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Posted by eren

This week’s Friday Links were compiled by Eren and Samya. 


Racism and sexism is creating a toxic mix for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim women living in Australia, says Dr. Mehreen Faruqi as they have become the most likely targets of those retaliating and venting their anger in the aftermath of terrorist incidents. Dr. Faruqi is advocating for Muslim women to be included in discussions on Islamophobia and social inclusion.


Canada has seen a rise in cases of racism and Islamophobia in the past few days. Several women (herehere and here) have been attacked or received hate mail. Thus, a number of community-led initiatives have appeared including the #IllRideWithYou projectBuddyUpTO and several self-defence initiativesparticularly in Ontario and Alberta.

The self-defence courses are intended to empower Muslim women, teach ways to de-escalate situations, draw in bystanders in the face of hateful attacks, and help build safer communities.

The Star says black abaayas are a “staple of Muslim fashion.”


 ‘Mustang’ is a film that offers a humanizing portrait of adolescent Muslim girls as they transition to womanhood. And it’s just the film we need right now, writes Jen Yamato.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday unanimously upheld France’s headscarf ban in a case brought by a French Muslim social worker sacked in 2000 for wearing a religious veil.



Guinea’s President Alpha Condé has called on the chairman of the regional bloc to introduce a bill that would ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil in west Africa. Mr Condé justified his recommendation by saying that “in many of our countries, terrorists were increasingly using the full veil to carry out criminal acts against peaceful citizens”.


In previous months Iranian football player Niloufar Ardalan, missed the final of the Asian Games in September due to her husband’s refusal to let her travel. However, for a 2015 Futsal World Cup event in Guatemala this week, Iranian authorities overruled her husband’s wishes and granted Ardalan a single exit visa.


The Criterion, an Association of Muslim Women in Business and the Professions, has called for the immortalization of late Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf who died during the September 24 stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia during the last hajj exercise. The women group has post-humously honoured Bilkisu along with two others; Alhaja Lateefah Okunnu and Alhaja Raliat Abdlrasaz for their selflessness service to the propagation of Islam.

Saudi Arabia

An official from Sri Lanka’s Foreign Employment Bureau said a married 45-year-old woman who was working as a maid in Riyadh since 2013 was convicted of adultery by a Saudi court in August. The woman, who remains largely unnamed by the media, confessed to the charges, she has been sentenced to death by stoning. Her partner, also a Sri Lankan migrant worker, was given a lesser punishment of 100 lashes on account of being single.


The president of the Serbian parliament, Maja Gojkovic, was criticised for wearing conservative Islamic clothing during a visit to Tehran. Advocates of women’s rights in Serbia said Gojkovic should not have donned the full-length abaya during her trip to Tehran on Monday, arguing that she had worn more conservative clothing than was necessary for diplomatic protocol in the Islamic republic.


Switzerland votes for burqa ban (which is likely conflated with the niqab) with £6,500 fine for Muslim women who wear it in public places. The local government of Ticino approved the referendum after the Swiss Parliament ruled that the ban did not violate the country’s federal law.


The New York Times published a profile of three Muslim women from Syria, each formerly a member of ISIS’ all-female Khansaa Brigade, the morality police. The profiles tell the story of “normal Muslim girls” gone bad and supporting ISIS’ efforts.


The Independent reports that a group of British Muslim women have been filmed urging other women and children to support and join ISIS. The reporter, who filmed the videos, gained the women’s trust by attending public rallies. Then, she was eventually accused by those present of being a “spy” and banned from the meetings.

Muslim women are taking to Instagram to show that following their religious beliefs needn’t preclude style. They’re media-savvy, ultra-chic and have thousands of Instagram followers.


Kameelah Rasheed was forced off a plane at the Newark Liberty International Airport while trying to fly to Istanbul, Turkey, for a vacation. Rasheed was forced off the United Airlines flight after already going through regular airport security and being subjected to further questioning by customs officers.

 Header image source. 

Muslimah Media Watch Has Moved!

Friday, 27 November 2015 10:09 pm
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Posted by krista

Salaams and hello, dear MMW readers,

Welcome to our new site!

I’m excited to announce to you that Muslimah Media Watch has moved as of today.  You can now find us here at http://www.muslimahmediawatch.org/.  Our archives will stay up at our old Patheos site, but after today, all new content (as well as our archives up to this point) will be posted at this new site alone.

Being on our own again will give us back more control over our image, advertising, and other issues, which many of our writers and readers have been asking for.  The new site will be undergoing some changes in the next little while, so please be patient with us as we iron out our new look and get settled into our new online home!

Many thanks to Farah Kashem, who has been in charge of the transition, for her work on developing the new website and to Dilshad Ali, the Managing Editor of the Patheos Muslim Channel, for her support during our time at Patheos.

We’ll also have a few other changes over the next little while, including new writers and new content, so you can stay tuned for that.

I also want to mention one more thing.  Although I still officially hold the title of Editor-in-Chief at MMW, it is Tasnim, MMW’s Associate Editor, who has been running the show almost singlehandedly since last March.  She stepped in when I just wasn’t able to handle the blog along with my academic commitments and other issues, and I am eternally grateful for her work during this time.  I will likely be taking over again in the new year, but until then, a huge thank you to Tasnim for stepping in as Acting Editor-in-Chief this year.

And thanks to all of you for continuing to read and follow MMW!  We look forward to seeing you at our new home.

#PrayforParis, Muslim Women and Third World Violence

Thursday, 26 November 2015 03:26 pm
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Posted by eren

Upon learning about the Paris attacks and the #PrayforParis hashtag that emerged, I felt many things – but I was not shocked. Violence does not shock me. As a woman of colour and as an immigrant, it is part of my surroundings.

I have become desensitized to violence. If you are like me and grew up in a Third World country that has experienced violence during your lifetime, chances are you understand.

Growing up in Latin America in the 90’s in 2000’s I witnessed hundreds of missing and murdered women in northern Mexico, the rising of the Zapatist Army and the violence targeting Indigenous communities by the Mexican government, the Acteal Massacre, theGuatemalan genocide, the violence in Colombia, the numerous terrorist attacks in Peru and the following brutality of the Fujimori regime, and many other so-called “low intensity conflicts,” including police brutality against black communities in Brazil. I also vividly remember the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the multiple attacks against Palestine. All of these have had visible and horrible effects on women, particularly because rape and torture as weapons of war have been common.

Since moving to Canada, I have personally experienced racism, stereotyping and Islamophobia after my conversion to Islam. What is more, I have gotten to interact with women who have been particularly marginalized in a country built on settler colonialism. I have heard the voices of the families of missing and murdered aboriginal women. I have heard the stories of immigrant women of colour who face barriers to accessing services, experience racism and are simply not welcome in the country. And I have seen Islamophobia not only in the streets but at the highest levels of government and the political sphere.

So, I am desensitized. Violence does not surprise me. I have come to accept that it is part of life, my life as an immigrant woman of colour and as a Muslim.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, I learned about the attackers and those they killed, and I learned Syria would continue to be bombed, now by France.

But I couldn’t separate that violence from what is too often dismissed as the violence suffered by the inhabitants of the “third world”, and those marginalized in the West. These are just some of the experiences of violence that have been important and relevant to me:

And this list does not even begin to cover the rampant violence that the Third World and people of colour experience on a daily basis.


All of this however, does not mean that I cannot empathize. I felt deeply concerned about my fellow writers and friends who have family and friends in Paris. Fear and worry are something we experienced together as we also silently prepared for the wave of Islamophobia, across the Western world, that we know will follow.

We were not the only ones thinking about Paris. Many Muslims reacted by engaging with the #IamAMuslim hashtag and condemned ISIL. Canadian Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed explained why ISIL does not represent Muslims, while Hasnaa Mokhtar described why she will “#PrayforParis but won’t apologize.” However, I kept feeling uncomfortable.

Why wasn’t the media talking about Lebanon or Iraq?

Not only did Facebook create a Paris profile flag and a safety feature for those in Paris(a critique is available here), actively neglecting the situations in Lebanon and Iraq, but Twitter was flooded with messages about Paris and prayers for Paris and solidarity for Paris. Even among Muslims much of the reactions focused on the attacks against the western country.


Chris Graham writes about the “selective outrage” that followed the attacks against these three countries, making a case to why people should identify with all the victims of terrorist attacks. Something that he mentions in passing is, however, essential to the reactions around the world. The white-Western standard prevails.

Even as Muslims, and often as people of colour, we feel we owe the West an explanation whether it is in the form of solidarity, apologies, prayers, etc. I see angry messages from Muslims and people of colour floating around about why we should care about Lebanon and Iraq, but I have yet to see a collective effort from Western Muslims to apologize or express solidarity to the victims and survivors of the attacks in Beirut and Baghdad.

Unfortunately, this is not a rare attitude and it goes beyond Muslim communities. Mexican activists involved in the search and advocacy for the 43 missing students, which I have been personally involved with, were outraged with the #PrayersforParis hashtag after fighting for over a year for a few drops of media attention and Western solidarity. The hashtag was a reminder, to many of us activists of faith and colour, that our lives are dispensable against the Western standard.

Of course it is right that people express concern and support for France, after all innocent lives were lost and many more will be attacked because of this display of terrorism. Muslims will likely be the first to feel the wrath of the West retaliating in France and across Europe. But we also need to wonder why is it that we, even as people of colour and of faith, continue to prioritize and neglect the struggles of people in the Third world, of Indigenous peoples, of Muslims in non-Western countries and of black peoples everywhere? Why is it that we still rush to explain to the French that this is “not real Islam” or that this is “not our Islam” while leaving everyone else behind?

In the Canadian case, I particularly worry about my fellow Muslim sisters because Muslim women in Canada have consistently faced sexism, racism and Islamophobia. We have seen the attacks against Muslim women across provinces and the targeting of our mosques. However, I think it is important to remind ourselves that these oppressions are part of a broader system that affects other women as well, but in different ways. We cannot continue to consider non-white lives dispensable and we should not continue to normalize violence against people of colour because that is a feature of white supremacy… the same white supremacy that has led many of us to apologize and explain our Islam to France while neglecting to talk the violence affecting the lives of people in the Third World and people of colour in the West.


Header image source. 

Sisterhood from Struggle

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 03:19 pm
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Posted by shireen

“Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety, after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly” – Ali Ibn Abu Talib (RA)

Only from darkness can we see light. Only from struggle do we understand the roots of solidarity. These days in Toronto, these expressions could not be more true.

After the horrific series of terrorist acts in Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara and Paris it can not seem to be anything but dark. Even gloomier for Muslims around the world who have been asked to apologize, justify or take responsibility for the actions of violent terrorists. It is safe to say that Muslims are expected to condemn and react quickly to denounce any extremist activity. Even then we know we will be served an extra large helping of hate and anger, deep-fried in bigotry. Is there a way to fight back? Can we rise up and push back against this virulent form of intimidation and injustice? Can we protect ourselves, our integrity as we are exhausted by fighting stereotypes and an unforgiving media?


Yes, we can. As long as we focus on sisterhood, solidarity and prepare ourselves physically and mentally. Yes, we can keep having conversations about what we will do and ideas about how to protect ourselves. Yes, we can definitely kick ass, insha’Allah. And it can be bright. It can accelerate into a movement powered by sisterhood.

Backlash against Muslims is always expected. Those of us who were adults during 9/11 remember the hatred unleashed in retaliation. We know the wars that were started in the name of ‘Freedom’ that had everything to do with money and oil. They propelled fear and ignorance while simultaneously destabilizing our home countries.

The aftermath of the attacks in Paris are no different. The victims are from many communities- including ours.

But the attacks on Muslims, or those mistaken as Muslim, came quickly in Toronto. Retribution, for crimes innocent people did not commit, was swift. Feeling frustrated,I penned a piece after being bombarded with news of attacks of Muslim women close to my home. In my piece, I wrote that “retaliating against terrorism with violent racism is also terrorism”.

Violence against women is not something new. There is anti-Black violence by law enforcement, disregard for over 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, both are part of an on-going system rooted in control and misogyny.
While targeted violence against Muslim women is terrifying, there have been incredible efforts to organize, mobilize and create spaces of learning and sharing.

Non-Muslim Allies jumped in to show solidarity , some have offered to host sessions in their own martial arts spaces, and some offered great online tips  – but more importantly it was the how different communities of Muslimahs in Toronto reacted that really inspired me.

Women across this metropolis started by connecting, sharing networks and setting up at least 12 self-defense workshops across the Greater Toronto Area. Some of these sessions are free (from community donors) and some required a fee to pay for rental spaces. Outburst! coalition took initiative to locate Muslimah self-defense instructors and offer a subsidized, two hour class. They are looking to do at least four more. This is part of the message from their Facebook event page:

The recent public attacks of Muslim women in Toronto have made many of us fearful. We know it’s never our fault when we are attacked. Some of us want to strengthen our options to stay safer, this is one way to do it. Join us for an early evening of self-defense, sisterhood, and resistance!”

This message reflect far more than simply learning techniques to protect one’s self. It is enshrined in the idea of community strength and solidarity. Women supporting each other to fight back, to strike, to use their voices, to protect their bodies, to use their agency and to be angry.

It is important to recognize feelings of fear and frustration. Being in safe spaces where Muslim women are uniting in their stand against physical attacks is a part of how we continue to grow as a community and as a sisterhood.

I spoke to Aaida Mamuji, a friend and a boxer who, could quite possibly destroy any racist scumbag trying to attack her because of her hijab. I asked her thoughts on these self-defense initiatives. “For me, both inner and outer strength go hand-in-hand,” she said. “One augments the other.  When we are faced with situations where we feel vulnerable on the inside, remembering our body’s physical strength and potential helps carry us through.”

Some of these session have been held in private homes, or in community centre gyms, but all have been the brainchildren of Muslim women wanting to ‘do something’ in response to the violence against the women of our community.

There is a place for strength and self-preservation in our practice of Islam. Discussions on this are important for sharing information and reassurance. I asked a few Muslim women on my Facebook page if they felt self-defense classes were important or even necessary. The answers were overwhelmingly positive and frankly, similar in nature.

Zainab wrote: “Self defense makes you recognize the power that your own body is capable of, and the strength that you contain within yourself. Not only does it help you protect yourself, but it makes you more familiar with your body and its abilities – and it gives you a measure of control that women are rarely told they even have or are capable of.”

Paige, a Personal Trainer reminded us of the importance of being aware of surroundings: “Physical training gives you a wonderful sense of empowerment and control in life, even when everything is out of control. Self defense important for all women, it teaches you not only how to defend yourself but also to be aware of what is going on and escape routes to take to avoid danger.”

Laila explained how specific skill empowered her: “I took martial arts for almost ten years of my life, and there is an indelible sense of power that you gain, a confidence, a swagger that is necessary amidst a world where safety for Muslim women is never guaranteed. I was able to take down grown men, able to break through materials, and cause harm using everyday objects – and now, when I’m harassed or followed, I am cognizant of the power I have to kick ass – and that is everything.”

Saara was succinct: “Working on strength makes you feel strong. Feeling strong makes you feel capable. Feeling capable makes you kick ass. Not rocket science.”

My friend Aina added: “it’s quite sad women have to be on the defensive all the time” and I agree with her. But in the absence of an immediate feeling of safety this is a great alternative. Some women may choose to restrict their movements or going out alone and that is their choice. I had a woman tell me she decided to stop wearing hijab as a result. These are real issues that arise from the fear of being a victim of a direct violent attack. As women we often think about safety and how we can protect ourselves. But to move forward in a way that is a powerful reminder of the resilience of Muslim women, is where the mental game stays

I would never argue that the targeted violence on Muslimahs lead to a wonderfully warm bonding event. This entire exercise is to strengthen ourselves and our community.

My close friend, Noor Al Mosawi, who has a Black Belt in Karate reminded me of the importance of maintaining position and strong energy. As much as anger might be  resonating, it is crucial to stay steadfast and focused in learning. She reminded me that practice and implementation of self-defense requires positive headspace. Acknowledging our emotions is important but to be controlled and focused will be the most important component. I am planning to attend a session this week with my daughter. I truly hope that I will never be in a position to have to put what I learn into practice. Taking Noor with me everywhere as a body guard is not a realistic option (I already asked her).

I do feel strongly that attending these sessions can inject women with a sensibility and perhaps a skill set that may help protect them. From a place that seems dark, we can inject a very powerful light, and fight.

We can’t change the evil in people but we can strike back: with a tight jab to the nose, a sharp poke in the eye, or strong kick to the shin of an Islamophobe. And we can use our voices; to scream when in danger, to support each other and to amplify what a force we can be.

Book review: Jewels of Allah by Nina Ansary

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 03:12 pm
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Posted by nurulsyahirah

When I first heard the title of Dr. Nina Ansary’s latest book, Jewels of Allah, on the life of women in Iran, I must admit I had to restrain myself.

In general I’m pretty wary about labelling women as two-dimensional objects, whether in a negative (‘lollipops’) or positive (‘pearl in its shell’) way. Ansary explains that the title is “meant to convey that women, who have been ordained as inferior [by hardline conservative factions] are in fact the jewels of the Creator”.

The book promises to tell the “untold story of women in Iran,” and it doesn’t disappoint in some ways. The first chapter begins with a determined tracing through centuries of history aiming to correct misconceptions about the popular narratives about women’s lives in Iran over the last 40 years. The popular narrative, according to Ansary, is one that creates a dichotomy between the free/modern/active/miniskirt-wearing Iranian woman during the Pahlavi monarchy and the gender-segregated/restricted/veiled Iranian woman in post-1979 Islamic Revolution Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini.

I feel optimistic when Ansary writes, “The real story is usually much more complicated, nuanced and less tidy.” These are the misconceptions she addresses in her book (one point per chapter):

  1. Before the Pahlavi monarchy, Persian women were always suppressed by the religious and political establishment.
  2. Iranian women didn’t advocate for their freedom until recently.
  3. During the Pahlavi era, all women were liberated.
  4. During the Khomeini era, women were totally oppressed.
  5. There is a lack of common ground between secular and religious women in Iran.
  6. There is not much of a women’s movement in modern-day Iran.

Chapter 2 looks at Ancient Persia and the then prevailing religion of Zoroastrianism, which she describes as egalitarian and progressive. Then, the 7th century Arab invasion and the “eventual infusion of Islamic values” into Persian society results in the loss of women’s equal status with men and their social separation, loss of educational opportunities. In the chapter, one hadith about women’s “brains [being] incapable of retaining knowledge” is quoted as if it were a widespread Islamic belief. Next, the chapter argues that women were granted a brief respite from oppression under the Iranian and Turkic dynasties from 9th to 13th centuries. However, the Safavid dynasty brought back the patriarchy, packaged in conservative Shia doctrine and persisting to this day.

Chapter 3 and 4 look at the nuances (as promised!) behind the Pahlavi and Khomeini eras. She argues that (conservative) rural women were not empowered under Pahlavi because their families kept them at home from school, while under Khomeini, a “failed gender ideology” resulted in women being empowered through education, despite legal and social efforts to oppress them. Chapter 4 contains a few rather extensive analyses of gender roles in elementary school textbooks, which read like standalone research essays.

Chapter 5, 6 and 7 look at the ups and downs of alliances between secular and religious feminists by tracing the development of various feminist publications and magazines.

The good

In the epilogue, Ansary highlights about 100 historical and contemporary Iranian women, over centuries, who espoused the feminist ideology of their times (these were previously posted on her Facebook page from March 2014 to May 2015). These women include scientists, artists, professionals and even a Paralympic athlete; this incredible collection is great for showing that Iranian women are not oppressed, have done many amazing things, and come from all walks of life – in short, they’re real people.

I also liked that she started the book with a story of her two grandmothers. Bringing in the personal helps give more context and motivation for why she wrote the book, something that authors should but rarely do.

Chapter 5 also includes a great explanation of Islamic feminism, and how religious and secular feminists in Iran work within a religious framework to advocate for women’s rights. A list of “Iran’s Islamic feminist movement” includes professor Dr. Jamileh Kadivar, journalist Parvin Ardalan, human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and founder of Zanan magazine Shahla Sherkat. Other scholars mentioned include Nayereh Tohidi, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Haleh Afshar, Valentine Moghadam and Ziba Mir-Hosseini. A selection of quotes from these women indicates that they differentiate Islam as a religion from interpretation of Islamic laws and regulations – a point which is not so clear in the rest of the book.

The bad

One problem is the romantisation of history and, in particular, of Zoroastrian culture as being a gender utopia. Further, the framing of the Arab invasion and Safavid dynasty as being severely gender unequal serves to frame the empires in between as seemingly more egalitarian. In reality, analyses of these periods deserve just as much nuance (based on other intersectionalities such as sex, race/tribe, class) given to the Pahlavi and Khomeini eras. While there were certainly female leaders and commanders in Persian cities and states in 6th century BC, what class of women could reach these ranks? Most probably educated women of noble lineage.

Walter Benjamin wrote in On the Concept of History (1940)about a painting calledAngelus Novus by Klee. The painting teaches us that our view of history as a sequence of events only serves to justify a certain narrative.

“Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet (…) The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.”

Furthermore, there were other problematic themes that kept popping up throughout the book. One was the framing of women who ‘veil’ as being conservative and those who don’t veil as being free. One of the first notable women Ansary features in her book is Sadiqeh Dowlatabadi (1882-1961), “one of the most distinguished advocates for female education” (p.28). She reportedly said on her deathbed: “I will never forgive anyone who visits my grave veiled”. This quote is not explained or given any further context or nuance, leaving the reader to conclude that veiling can only be an unfeminist and unempowered act. (In her epilogue she also features Masih Alinejad, creator of My Stealth Freedom Facebook page for women to post photos of themselves without a headscarf.)

Compare this to a description of ‘Rejected Princess’ Naziq al-Abid, Syria’s first female general in history, and for whom going veil-less was also a big part of her life.

“She’s seen here ripping off a veil, since going veil-less was a big part of her life. Not that there’s anything wrong with choosing to wear a veil — she just didn’t have that choice for the most part, although she wanted it badly.”

The conspicuous lack of context is odd, as Ansary seems aware that there is more symbolism to the veil than the oppression-freedom dichotomy. The book shows that she is aware that there are other bigger factors that determine a women’s empowerment, such as laws and educational opportunities. This is evident in how she describes Khomeini’s ‘Islamic Government’:

“a misogynistic regimen […] embedded in a constitution reinforcing the primacy of the Sharia (Islamic law) over civil law and the absolute leadership of a Shiite jurist over popular sovereignty.” (p.200)

So it is puzzling why she does not give more nuance where it is so crucially needed.

This lack of linkage to larger political factors and global processes can result in readers making problematic conclusions. Gina B Nahai, in her review of the book, laments the lack of a “satisfying explanation” as to why “an estimated million women actively took part in the overthrow of the Shah and the return of the ayatollahs to Iran”. Nahai ends up blaming Islam as a monolithic patriarchal force, and Allah as a patriarchal god, for the problems of Iranian women. (Perhaps she didn’t read the final chapters where religious and secular Iranian women show how they are able to articulate gender equality in laws within an Islamic framework, through an ideology otherwise known as Islamic feminism.).

The final chapter also comes to an odd conclusion as to how women in Iran can achieve equality. It mainly argues for a reform of Islam based on “theological reform in Western nations”, based on the work of German priest Martin Luther and Friedrich Nietzsche. There is no mention at all of Islamic laws in other countries that do not have the same outcomes as Iran. Even a cursory look at other Muslim majority countries such as Tunisia or Indonesia could show how gender equality is not solely determined by laws or religion, but also other factors like increased employment or improvement in standards of living.

A public relations sheet that came with the book highlighted some publications and organisations that have featured her book. One organisation that stood out was The Clarion Project, which has infamously produced several Islamophobic films, the most recent being Honor Diaries. This rightwing organisation aims to “challenge extremism”, but in reality it provides a simplistic view of ‘Muslim extremism’ in order to perpetuate a cruel and oppressive image of an all-monolithic Islam. Despite this, in her interview with The Clarion Project, I think Ansary has bravely attempted to include some nuance about Iran’s gender inequality, highlighting that the West has its own gender inequality issues too.

Final thoughts

The language in Ansary’s book is easy to read, but it is held back by its pace. I felt like I was reading different essays cobbled together: some delving into too much detail in some topics (analysis of elementary textbooks) and some skimming over topics that needed more analysis (tracing of feminist alliances, Muslim reformers from within).

Most importantly, when I finished the book, I realised that state-sponsored terror existed under both Pahlavi/free and Khomeini/oppressed regimes. Not many readers may know that under Pahlavi, police beat up veiled women and forcibly removed their veils. Today, the basij or religious police do the same to women who are ‘improperly’ veiled. It’s an authoritarian state that imposes a regime on its people that creates oppression, not religion or a veil.

While Ansary extensively looks at the actions of the Iranian state (censorship of feminist magazines, changing of laws, the overall impression that her book gives is that patriarchy/male supremacy/culture/religion is to blame for the oppressive and misogynist laws in Iran’s history. I think she could have done a better job in differentiating Islam as a belief system from Islam as a set of legal interpretations that vary across time and space. Similarly, I think Ansary should have clearly explained that there are a multitude of meanings behind a veil or hijab; that women may wear it for many reasons that are not immediately visible from the outside.

This book may be useful to those looking for historical references and a simple discussion of Iran’s political environment; however, the book can be heavily critiqued from various feminist perspectives and is a limited contribution to the work of Islamic and Muslim feminists.

Hate Crimes and Mother Tongues

Monday, 23 November 2015 03:01 pm
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Posted by Guest Contributor

This post was written by Guest contributor Seema Shafei (@seemashafei).

I’ll never forget the time a classmate turned to me and said that we couldn’t elect Obama because his middle name was Hussein. You never know, she told me. He could be just like Saddam. If a name could elicit this much fear, a language could start a war.

Language is a weapon as much as it is a comfort. It can connect ideas of home to a community, keeping culture alive. Speaking a language marked as ‘other’ can unite people with similar backgrounds. It can be used as a tool for the marginalized to maintain their sense of identity amidst an atmosphere of hostility. Language is powerful, and that is why it is so often the first target to attack throughout history when trying to erase a people.

Recently, a woman was brutally beaten for speaking Swahili in a restaurant in Minnesota. Asma Jama was told repeatedly to ‘go home’ by a couple, to which Jama reportedly responded, “I am home. I can speak English, but we choose to speak whatever language we want.”  In the end, she suffered enough injury to require seventeen stitches. A beer mug was smashed against her face. Through the gashes and lacerations, Jama insisted on her freedom to speak her mother tongue.

Minnesota is home for Jama, and yet it has made her a victim. The woman who assaulted Jama was arrested, but incidents such as this one will not stop. Hate crimes have increased towards Muslims within the past decade, to a point that left Jama stating that she felt as if she could not leave her house unaccompanied anymore. 

Asma Jama suffered a hate crime. The couple abused her when she dared to speak. Her physical appearance as an ethnically Somali Muslim woman who wore the hijab had already distinguished her, but her language marked the tipping point. Regardless of the fact that she spoke English, and was actually fluent in three languages total, Jama was confronted with people who tried to put her in a place of subjugation.

To speak multiple languages can be a political act, especially to speak languages that have been marked inferior to English. Language demarcates you as different, and forces others within the vicinity to notice that very difference. However, sometimes the pressure of politicizing language can be heavy.

It should not be too much to ask to be able to speak freely in a family restaurant without assault, no matter the language used. Is freedom of speech only upheld if that speech is in English? It should be extended to all multiplicities of tongues, and all people who hold onto their language. Its power is one that cannot be ignored.

The perpetrator of the hate crime was charged with third-degree assault, which I believe does not in anyway reflect just how harmful the attack was. To be beaten for speaking a foreign language, to have to get seventeen stitches, to be hatefully and publically humiliated for being considered ‘other,’ were all the reality of Asma Jama. The lax charge translates to a lack of taking the crime seriously within the court system, showing the world that attacking a Black Muslim woman is the legislative equivalent to a simple misdemeanour.

We have seen a slew of Muslim women bearing the brunt of racist attacks recently, especially after the Paris attacks. Often, for Muslim women who cover, their hyper-visibility puts them in a vulnerable position because of the Islamophobia that is on the rise. We have to take Islamophobia seriously and protect the Muslim women and men who have been targeted constantly for their identity. From being pushed in front of trains, to being verbally abused, to being attacked for speaking Swahili, Muslim hate crimes show up everyday on the news. Instead of normalizing these violent acts, we must recognize their severity and their damaging effect on the Muslim community as a whole.


Header image source. 

Changing the world with an app

Friday, 27 November 2015 12:42 pm
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Posted by Rasika Dhavse

In today’s world, where everything can be done with a tap of a finger, why not something for the greater common good? That thought has led to the development of Equalize, which as its name suggests, aims to empower individuals to reduce social disparities. Rasika Dhavse-Wadodkar has more.

Upholding the rights of a child

Thursday, 26 November 2015 09:10 am
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Posted by E S Ramamurthy

On Constitution Day, E S Ramamurthy describes how our government is failing in its primary duties of raising the level of nutrition and the improvement of public health as prescribed in our Constitution and thereby creating a nation of malnourished children.

Romila Thapar on the importance of speaking out

Tuesday, 24 November 2015 01:38 pm
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Posted by Amrita Nandy

A one-on-one with India’s most well-known historian, Romila Thapar, who shares her thoughts on intellectuals protesting the growing communal discord, the ever-shrinking “liberal space” and the need for a dialogue that defines pluralism in the Indian context with Rashme Sehgal.

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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Not only has Erdoğan done almost everything he can to cripple the forces actually fighting Isis; there is considerable evidence that his government has been at least tacitly aiding Isis itself. It might seem outrageous to suggest that a NATO member like Turkey would in any way support an organisation that murders western civilians in cold blood.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

With Myanmar climbing to the world top five countries of proven oil and gas reserves, terms such as genocides, military juntas and human rights are omitted from the new discourse. A whole new narrative is being written jointly by the Myanmar army, nationalist parties, Suu Kyi’s NLD, western investors and anyone else who stands to benefit from the treasures of one of the world’s worst human rights violators.

More Paris Puzzles

Monday, 23 November 2015 12:00 pm
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Why assume that the suicide bombers knew who was organizing the attack? There seems to be abundant evidence that ISIL is a US creation, one that is still dependent on US active or passive support—thus the conflict between Putin and Washington over attacking ISIL.

From Pol Pot to ISIS: The Blood Never Dried

Monday, 23 November 2015 12:00 pm
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

17 Nov 2015 - Following the ISIS outrages in Beirut and Paris, John Pilger updates this prescient essay on the root causes of terrorism and what we can do about it.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

Is it editors, journalists or audiences to blame? "A life is a life" said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reflecting on the disparity between blanket media coverage of the atrocities in Paris last Friday and what he perceived as a distinct lack of attention to the loss of life in other parts of the world.

Syria’s War: A 5-Minute History

Monday, 23 November 2015 12:00 pm
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

To understand the bloody, convoluted war happening inside and outside of Syria's borders, you need to watch this. It is a most instructive video clip - less than 5 minutes - explaining what ISIS is, who its backers are, and in what context it was born and operates.
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

In his squad, children spotted from a Predator drone's high-resolution camera were called “fun-sized terrorists” or “TITs,” for “Terrorist In Training,” while launching a strike was “cutting the grass before it grows too tall” or “pulling the weeds before they take over the lawn. It was anything you could do to remove their humanity, but in the process you lose your own humanity.”
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Posted by Antonio C.S. Rosa

The War on Cash is advancing on all fronts. One region that has hogged the headlines with its war against physical currency is Scandinavia. Sweden became the first country to enlist its own citizens as largely willing guinea pigs in a dystopian economic experiment: negative interest rates in a cashless society. As Credit Suisse reports, no matter where you go or what you want to purchase, you will find a small ubiquitous sign saying “Vi hanterar ej kontanter” (“We don’t accept cash”) . . . .


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