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Why do Muslim feminists turn a blind eye to Islamist misogyny?

PhotoMuslim political activist Linda Sarsour has been accused of ignoring the anti-women Islamist ideology linked to the Manchester terror attack, says Emma-Kate Symons.Flickr: Festival of Faiths

PhotoMuslim political activist Linda Sarsour has been accused of ignoring the anti-women Islamist ideology linked to the Manchester terror attack, says Emma-Kate Symons.Flickr: Festival of Faiths

Why do Muslim feminists turn a blind eye to Islamist misogyny?

Arguments over the veil and the purity culture surrounding it have long divided Muslim women.

But now, thanks to the shaming of girls murdered in a terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert as "whores", the split has spilled out into the open.

Self-styled "homegirls in hijabs" — like New York militant Linda Sarsour — and many of their progressive western backers afraid of being labelled racist or "Islamophobic" are staying silent or downplaying the anti-women Islamist ideology linked to the terror strike in Manchester.

Meanwhile, their reformist Muslim sisters are speaking out and asking why figures who hold such conservative views around modesty are held up by feminists and sections of the media as representative of Muslim women, and as role models and progressives, when they're not.

Terrorism analysts have pointed out the attack was an assault on individual freedoms and musical expression.

Yet as American Muslim Reform Movement co-founder Asra Nomani argued last week, the concert-goers were also seen by jihadists as "dangerous", unveiled women.

Some radical conservative Muslim men and women agreed.

For example, a group Ms Nomani calls the "hijabi honour brigade", who operate as mini-armies of trolls on social networks in an organised campaign to silence critics of Islam, even post-attack suggested the young girls were asking for it — as were their parents who had no business letting them stay out late.

Or as one veil-wearing French woman declared on Twitter, girls as young as eight were targeted because they had been encouraged by Grande to dress "like whores" and dared to go out after dark in a sign of "decadence and deviance".

'It was about killing the image of women'

Still, high-profile hijab and Sharia law champions have not decried such vilification or denounced the mindset that academic Jenny Raflik argues sought to "explicitly target women".

Ms Raflik, the author of Terrorism and Globalisation, said the Manchester terrorist bombing was a follow-on from the Islamic State (IS) worldview that enslaved and murdered Yazidi women.

In a western context, it sought to assign young women by force to a role conforming to IS rules.

Photo Many Twitter users claimed girls at Ariana Grande's Manchester concert were targeted because they were encouraged to dress like 'whores'.
Reuters: Mario Anzuoni

"It wasn't just about killing women, it was about killing the image of women," Ms Raflik wrote in Le Monde.

"It is above all the image of the western, emancipated woman that is being aimed at here — through the targeting of these young women who represent innocence and at the same time the discovery of their identity and a consciousness of their femininity."

In New York, however, self-described Palestinian-American-Muslim political activist Linda Sarsour — a defender of Sharia law and Saudi Arabia's record on women — kept her social media reactions to a minimum: about a generically "evil" terrorist attack on "kids having a good time" — not young girls and women.

Ms Sarsour, who wears a Salafist-approved veil that conceals all her hair and ties up tightly under her neck, once said she wished she could "take the vagina away" of staunch critic of Islamic theology and women's rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Ms Ali, along with another critic, "didn't deserve to be women", said Ms Sarsour, who is the head of the Arab American Association of New York.

The politics of the hijab

Ms Sarsour co-led the Women's March on Washington after Donald Trump's election, a march that expressly portrayed the veil as a symbol of feminist struggle, despite millions of women around the world being forced or pressured to wear it.

Just as she and her identity politics fans have never joined Iranian dissident Masih Alinejad in her campaigns against compulsory hijab in the Islamic Republic, or backed exiled Saudi women's activist Moudhi Aljohani in her push to stop Riyadh's enslavement of women, they are not standing against the deadly Islamic ideology of purity and honour that provides context and clues to the motives of the suicide bomb attack in Manchester.

They brandish their veils as a standard-bearer of liberation and speak out when veiled women are harassed or attacked, however there is little or no solidarity when victims are not hijabis.

This week, for example, when two brothers were acquitted in Turkey of helping the "honour killing" of their sister in Berlin because she refused to wear a hijab and dated a German boy, the homegirls were nowhere to be seen.

Under fire for her virulent anti-Israel stance, claims "Zionists can't be feminists", and support for convicted terrorists, Ms Sarsour has instead presented herself as a victim of a far-right campaign of vilification after her opponents protested against her speaking at a graduation ceremony at a New York university this week.

The ignoring of Islamic purity culture is not a coincidence

Across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, outspoken hijabi Remona Aly wrote an op-ed in The Guardian in which she praised Muslim outreach to saddened Mancunians, but failed to mention the radical Islamist worldview that says young girls attending a pop concert with a singer dressed in seductive clothes are prostitutes and deserve to die.

Waleed Aly, whose veiled wife Susan Carland downplays liberal Muslim women's critiques of religious fundamentalism as unfair and not "faith positive", wondered in the Sydney Morning Herald if the attacker Salman Abedi "specifically understood he was striking this demographic of mostly adolescent girls".

PhotoActivist Linda Sarsour addresses the crowd during a protest against US President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, on January 29, 2017.
Reuters: Stephanie Keith

The ignoring or dismissing of the purity doctrine by Islamists and their supporters in the media, quick to condemn France's burkini bans, is no coincidence.

Last year I reported on the family of conservative veil champions from Bankstown Sydney accepting payment from Channel Seven to fly to France and stage a fake story of Zeynab Alshelh being "chased off a beach" for wearing a burkini when no such thing ever happened.

"Many of us, as mainstream Muslims, believe Western liberal feminists — in their rush to embrace conservative symbols of Islamic purity culture, like the headscarf — apply a double standard to dangerous interpretations of Islam that make women and girls vessels for honour in a society — and targets for wrath," says Ms Nomani, the author of forthcoming book Make Islam Great Again.

Meanwhile, Afghan women's activist Nushin Arbadzadah accuses Western feminism of failing the girls in Manchester.

"We need to understand the connection between the girls in the concert with misogyny as an integral part of Islamism," or political Islam, she says.

Where is the media campaign against forced veiling?

Masih Alinejad, who has been coordinating the "White Wednesdays" anti-forced hijab campaign in Iran from her home in exile in New York, told me the forced veil was about "the control of women and their 'loose morals'".

"It seems like double standards to stand with a Muslim minority to wear hijab, but not stand against compulsory hijab," Ms Alinejad said.

"I sent a message to the popular Facebook page Hijab Day, asking its supporters to stand with us against compulsory hijab, but my post went ignored … the Hijab Day campaign has been supported by many high-profile organisations. But no media seems to be raising its voice against compulsory veiling.

"Should we stand in solidarity with those women who want to wear hijab, or should we stand in solidarity with those women who don't want to be forced to wear it?

"In my opinion, women around the world should be fighting for freedom of choice. When we speak to female politicians or non-Iranians as part of our campaign against the compulsory hijab, people in the West, especially on the political Left, think that they shouldn't stand with us because it sends the message that women in the Middle East need to be 'saved' by Western women.

"They don't want to fall into the 'white saviour complex' trap. But in that case, why aren't they being 'white saviours' when they stand with Muslim women and wear hijab?"

Mona Eltahawy has also ridiculed popular celebrations of the hijab — such as the veiling of children in Australia Day posters in Australia.

"I fight racism everywhere … I also fight the unfair burden of 'modesty' that is expected just of girls and women," she said.

'Liberal Muslims are an inconvenience'

For the Manchester-based doctor and writer on Middle East issues, Egyptian feminist Nervana Mahmoud, there is a symbiotic relationship between Islamists and liberal western leftists.

"Islamists need a wider platform to help them legitimise their existence in western society, while liberal leftists need new pawns in their fight against the radical right," Ms Mahmoud told me.

"It is a mutually convenient relationship that has worked for both sides.

"Islamists, like Linda Sarsour and others, deliberately conceal the controversial aspects of their ideology, specifically the common values they share with violent radicals such as the virgin/whore dichotomy.

"Unfortunately the liberal elite prefers to avoid scrutinising Islamists on those controversial aspects, and prefers to deflect the matter as a 'cultural' issue.

"Liberal Muslims are an inconvenience, and are thus ignored by both sides."

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Comment by Clayton Rhodes on September 18, 2017 at 5:01pm

in response to your article "Why do Muslim feminists turn a blind eye to Islamist misogyny?". Most Muslims are uneducated in their relgion. Most Muslims read through the Quran,which i a glorified image of islam and not the hadiths,in the same fashion most Christians dont read the Bible or if they read the Bible,they only read the gosples and not the old testament.The hadiths tell a different story,but nobody reads the hadith. Muhammad sold women for battle horses,distrubed the widows of falled enemy soldigers to be sex slaves by however kiled thier husband. Muhammad fukced all of his wives each night,whenever a woman would approach him for marriage,he would decline their request unless they were atractive,and the women he did decline were ofered off to other men on the spot as "charity". His favorite wife said he treated her like a dog. Also beating women is ok becouse islam says to beat women lightly

Comment by Suzanna on June 11, 2017 at 2:59pm

Interesting read, I agree that the main point of any feminism is for people to have choice. I still think it's rather odd that anyone in this day and age genuinely believes that a child is capable of being a prostitute. If someone is looking at a child dressed in whatever they like and thinks that it is sexual, the problem is not the child. Don't they know that children in hijabs won't fix paedophiles.

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