iran an estimated 1 million casualties (killed or wounded), and civilians deaths continue as a result of Iraqi chemical weapons.” (x)
- 1988: Iran Air flight 655, civilian jet airliner shot down by American missiles killing 290 on board, including 66 children. Although they eventually rewarded each family about $200,000 after the case went to the Hague, the US has never admitted responsiblity or apologized. They also awared all the men on board the ship that fired the missles combat action ribbons and the captain of the ship was awarded the legion of merit
So that’s just a super simplified look at the political context between the US and Iran from the 50’s to the 80’s. I’m not even going to go into the more contemporary context of the sanctions. I’ll let you guys judge who’s done more harm to whom.
Let’s look at the social context, like that lovely guy in the above picture during a protest in Washington D.C. against the hostage crisis. Wiki actually does a good job of summarizing anti-Iranian sentiments in the US, citing everything from cases of employment discrimination against Iranians to propaganda movies made by Hollywood like Not Without My Daughter. Debra Cagan is a personal favorite of mine, she was a foreign policy liaison under Bush who at least was honest and came right out and said “I hate all Iranians.” So it’s no big leap to say that in general, Iranians are vilified in the US, both at a micro level with individual prejudices (don’t forget all the harassment at airports) and on a macro level with propaganda that infiltrates almost everything: the news to hollywood movies. Oh yeah, the fbi and homeland security also are really buddy buddy with us.
The US is also vilified in Iran, although it’s never really as bad as western outlets make it seem and as opposed to the US, the animosity actually comes mostly from the government and not the people (see also Tina Fey making sarcastic jokes about how “friendly” Iran). Ask any American who has been to Iran and I will eat my shoe if they encountered any person being mean or rude to them, if every person they met wasn’t super friendly and nice and welcoming, unlike Americans who actually seem to like to tell random Iranians to their faces that they should go back where they came from. In addition to that, there isn’t exactly a huge American population in Iran the way there are Iranian-Americans in the US. Never mind the fact that Iranian media doesn’t have .000001% of the global reach, power and influence that American media has. Which again, none of that actually matters though because individual Iranians aren’t hateful against individual Americans the way individual Americans are racist/islamophobic/prejudiced/discriminatory against individual Iranians.
So, given all this context, given all the American fuckery in Iran, given how much vitriol Americans have towards Iranians, given how that filters down into the every day lives of Iranian-American people in the form of harassment and prejudice, given the mountain of constant American propaganda against Iran and Iranians, do we really need a movie about the hostage crisis from the point of view of 6 Americans? Do we really need another movie masquerading itself as some kind of journalistic true story account that doesn’t even think Iranians are important enough to play a part in a story of their own revolution? That is completely satisfied with portraying them all as hysterical, screaming, extremist villains that these white people need to escape from? Especially when at this very moment people in Israel and the US are frantically trying to conjure support for a war with Iran? Given that the sanctions are starting to take a toll and the health and well-being of Iranians? Given that I don’t ever remember encountering this much anti-Iranian sentiment in the US in my whole life? Do we need this orientalist, islamophobic bullshit right now or ever?
And you tell me Islamophobia doesn’t exist.
“Islamophobia: when the Whites lose their Triple A rating” by “Houria Bouteldja (via kawrage)
Bouteldja is pretty insightful here (emphasis is mine):
Such racism has no purpose other than to maintain a population in a subaltern state. The term “Muslim” is itself problematic. I am a Muslim, although 25 years ago – when I was already a Muslim – I wasn’t considered one. At that time I was considered a “beurette” or a second-generation immigrant. Self-identifying as a Muslim is not a problem; it’s even a source of pride. However, the fact that I am automatically considered a Muslim bothers me. After all, non-Muslims are not identified above all by their religion. It is a way of defining citizens according to categories and classifications put in place by public policy and debate. A whole population is automatically classified as Muslim without differentiating the practicing, agnostic or atheists among them. We are placed in the Muslim category regardless of our subjectivity.
Make sure you also read her piece on Western feminism
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
In November 2011, Egyptian blogger Alia al-Mahdi sent shockwaves through the online Middle Eastern community after she uploaded a naked picture of herself. Al-Mahdi claimed that she was challenging Egyptian patriarchal structures in general, and the negative views of women as simple sex objects in particular.
Interestingly, Egyptian self-identified liberals and secular activists were the first to disown Alia and her photo, denouncing it even before more conservative factions such as the Muslim Brotherhood did. They claimed that it was pointless, and did immense harm to the liberal/secular cause in Egypt, especially with parliamentary elections coming up. Much of the debate also centered on the issue of feminism and women’s rights. Many claimed that stripping naked was not a feminist tactic by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact simply reified the image of women as a sex object to be consumed for the pleasure of men. Others disagreed, pointing out that the photo had stirred up a debate about women in Egyptian society, in particular with regards to sexuality and nudity.
After receiving death threats, al-Mahdi and her partner Kareem Amer had to leave Egypt.
On 20 December 2012, new photos began circulating of al-Mahdi, this time posing naked with members of Femen, a Ukrainian-based feminist movement, under the title “Apocalypse of Muhammad.” In one of these photos, al-Mahdi is standing with an Egyptian flag, with the words “Sharia is not a constitution” written on her body in black paint next to two nude Femen activists. In another photo, al-Mahdi is holding a paper over her crotch with “Coran” written on it. The reaction was instantaneous, as the photos were shared widely on Twitter and Facebook.
In collaborating with Femen, al-Mahdi is essentially normalizing certain problematic discourses about Egyptian women. While the action of uploading a photo of herself naked can be seen as one avenue of challenging society’s patriarchal norms, the fact that she collaborated with a group that can be defined as a colonial feminist movement should be problematized.
Femen is a Ukraine-based movement that was started in 2008 to protest the growing sex industry in the country. The movement soon branched out and began protesting other gender issues, including the perceived oppression of women at the hands of religious institutions.
According to their website:
FEMEN - is the name of the new woman
FEMEN - is the new Amazons, capable to undermine the foundations of the patriarchal world by their intellect, sex, agility, make disorder, bring neurosis and panic to the men’s world. FEMEN – is the ability to feel the problems of the world, beat it with the naked truth and bare nerve. FEMEN – is a hot boobs, a cool head and clean hands. Be FEMEN - means to mobilize every cell of your body on a relentless struggle against centuries of slavery of women!
FEMEN – is an ideology of SEXTREMISM.
FEMEN - is a new ideology of the women’s sexual protest presented by extreme topless campaigns of direct action . FEMEN – is sextremism serving to protect women’s rights, democracy watchdogs attacking patriarchy, in all its forms: the dictatorship, the church, the sex industry.
The magic of the body get your interested, the courage of the act make you want to riot.
Come out, Go topless and Win!
I first heard of Femen when they protested in Paris by wearing burqas and then stripping them off, to reveal their naked bodies underneath. This protest was aimed specifically at the Muslim community. Femen claimed that the veil and the burqa should be seen as intrinsically oppressive, and encouraged Muslim women to “free themselves” by stripping. This is apparent from both their protest actions as well as the slogans they use, including “Muslim Women! Let’s get Naked.” Femen have also made problematic statements about Arabs, including: “As a society we haven’t been able to eradicate our Arab mentality towards women.” The slogan and statement point towards a specific view of Arab and Muslim women that forms part of Femen’s activism and ideology.
What struck me at the time was the underlying assumption that Femen was operating on, namely that female liberation can be directly linked to what women wear. This is not a new idea, and in fact has formed the basis of much of western feminism. One of the most prominent examples is the way the French state produced Algeria as a backwards country because Algerian women veiled. This type of logic automatically leads to the conclusion that in order to progress, women who veil must unveil, and therefore “free” themselves.
As a feminist, these colonial undertones were extremely worrying. It seemed to me that we were returning to the never-ending debate about veiling and feminism, in which many feminists continue to claim that in order to be a “real” feminist, one must reject the veil.
My concerns about Femen intensified after I watched an episode of “The Stream” on al-Jazeera English. Femen explained that women’s bodies are consistently used by men, and that their movement aimed at taking back women’s bodies and thus freeing them from patriarchy. This was to be done through the act of stripping.
Halfway through the episode, the Femen spokeswoman began to question the feminist credentials of some of the other guests, who were questioning Femen’s tactics. For Femen, it appears that their kind of feminism is the only kind of feminism. Women who choose to wear the veil cannot and will not be called feminists, since they do not adhere to the same logic that Femen adheres to.
This is not the first time that feminism has confronted the issue of diversity. First and second wave feminists in the US, for example, were notorious for excluding women who weren’t like them: white, middle-class, American. Their feminism was distinctly local, but was branded and spread as ‘universal’ and if women didn’t adopt it then they were anti-feminist. The arguments advanced by the Femen member on al-Jazeera was eerily reminiscent of those kinds of discourses, especially when she accused the other participants of not being feminists because they didn’t agree with Femen’s tactics.
By collaborating with Femen, al-Mahdi has essentially condoned their problematic stance towards feminisms that are different from their own. The reality is that many feminists in Egypt – where al-Mahdi is from – have rejected Femen and their brand of feminism. This does not mean that it is not seen as a legitimate form of feminism, but rather that it is not the only legitimate form of feminism. Moreover, the assumptions underlying some of Femen’s stances are very troubling from the perspective of post-colonial feminism, especially the assumption that women who veil are uniformly oppressed.
Feminism has the potential to be greatly emancipatory by adopting an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic and anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, instead of often actively being racist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic. By clearly delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, Femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines Arab women as oppressed by culture and religion, while no mention is made of capitalism, racism, or global imperialism. It is actively promoting the idea that Muslim women are suffering from “false consciousness” because they cannot see (while Femen can see) that the veil and religion are intrinsically harmful to all women.
Yet again, the lives of Muslim women are to be judged by European feminists, who yet again have decided that Islam – and the veil – are key components of patriarchy. Where do women who disagree with this fit? Where is the space for a plurality of voices? And the most important question of all: can feminism survive unless it sheds its Eurocentric bias and starts accepting that the experiences of all women should be seen as legitimate?
Sara Salem is a PhD researcher at the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands. Her interests include decolonial theory, third world feminism, critical political economy, and theories of post-development. She tweets at @saramsalem.
MyJihad is a public education campaign that seeks to share the proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims. Jihad means “struggling in the way of God”. The way of God, being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc. It is putting up the good fight against whatever odds or barriers you face in your life.
It is a central tenet of the Islamic creed that has unfortunately been widely misrepresented due to a) first and foremost, the actions of Muslim extremists, b) attempts at public indoctrination by Islamophobes who claim that the extremists are right and the rest of us are wrong, and c) a selective media that understandably focuses on the sensational.
This campaign is about reclaiming our faith and its concepts from extremists, both Muslim and anti-Muslim. It’s about our voice, our lives, our reality. MyJihad includes displaying public ads on buses & trains, the use of #MyJihad hashtag on twitter, outreach on Facebook and Youtube, as well as speaking events and other initiatives.
One of the most infuriating things in the world is when people expect you to “catch them up” on extremely complex histories and cultures and ethnicities and peoples and geopolitical struggles which they could very easily research on their own. What’s even more infuriating? Argo. I have had far too many folks ask me to “explain” why they shouldn’t see Argo, and almost every single time I get upset because it’s so fucking obvious — you’re watching Hollywood once again attempt to narrativize the Middle East through its Western filter. But it’s difficult to even try to explain the many layers of jingoism and self-aggrandizing propaganda in this film and its contemporaries to those who are incessantly trained to prioritize the lives of a handful of wealthy white people who are, thanks to Affleck, valorized as the “civilized,” “educated,” “elitist” Anglos vying for “safety” and “freedom” when confronted with the Angry, Bearded, Brown Revolutionaries™ — and their Supportive, Shrouded Sisters and Spouses® — who “reign over” an “exotic” and “evil” land. Someone who graced me with their presence just this past week said something to the effect of, “Well, where are all the Iranian American filmmakers? I’m sure Affleck would’ve let them take over the film production, but they apparently don’t exist.” What exactly is going through the mind of someone who thinks this way — someone who assumes that Hollywood’s power players would readily afford anyone outside of their entity of privileged, white, Euro-American, Judeo-Christian men the opportunity to make their version of this particular film at this moment in modern history? And, moreover, what exactly is going through the mind of someone who thinks that one Iranian American filmmaker is going to speak for us all? My friends and I have had far too many unnecessary run-ins with a lot of thoughtless, condescending, xenophobic, and bigoted white folks — white-passing privilege makes these experiences all the more interesting because people assume you’re “one of them” and say literally anything they want in front of you — and many of these people have fostered such a cripplingly myopic conceptualization of “terrorism” that they actually talk about “terrorism” as if it’s the polar opposite of anything that Europe and its great North American allies have ever engaged in. No one seems to think about resistance vis-à-vis “terrorism.” No one seems to think about our collective engagement in the Orientalist gaze — how we at once fetishize and denounce the victims of our leaders’ myriad neoimperialist projects. No one seems to think about the acute stigmatization and racialization of Islam. No one seems to think about just how fucking heartbreaking and rage-inducing and gut-wrenching and soul-crushing it is to see peoples and places and religions you are connected to further demonized and othered to no avail by dangerous and irresponsible profiteers — by people like Affleck and Clooney and their cohorts who masquerade as “politically-conscious artists” yet who, in all actuality, poison the masses with fuel for fire, with more reasons to hate “those savages over there.” Argo is the beating of a war drum whose reverberations are unceasing. If you’re going to spend only the first minute or so of the entire film giving audiences an historical foundation that reads like a subpar Wikipedia session, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran. If you’re going to compare CIA operations to abortions, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran. If you’re going to close your sefid circle jerk of a narrative with a soundbite from a former U.S. president instead of a cautionary message about sanctions/drone strikes/apartheid/Islamophobia/warmongering, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran.
What I do argue also is that there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge—if that is what it is—that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of coexistence and humanistic enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for purposes of control and external enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external domination. […] Today, bookstores in the United States are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat, and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples over there who have been such a terrible thorn in “our” flesh. Accompanying such warmongering expertise have been the omnipresent CNNs and Fox News Channels of this world, plus myriad numbers of evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, plus innumerable tabloids and even middlebrow journals, all of them recycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up “America” against the foreign devil.
—Edward Said, May 2003