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Equal Yet Divided? Feminists Maintain Silence Over Muslim Woman’s Choice to Not Wear Hijab: What’s Wrong With Present Day Feminists

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony

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muslim women
Western feminists continue to defend a woman’s right to wear the hijab. Then why is little talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not wear it? Pixabay
  • Despite an active feminist movement, women in Islamic countries continue to remain outside areas of attention
  • Outrage emerged following Muslim chess player’s decision to not wear a hijab during a game, an issue that is yet to come under the radar of the Western feminists

August 22, 2017 : Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know the magnanimity of the worldwide feminist movement in support of women’s rights to be treated as equals irrespective of their nationality, religion or sexual orientation.

Upon comparison to the mainstream Western feminism, mentions of Islamic feminism do not occupy evident, or for what matter, visible part of conversations.

  • In 2014, artist Atena Farghadani was sentenced to an imprisonment of 12 years for posting a satirical caricature on Facebook as a protest against the proposed legislation against women’s rights and birth control. She was held guilty for ‘spreading propaganda’.
  • In 2015, 26-year old Iranian-British Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested in Tehran for trying to attend a men’s volleyball match.
  • In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, a human rights defender in Saudi Arabia was first arrested for driving cars in a kingdom where it is forbidden. She was more recently re-arrested in June 2017, the exact reason for which has not been made public. However, Amnesty International believes the arrest has been made to curb her peaceful efforts to defend women’s rights.

Today, Farghadani, Ghavami and Loujain al-Hathloul have been reduced to mere names on a list of millions of women whose basic rights have been mercilessly desecrated.

But American feminists are yet to speak up about these injustices- they continue to be too occupied with their own victimization to raise voice against the injustices meted out to women like Farghadani.

The Western activist-feminists today are undoubtedly absorbed in struggles to liberate themselves from the grasp of the oppressive male hegemony. However, in their fights against phantom epidemics and unnecessary grievances, the gender activists today have deviated from the real fight against inequality.

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In the last two years, Western feminists have often turned to social networking platforms to raise issues, draw attention and mobilize support. While the increasingly global reach of  online networking sites like Twitter, and Facebook, and the inherent power of ‘hashtag activism’ can largely assist women find solidarity , the latest trend has been a far cry from the real cause.

In the last two years, some of the widely used hashtags were #FreeTheNipples, #LesPrincessesOntDesPoils or #PrincessesHaveHair and #BigUndiesOutForSam.

The former was a campaign to de-sexualize women’s breasts and the next promotes acceptance of body-hair on women. The third campaign drew support from women in favor of comfortable under-garments for women. Imagine, if the imprisoned Muslim women of Iran and Afghanistan, who lack political rights and are vulnerable to physical violence because of their faith, were to tweet, what would they say about these struggles? Will these be the issues they would raise, I doubt.

The World Economic Forum asserts an inverse relationship between women rights and states with Islam as dominant religion.

The Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016 placed Islam as the dominant religion in the lowest ranking 44 states for women rights and equality (that means states un-supportive of womens’ rights). Evidently, in states that the report claims most supportive of women rights, the density of Islam followers is very low.

It will be wrong to say that because women in Islamic countries suffer at the hands of misogyny, the Western women should compromise with less serious prejudices. However, what needs to be highlighted is why feminist actions continue to be restricted to physical borders.  Women in different corners of the world today have one thing in common – their fight for basic rights as upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why then are the so-called liberal women’s rights activists only raising issues of one section of people and not for all?

In the Western liberal societies, the hijab has very recently emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia, against policies from President Trump’s administration aiming to establish divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’.  Western feminists have, since long, defended a woman’s right to wear the hijab. However, very little is talked about girls who ‘choose’ to not don the veil.

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In January, Dorsa Derakhshani, an 18-year old Iranian chess grandmaster refused to wear a hijab at a tournament in Gibraltar and instead chose to wear only a headband. Her decision to defy the Iranian law which calls upon all women to wear a headscarf in public drew massive flack from staunch radical Muslims, following which she was kicked out of the national team.

The Somali born Ex-politician and feminist critic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who herself wore the burqa as a teenager, strongly believes that the debate over the controversial head covering is no more about religious or cultural practices but about the equality of women. “Expecting half of humanity to go around covered in black sacks is just evil sexism,” she had written for a report published in The Australian.

The author has repeatedly expressed her concern over the apathetic stance of western feminists in support of liberal Muslim women for which she has been increasingly labeled as ‘Islamophobic’.

However, what needs to be understood here is that raising questions on cultural practices in Islam does not make one Islamophobic.

American philosopher, Martha Craven Nussbaum had rightly pointed out that the feminist theory heeds diminutive consideration to struggles of women outside United States. While this may come across as demeaning to some, that does seem like the present day state of affairs.

The need of the hour is to shatter the dominant opinion which holds that Islam and feminism are not consistent and that one can either be a Muslim or associated with feminism but not both. This, however, can only stem from a larger understanding that human rights- including rights of women, are meant for all and not just a few and definitely must not be restricted by religion.


 

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All You Need to Know About Anti-Semitism and Religious Conflicts

Illiberal, identity politics, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, galloping in tandem

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Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism, from much before Elizabethan times, remained a sentiment in two powerful strands. Pixabay

BY SAEED NAQVI

Was Shylock victim or villain? The question never arose when Geoffrey Kendal came to school in the 50s and 60s to perform Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice was a great favourite because it appealed to us at several levels. There was the continuing suspense on whether or not Shylock, Jewish money lender, would be able to exact the pound of flesh he had meanly inserted in the agreement, should the needy merchant, Antonio, fail to pay back the loan.

A pound of flesh closest to the heart was Shylock’s revenge: he had been insulted by the Christians; he had had his “Jewish gabardine” publicly spat upon. But Shylock’s grief reaches epic proportions when Christians inflict a nasty bit of “Love Jihad” on him: his daughter Jessica runs away with Lorenzo, a Christian. Worse, she runs away with his “ducats”, the currency those days. “O’ my daughter; O’ my ducats”. I cannot remember a courtroom with such nail biting suspense when Portia saves Antonio from Shylock’s blade.

Anti-Semitism, from much before Elizabethan times, remained a sentiment in two powerful strands. One was the direct Christian prejudice against Jews in Europe which climaxed with Hitler in Germany. The Islamic conquest of Spain in the 8th century led to the flourishing of a composite culture in which Muslims, Christians and Jews contributed in equal measure. The Reconquista or the return of Christian rule in 1478 led to the Spanish Inquisitions which were harsher on Jews than on Muslims.

Anti-Semitism
The general projection of both as heartless bullies automatically accelerates anti-Semitism among various religions. Pixabay

The basic conflict, whether in Northern Europe or in the Iberian Peninsula, was always between Christianity and Judaism, not the least because Christians blamed Jews for Christ’s death. What has puzzled me always is the deafening Jewish-Muslim acrimony. I shall never forget the day in the Royal Palace in Rabat, Morocco when I found myself seated in the office of Andre Azoulay, the late King Hasan’s principal adviser. He was the second most powerful man in the Kingdom. He was a Sephardic Jew like so many others in the country who held key posts. A mandatory annual event was the jamboree hosted by His Majesty for Sephardic Jews in the diaspora. This sentimental reunion was a continuation of a medieval tradition. When 50,000 Jews were expelled from Spain after the Reconquista, Morocco and other North African states had accorded the new “refugees” extraordinary hospitality. Even after Jews from this part of the world had made their homes in Israel, they remembered how well Morocco had treated them. I have seen photographs of King Hasan dominate Sephardic drawing rooms in Jerusalem.

By the 80s, the Jewish state and the international Jewry had become so powerful that even “reworking” Shakespeare became a legitimate intervention. Rather than discard the Merchant of Venice and select any one of Shakespeare’s plays in 1989, Director Sir Peter Hall chose to tweak Shakespeare and impart rationalism to Shylock’s character. Dustin Hoffman virtually reimagined Shylock, toning down his usurious rate of interest, thereby enhancing the sympathy factor for the money lender. A sort of Christian ganging up against a hapless “professional” was played up. Shylock’s tragic end is ironically the heart of the play’s mirth.

The toning down of the Shakespearean prejudice against Jews was clearly a function of guilt on account of the excesses during the second war. The remarkable rise in anti-Semitism in recent decades by comparison leaves one aghast. Sympathy for Jews has given place to an awe for the Jewish state. The exceptional achievements of Jewish people will always shine through but individuals are being submerged in unwholesome Zionist excesses.

These excesses are being amplified by Donald Trump’s singularly one-sided support for anything Benjamin Netanyahu demands. The general projection of both as heartless bullies automatically accelerates anti-Semitism. Take the Deal of the Century: only the duet and their closest groups were ecstatic. There will be a corresponding spike in ill will.

Anti-Semitism
An undercurrent of anti-Semitism remains unnoticed because the global media is more willingly focused on Islamophobia. Pixabay

Do you think American campuses are falling over each other in adoration for Trump and his Buddy — after he signed an Executive Order aimed at combating anti-Semitism on college campuses.

“This is our message to universities: if you want to accept the federal dollars you get each year, you must reject anti-Semitism.” What must students do to become good boys entitled to federal funds? Abandon “Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement” which has been popular on campuses.

Jewish lobbies in Poland, for example, were bringing to bear their considerable clout on property transactions. Properties owned by Jews before the war were being successfully reclaimed by the old owners at throw away prices. When a Polish law sought to prevent these transactions, the State Department intervened. Officials in Washington would keep a watchful eye to protect Jewish interests. Imagine how Poles would respond to such interference.

Rise of anti-migrant, anti-Semitic leaders in Hungary, Germany, Austria, Poland, is a depressing list. By their behaviour the Trump-Netanyahu duet have only aggravated the situation.

At an international conference in Warsaw last year, Israeli Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz accused the Polish leadership of anti-Semitism. His language was unbelievably coarse: “Poles suckle anti-Semitism from their mother’s milk.” How would this outburst have registered with Primetime TV viewers in Poland?

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An undercurrent of anti-Semitism remains unnoticed because the global media is more willingly focused on Islamophobia. Is under reporting of anti-Semitic incidents a deterrent? The very first question Trump’s first press conference was by Jake Turx, newly minted White House correspondent for Ami magazine, an orthodox Jewish publication from Brooklyn. The question was on the recent surge of hate crimes against Jews. Trump completely misunderstood the question. He thought the young reporter was accusing the new President of anti-Semitism. Some tongue lashing followed. A startled Jake Turx sought to mollify Trump.

“You have Jewish grandchildren. You are their Zayed (Yiddish for grandfather).” The mist may have lifted that day, but Turx’s publication from that day is a useful guide to burgeoning anti-Semitism, of which the vicious knife attack in Monsey, New York, during Hanukkah celebrations last December has been among the minor incidents. (IANS)