Self-Congratulatory Feminism, Now in Muslim Flavor!

Heralded Muslim feminist Mona Eltahawy asks in the ever-tabloid Toronto Star to be allowed to confuse you, the reader, by virtue of the apparently contradictory labels self-assigned to her socio-political and religious beliefs. The point of article (as it become somewhat clear in the last few paragraphs) is to shed light on how, despite her unorthodox views on Islam, and particularly gender in Islam, the faith “belongs” to her as much as to any other Muslim, more orthodox than her or not. This perspective frames her support for the Park51 community center near Ground Zero in New York City; a support caught between ” [televangelist] Bill Keller’s right wing: bigoted and xenophobic [..and] the Muslim right wing, which uses Islam…to fuel its misogyny.”

Had Eltahawy written strictly about how, despite her activism against what she claims is the “Muslim right wing,” she still supports the right of Park51 to be built at its current location because she is a Muslim, thus acting out of solidarity, then there could have been potential. Such a route could have provided a perspective for understanding the importance of the mosque being built beyond just issues of worship for a select group in the heart of Manhattan.

Unfortunately, Eltahawy only hints at this sort of a discussion at the end of her article, which is both sparse and riddled with confusing literary devices and a questionable comparison—rightly so, perhaps given the title of the piece.

The vast majority of her piece focuses on herself. “Let me, a Muslim Feminist, confuse you” does not shed light on admirable solidarity beyond strong religious disagreements in the face of religious discrimination. Rather, it highlights a growing problem in the unhappy marriage between a certain brand of feminism and Muslim identity: an essentialist, self-congratulatory discourse working as a conduit for Islamophobes to buttress their bigotry:

I moved to the U.S. 10 years ago after marrying an American, but when we divorced two years later I got into my car and spent 18 days driving alone to New York City. It was my American pilgrimage. My reward was a community of like-minded Muslims together with whom I prayed behind Amina Wadud, an American Muslim scholar, in the first public female-led mixed-gender Friday prayer. Without a head scarf and on my period, I prayed next to a man — sacrilege to many but a delight to me. [italics added]

I understand what she’s doing: she’s painting a portrait of her unorthodoxy so that the reader could then be further confused for her support for a generally mainstream mosque being built on “contentious ground.”

But this then begs two questions. First, when the vast majority of your argument for your support for such a campaign consists of a biographical sketch, is not the main point diluted? Additionally—and this is the one that really gets me—is it really all that confusing? Why is it confusing for someone (especially one who identifies as an activist fighting against injustices) to be supporting constitutional rights of American citizens in the face of bigotry and ignorance? Is there something about supporting the right of menstruating women to pray and supporting the banning of the niqab that puts one so above a Park51-sort of campaign that her support should astonish us?

She preaches tolerance and intra-religious pluralism and supports the building of a religious community center by an organization built on interfaith dialogue and a vague sort of New-Age Sufism?! Fascinating! Astonishing!

Eltahawy’s voice is an important voice to be heard within the vast Muslim community, particularly North America, where she has become a vocal part of the discursive fabric on issues pertaining to Islam, the Middle East, and women. Yet her occasional legitimate critiques and perspectives become muddled with pieces such as this, which fuel bigoted ideas regarding the Muslim community and completely deny nuance in the religion itself, as well as the various Muslim communities across the world. This, of course, is not isolated to Eltahawy; it applies to numerous other Muslim women who carry the same framework for discussion (including those on the flip side). I’m looking at you, Asra Nomani!

In self-centered articles like Eltahawy’s and Nomani’s, they rage against what they believe to be an imposition of a monolithic Islam, while completely denying the very present reality of the very diverse forms of Islam that exist in everyday communities, in both practice and belief and beyond sectarian differences. Be it in usul ul-fiqh in any one of the Muslim communities dispersed throughout the world, one will find that there is much flexibility, much difference of opinion and in spirit, especially in view of Islam’s intellectual history and, most important, the Prophetic tradition. There is much room for understanding and evolution.

Yet by continuously expressing such opinions framed in self-led narratives on personal experiences in particular Muslim communities, activists such as Eltahawy and Nomani not only promote a sort of essentialism but also perpetuate the painfully stereotypical image of Islam and Muslims as medieval and backwards; the faith itself, in particular, is portrayed as one in heavy need of a Martin Luther-esque sigh-inducing reform.

Yes, there are changes to be made and yes, there is dialogue to be had. But first, let’s stop with the pornographic portrayal of gender in Islam which presents an exploitative perspective on the nuanced subject, meant to satiate the desires of those lusting over reasons to further justify their bigotry. And, in particular, let’s end personal narratives coming to take on perspectives regarding the entirety of a diverse community and faith.

  • mm_hp

    I really wonder some times if these people really believe what they are saying. Don’t have much to say about most of this woman’s writing – its blather.

    [Editor's Note: This comment has been edited to fit within comment moderation guidelines.]

  • mm_hp

    You edit the entire substance of my comment. Don’t worry, I won’t bother posting again.

    Hey if you’re going to delete 80% of someone’s comment, have the decency not to post any of it.

    Screw you.

    • Fatemeh

      @mm_hp: Read our comment moderation policy. If you want to comment about Eltahawy’s use of this in her article, go ahead. But this isn’t the place to get into a debate about whether prayer while menstruating is accepted–that’s a personal matter.

  • Shazia

    I finally got the point of THIS article in the last line as well. For example, I have no clue what you’re saying here:
    “In self-centered articles like Eltahawy’s and Nomani’s, they rage against what they believe to be an imposition of a monolithic Islam, while completely denying the very present reality of the very diverse forms of Islam that exist in everyday communities, in both practice and belief and beyond sectarian differences.”
    Who is denying, the named writers or those who impose the image of a monolithic Islam, or both?
    Anyway, the coherence of this article aside, I didn’t get the six paragraphs of biographical info in Eltahawy’s article either, but the most annoying thing about it was that she posits herself as a lone voice in the wilderness, which might be good for her career, but isn’t factually true. There is a proliferation of Muslim feminists, for example, the writers at MMW and altmuslimah, and many Muslim women around the world. These people need to be brought into the spotlight, not denied their existence.

  • Humayra

    Sorry Sana, while I too am very tired of Muslim women who apparently suffer from what could be called the Martina Noor-Luther Syndrome, I don’t quite agree that Mona Eltahawy is presenting herself as the lone feminist voice in a Muslim misogynist wilderness, at least not in this particular article. Eltahawy does point out that she owes her feminism to other Muslim women (women in her family, Amina Wadud), as well as some Muslim men. One could fault her for being too Arabocentric as well as overly focused on a few individuals, but she does mention the existence of Musawah, which is an international movement.

    And I also don’t quite follow why you seem to think that Eltahawy’s admission that she prayed minus a headscarf and on her period is anti-feminist, especially given your point about the flexibility of usul al-fiqh. I’m sure you know that many medieval jurists argued that a slave woman can pray without a head-covering, which raises interesting questions about the origins of this practice (which a few scholars such as Khaled Abou El Fadl have begun to publicly discuss).

    And I don’t see why raising critical questions about how Muslim jurists treat menstruation, and the messages that barring menstruating women from prayer sends about women’s bodies should be off limits. One might reasonably ask if an article in the _Toronto Star_ is the best place to discuss this, however. It would be great if Muslimahmediawatch would have at least one article which critically examines the ways women’s bodies are portrayed in the ocean of books, pamphlets, online materials and recorded talks given by scholars and others which aim to tell Muslim women what we can and can’t do during our periods.

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Mona Eltahawy, like Asra Nomani and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, is constantly railing against the judgemental and narrow minded attitudes of others, yet actually thinks the only true ‘good Muslim’ is one exactly like her.

    Fact is, I don’t like or need finger pointing whether it comes someone with a big beard or without a hijab.

  • http://www.luckyfatima.wordpress.com luckyfatima

    I do respect Mona Eltahawy and I think the article was supposed to be self-centered. certainly most of her work is not, self-centered. But wasn’t that the point of this particular piece, to put her own narrative out there? One doesn’t have to agree with her every action and belief to support her, either. She does very hard and needed work as an activist for Muslim women as a Muslim woman. That’s enough for me.

  • Sana

    Salaam Humayra,

    Quick things – I’m not saying that Eltahawy is putting herself out there as a lone voice. That’s not the point of this article. Additionally, same with the menstruation bit you’ve picked on. I’m not here to make a fiqh ruling or opinion. Allahu’Alim on those things. Rather, I’m pointing out the general absurdity of such a statement and again what sort of relevance it has to the apparent point of her piece.

    My problem with Eltahawy, Nomani, Alibhai, even Manji (although I think sometimes she brings a better debate to the table, however groan-inducing and factually flawed) is that there’s this focus on the Self as the basis for not just opinions but normative ideas. And that there’s this heralding of one’s experience and talk about “my life” that is so constant and ultimately damaging. Yes, their realities are real and unfortunate – these should never be diminished, but such realities should not be the basis for discussing in such vast terms issues pertaining to a community of over 1 billion people and essentializing the faith as well.

    And also – again, why is it confusing that someone who supports pluralism, human rights, gender equity etc would support the constitutional rights of American citizens in the face of bigotry?

    There’s nothing special about this. Yet it is being presented as so and it is not unique to Eltahawy OR a certain genre of Muslim feminists.

  • http://www.monaeltahawy.com Mona Eltahawy

    Sana

    I’m puzzled why you think my column is about Park51. I mention Park51 to introduce televangelist Bill Keller and his faux concern for Muslim women.

    If you’re interested in my views on Park51, there are columns I’ve written specifically about it:

    Muslim Americans Have a Long History Before 9/11
    http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=28427&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0&isNew=1

    Hey, America: I’m a Muslim, Let’s Talk
    http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=28458&lan=en&sid=1&sp=0&isNew=1

    Stand up for Right to Offend
    http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/858915

    and

    Park51 and the Two-Way Street of Offense and Bigotry
    http://www.islamcomment.com/twoseas/?p=70

  • Krista

    Not a major point, but I actually find the Star to be the best out of Canada’s major newspapers – it’s often more community-focused than the Globe or the Post (and maybe even than some of the other major local papers), but still a pretty good source of news, and I wouldn’t call it a tabloid. (The Toronto Sun, on the other hand, definitely would fall into that category – not sure if that’s what you were thinking of?) The Star’s reporting on Muslims is by far the most balanced of the big Canadian newspapers.

    Overall, I would love to change the discussion from individual exceptions or sources of confusions to looking at why people would even see them as such in the first place – that if you’re confused, or if you see a Muslim feminist as exceptional in some way, then that’s your problem and not necessarily a reflection on the Muslim activist in question. Kind of along the lines of what I wrote in these posts:
    http://muslimahmediawatch.org/2010/01/tahmena-bokhari-a-study-in-how-we-talk-about-contradictions/
    http://muslimahmediawatch.org/2009/12/a-tale-of-muslim-women-activists-in-two-cities/

    (I’m linking to those because I can’t seem to articulate my point as clearly at the moment – still recovering from the school term, apparently! – but my wish list for these conversations would involve changing the whole framework and starting from an acknowledgement of the diversity of experiences among Muslim women, and the fact that we, as humans, are all confusing and exceptional in some way or another.)

  • Dina

    “It would be great if Muslimahmediawatch would have at least one article which critically examines the ways women’s bodies are portrayed in the ocean of books, pamphlets, online materials and recorded talks given by scholars and others which aim to tell Muslim women what we can and can’t do during our periods.”

    YES. Agreed, also 100% on the messages and signals doctrines on menstruation “problems” send regarding women’s bodies, and their healthy relationship with their female bodies.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    “And that there’s this heralding of one’s experience and talk about ‘my life’ that is so constant and ultimately damaging.”

    I’m also confused as to why focusing on the ‘self’ in such articles is a problem. Indeed, when pieces like Eltahaway’s do NOT focus explicitly on the ‘self’, critics are quick to disparage the writer for speaking ‘on behalf of’ all Muslims. Focusing on the ‘self’ is a strategic choice, and a legitimate avenue for expression. I think it’s totally cool if Eltahawy wishes to write an autobiographical account of her experiences of being a Muslim woman. I don’t think she’s pretending to represent all of Islam, just her own personal narrative. That’s the point of focusing on the self — because it is impossible for speak for 1 billion Muslims.

    Would you rather her write about other people’s experiences instead of her own? How it that less problematic? Why should we expect personal narratives to speak of the whole truth? Eltahawy’s experiences may not represent the full truth, but is it still Truth nonetheless.

    The problem with critiques like this is that is implies that only the marginal are endowed with the burden to represent the whole of Muslims. There is so much discussion on the degree to which heterodox Muslim accounts are justified in ‘representing’ the majority, as if they were a priori expected to do so. As Humayra poignantly put, there are remarkably few critiques on Muslimahmediawatch that investigates the ways in which Muslim women are portrayed in the vast amounts of pamphlets, books, fatwas, and other literature within the ‘mainstream’ (whatever that means) flavor of Muslim writings. The orthodox accounts are rarely critiqued for representing the whole of Islam, even though they explicitly claim to do so.

    Maybe this is because of the language issue, I don’t know. But these writings are ‘media’ too, and – perhaps more importantly – they are picked up by the secular media as authoritative representations of Islam and Muslim women.

    The critique that ‘such and such account doesn’t represent all of us’ seems to me to be a bit banal. Why should I expect that it represent all of us? Why should I care if it doesn’t?

    -r

  • Lara A

    Salaam Alaikum,

    The reason (in my opinion) MMW doesn’t tackle a lot of the current literature, pamphlets etc discussing menstruation is because such a discussion takes us straight into the land of fiqh and theological debate, something we try to avoid because it just turns into an unproductive slanging match.

    Reading postive descriptions, reinterpretaions of the female boy is someething we would very much like to promote, if you or anyone else sees any, let us know and we’d happily discuss it.

    As for the article in question, the problem isn’t so much that Mona speaks of her own experiences, it’s that she consistently views her own experiences and viewpoints as vastly superior to anyone else, if you’re not doing it like Mona, then you’re doing it wrong. This is a trap that the aformentioned Nomani, Alibhai-Brown and Manji also fall into.

    Writing is not a binary, there is space between first person experience and speaking for every Muslim ever, and it would be great to see more Muslim writers embrace it.

  • http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org Ophelia Benson

    “such realities should not be the basis for discussing in such vast terms issues pertaining to a community of over 1 billion people and essentializing the faith as well.”

    How do you deal with both of those at once? How do you say anything at all about a community of over 1 billion people without essentializing?

  • Ayesha H Ali

    Gosh, where do I start

    1)Islam as a faith DOES belong to Mona as much as any other Muslim

    2)Sana, you miss the point entirely. Mona’s article points out that being a Muslim woman today does not necessarily mean that you fit one category or label. There are many different facets of her life which contribute to who Mona is as a Muslim woman. This appears to be the motivation for her bibliographical style.

    3)Mona is anything but self-congratulatory. She is honest and her style of writing is that of a strong woman who likes to cut out the BS. Mona speaks her mind and should be congratulated for doing so.

    4) Your following comment comes across as quite paranoid “I understand what she’s doing: she’s painting a portrait of her unorthodoxy so that the reader could then be further confused for her support for a generally mainstream mosque being built on “contentious ground.” “ I really don’t think you understand what Mona is doing at all. The article is not about Park 51!

    5) “Is there something about supporting the right of menstruating women to pray and supporting the banning of the niqab that puts one so above a Park51-sort of campaign that her support should astonish us?” – Yes there is. The first two causes benefit you, me and 50% of the world’s population. Women. Sisterhood is a rarity in the Muslim world thanks to polygamy so how about you embrace Mona’s solidarity rather than accusing her of not possessing any?

    6) You say that Mona denies the “nuances” of the religion. I don’t think she does, however, I’m sure you understand that Mona has a word limit to stick to so instead of waffling on, she is direct.

    7) “perpetuate the painfully stereotypical image of Islam and Muslims as medieval and backwards; the faith itself, in particular, is portrayed as one in heavy need of a Martin Luther-esque sigh-inducing reform.” What has Islam contributed to the inventions, science and developments of the world in RECENT times? Think about it. Nada.

    Muslims used to be the pioneers in medicine, art and philosophy amongst other things. Cordoba was the intellectual centre of the world. The Cordobans had street-lighting and civic infrastructure that took the rest of Europe a couple of centuries to catch up with.

    Now? Muslim states in North Africa, Asia…they have horrendous unemployment, high percentage of illiteracy and open sewers. We have gone backwards. See a spade for a spade Sana.

    Many women across the world DO think Islam is in need of reform, not just Mona. I am one of those women. Bottom line is, a religion IS what its people do, not what the religion SAYS it does.

    So all in all Sana, I think you’ve made a wholly unfair representation of Mona’s article as a result of a knee-jerk reaction. I hope you’ll take the time to reconsider your actions and reconsider your approach to reading Mona’s (and other writer’s) articles in the future. There is little to be gained by trying to discredit the works of a strong woman (who happens to be Muslim) who possesses intellect, a humanitarian spirit and a respected, articulate voice. Mona has a lot to give and she is a rarity. You should respect that fact. If your critique were genuine, I would not be saying all of this regardless of whether it was Mona or anyone else.

    I wonder if you will publish my comment. I guess only time will tell.

  • winoceros

    I have a hard time with the positions taken sometimes regarding this “we’re all different” motif.

    For example, in the above article, it states that Ms. Eltahaway doesn’t acknowledge the wide diversity of Muslim usil al-fiqh or other sectarian and practical differences.

    But neither does this writer in her critique of Ms. Elhahaway. Then, when asked about a specific point, we are told that it’s a matter of theology or that this is not the place, etc.

    It’s as if it’s safe to say “we’re diverse practitioners” without actually having to take a stand on the practices one finds legit or not legit. Would it be dangerous or unpopular in some way to say “You know, I really don’t want to stand shoulder to shoulder…I don’t believe in the Jinn or that Shaitan will slip between us.” or “I think it’s okay to let my daughter dress Western, I only really follow the ‘good parts’ version of the Qur’an” (h/t to ‘The Princess Bride’) or “I think it’s time to cast off this ‘daughters only inherit half’ or ‘adoption isn’t for real’ business and say that was for the old days’?

    What are we afraid of? When we use vague generalizations like “we’re diverse practitioners” or assert that personal narratives aren’t representative enough and should be discouraged, it looks as if we’re not willing to examine the faith’s basis for ourselves as true feminists.

    Would it be okay to reject some of these doctrines that lead to political and social powerlessness for women? What’s the worst that can happen?

  • Michael Elwood

    “What are we afraid of? When we use vague generalizations like “we’re diverse practitioners” or assert that personal narratives aren’t representative enough and should be discouraged, it looks as if we’re not willing to examine the faith’s basis for ourselves as true feminists.”

    LOL “we”? When did you become Muslim, female, and a “true feminist”, Winoceros?

    • Fatemeh

      @Michael Elwood: Non-Muslim comments and critiques are welcome, provided they’re respectful and fit into our moderation guidelines.

  • Michael Elwood

    “@Michael Elwood: Non-Muslim comments and critiques are welcome, provided they’re respectful and fit into our moderation guidelines.”

    My comment wasn’t directed at non-Muslims in general, but winoceros in particular. I found his comment odd because he’s been so disrespectful of Islam and Muslim women (including feminist like Mona) in the past:

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/islam/forum/ref=cm_cd_pg_next?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2YU5IAI2FCUZJ&cdPage=6&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx1I0QYWRM7ITLV&displayType=tagsDetail

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/islam/forum/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg4?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2YU5IAI2FCUZJ&cdPage=4&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx3A7U8NXB5M4LI&displayType=tagsDetail

    http://www.amazon.com/tag/islam/forum/ref=cm_cd_pg_next?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2YU5IAI2FCUZJ&cdPage=2&cdSort=oldest&cdThread=Tx6OGF9ZPVNKA7&displayType=tagsDetail

    • Fatemeh

      @Michael: I just don’t want the thread to derail into personal attacks, that’s all. Sana’s piece isn’t about Winoceros, and I’d rather we focus on her piece than another commenter’s history. :)

  • Michael Elwood

    Alright, Fatemeh, my bad. :-)

    • Fatemeh

      @ Michael: No worries! Thanks for participating. :)

  • http://www.vspomegranate.blogspot.com Joseph Shahadi

    @Ayesha H Ali
    I don’t want to insert myself into this excellent discussion and certainly don’t want to derail it in any way but when you write,

    “What has Islam contributed to the inventions, science and developments of the world in RECENT times? Think about it. Nada. Muslims used to be the pioneers in medicine, art and philosophy amongst other things. Cordoba was the intellectual centre of the world. The Cordobans had street-lighting and civic infrastructure that took the rest of Europe a couple of centuries to catch up with. Now? Muslim states in North Africa, Asia…they have horrendous unemployment, high percentage of illiteracy and open sewers. We have gone backwards.”

    … I feel the need to comment.

    This often-repeated critique completely excludes the devastating impact of colonialism on the Islamic and Arab worlds. Even in our (ha ha) “post”-colonial period the rise of so-called Islamism (which tends toward conservatism in its social manifestations) is larely a response to western intervention (which is clear when you look at formerly more socially liberal states like Egypt). And really, couldn’t the same what-have-you-done-for-me-lately question be asked of Europe? The Renaissance was a loooong time ago.

    Muslims (and by extension Arabs, whether we are Muslim or not) have not “gone backwards” any more than we are stuck in the “fill-in-the-blank” century. Civilizations rise and fall and periods of innovation are cyclical. This is as true of Christian Europe as anywhere else and yet this kind of critique is never made in that direction. Greece is heralded in the West as the seat of democracy but contemporary Greece is a freaking mess. But when was the last time anyone clicked their tongue and said, Greece used to be so important, but what have the Greeks contributed RECENTLY? Or the Spanish? Or the English, for that matter? How much of a free ride does Shakespeare net them? We invented Math but we are “backward”?

    It is no mystery why this is: orientalism and Islamophobia depend on lopsided views of world history like these. As a Christian Arab and a man I do not presume to lecture you about gender reforms within Islam but I take issue with this argument when it is used to justify the need for them. Unless I am misunderstanding Sana’s argument (Sana please let me know if I am) this is her point: when you make your particular experience the justification for a call to reform you inevitably dismiss and reduce people whose lives don’t match yours. That is as much a distortion of the present as the past. Not okay.

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar- Nuseiba

    Excellent post.

    I don’t know man, I don’t really buy into this feminist nihilism which too often privileges the individual; personal perspective; and in an effort to discount essentialism and to negate Islamphobia, collapses into the argument of diversity. On the latter point, this too should have its limits as I think we should have some sort of centrality as an achor to our discourse: the very critique that these writers are using against the Muslim community, for instance, relies on a centrality in our tradition in the first place. Sure, there are aspects of our traditions that are contested in fiqh etc. However, it’s almsot like we are afaraid of having anything definite said about Islam outside of the ‘Islam means Peace’ (yawn). But this isn’t the central focus of the post but I think the diversity argument applies here too.

    As for the politics of this, I find it remarkable that Eltahawy can see the controversy and resistance against the building of the mosque as part of a broader hostility to such projects yet echoes the sentiments of Sarkozy and co. on banning the erroneously described ‘burqa’ (niqaab). Regardless of what she and others think about the niqaab on religious grounds (note: she can’t seem to enforce her position of embracing diversity here), it is still a symbol of Islam and religious faith that, like the minarets in Switzerland and the mosque controversy in New York, is part of a broader campaign to eradicate the visibility of Islam in the West. That is I think the most effective way of framing the issue.

  • Ayesha H Ali

    @Joseph Shahadi

    Thank you for your response to my post.

    I can assure you that I am not ignorant of the impact of colonialism on the development of a state (Muslim or otherwise) however this does not explain why states such as Singapore (British colony 1824 to 1963) and Hong Kong (British colony from 1839 to 1997)are contributing to science and technology in the ways which they are. Both are massive hubs for business.

    Singapore apart from being in the top 10 most technologically advanced countries of the world, is home to scientists who discovered the genes linked to Glaucoma. Singapore and US scientists have also collaborated to research changes in the influenza virus genome. The country also has the most advanced military in South-East Asia.

    India too was colonised until 1947 yet has established itself as one of the big 4 trade economies in the world, 100% of India’s graduates speak English and it is at the forefront of telecommunications.

    Colonialism should not and must not be used as an excuse for socio-economic decline. Look at your leaders and remember that leaders are a reflection of their peoples. If Singapore, Hong Kong and India can come out of colonialism stronger, bigger and better, so can Islamic states.

    I’m not sure why you think Islamic conservatism is a response to western interventions. Although plausible in theory, in practice, the situation is quite different.

    “And really, couldn’t the same what-have-you-done-for-me-lately question be asked of Europe? The Renaissance was a loooong time ago.”

    Erm…no not really! The developed world/the West has formulated the idea of a civil society (one must accept that through gritted teeth or otherwise) and here are more examples:

    Stem cell research
    First cure for HIV (Germany)
    Creative industries (UK)
    Cloning
    IVF
    Computers!!
    Telephone (Alexander Graham Bell – Scotland.)

    Need I go on?

    Indeed the rise and fall of civilisations is cyclical however…I think Islamic states have been stuck in first gear for quite some time now with little to contribute other than human rights abuses, corruption and suicide bombings.

    You mention the Greeks. When’s the last time you heard of Greeks ordering gang rape victims to be subjected to 200 lashes? (Saudi 2007) When’s the last time you heard of a Greek man blowing himself up and committing mass murder? Please be reasonable in your comparisons Joseph.

    Greece might be in a mess economically and politically, but the citizens of Greece enjoy freedoms that those in the Muslim world could only dream of.

    Spanish scientists may have discovered that olive oil fights breast cancer. The English? As I am English,I happen to know of a catalogue of contributions:

    -The gas turbine
    -Railways
    -Locke, Newton, Darwin
    -Kipling, Dickens, Elliot
    -Luxury cars (Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Lotus)
    -Negative and colour photography
    -Tennis, badminton, cricket, golf, rugby, boxing
    -Snooker, croquet, bridge…

    Muslims/Arabs did not invent “Math,” they invented Al-gebra.

    “when you make your particular experience the justification for a call to reform you inevitably dismiss and reduce people whose lives don’t match yours. That is as much a distortion of the present as the past. Not okay.”

    As I mentioned in the posting above, writers have a word-limit and it is ridiculous to to reject Mona’s article because she “essentialises.” If Mona did not draw upon her own experiences, the article would be lack-lustre and waffley to read. Her experiences allow a tight focus and therefore brevity.

    I hope the above clarifies the reasoning behind my comments in the previous posting.

    Kind regards,

    Ayesha

  • Ayesha H Ali

    @Sahar-Nuseiba

    Why do you think the West is trying to eradicate the visibility of Islam and not religion in general?

    Switzerland, I agree was a case of using a bazooka to kill a fly. Quite disproportionate, unfair and unecessary. However to describe the banning of ostentatious religious symbols in France as the “banning of the burqa” is inaccurate and untrue.

    The kippah, large crucifix pendants, burqa, turban are ALL affected by the French ban which means that Jews, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs alike are all affected by the ban.

    You may find this article by Kenan Malik (scientific author) quite telling of actual statistics related to the phenomenon that you describe as Islamaphobia:

    http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/prospect_islamophobia.html

    Kind regards,

    Ayesha

  • http://www.nuseiba.wordpress.com Sahar- Nuseiba

    Ayesha, I merely focused on the visibility of Islam here (and not the religion as a whole which i’d presume would be the logical inference here )as that’s what the mosque, minaret and burqa debate have in common. I’m not only referring to France’s burqa ban either though as similar calls have been made in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium (which if I recall correctly has a ban in place), America and Canada. It is within this context that I made the aforementioned claim. Further, true, France’s defense of laicite could be construed as an effort by a secular state to maintain the strict separation of the state and religion and not only Islam, however, this current context of hostility toward Islam and the Muslim community cannot be ignored and separated from understanding the debate in France. Many French commentators have pointed out that the 2004 banning of the hijab was specifically targeting the headscarf as the entire justification went back to school controversies from the 80s (see Joan Wallach Scott), and not clashes with Catholics over crosses or yalmucks with Jews. The latter were after thoughts added to mask what was an attempt to remove the increasing presence of headscarves in public schools. To ignore this history with its debates taking place long before the law, and the political context in which the ban was introduced is naive to say the least. If you’re going further than this and broadening the narrative to one of the modern secular attempt to co-opt and bring under its fold, religion – that is partly true but not the full story as other religions have been politically disarmed and bowed to the dictates of the secular sovereign.

    And I don’t describe Islamophobia as a ‘phenomenon’. In describing it as such, suggests that the hostility toward Islam is something new and has emerged from post-cold war politics brought to the fore with 911. These tensions have existed long before and only emerge in specific periods of crises.

  • Jannah

    Sana, Mona, and everyone– On the intellectual merit of writing one’s subjective impressions– If women generally find it easier than men do to formulate their ideas this way, and if this mode of discourse is deprecated, that amounts to de facto discrimination against women’s discourse. It places women’s writing in an unequal or even devalued position.

    À propos of this, the woman who invented feminism– Mary Wollstonecraft– tried to take the subjectivity out of her writing, and discovered that this took a lot of the value out of her writing too. She starts out from the position held by Sana, and then after putting it to the test, concludes that Mona’s approach just works better:

    “In writing these desultory letters, I found I could not avoid being continually the first person – ‘the little hero of each tale.’ I tried to correct this fault, if it be one, for they were designed for publication; but in proportion as I arranged my thoughts, my letter, I found, became stiff and affected: I, therefore, determined to let my remarks and reflections flow unrestrained, as I perceived that I could not give a just description of what I saw, but by relating the effect different objects had produced on my mind and feelings, whilst the impression was still fresh.”

  • Ayesha H Ali

    @Jannah: Here, here to that.

  • Sana

    Seeing this late – but I disagree, Jannah. I am not deprecating experience-writing. I, myself, do it often. I am saying there is a problem when you are making harsh generalizations and dangerous comments in the course of such writing. And I think it’s a bit ridiculous to call this critique as discriminating women’s discourse. As soon as you say that, you create little flexibility for those of us who chose to participate in the discourse outside the ‘mainstream.’ I think subjectivity is extremely important in writing, but so is responsibility. If the repeated representation of my faith is coming from a subjective perspective – whoever it is and whether they are shedding a positive or negative light on the faith, its people, practices – I think it’s good to an extent but irresponsible to another …as an intellectual merit.

  • Sana

    And to Joseph:

    “Unless I am misunderstanding Sana’s argument (Sana please let me know if I am) this is her point: when you make your particular experience the justification for a call to reform you inevitably dismiss and reduce people whose lives don’t match yours. That is as much a distortion of the present as the past. Not okay.”

    Yes, exactly.


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