Functions of the Language Barrier as Protest in the Muslim Feminist Jihad

On April 23rd, 2012, Mona Eltahawy wrote an article titled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” to protest the treatment of women in the Middle East. The article, featured in Foreign Policy magazine, prompted a variety of responses, ranging from admiration for the author’s courage to criticism for her portrayal of Egyptian men. In online Islamic feminist circles, the most frequent and perceptive criticism was that Eltahawy had written the article in English, even though she is a native Arabic-speaker capable of effectively conveying her message in the language of the demographic she critiques. Eltahawy’s decision to protest in English served to partially remove the language barrier between Egyptian feminists and a potentially harmful English-speaking audience. This is significant because it suggests that the language barrier serves a protective purpose in protest. The language barrier does more than specify an audience: it precludes one.

Typically, the language barrier is a source of frustration when there is a desire for interaction across linguistic boundaries, which social media facilitates. However, the choice of language can be utilized advantageously in protest: it is a way to criticize misogyny in the Muslim community and circumvent inciting Islamophobia. When Muslim women critique Muslim men in English, some assume the women’s passions for equality are influenced by colonialism, and proceed to appropriate these critiques to embolden xenophobia. However, when Muslim women write in, for example, Arabic, Pashto, Bangla, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Farsi, not only are their critiques rendered inaccessible to an unintended audience, but that audience is barred from assuming ownership of those critiques. The language barrier deters the piracy of the marginalized voice.

There are ways in which, rather than stifling the effect of protest, the language barrier subtly enhances it by limiting agency to those whose struggles are central to its objective, and by enforcing these limits on social media platforms. In fact, language as a metaphorical shield even predates social media: during the British conquest of India, revolutionary writers, such as Kazi Nazrul Islam, whose rebellion against British colonialism won him the title of “Rebel Poet,” advocated gender equality and protested the bigotry of invaders by calling for independence in Bangla, an indigenous language; subsequently, the colonists were hindered from the immediate identification of a threat because they could not access or read his writing. Eventually, Kazi Nazrul Islam was jailed as the language barrier between Indians and the British began to erode. It was Nazrul Islam’s title as “Rebel Poet” that aroused British suspicions. It is no well-kept secret, furthermore, that when colonists arrived on Turtle Island, they not only sought to eliminate Native cultures but the children’s use of indigenous languages in schools. In the United States there are often workplace policies against the use of non-English languages among employees: in 2010, sixty-nine Filipina immigrants filed a lawsuit against the Delano Regional Medical Center in California for harassment and discrimination due to the hospital’s English-only policy. This is a strong indication that the language barrier has a potential to uproot establishments of power by leaving them out—a potential that those in power recognize.

from %22Why do they hate us%22 by Mona Eltahawy
from Eltahawy’s “Why do they hate us?” unforgivingly criticizing both Arab men and Western “experts” in English 

However, in these examples, the potential object of the speakers’ criticism is the system of power itself, and not the religious interpretations or cultures of those who speak the Othered language. There are several prominent Islamic feminists, such as Asra Nomani, as well as prominent Muslim male writers, such as Haroon Moghul, who’ve used their social media platforms to critique the Muslim communities’ application and practice of Islamic beliefs—in English.  A subject of criticism among Islamic feminists is Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa’s article in The Washington Post titled, “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity”; the article does not—as the title suggests—discourage against cultural appropriation. Instead, it advises non-Muslim women “not [to] wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.” Although Nomani and Arafa discuss the re-interpretation of “hijab” to mean “headscarf” and argue that this is not the original command of the Qur’an, detailing their struggles against Muslims who’ve harassed women to wear the headscarf—and although these are all points made and supported by other Muslim feminists—the targeted audience of the article, (white) non-Muslim women, questionably repositions non-Muslim feminists into the role of the imposing white savior, from which so many Islamic feminists have fought to remove them.

In the case of Nomani and Arafa, the target audience is made clear even from as early as the title of the article, which blatantly addresses a non-Muslim audience. In most cases, however, it is only implied, and can be deciphered from where the publication appears and its main audience.

Subsequently, the question then arises of where Muslims who speak only English are situated in protesting the inequalities in Muslim communities. Muslims critiquing oppressive power structures in either English or non-English languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in their own languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in English, such as the scholar and Islamic feminist Amina Wadud, for Muslim audiences is protest, and effective. Amina Wadud still operates within a form of the language barrier; since she writes for a Muslim audience, she does not define words that recur in Islamic discourse. Culture is tied very much to language, and the language barrier encompasses a cultural one. However, articles in journals such as The Washington Post and The Guardian don’t cater to a Muslim readership or bare the burden of social responsibility, and become sensationalist. Mona Eltahawy, whose activism has been valuable, fell short with her Foreign Policy article.

Zeineddine violence of men
Nazira Zeineddine contesting that women are inherently evil by suggesting this is a projection of men, whose violence is demonstrable.

Articles written in English are still effective if published on a platform whose audience is aware of not only the injustices which the author protests, but of the injustices affecting the Muslim author herself. An author who critiques gender inequality in the Muslim community is just as subject to Islamophobia from her audience as she is to misogyny from her community. Since language hierarchies exist in most Muslim communities in the United States, with a preference for Arabic above all Others, it is important to find a place for diasphoric Muslims who speak languages other than English or Arabic. This may, after all, facilitate the development of a different facet of feminism, one that is freer from both a white savior complex and Arab exclusivity.

When, in Los Angeles in February of 2015, an all-women’s mosque opened as an alternative space to the oppressive, segregated mosques in the remainder of the country, it was identified at once by male scholars as problematic in prohibiting the attendance of men, even though mosques with barriers—literal barriers—bar (and discourage) female attendance. While disparaging women, scholars like Yasir Qadhi, struck by an opportunistic enlightenment, encouraged their audiences on Facebook to address the “root” of the problem: the unwelcome atmosphere in mainstream mosques. Women who attend the mosque, Qadhi argued, should be treated with a special respect for choosing to attend instead of shopping. He stated that it was natural that women would “counter-react” to feeling unwelcome and that some of those counter-reactions would be “illegitimate.” The implication that an all-women’s mosque was illegitimate would have come as a surprise to Muslims who primarily speak neither English nor Arabic, such as, for example Muslim women in China.

In “Debates over Islamic Feminism and Empowerment in Contemporary China,” Masumi Matsumoto describes all-female madrasas and mosques in China:

“Nüxue, or female madrasas, have been mushrooming in China’s Muslim communities since the beginning of the 1990s. Arabic and Islam are taught there. The government permits them tacitly. Such schools have given Muslim women unexpected gender roles and have supported the growth of China’s Islamic feminism. The female madrasa offers alternative values which Party-controlled public schools cannot provide. Based on the tradition of female mosques and female ahong, nüxue is the result of intense negotiations between Muslims and non-Muslim Chinese society, between Muslim women and men, and between Muslims of different social classes. Islamic feminism in China is aimed at eliminating gender discrimination and traditional patriarchy. However, their notion of gender equality with Islamic characteristics contradicts with the more “masculine” gender equality supported by Western feminists and the CCP, which tend to emphasize materialism, nationalism, and militarism.”

MA Ke-lin (Department of Sociology,Northwest Normal University,Lanzhou 730070,Gansu,China);The influence of Islamic view on femineity over the northwestern Muslim women[J];Social Sciences in Ningxia;2007-03
excerpt from “The Influence of Islamic View on Femininity over the Northwestern Muslim Woman” by MA Ke-lin (Department of Sociology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, Gansu, China) detailing women’s rights in Islam.
In China, the concept of female imams and religious leaders is not a foreign one. Islamophobia is as rampant in China as it is in the United States, but Chinese Muslim feminists have developed an Islamic feminism that is able to dodge accusations from critics of Western influence—they face, I am sure, different accusations, but this raises an incredible point: if (Western) Muslim feminists are too influenced by Western feminism to attain legitimacy in their own communities, how have Chinese Muslim feminists arrived at the same interpretations for centuries? Muslim men who are concerned about neocolonialism and Islamophobia may have an appropriate fear, though manifested in inappropriate measures, of Westernization (colonialism), but their arguments against Islamic feminism perpetuating neocolonialism are insufficient when Chinese Islamic feminists, who don’t communicate their interpretations primarily in English or any Western language, engage in the same practices, assign the same leadership roles to women, as the “Westernized” Islamic feminist.

From the language barrier erect between Muslim American feminists and Muslim Chinese feminists, we are able to discard the notion that equality is inherently and exclusively a colonialist value—it is, in fact, inherently not. There is a feminism that survives in non-English speaking communities that is worth preserving, because it serves the very people it is meant to serve rather than imposing domineering, incompatible concepts, by precluding colonialist audiences and allowing feminism to develop organically in the community.

This preclusion of colonialist audiences through language is already a subject of amusement on social media. In the beginning of 2016, an image was viral on major social media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—which read In Bengali we don’t say ‘I love you.’ We say ‘Tui manush na goru,’ which means ‘My heart loses purpose without you,’ and I think that’s beautiful. Of course, tui manush na goru means Are you human or cow? tuimanushnagoruThe joke takes a stab at cultural appropriators, who employ languages foreign to them to maneuver through cultural experiences from which they are barred(i.e. the popular question “How do you say ‘I love you’ in your language?”). It is a subtle, and humorous, form of protest—which makes it powerful. Despite popular notions that Muslim cultures require colonialist influences to create a more just and equal society, Nazira Zeineddine, a pioneer of 20th century feminism, addressed a prominent contemporary scholar she criticized for using an interpretation of Islam to perpetuate misogyny, saying,

“You mentioned, my dear Sheikh, that the health and the morality of the Bedouin and the villagers earned them the right to be unveiled. It was a corrupt morality of city dwellers that blighted them with the veil. Excuse me, sir, I’m a village woman living in the city and I have observed both villagers and city dwellers. I have not seen your city sisters and brothers to be inherently less moral than my sisters and brothers from the villages […] Woe to us if we do not join with our men in breaking our chains to seize our freedoms that are gifts from God Almighty. They provide for the welfare, advancement, and happiness of all.” (Unveiling and Veiling, 290)

Zeineddine manages to make a compelling feminist argument within the parameters of Islamic philosophies. When referencing European authors or appealing to concepts popularly attributed to Western thought, Zeineddine strips herself of pretention by communicating her argument in Arabic. She discusses, specifically, the settings in her own country—the village, the city—to formulate her argument against male figures of authority. Because she communicates her point in Arabic, she speaks to the people whom she criticizes, rather than speaking behind them, the conversation is a more honest one.

Zeineddine 225
“You are afraid of women’s knowledge. You’re afraid to remove the covering from her heart just as you are afraid to remove the veil from her eyes. It seems that you want her heart and eyes to remain blind so that she will be a dumb instrument in the hands of someone like you.” Zeineddine to al-Ghalayini (Unveiling and Veiling, 225).

Ghalayini, Zeineddine’s most frequent subject of critique, published a refutation entitled Views on the Book “Attributed to Miss Nazira Zeineddine” in which he alleged that Unveiling and Veiling had been written not by a woman named Nazira Zeineddine but by a group of men, while simultaneously accusing Zeineddine of treason by connecting her to the French and foreign enemies of Islam who seek to embarrass the religion—subsequently admitting, of course, that his own interpretations were embarrassing to the religion.

When such critiques are written in Arabic or indigenous languages, it provides a larger space for examination and reexamination. It provides a larger space to examine and reexamine freely, but removing external pressures—which is the reason I suspect that al-Ghalayini and men like him reach desperately for the confines of those pressures even when criticism is communicated in their own languages.

“Violent” verses in the Qur’an don’t bother me anymore.

There was a time when I used to read the Qur’an daily for about 30 minutes. When I did this, I noticed myself changing and was forced to reduce the reading to twice a week. When I read “too often,” I became calmer, more at peace, and I cared very little about troublesome events or material loss. It was as though I were turning to water. Unfortunately, this all also meant that I was too tranquil when any kind of injustice befell me. I can not afford to be so forgiving. I need to be a fighter.

I was thinking recently, with all of the Islamophobia I’ve seen, with Muslim women harassed, with men showing up at masjids with guns, that the “violent” verses of the Qur’an that used to bother me–don’t anymore. I’ve written an entire series about verses taken out of context, about how they are actually defensive, but even when I knew that, they’d still bothered me a little, because who really wants to see any unashamed advocation of violence anywhere, even if it is in self-defense, especially in their religious texts of Love? And now they don’t. I have always been unapologetic, but I have never been as unapologetic as now. The non-Muslims who present these verses out of context to prove how violent I am have literally driven me to not caring, to thinking “Good. I hope you learn not to oppress those who are coming to worship.” It made me realize that what I thought was a virtue of my character, the sense that these verses were too harsh, was an unkindness to those whose situations I could not understand. What seems like God’s vengeance towards one group of people is in truth God’s mercy toward another.

Misogyny in the Muslim Community as Islamophobia

The fabulous Orbala presented yesterday at a conference in UC Berkeley on the question of whether misogyny in the Muslim community towards Muslim women is a form of Islamophobia. Before she’d posed the question on Facebook to explore this construction, Orbala and I had a discussion about its implications. She asked, “How [meaning how is it possible] can [it be argued] that Muslim misogynists are Islamophobic?” to which I’d responded that misogynists “perpetuate Islamophobia by engaging the same prejudices towards Muslim women as Islamophobes and allowing [these prejudices] to masquerade as ‘real Islam’.”

We continued,

Orbala: You see, so much of misogyny in Muslim societies is a product of western colonialism, a response to coloninalists’ attempt tp “liberate” women.

TFF: Yes.

Orbala: But by definition, Islamophobia is a dislike of Islam and Muslims…

TFF: And Muslim women aren’t Muslim? And our interpretations aren’t Islam? It’s initially hard to see [misogyny as Islamophobic] because we think of men, and not women, as representative of the religion. But you need to change the way we think.

And because Orbala is so fabulous, you see, she is doing exactly that. We thought we’d bring the discussion to you and investigate the larger ramifications of construing misogyny as Islamophobia–because I, personally, am not interested in pointless discussions that serve only to reframe the dynamics of a religious or cultural hegemony as an end: this new construction of misogyny as Islamophobic needs to be a vehicle for something larger. So, I’m going to note here what, under the thread Orbala posted, I’ve relayed on Facebook:

TFF: [Islamophobes, by mere definition] despise Muslims. And Muslim men who despise Muslim women *and deny them the right to practice their religion as desired* are Islamophobes.

These men despise women because the women are an intolerable kind (specifically if we’re talking about Muslim feminists–they wish we wouldn’t exist) of Muslim; if we say that the structure of religious institutions are man-made [culturally] then it’s possible to shift the “making” power to women and still call it (as Muslim feminists would) “Islam” as practiced by these women, and the women themselves become the object of hatred because of this interpretation of Islam.

Muslim men who are sexist against Muslim women are not typical in their sexism–this is why I am making this argument. They don’t hate non-Muslim women who challenge their privilege; in fact, in classrooms, in the workplace, in public spaces, etc. I’ve seen Muslim men go out of their way to acknowledge the equality of these women. The hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men is a different, unique type. It’s is both misogynist and Islamophobic, it’s the hatred of women who practice a “wrong” kind of Islam and rob Muslim men of their “sacred” communal mancaves where they can behave however they like while presenting a facade of egalitarianism to the outside world.

I think to recognize hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men as Islamophobia has practical benefits. Islamophobia and racism are the only kinds of oppression that Muslim men (cis, hetero, abled) can understand. They can’t wrap their heads around sexism. I wonder if “progressive” Muslim men have ever been confronted by other men for their willingness to pray behind a female imam. It must have happened somewhere, but I can’t speak to that experience. I’m only familiar with being confronted myself for my religious practices. But I would venture to say it must happen very rarely in comparison. And I think that is because a Muslim man, at least around here, would at once recognize that confronting another man, denying him his agency, essentially dehumanizing him and his right to pray as he sees fit, is an almost unthinkable infringement. It’s laughable to lecture to an equal.

When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.

And just like that, the same men who routinely rebuke racists who claim that Islamophobia isn’t racism–and is instead just a critique of Islam as a religion–are forced to confront their own argument when they attempt to defensively adopt that of their opponents. Muslim men are bound to claim that they can’t be Islamophobic toward these women because they’re merely critiquing the women’s practice of Islam–and that’s when their own previous arguments are reintroduced to them: it *is* Islamophobia, it is systematic religious oppression, you are deliberately excluding these women as citizens of your mosque and your society.

And it isn’t just useful for the purpose of practical application–like Islamophobia toward Muslim men is enveloped in racism, so is Islamophobia toward Muslim women enveloped in (racism and) sexism. It is impossible to say that a Muslim man oppressing a Muslim woman is “merely” being sexist–because she’s not only a woman, she’s a *Muslim* woman, and Islamophobia can both be internalized (which is what Orbala is saying) or–and this is what *I* think it is–Islamophobia can conveniently be converted to take on the guise of a “critique.” And that is a powerful tool for misogynists and racists alike, the former being Muslim men.

Orbala: There’s something really important to this discussion. Nahida discussed it above:
See, I believe that our hesitation or discomfort in seeing misogyny as Islamophobia speaks to our refusal to see *women* (Muslim women)* as full humans. Somehow our misogyny is not islamophobia because its not like Muslim men hate “Muslims”; they merely hate Muslim women. Yet, everyone agrees that Islamophobia is by definition the hatred and fear of “Muslims” – but it’s interesting that “Muslims” here doesn’t really seem to include Muslim women. The definitions I’m offering require that the hatred of *Muslim women* be declared Islamophobia – fear of Muslims in a way that includes women, too.

It’s, as Nahida put it: “When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.”

[end of comments] There were other pertinent commenters in the thread whom I want to acknowledge, but I won’t post them here because it is a private thread and I wish to respect the privacy of other members of the conversation. I’d be interested in hearing any contributions to this, here on a more public forum, and I’m certain Orbala would find comments helpful. Please click the link to her post, where she has outlined definitions and explored the concept, before engaging.

“Not Even Birthday Cake?”; Coping With (Non-Muslims’) Reactions During Ramadan

gorgeous calligraphy, created by cruel uncultured barbarians no doubt
gorgeous calligraphy, created by cruel uncultured barbarians no doubt

When I was small, my schoolyard friends would gasp in shock at the idea of going without food or water for as long as a drop of sunlight hit the pavement. (“All day?” they’d marvel with the same tone that they’d ask, “You run THAT fast?”) Pleased with the astonished reaction, I would boast that not only could I abstain an entire day without complaints, but I had already done it not once but twice. (“Did you die?” asked a girl. “Of course she didn’t die!” snapped another.)

Unfortunately, I can say now at the much less acceptable age of 23, that the questions have not grown less ridiculous. They are, in fact, more ridiculous due only to age, since you can be sure when a child asks if you’ve died it’s because the kid’s smart enough to have considered all possibilities for why you might appear alive. Adults are not so fluid, much more unimaginative, and much less bearable.

Or maybe it’s yours truly who has grown increasingly fatigued with the reaction. “Really, you have to go the whole day?” And they make a face. They always make a face. It’s stopped being that you can go the whole day and more that you have to–because your religion is cruel.

And that, is why this kind of reaction is so grating. It’s not a healthy intrigue with the novelty of the concept, not the thoughtful consideration of a religious objective, not in turn self-reflective of the course of submission to Love and sacrifice. The undertone is that your religion is cruel. And shockingly cruel.

It shouldn’t be hard to recognize why this is so unacceptable. The image of Ramadan as unrelentingly cruel to its participants is akin to that of Muslims as inexorable barbarians, extremists who kill themselves and starve their children. The outraged questions are microaggressive, and–scratching below that seemingly harmless surface, illustrative of the racist and destructive impressions of the interrogator. It’s not surprising then, after all, that this shock applies not only to Ramadan, but that the same children who have an immigrant parent can attest to cringing at similar reactions toward perceived rigidity. I recall once one of the girls in my neighborhood was standing below my bedroom window calling me out to play. “I have to study!” I called back down.

“For what?” she asked.

That was an odd question to me. My mother’d expected study sessions for almost as long as I could remember. It never occurred to me that other children only studied for something.

“You have a test?” she queried.

Yeah, a math test. Conducted by my mother.

“I have to study… to study. I’m memorizing time tables. I’ll get in trouble if I don’t memorize them.”

“You’ll get grounded?”

“I don’t get grounded.” Getting in trouble just meant my mother would be upset with me. Which was terrifying enough, for anyone who loved their mother. “What’s 12 times 8?”

“I don’t know what that means. So you have to study or else you can’t play? My mom would never do that. That’s way harsh!”

“No it’s not!” I said, immediately defensive. She was dangerously close to insulting my mother. I wasn’t happy with my situation, like any other child, but I was also the only one allowed to complain about it. “I’ll play tomorrow.”

“But I have summer school tomorrow!” she groaned.

“When you go, remember 12 times 8 is 96,” I advised before closing the window.

(Incidentally, she actually never forgot that one. After that day it was the only one past 3 x 11 that she knew by heart.)

“Ninety-six,” I said years later, when a friend asked how much the earrings she was examining would cost as birthday favors.

“And you’re coming too right?” she confirmed. “You have to come!”

“Oh. If that’s not weird for you sure. I mean, I won’t eat anything there.”

“Oh right, you have to starve yourself this month,” she laughed. “You can have birthday cake, though right? I mean, that’s just awful if you can’t. Hey, can you have water? You can at least have water right?” When I shook my head she exclaimed, “You can’t even have water?”

“You know, I think I have way too many earrings. Here. Save yourself $7.99.”

People like you, she was saying, are so peculiar. It’s a shame you have to undergo something so cruel.

Ramadan is the month that the Prophet Muhammad (P), who had been up to that point retiring nightly to the mountains to reflect, encountered the angel Sent to disclose the Qur’an.

As the Prophet, with his thoughts having ascended the realm of immediate human necessities, was brought closer to God, and then–before the unraveling of his human vulnerability–experienced intense fear at the presence of the angel, so do we come to grip with our carnal selves: forced to tame appetites, subdue greed and over-indulgence, and cultivate our humanity so that we may elevate our consciousness toward God.

The fast is broken when the earth has turned so the sun is descended, and is only an inversion of regular eating patterns (i.e. eating during the day, fasting whilst asleep) so that we are conscious of the journey of our bodies during the fast and of the progression of our spiritual selves. It is not in the least bit cruel, and those who are unable to fast are exempt: souls with disabled bodies, souls whose unborn children require nourishment and (more importantly) whose bodies themselves may require medication, and souls with bodies under the age of 12.

In Islam, your body has the right to your kindness. That is both a warning to Muslims (I won’t mention any names, and the Islamic reasons you shouldn’t torture yourself to look pretty for white standards is a whole other post)–and mostly, it’s me snapping some sense at ridiculous non-Muslims and their ridiculous questions. Watch yourselves. Seriously, you sound asinine. It’s embarrassing. I am blushing for you.

When ordinary Muslims say things in the media (and it sounds outrageous)

Most people, especially most religious people, are not aware that they are not living in a vacuum. They aren’t aware that their words and actions are politically charged, or of the wider implications and interpretational consequences. They think they are just being religious. They think they are just being religious and living their lives even when they are involving this in politics. When a Christian says that something political is against their religion and therefore it is wrong for everyone, they are not really intending for it to sound like what it sounds like to me. Even if it is something really, really oppressive. They are not thinking about what it means. They are not saying what they are with the intention that I believe they have. Because they don’t have that intention except for themselves (even if it sounds like otherwise), which is exactly why they’re not thinking about it. Because they don’t have that intention in the first place.

And when we are talking about Muslims, there isn’t just this blind. There is a double.

When I was in the fifth grade–after 9/11 (that is sort of how I sort out my life in those early years, I’ve realized, everything happened either before or after 9/11)–my mosque hosted an event at which it invited non-Muslims. It was sort of like a small quiet party. And the speaker, in all his good intentions, said something along the lines of, “The U.S. Constitution is a lot like shari’ah law.”

Of course that didn’t quite translate with the guests. There he was, the poor man, standing on the stage with an affectionate look and behind me the guests were shifting uncomfortably in their seats and silently exchanging panicked glances. I was 11. I rolled my eyes and turned around and called, “He doesn’t mean what you’re thinking!”

He meant of course shariah law according to the Qur’an, in which non-Muslims are not ruled by the laws of Muslims. In which, essentially, there is a distinction between what is required by religion and those who do not follow it, and it is understood that one cannot make compulsory something that is a part of a religion that another person doesn’t follow. This philosophy is extracted most specifically from this verse:

There is no obligation in religion. (Quran 2:256)

The verse is quoted by Muslims very often. (Of course you will never hear it reported as often as the “violent” verses even though it is used exponentially more often.) In fact it is so critical in Islamic discourse that it is embedded in very sermon, every lecture. “As Muslims we do not drink.” “As Muslims we give charity.” “As Muslims we should help the victims of the drought.” Meaning of course, that non-Muslims are not obliged. Nothing is absolute. You will rarely hear simply, “We should help the victims of the drought.”

This does several things: on the good side, not only does it promote religious virtue by constantly reminding Muslims who they are but it emphasizes that non-Muslims are not bound to these principles.

On the flipside, unfortunately, it also contributes to rendering the other as exactly that–the Other. Of course they’re not obliged to help victims of the drought! Barbarians! What else do you expect from a bunch of heathen non-Muslims? Uncivilized, only bound to the primary sphere of morality, unenlightened!

The point is (before I derail more than I have already) when reporters quote a Muslim saying things like, “The U.S. Constitution is a lot like shari’ah law,” they have no idea that this Muslim means, “There is no obligation in religion.” It’s twice as bad as when a Christian goes on and on about things they mean politically but don’t really mean politically.

Well, you know. Except for the War on Women.

“White atheists are the WORST!”: Discrepancies in Identifying Racism

I am writing this post despite the sense that the last three posts I wrote unrelated to Islam are about race and I am kind of eyeing how it throws off my usual variation here.

Before I introduce all the twitter drama, let me recount the incident to which it refers—infamously christened EG, or ElevatorGate.

Rebecca Watson, an atheist feminist and the well-known writer of Skepchick, delivered a lecture on hostility toward women in the atheist community. As she entered an elevator at a very late hour following the presentation a man asked her whether she’d come up to his room for coffee, an invitation Watson declined. Watson casually mentioned the incident in passing, denouncing that a man would advance right after she disclosed such behavior as a source of discomfort for her and advising guys to get a clue.

For this Watson was accused of hating men and received a number of death threats.

Then Richard Dawkins took it upon himself to criticize her—since she is a Western woman—for complaining about misogyny, because there are Muslim women in the world who are having their genitals cut dammit. Thus the old tactic of silencing a woman by telling her she should be grateful she isn’t being stoned to death was employed. Not only was Watson accused of misandry, but of cultural insensitivity and racism—for talking about how she didn’t go out with some schmuck. Insert gif that reads, “I turned down someone for coffee–therefore I hate Muslims” here.

That is Dawkins’s logic. Of course, Dawkins and his supporters, as racially sensitive and globally aware as they are, failed to notice that the only people making this claim were white. They also failed to notice how extremely offensive this comment was to the Muslim women (some of whom are also Western women) that these men supposedly care so much about, women who can save our damn selves and don’t need white knights like Richard Dawkins conveniently using our oppression to silence white women thank you very much.

Yesterday on twitter, as I was speaking to Ozy, one of my awesomeful friends, some douchebag decided to introduce himself to the conversation, and this happened: (he parades in at the 5th tweet)

“Primitive.” Your language isn’t suggestive of racism at all. (I take it though that he was referring to religiosity.) Opening with condescendingly informing me Islam and feminism are incompatible (thanks XY)* and that believing in God is like believing in mermaids is totally logic and not proselytizing. Geez, you’d think calling Dawkins a racist ass is equivalent to criticizing a religious leader.

Then, unable to resist, he unblocked me to tell me

in reference to my telling Ozy that I don’t need a man to lecture me about my feminism. And then he blocked me again. Because he is so in control. The best part is when he re-tweeted my tweet denouncing white atheists to his followers as an example of hypocrisy. Dude thought he struck gold. He must have pissed himself in excitement when I said that. In fact not only did he re-tweet it, he then linked it.

Awwwe, he wants to marry my tweeeeet!

The guy has class:

Oh the virgins. Yay. No Islamophobia here–move along!

Let me stop here to say that I acknowledge atheists, who are at an immense systematic disadvantage, have a lot to be pissed off about. I know I disparaged the strong reaction to my criticizing Dawkins and likened him to a religious leader, but religious leaders who mock other religions in an equally belittling manner as Dawkins aren’t met with nearly the same level of hatred as atheists who mock religions. Unlike the presumptions of this jackass, this is not about atheism. This is about racism and people not knowing what the hell that is—and not understanding the underpinnings that classify something as racist and thus perpetuate racism. And how these people are usually white. Another atheist had taken the time to ask me to clarify this allegation against Dawkins—and he had been of color; naturally the concern was understood.

It annoys me to no end when people can’t identify racism unless it’s overt. Dawkins doesn’t even know he’s racist because he’s “obscured” the essential message of inferiority behind the sentiment that Muslim women need to be saved from the heinous crimes of Muslim men, which has a thousand different oppressive implications–and this guy was doing the same racist thing. Then I blatantly state “white atheists are the WORST” and there’s outrage because that’s the only thing they can recognize as a generalization! Even when Dawkins’s and others’ wordy prejudice actively illustrates racism as a contextualized function rather than being a simple declarative. They don’t register it until it’s made frank for them and put in the simplest terms–which means they don’t understand racism at all. They just look for a formulaic sentence.

It reminds me of advice I read on tumblr. “One of the worst ways to stop someone from telling sexist jokes is to tell him the joke isn’t funny. He’ll assume that you’re humorless and that he needs to save the good stuff for the right audience. If you really want someone to stop telling sexist jokes, you need to tell him, ‘I don’t get it’ and then step back as he tries not to say, ‘It’s funny because women are stupid.’ ”

That’s just it. They can’t tell unless it’s in the simpest terms. Because they don’t really understand racism or sexism, don’t understand the dynamics of the systematic functions of oppression. They just know a formula of a sentence. They don’t understand racism is systematic, not a sentence, and therefore something like a sentence is racist when it contributes to that racist system.

I don’t know how long I’ll leave this up–it feels lowly like gossip, but I’ll keep it for at least a while to get the point across. Or edit it somehow to take out that stuff… somehow, since that’s the reference.


The Recent Massacre

I’ve been quiet about this. I can’t really describe what I’m feeling. It’s almost a scary calm when I’m in a hazy detached state, except when I actually focus my mind on it, at which point I want to sob uncontrollably.

The terrorist was an anti-feminist white supremacist Islamophobe.

Becky summarizes the events:

I’m sure most of you have heard about the horrible events which took place in Oslo, Norway yesterday. It is actually two events, which the police believe are connected, done by the same man, possible with an additional helper. First a bomb shook central Oslo, as it hid one of the main governmental buildings. At least 6 people dead and 15+ hurt. 6 more people are still missing.

Soon after the news broke that a man, disguised as a police officer, had opened fire at a (left-wing) political summer camp on an island in the bay of Oslo. So far 84 people are dead, many more hurt.

Many people automatically assumed that it was the works of Muslim terrorists. Only it wasn’t. They’ve apprehended the man they’re fairly certain who did it. He’s “pure” Norwegian, and connected to the far right-wing community in Norway. Allegedly he’s also a Christian.

Yet no one talks about how “all” Christians are violent and extremists. He’s described as a madman. Had he been Muslim, trust me, the news would’ve been full of how dangerous all Muslims are.

These events horrify me. This man opened fire on teenagers. When he had shot the people on the island, he started shooting those who were swimming, trying to get away from the island.

Jadey, who is much more articulate than myself, describes my state perfectly when she writes, “I have no words for Norway in the aftermath of yesterday’s terrible event, only feelings.”

And she continues on to write,

I am scared for my family in Oslo, even though I already know they are safe. I am scared for my sister’s and my friends’ friends, whose safety I do not know about yet.

I am heartbroken and crying for the people who lost their lives, for their families and all the people who loved them, and for all the people of Norway who survived and witnessed and must now cope with this trauma. Summer camp means something very special to me, and that someone could use a gathering of young people as an opportunity for such incredible violence makes my soul sick.

I am angry at the news media for initially reporting that Norway had no domestic terrorists and citing all kinds of possible motivations for the perpetrators to be members of radical Islamic groups (e.g., the Mohammad cartoon and fall-out, Norway’s NATO participation in Afghanistan) when there was no evidence that these groups had anything to do with the killings. I am even more angry because once actual evidence came to light, it became clear that the main suspect is an anti-Islamic Neo-Nazi terrorist who is also a white, Christian political conservative.

I am scared for Muslims and for people of colour in Norway and surrounding countries who may be targeted for violence, or may have suffered from the early assumptions people made about who was responsible for the bombing and shootings. I am scared for everyone in Norway who could be a target for people who shared the racist, anti-liberal beliefs of Anders Behring Breivik.

I am angry at the people who hate enough to kill. I am angry with the people whose intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and ignorance contribute to an environment where these ideologies fester, whether they pick up a gun or not.

I am scared that something like this will happen here, in my country. I don’t believe there is any reason why it couldn’t. Reading the commentary on the news websites yesterday when they were still talking about Muslim terrorists shows me all I need to know about the character of my country’s citizens.

I am sad, I am angry, I am scared, and I am tired.

Of course, now that government/reporters know he isn’t a Muslim, the language has been changed from “terrorist” to “extremist.”

Let it be known that he was an anti-feminist, Islamophobic Neo-Nazi terrorist.