Front Page News: Islamophobia Makes You An Expert on Niqab

Readers, I’m not a masochist. I know there are some very Islamophobic media outlets who actively try to spread misinformation about Muslim and Islam for their own purposes. FrontPage Magazine is one of those outlets; this is why you won’t see it on MMW often. I know that critiquing and engaging these people is useless.

But, every now and then, I see something in one of these outlets that boggles my mind with how offensive, inaccurate, and just plain wrong it is. Stuff that makes me want to bang my head on my keyboard, but usually just causes me to yell at the computer screen, or pace around my home yelling angrily at an imaginary audience at how effing stupid this is.

Instead of tormenting my neighbors, however, I thought I would share. Mind your keyboards.

Like I mentioned earlier, FrontPage Magazine is a blatantly Islamophobic website: it houses David Horowitz, the genius behind Islamo-Facism Week on university campuses in the U.S., and hosts columnists such as Ann Coulter. Enough said, yes?

On April 25, FrontPage sponsored a symposium entitled, “Hate Behind the Niqab.” Charming.

My purpose here isn’t to discuss the symposium at length. It’s to examine the “experts” that this symposium has brought together: Nonie Darwish, Brigitte Gabriel, Dr. Nancy Kobrin, David Gutmann, Abul Kasem, and Phyllis Chesler.

Last year we talked about Nonie Darwish; you can read up on it and see for yourself why she’s not a good expert on niqabs.

Brigitte Gabriel is a Lebanese-American Maronite Christian who founded the American Congress for Truth in 2001 and wrote Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America. She has referred to Arab Muslims as “barbarians.” Apparently, to FP, living in a country that has Muslims in it makes you an expert on niqabs.

Dr. Nancy Kobrin is a psychoanalyst and “Arabist.” Dictionary.com’s definition for Arabist includes:

  1. a person who specializes in or studies the Arabic language or Arab culture.

  2. a supporter of Arab interests, esp. in international affairs.

Reading Dr. Kobrin’s bio makes it obvious that she’s not in the latter camp. She’s written a book called The Sheikh’s New Clothes: Islamic Suicide Terror and What It’s Really All About, and wrote an article on FP recently which compared the Virginia Tech massacre to suicide bombing.

David Gutmann is a Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Which automatically makes me think, “Niqab Expert.”

Abul Kasem has left Islam. That’s all the information I can find on him. But it’s important here to note that just because someone is or was Muslim does not make him/her an expert on niqab or the reasons that women have for wearing it.

And finally, Phyllis Chesler. She is currently an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York, a psychotherapist, and the author of thirteen books. I think she derives her “niqab expertise” from the fact that she was married to an Afghan and lived in Afghanistan for less than a year before returning to the U.S. in December of 1961. You can read about her brief life in Kabul here.

Now, my intention here is not to callously ignore some of the things that these people have gone through which have shaped their viewpoints. My intention is to question why these people are considered experts on niqab.

The purpose of FP’s symposium is to explore:

“the psychology of the Niqab. Why would a culture want to cover the female from head to toe in this way? One angle is the hate (and self-hate) that the men behind this ideology have in terms of trying to put the female gender out of sight and mind. But another angle is also the women who wear it voluntarily (and many do not of course). Their psychology is also very interesting in terms of how they look down at the unveiled women. This is a form of discrimination that is almost never discussed in our society.”

I’m not going to discuss or critique the actual discussion, because it falls into the “not worth it” category. Let me save you some time and tell you that it’s a circle jerk (please excuse the phrase) of Islamophobic thinking and reasoning that doesn’t take into account Muslim women’s own voices or experiences.

What drives me crazy is that these people are all accomplished professionally in their respective fields, but they are not accomplished in the field of being a Muslim woman who wears, understands, or educatedly critiques niqab. This is a group of people running their mouths off about an issue and experience that they have no personal knowledge of. So why are their opinions on this subject considered valid?!

And, with their often negative views on Islam and Muslims, how can they understand something so personal and complex? I think it’s too much to assume they’ve even thought of listening to Muslim women’s voices about this topic, considering that many of them may view Arabs and/or Muslims as “barbarians.” And, for many Muslim women, their reasons for wearing whatever they do are personal. Why would a woman bother to discuss a personal matter with someone who so obviously doesn’t care what she thinks? Understanding a person’s reasons for doing anything requires a willingness to listen and accept the reasons, worldview, perspectives, and idiosyncrasies that cause this person to make the decisions s/he does. Something tells me that the panelists on FP don’t do much listening and accepting when it comes from viewpoints that oppose their own.

(banging head on keyboard)

That is all.

  • Forsoothsayer

    while i fully agree with you that none of these people can know jack shit about niqab or muslim piety in general, the question still remains: can one really expects adherents of a faith to adequately critique it? i doubt. i mean, if people espouse a faith they obviously think it’s great, and if they don’t espouse it, it’s for a reason that might be worth listening to. i wouldn’t shut the door entirely on measured, informed critiques of Islam, just because they’re critiques of a faith. people write books and articles critiquing other faiths all the time and these attacks don’t get their own phobia name.if people really want to know about the niqab – and just like you i cannot understand western fasciantion with it! – they’d want to get a few sheikhs and muslimas who wear it etc, BUT ALSO people who have good and informed reason for thinking it sexist or whatever.

  • Zeynab

    Forsoothsayer, you make a good point. But it seems the reasons these people don’t practice Islam is because a) they’re already of another faith, b)the impressions of Islam they have are not of the faith but rather of adherents to the faith. Besides, there are plenty of Muslims who adequately critique Islam. If you’d like I can send you an email with links to my favorites. Personally, I feel that if you love something (like a faith), but you aren’t interested in it enough to learn more or ask tough questions about it, you can’t really love it all that much. I know people might not like that, because Islam requires total “submission”, but I feel that I can submit to Allah but still question the practices that other Muslims set forth. Because I love Allah, I want to completely understand the reasons I have for doing this or that, or the reasons behind “Islamic” viewpoints.

  • Melinda

    You make a good point, forsoothsayer, but certainly there have to exist non-Muslims who have studied Islam (professors of religion, Middle East, etc.) and would thus be more qualified to speak on it, without any of the pro-Islam bias you mention. The professors who are included in the FrontPage symposium have no expertise in the area of Islam or even general religion, and that’s the problem.

  • Anonymous

    What a ridiculous article (in FPM). With all that hate the “panelists” have, they’ll soon give themselves stomach ulcers.At the same time, I would like to see our Muslim communities being more introspective about things such as the niqab. I have encountered three main attitudes to it among Toronto Muslims: violent dislike of it (often born Muslims, usually older immigrants who see it as backward and a bad advertisement for Islam) and an uncritical support of it. By “support” I don’t mean that such people wear it themselves, or even would encourage others to do so, but they seem to think that it’s a sign of piety.And, then there are those who seem to be very ambivalent about it (the majority, as far as I can see), but they won’t critique it either.I am sick and tired of all the pressure put on Muslim women to let their bodies be billboards for one stance or another: for conservative interpretations of Islam (so you wear a particular style of hijab/niqab), OR for secularism and the desire of some uncle Tom-ish immigrant Muslims to blend in (so you take your hijab off).Get your minds off my body! All of you!

  • broken mystic

    I can’t stand FrontPage Magazine. I even wrote to Nonie Darwish one time and she responded by avoiding my key points.I can’t stand Bridgette Gabriel either. I remember when the Israeli military was bombing Lebanon, she supported it! And she’s Lebanese! Shame on her. But I’m sure if she read this, she would think I’m a woman-hating, misogynistic, Muslim guy.I really don’t understand what they want. Do they want Muslims to just denounce Islam, because that’s what it sounds like to me. By examining the niqab issue, they’re just taking cheap shots. They don’t even make an effort to acknowledge that there are so many different viewpoints from MUSLIMS THEMSELVES on the issue of niqab.I can’t believe how openly prejudice they are.

  • Sabina England, Playwright

    yuck. Racist people are so disgusting. I need to take a shower after reading their racist garbage.

  • eyes serene

    Assalamu alaikom,When I try to talk about stuff like this… something presented as unbiased and newsworthy, but really just a bunch of fear-mongering or phobia or manipulation wrapped up in a nice package… I usually just end up hyperventilating. So, congrats to you for being able to put this so nicely into words.Toronto Anon said: “Get your minds off my body! All of you!”LOL Exactly! A woman’s body is so political. Yeesh. What shoes match with political?! Okay, seriously… this is a great statement. If only it were going to happen anytime in my lifetime…

  • Melinda

    I actually started reading the transcript now, but it was so disgusting I had to stop. Ugh. Masochism indeed.

  • Ezzah

    Brigitte Gabriel-The perfect example of how a bad experience now paints a person’s whole life and enables fear and fear-led hate….I hate that she is noted as a “Lebonese Christian”…thanks to CSPAN and all those other “lets bomb the east” folks most Christians, especially eastern ones, look like dmn idiots. It’s no wonder a good portion of Muslims believe the west is on a new crusade…ugh!I am sick and tired of all the pressure put on Muslim women to let their bodies be billboards for one stance or another: for conservative interpretations of Islam (so you wear a particular style of hijab/niqab), OR for secularism and the desire of some uncle Tom-ish immigrant Muslims to blend in (so you take your hijab off).Get your minds off my body! All of you!Yeah, you’re right!!!! It’s too bad though that no one in the “west” is telling Christian girls to put their clothes BACK ON though…..

  • Duniya

    anonymous:I understand what you are saying and I agree that a woman’s body is her own. But I must admit I do take issue with the way you presented it.”I am sick and tired of all the pressure put on Muslim women to let their bodies be billboards for one stance or another: for conservative interpretations of Islam (so you wear a particular style of hijab/niqab), OR for secularism and the desire of some uncle Tom-ish immigrant Muslims to blend in (so you take your hijab off).”Again..excellent point but I’m a bit offended by the Uncle Tom-ish comment. If people are trying to integrate that does not make them sell outs. Nor does dressing like the people of the country one lives in make one any less Muslim or a sell out. And being secular should not be a stigma. It is secularism that allows us to practice our religion in the West.