Apple and its Islamophobic Thesaurus

This post was written by guest contributor Arwa Aburawa.

About a week ago, I was sitting in a cafe talking to a new acquaintance about racism. The person in question had worked on issues of race and racism for some time and I would say is a lot more clued up about the tensions and insidious forms of racism than I am. Even so, I was a little shocked to hear her say that she preferred the outward racism of her childhood than today’s hidden-behind-a-smile-racism. Personally, I didn’t want to go through the experience of having my hijab pulled off and being called a ‘Paki’ (derogatory term for Pakistani) by complete strangers again.

But as she explained, that childish racism was at least easy to confront and fight against. If a kid called you a ‘Paki’, you could at least tell them to piss off, thump them or maybe try and explain that, in fact, you are not of Pakistani origin (not that that matters to them or is even the point). However, about two days ago, another lovely friend of mine found something a little scary on her Apple Mac which made me question the destructive impact of the ‘quiet racism’ that normally goes unnoticed and unchallenged.

While looking up the word ‘relegation’ on the Mac’s own dictionary, this definition came up in the thesaurus section. It reads:

relegate

verb

Islamic tradition and tribal custom relegate women to lives at home. DOWNGRADE, lower, lower in rank/status, put down, move down; demote, degrade. ANTONYM upgrade.

I know what you’re thinking. This has to be a joke or mistake of some kind. It’s not. Hidden in the Apple Dictionary version 2.0.3 (51.5) © Copyright 2005-2007, is this prejudiced and exasperatingly simplistic description of Islam and the role that women play within the faith. The source appears to be this 1996 CNN article.

So, let’s break it down a little and unpack that sentence.

First: What is meant by tribal custom? I am assuming that they don’t mean that Islamic tradition is much like the rest of the world’s tribal customs in its “relegation” of women to the home, but that in fact Islamic tradition and Islamic tribal custom are seen as one and the same. This is odd as I imagine that the tribal customs of say, Indonesia or Azerbaijan are very different to those of Saudi Arabia or Nigeria. So what tribal customs are they actually talking about? One might guess that they are referring to the Arab world, given the common assumption that Arab and Muslim are the same – although of course Arabs aren’t necessarily Muslims and Muslims aren’t necessarily Arab.  On the other hand, one might also think of the tradition of purdah which crosses religious lines and has historically been observed by both Hindu and Muslim communities in some parts of India and South Asia.

In either case, the attempt to locate which custom is intended underlines the fact that the very idea of an “Islamic tribal custom” is nonsensical, since customs in the Islamic world are so diverse and include everything from patriarchal traditions which stop women from wearing trousers to the world’s largest matrilineal society amongst the Indonesian Muslims of Sumatra.

 

Second: Islamic tradition does not relegate women to lives in the home. It doesn’t stop them from working, earning their own money, being independent and choosing not to consign their entire lives to the domestic sphere. Yes, there are some conservative Islamic clerics who preach that a woman’s place is in the home – just as there are conservatives in all religions who hold that opinion.

However, there are millions of Muslim women who do work, now and in the past. And if we consider Islamic tradition to be our heritage, the past does provide us with inspiring examples of the public role of women in early Islamic socieities. Perhaps the most famous example is that of Khadijah, the Prophet Muhammed’s (pbuh) first wife who was his employer, owned her own business in the 7th century and was influential in the public arena. Indeed in the Qur’an and hadith, Prophet Muhammad’s wives are portrayed as dynamic members of the Muslim community who were fully engaged in Muslim public affairs. Aisha bint Abu Bakr, for example, was involved in military raids and political affairs and took part in the Battle of the Camel.

If you want to find out more- read anything by Margot Badran, Miriam Cooke, Laila Ahmed, Amina Wadud or just google ‘Islamic Feminism’.

Back to Apple’s thesaurus: what’s more frightening than the casual Islamophobia my friend stumbled on her Mac laptop, is the idea that someone – someone with less knowledge of Islam and Muslims – has looked up ‘relegate’ and now thinks it’s okay and widely accepted that Islam relegates women to the home. That Islam, “downgrades” and “degrades” women and dismisses them as “lower in rank/status”. Whilst this definition has been removed in the updated version of the dictionary – it doesn’t say this in my 2007-2009 Mac dictionary version – I can’t believe there hasn’t been an effort to remove it completely. I don’t think it is acceptable for anyone to look up the word ‘relegate,’ and read a simplistic Islamophobic definition which presents itself as incontrovertible ‘fact’.

Arwa Aburawa is a freelance journalist with an interest in the Middle East, the environment, Islam and various social issues. Follow her on twitter @arwa_journalist

  • eli

    If the Apple thesaurus is islamophobic, then those numerous clerics and other religious people, who claim that woman’s place is at home, are also islamophobic?

    • MJ

      to answer your question (which i know is not really a question but your attemp at trying to be clever) yes they are-because Islam doesnt say a womans place is in the home. if it did-why is there a section dedicated to the rights of working women and her income?

  • Chris

    I feel ambiguous about this article. Yes, I find it unacceptable a Thesaurus definition would single out one single religion, all the worse a negatively stereotyped one, and give such a simplistic statement whilst defining something that has per se nothing to do with said religion (to relegate).

    I am however not in agreement with all you wrote, either. If you look at all mainstream teachings of Islam, especially the accepted schools of Islam, you find the system (you have in all other monotheistic and many non-monotheistic ones, too) that the woman’s place is primarily the private domain, and the man’s the public domain. In absolutely mainstream teachings of Islam that divide is even stronger than in other monotheistic religions, when only men can speak law over other men, hence be judge, and only men can lead countries and communities as heads of state. When we move from this macro-domain to the micro-level and the household, I am sure you are aware absolutely mainstream teachings, when asked about the marriage contract, assign primary responsibility for the household to the woman, and primary responsibility for bread-earning outside the home to the husband. To not get into the rather hierarchical system of right to request obedience between the spouses except for the core question here, the right to work outside the home vs. being “relegated” to the household: It is absolutely mainstream opinion in Islamic teachings of the five schools of thought (so no extremists included here) that the wife can only work as long as her husband agrees and she does not neglect the household. This system of obedience to the husband, and this right to veto a woman’s work by the husband is also more explicit in Islamic teachings than in other monotheistic religions and confessions therein.

    In this sense, I find your piece at certain times very simplifying, and if you pardon my frankness, a little dishonest and misinforming for general audiences.

    Now what I will readily accept and support at any time is individual agency – there is the teachings and there is individual, very private interpretation of religion. But what is the content of religion when we happen to want to discuss the content of teachings, the mainstream opinion for something, say “in Islam” as a religion? The commonly accepted mainstream teachings, the main schools of thought by scholars over centuries, which happen to be accepted by the overwhelming majority of Muslims the world over, or my private interpretation that may be in opposition thereof? Personally, I think it would be dishonest to require of people not to depart from accepted mainstream teachings of Islamic history of thought, which, when discussing amongst Muslims themselves, will carry a greater weight of argument when asking whether something is permitted or not than “my private interpretation”, you will agree. So when schools of thought and teaching are accepted internally as a certain authority over the faith (not to say there is no room for individual choice to not respect the schools of thought after personal reflection), it would be dishonest to reproach to non-Muslims when they accept these prima facie as contents of the Islamic religion. Wouldn’t you agree? And there, I must say, you can find *plenty* of evidence of the women being assigned the house, men the public sphere. Some people would use the valuing term “relegation” of women to the private sphere, people of many faiths would disagree and say this is in fact a very important role in society that has nothing to do with relegation. Personally, if I may add that, there can be no doubt in what status is higher in society in terms of social decision-making power, and I find there is much to criticize about women’s primary place in the household.

    Also, on a small note, I find the utilization if Khadija as prophet Mohammad’s boss and wife as a way of proving women’s status in the public domain for Islamic societies quite deceiving or inaccurate, as well. When Khadija died, substantial parts of the Quran, and hence of the Islamic religion, were not yet revealed. She was hence a product of pre-Islamic tribal Arabian society, not of an Islamic society. Particularly at the moment she became Mohammad’s boss first, a business women before that, and at the moment she became his wife, that was all in an absolutely pre-Islamic context. Whatever her responsibilities, status and power were hence cannot serve as examples for women in Islamic societies at all.

  • John Daniel

    Apple makes computers and other devices. It doesn’t write thesauri. The Oxford University Press does, however. Perhaps you should direct your complaints to the editors of the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 1st edition, published in 2004. I don’t know what good it will do because they have already changed that text, which is why you can’t find it in any recent Macintosh.

  • Rochelle

    John Daniel is right, and we ought to have some basic technological understanding – i.e. knowing who authors these softwares – before we rush to blame. That being said, anyone who knows even a little bit about Apple knows that they “package” their hardware and software into one product and work with those software developers in order to make their programs compatible with Apple OS. So in a sense they are responsible for the content that the software that comes with their product even if they didn’t author said software. And then, as the OP mentioned, the source is originally from CNN so that makes things even more complicated, so I think Apple deserves some slack on this one.

    But I think Chris makes the more important point. Its a bit disingenuous to go on about the “racism” of Islamic stereotypes all the while a broad sweep of religious, customary, and secular law in Muslim-majority countries execute discriminatory laws that, de jure or de fact, *relegate* women to the home.

    And just in case anyone accuses me of making this up: http://www.wluml.org/node/588

    So which one is a bigger problem: A couple kilobytes of data on a 7-year-old mac dictionary program or the millions of women who are structurally coerced in this way? Obviously it is important that we call out the micro-abuses of racism in our society, as well as Islamophobic tropes and stereotypes. But such blanket statements as “Islamic tradition does not relegate women to lives in the home” is a bit… um… untrue? Where is this fantasy world? Can I eat all the ice cream there and never get cholesterol?

  • samira

    Most articles I have read on muslimah media watch are (rightly) about internal criticism i.e the relegation of Muslim women to a limited sphere and their deprivation of their rights by their own communities.

    However I think the few articles like this one receive unfair comments. Covering the representation of muslim women in the media must deal with the fact that islamophobia remains a politically correct form of racism. As the article points out relegating women to the domestic sphere has only recently been overcome in the West and is a cornerstone of most religious and cultural traditions in the world. Reading the sentence “Islamic tradition and tribal custom relegate women to lives at home” I find it hard to imagine any other ethnic or religious group depicted this way without outrage and accusations of racism.

    regarding Chris’s points,

    - dismissing Khadija as irrelevant is strange when within mainstream Muslim tradition she is revered and held up (including her businesswome role) as an “example for women in Islamic societies”

    - the article refers to Aisha who was a political and religious leader after prophets death, also a huge amount of hadith gathered by scholars quote her as an authority

    - some muslim women partook in battle in the prophets lifetime and fought alongside him, one woman practically saved his life in the battle of uhud

    - Omar the third Caliph appointed women as e.g inspector of markets and as a judge in rape cases

    Islamic law has been interpreted in ways that suit time and place, it has a built in divergence and calls for taking into account the traditions and norms of the society it is practiced in, as you probably know when islam first appeared giving married women the right to own and manage their own property (while the husband was obliged to provide for his wife) was not a given in many societies, it was something eg Victorian women campaigned for

    Like in any other culture there were famous powerful women with public roles who more conservative forces attacked, the poet wallada bint al mustafiki who defied the prevailing morality in her personal life or rulers like shajarat al durr both were exceptional medieval women at a time when most women (not just in Muslim societies) were confined to the private sphere

    There were also women with public roles who were accepted by society e.g many of the best calligrapher’s in Andalusia, and female islamic scholars who gave men (like the famous Al Nisai) their degrees in hadith, islamic law, and memorizing the quran

    In modern times the vast majority of modern muslim women work outside the home because it economically unsustainable for them not to, and women have become more prominent in politics for example Bangladesh were women lead the two main parties

    I feel it is is not only Muslim extremism who have a fantastically unrealistic view of Muslims as a single entity with the same ahistorical cultural traditions which are unique from the rest of the world, it has also become mainstream opinion, and this needs to be combatted, which this post does.

    Oh, and of course it is not Apple’s thesaurus in the sense that Apple wrote it, but it is the thesaurus Apple used.

    • Rochelle

      I agree with everything you have said, Samira. And it is really important that we remember the racism implicated in Islamophobia. The claim that Islam – no matter how you define it – is more sexist than Christainity, religion, or even “secular” legal structures simply holds no water, and to propagate this myth constitutes oppression.

      My only point is that when we challenge such stereotypes, we shouldn’t be overcorrecting by white washing the history of Islam because it doesn’t do anybody any favors. As an analogy, we can say determinatively that the Unites States “tradition” – as in history, foundational legal statues and trajectory – is racist. It just is. This is not a normative statement, it is a descriptive and empirical one. That doesn’t mean that the United States is racist “at its core” or that US cannot be the US without racism or that the US hasn’t been capable of some tremendous racial justice. Is just means that our history (if you’re American) is a racist history, regardless of how much we can decouple that history from our ideals, our hopes, and our struggle to overcome it.

      Likewise, Islamic tradition – as in the historical legal interpretive regimes that have developed over the centuries – is sexist and has relegated women to the home. It just has. It doesn’t mean that Islam is sexist “to its core”, or that it wasn’t radically feminist in its own context, or that if it was interpreted correctly it wouldnt be the egalitarian religion I believe it should be. (I actually have a whole rant about how I believe the ayas that many male scholars point to as the basis for male-as-head-of-household and women-in-domestic-sphere have been grossly misinterpreted and that there is no Quranic basis for such discrimination – but that’s for another post.) But that is an historic fact that we need to deal with. Whether we like it our not, that’s our history.

      So the 64 thousand dollar question in my head becomes this: How do we challenge Islamophobia in the US, and the racism that often accompanies that, without white washing our history or livign in a fantasy land that dismisses all the real oppression that women face in Muslim communities? Because remember, when a lot of Muslim community cry sexism, they are called a traitor, or a native informant, or Islamophobic themselves as an intimidation effort to keep their mouths shut. And I’m not going to fall into that trap.

      PS I don’t think Islamophobia=racism or that the two are analogous in all ways. Maybe MMW can write a post about that? :)

  • http://www.inutiburkan.wordpress.com SmurfBurkan

    @samira
    Hear, hear! Thank you for your more balanced approach to the article and what has been said.
    While I do believe that the Muslim (global) community (in no sense homogenous) has some serious issues regarding women and women’s rights to deal with, it is unfair to portray Islam, Muslims and Islamic tradition and history as intrinsically misogynistic. It is not. There has always been strong, famous, important and respected women within the Islamic tradition. They have only been sidelined as in the case for ALL women during our human history. Both many Muslims as well as non-Muslims want to portray Islam as misogynistic and demeaning to women. It doesn’t necessarily have to.

  • Chris

    “- dismissing Khadija as irrelevant is strange when within mainstream Muslim tradition she is revered and held up (including her businesswome role) as an “example for women in Islamic societies””

    I will not comment on what I see as a little unfair and intrinsically unbalanced comments on my post (“strange”, “less balanced” etc). I can only say I do my best to be balanced in what I say, here and elsewhere, when bringing up critique on Islamic teachings, which I have been interested in (to live by, primarily) and studying for a long time. Just for clarification on where I stand, for some time I would have referred to myself as a convert to Islam, but at this point I probably do not refer to myself as a believer (in any monotheistic religion) full-heartedly. So I say the things I say not as a believer, but as a scientist and scholar, among other interests, in the area of gender studies.

    I also would like to point out I addressed islamophobia before anything else in my post, which I think may have gone a little swept under the rug.

    To this concrete quote, Samira:
    I know that mainstream scholarship refers to Khadija as the product and example of a Muslim woman in a Muslim society. I say it is plain wrong. Everything that is used to describe women’s high status in Muslim societies by Khadija’s social status in her society (her ownership over her father’s heritage, her businesswomanship, her being prophet Mohammad’s boss, her proposal for marriage to him etc.) all happened *before* the relevations of the religion of Islam. To argue her status as a status of a Muslim woman therefore is wrong, in my opinion, and my opinion is based on a simple timeline argument. All she had and all she was was in part before any Quranic revelation, and she died long before the revelations of the Quran were completed. This means she was a product and an example for a pre-Islamic Arabian business woman. In part, she became of course a Muslim wife to prophet Mohammad for the revelations that were given before her death (a lot of them, discriminating by gender, like polygamy, were not in place before she died, you will agree based on the knowledge of the ahadith). Her social status and power were undoubteldy there *before* any single revelation. Whether or not scholars utilize her as an argument for the power and status of a Muslim woman in this sense does not make a point for me, because, simple historical timeline and event-wise, they are wrong. This can be seen from the Islamic sources of knowledge themselves for the information on when Quranic revelations occurred, and from the ahadith telling about Mohammad’s life with Khadija before the revelations. I will not rely on scholars’ argumentation where I can see, historically, they are undoubtfully wrong, will I? So to me it would be strange to adopt their argument when so clearly it is unfounded.

    This does not mean I think Muslim women, especially early Muslim women, had no important role in society or in public life. I am well aware they were in part teachers, in part war commanders, etc.

  • Chris

    I personally believe we as women, not necessarily we as believers in God or other transcendental powers, were better off if we questioned (every, but most importantly our own) religion and/or secular constitutional tradition for both the explicit teachings, and the implicit/passed on customs based thereon, independent thereof and influenced thereby. I personally believe, from my readings of Muslim sources and for what they imply, not everything in Arabian pre-Islamic society was as unfavorable to women as often portrayed by Muslim scholars. There seems to have been quite some diversity in traditions, beliefs and customs, and the tradition Khadija came from – as one of you has rightly said – seems to have granted high-status born women like Khadija more rights and agency than women had in the West up to the 20th century. To be balanced, her status and entrepreneurship are not matched by many prominent examples in later Muslim history, either. Nor is there much female war commander tradition except for (one of ) the prophet’s wives in Muslim history. Is Islam unique in its assignment of the domestic sphere to women, and of the assignment of public leadership (and with it at least explicit power over society and its development)? No (and I said that at numerous places in my original post, although I think it does not hurt to repeat it here). Does the primary assignment of the private sphere to women, and its inherent and sometimes explicit exclusion from public power and office in inter alia the Muslim faith, incur consequences for women’s status in societies? We would be unrealistic to think it does not. Are these interpretations based on men’s interests as they are done by men? Of course they are. Would interpretations change as women interpreted them? I am sure they would.

    I believe we are in agreement there. I suspect we are in agreement on the outstanding role of prophet Mohammad’s wives and daughter in early Islamic history. I guess where we do not agree is right at the core of this religion of Islam (like at the core of most other religions I am aware of) there is limitations in the revelations themselves, instituting a gender hierarchy. There is limitations to women’s status and development in the Quranic revelation, and in the ahadith. Are we not acknowledging here Islam, like other religions, adopts a biologist view of the bipolarity of the gender, and “natural” or “God-given” differences between the genders?

    I suppose, aside a couple of other ideas and doubts, this has been what has kept me from adopting the Muslim faith as my faith, and from becoming a believer. This is of course a private matter, just as adopting a faith is (although wildly less popular among like-minded and like-interested peers, I should add). But the reason I say these things: I wished women, when adopting or keeping a faith, did not inhibit themselves from seeing and telling the gender disadvantage there is also in their treasured and cherished faith. The sky is not the limit for women in all faiths I am aware of (and it is in secular constitutional traditions, if we stick to “the word” and not the implied and passed on practice); there are gendered limitations right at the core of religions. I am puzzled why conservative religious women seem to more fully accept this part of their faith, and treasure motherhood, wifehood and essentially limitation primarily to the home as their “holy duty of femininity”. More progressive believing women, to my impression, talk these fundamentals of their faith away more readily. To me this is an ostrich tactic, which I do not think is helpful. Now if in your private interpretation of faith and in your personal agency as a believer equipped with a mind and will you do not accept these teachings, more power to you. But as someone who has sincerely been interested in adopting the Muslim faith, and who at the same time believes it is fundamentally unjust to assign primary responsibility for the domestic sphere to woman, and primary responsibility to the public sphere to man, a gender hierarchy I personally have come to find in the Quran and in the ahadith, I must say I have not been able to make sense of what I see as a contradiction. For me, to be of “equal value” despite “different roles/functions” in society and in the community is just not good enough. I think the sky must be the limit for able and committed individuals of whatever gender, colour, ethnicity etc. There must not be a primary filter so basic as woman and man to sort into functions primarily in the public and primarily in the private domain for a society and community to be just. Childrearing, while an incredibly important task for the furthering of a community, must not keep bright and talented members of half of humanity in the domestic place. This world needs women leaders, women heads of state, women judges, and this world needs husbands to do housework and childrearing to enable women to take this public place. My conviction, and what I feel my main disagreement with Islam, a faith that still fascinates me, and with the Quran, which I still find magical despite not knowing a word of Arabic.
    I suspect a lot of progressive Muslim women may experience internal turmoil at the biologist thought that are present in the sources of the Muslim faith themselves, as well. Maybe voilà, the reason why progressive Muslim women (and feminist Muslim women, more precisely) are quick with thoughts there is nothing “relegating” women to the private sphere in the teachings of their religion, but when people put the finger on where it does say just that, actually, in the Quran, in the gospels, in the ahadith, in whatever religious fundamental source you cite, there is, say, and ending will to discuss these issues. Now this may also be due to the public nature of forums like this one. I suppose it does not make matters easier individuals potentially hostile to one’s faith may join in, and rejoice in critique of, I say it again, a highly negatively stereotyped and I may add bashed faith. There is upsides and downsides to an open forum on the internet.

  • Tec15

    Whenever there is anything on Islamophobia the best we can seem to hope for from some people is “Yes, but why aren’t you taking about ….. instead?” Others jump right into defending the basis of whatever kind of Islamophobia that was being talked about.

    Rochelle will WLUML ever publishing anything about the staunchly “secular” government of Uzbekistan forcibly sterilizing thousands of women or is reprinting Centre for Secular Space blather defending an Islamophobic writer demonising the hijab, a far more important activity? See like you, I too can engage in “Whatouboutery?” and condescendingly preach a more productive venture for a group I am criticizing, but unlike you I would be in the right in this case.

    This comment has been modified according to MMW’s comment moderation policy.

    • Rochelle

      Tec15:

      Seriously, you can’t take 5 second to do basic research and realize that WLUML has published a ton of stuff about the secular uzbek govt? http://www.wluml.org/taxonomy/term/55

      And I’ll tell you what Tec15: You write something about Uzbeckistan forcibly sterilizing thousands of women and I will personally see to it that WLUML publishes it on their website. Deal?

      This comment has been modified according to MMW’s comment moderation policy.

  • Tec15

    Oh and btw, not only does Apple provide Islamophobic Thesauruses, but they are also now refusing to sell some of their products (like Ipods) to Iranian nationals and Americans of Iranian descent on the off chance that they might send those products to Iran, something that is now apparently illegal in the regime of “Hope and Change”.

    Of course now that I have brought it up, someone will probably publish a 1000 word essay outlining exactly why Apple is right to do so and how it is all the Iranians fault anyway and anyway, why am I overreacting when in the Afghanistan, the Taliban is doing something awful and we should all be concentrating on that.

  • samira

    There’s too much here to respond to in one comment, so I won’t try. I will say this: the sentence this post deems Islamophobic is Islamophobic. My test for Islamophobia is if someone is depicting Islam as a monolithic monster and attaching a vastly generalizing, over-simplistic, very negative picture to it. That sentence does that on a breath-taking level.

    Refusing to accept this is NOT white-washing, anymore than refusing to accept racism can be described as “white-washing.” And before anyone jumps on that, yes, Islamophobia is obviously not racism, Muslim is not a race. I call it a form of racism however, because it shares the characteristic of lumping millions together and slapping a label on them.

    I don’t think we should stand by and shrug and say, “well, there’s some basis of truth in that vastly simplistic label.” That reaction would be unthinkable in any other similar scenario.

    Women’s role in Islam isn’t something that can be pinned down and summed up in a sentence. Many Muslim women are horrifically oppressed within their patriarchal societies, many perpetuate that oppression on themselves and other women, and many have complete freedom to fulfill their ambitions. My view is that the faith has the potential to allow women to live without limits, though societies do their best to impose them.

    Chris, you urge us to address the inherent imbalance when it comes to gender in Islam as though it was an incontrovertible, concrete, unchangeable fact, but religion is not stable and fixed, gender hierarchies and patriarchal traditions adjust and change according to circumstances. As I said in my comment, people have always chosen what they want from their faith – and all faith involves an element of picking and choosing. It has to, or people would be dashing babies on rocks.

    • Rochelle

      I don’t think calling out Islamophobia is white-washing. Full stop.

      What I do think is white-washing is the line: “Islamic tradition does not relegate women to lives in the home.” That’s a bold statement and I don’t think it accurately discribes reality.

      And let’s get real, Tec15: If i want to talk about how mandatory hijab in Iran is oppressive or how Islamic fundamentalists just murdered a human rights worker in Pakistan, you’re going to do the same derailing tactic, like you usually do, labeling me “Islamophobic” for airing our dirty laundry or whatever. Unless we’re talking about how all Muslims are oppressed all the time unconditionally, you’re going to dismiss us as Islamophobic, racist, and imperialist.

      I can see more where Samira is coming from: You guys seem to think that this blog pays way more attention to criticizing Muslim communities than it does calling out Islamophobia whereas I just don’t se it that way. Articles about Islamophobia are not few and far between: that’ve become the baseline for this and other progressive/anti-racist/social justice/feminist blogging. And when discussion does turn on Muslim communities outside the US, it is almost always in an apologetic tone, lest we appear “Islamophobic.”

      You’re not going to shut me up by calling me Islamophobic, Tec15, so please stop trying. Believe it or not, you were not the first person to discover the issue of Islamophobia or cultural imperialism in your intro to postcolonialism class. We’ve actually been talking about in the womens movement for decades and there is a diversity of opinion on the subject and the conversation is a lot more nuanced than you strawman us out to be. Not like it matters to you, but I personally have a huge issue with the Center for Secular Space and am actually in conversations with the founders now in order to get them to approach the issue of Islamophobia more directly because I think they fall short on that.

      But the thing you just don’t seem to get is that Islamophobia is not the main concern for a lot of people in the world. It’s a horrendous problem here in the US and in Europe, and I feel oppressed by it personally as I am a Muslim Iranian American. But most of the people involved in CSS or WLUML don’t operate in the US and they are working in very different context – one in which being a Muslim does not constitute an oppressed minority. These women’s activists are getting threatened every day by Islamic fundamentalists. They’re getting harassed, they’re getting murdered. My cousin was beaten within an inch of her life by the basij for wearing bad-hijab. Our colleague in Pakistan just got her house attacked. And anytime someone tries to talk about it they are accused of being a religious traitor, native informant or cultural imperialist. And then whiney liberal American girls like yourself have the gall to call them Islamophobic.

      So I’m sorry if seeing an outdated stereotype on a computer program that was upgraded SEVEN YEARS AGO just doesn’t stir my soul the way it does yours. Perhaps you can go tell this story to my (devout, Muslim) friend Hengameh Shahidi who is entering her 4th year in an Iranian prison right now for charges of defacing Islam by working for the 2009 Karoubi campaign and see if she’ll shed some tears for you.

      This comment has been modified according to MMW’s comment moderation policy.

      • Tec15

        ///And let’s get real, Tec15: If i want to talk about how mandatory hijab in Iran is oppressive or how Islamic fundamentalists just murdered a human rights worker in Pakistan, you’re going to do the same derailing tactic, like you usually do, labeling me “Islamophobic” for airing our dirty laundry or whatever. Unless we’re talking about how all Muslims are oppressed all the time unconditionally, you’re going to dismiss us as Islamophobic, racist, and imperialist.///

        Haha, Physician heal thyself and you wish I had made similarly inept attempts to change the subject.

        ///Articles about Islamophobia are not few and far between: that’ve become the baseline for this and other progressive/anti-racist/social justice/feminist blogging. And when discussion does turn on Muslim communities outside the US, it is almost always in an apologetic tone, lest we appear “Islamophobic.”///

        Eh? In what alternate universe is this far fetched scenario even remotely close to reality? Even this blog bends backwards far too much towards the views of hostile Islamophobes without sufficient push back (At least Imo).

        ///You’re not going to shut me up by calling me Islamophobic, Tec15, so please stop trying. Believe it or not, you were not the first person to discover the issue of Islamophobia or cultural imperialism in your intro to postcolonialism class……..And then whiney liberal American girls like yourself have the gall to call them Islamophobic.///

        You seem to be projecting a lot of things towards me that I have not said, and your assumptions about me (intro to postcolonialism class, whiney liberal American girls) while very amusing, are all wrong in every way.

        ///So I’m sorry if seeing an outdated stereotype on a computer program that was upgraded SEVEN YEARS AGO just doesn’t stir my soul the way it does yours.///

        I myself find this particular story to be small beans compared to the daily catalog of Islamophobic indignities committed in the West, and what really set me off was you and Chris again and predictably coming to downplay or even justify Islamophobia, something that seems to happen whenever there is a post here along those lines. That was what motivated my comment and otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered.

        /// Perhaps you can go tell this story to my (devout, Muslim) friend Hengameh Shahidi who is entering her 4th year in an Iranian prison right now for charges of defacing Islam by working for the 2009 Karoubi campaign and see if she’ll shed some tears for you.///

        Sorry, I would much rather tell the story of how CSS or WLUML blithely ignore (or sometimes even support) the horrific repression inflicted upon Muslim women by brutal “secular” regimes like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, or non-Muslim countries like Burma while they hypocritically claim to stand up for the rights of all Muslim women. Think she could instead spare a tear for the millions of these women who are victimized without even the benefit of having the professional “colonial feminist” circuit sticking up for them? BTW, nice try at emotional blackmail and trivialization of the issue, but again two can play this game.

        • Rochelle

          Wow, I didn’t know we support brutal regimes. I must have missed that in the last newsletter.

          I’ll be waiting for your submission, Tec15. You seem like a good writer – as long as you add some sources (and I do not doubt they exist) I’ll do whatever is in my power to get wluml to post. We might even been be open to a longer form contribution – like a campaign or a publication – on whats happening in uzbekistan. Interested? Of course your deeply held beliefs indicting wluml as colonial feminist organization might have to suffer, but I’m sure you can put that aside for the sake of this important cause.

          I’m serious about this tec, let me know and we’ll figure out someway to securely share an email.

          • Tec15

            Actually I don’t have any other sources than what has been published in the open press already, (Other than some anecdotal evidence which would not be appropriate). I am not Uzbek and I don’t speak or read Uzbek and Russian either, so I cannot handle primary sources.

            I would have thought that WLUML would have just republished a report on the forcible sterilization as it was fairly big news and reported by a number of Western news outlets and they have republished items from such sources before for other countries. Although it doesn’t surprise me that WLUML apparently does not have any actual volunteers in Uzbekistan.

  • tasnim

    Hi everyone,

    This post has provoked a lot of heated discussion and strongly held views, which is all good – I think everyone here appreciates a good debate. However at this stage I feel I should step in as acting editor and point to our comment moderation policy, in particular points 4 and 5. I hope we can keep this conversation relevant, civil and productive.

    • Rochelle

      I apologize for violating this policy: Tec15 does have good and important points even if I disagree with the implications. Ironically, in other circles (i.e. when I’m talking with the Center for Secular Space folks) I actually take a stance that looks a lot like Tec15′s. Plus I do tend to have a foul mouth and apologize for that.

    • Tec15

      I would also like to apologize for my comment towards Chris that was modified and I don’t want to give the impression that I was seriously offended by any of the stuff being said either.

  • Chris

    Wow. I did not even read offensive comments toward myself, so I guess I have the editors to thank for that.
    “and what really set me off was you and Chris again and predictably coming to downplay or even justify Islamophobia, something that seems to happen whenever there is a post here along those lines.”
    I pointed out I felt the Thesaurus definition was Islamophobic as an introduction to my comment, for its utilization of what is a minority religion in the headquarters country of the company concerned to explain a term that is not inevitably and inherently connected to the same minority religion. One would think this would clarify some basic cornerstones on where the commenter stands – under the basic premise of conversation partners being able and willing to listen, this is.

    I agree with Samira that gender hierarchies are not graved in stone, and that they do change over time. I personally feel they have changed less than what we make them out to change over the past millenia. If the dominant majority of scholars of all schools of Islam, and of many other religions, especially monotheistic religions, to this day institute a hierarchy between wife and husband at home, in the marriage, and between man and woman in the public and private sphere, then I believe we have not made the drastic progress we hypothesize about (and I agree that it is theoretically possible, and, in fact, would wish for a more open-minded and diverse reading of religious texts; if there were more progress and more diversity, I most likely would be a practicing believer, for I consider myself a spiritual person, and definitely not an atheist).

    I find it interesting such views, which merely critically argue widespread and dominant scholarly consensus within at least the established schools, can result in allegations of lack of balance on one hand, and, apparently, although to my blissful ignorance, in personal offensive conduct on another hand. I stand slightly disappointed dissent opinions are so little welcomed even on forums where you would expect people to welcome also critical thoughts in a framework of consensus of basically shared values and interests (one against Islamophobia, for instance). I also have to add even though I do not believe I have discussed much with Rochelle on this forum, I definitely got no Islamophobia of her comments, not one single time. There is a loud minority, to my impression, that screams “bias” and “xy phobia” every time someone does not rehash their own opinion with marginal modification of no more than .5%. This behavior is unfortunate from where I come from. And even more unfortunate is that such comments create a climate, where I suspect the silent majority does not feel welcome to trully discuss diverging points of views.

    • tasnim

      Chris, I would like to take issue with the dissappointment you express. Dissent is very much welcomed here, and MMW values constructive debate highly – I would argue the fact that commentators have responded with equally strong views is an indication of their interest in debate rather than a negation of dissent. No one commenting here has been prevented from expressing their views. In fact, though this discussion has at times veered off-topic somewhat I thought there were important points being made in a debate worth having and so haven’t intervened, only modifying comments when it came to strong language and what I deemed to be offensive/disrespectful. I appreciate both Rochelle and Tec15 having the civility and gumption to acknowledge this. Also, to be fair, Tec15′s comment was a short sentence which was not a personal attack on you so much as on your writing style, but I found that it did not fulfil the criteria of being “relevant, civil and productive,” and so edited it out without affecting the rest of the comment.

  • Chris

    Tasnim, thank you very much first for responding, and second for clarifying there were no personal insults involved.

    I will say I agree no one has been directly or explicitly prevented from expressing ones opinions or speaking one’s mind. I feel there is a climate, though, where quite strong and personal comments are directed at individuals that fall in the gap, not being of the “troll”/non-Muslims/atheist type, but not being of the “mainstream Muslim feminist” mindset either. I find the reproach of being “unbalanced” in the first place, a content reproach, quite quickly made and unfair – unless one takes the stance everything that is not of one’s own “mainstream”/accepted/shared opinion with no more than marginal deviance is “balanced”. This is of course a stance one can take, I personally do not think it is a stance one should take.
    Aside the reproach of being unbalanced, which was of course a topical and discussional point of view, I experienced other comments directed at me as a person to be quite agitated and confrontational (possibly within my cultural bias, which may be a different one from other individuals in this forum), as opposed to confrontational just on the topical level. I find negative comments toward someone’s writing style slightly less offensive than if it were comments on one’s person, but to be honest, finding myself in the dark on what the exact comment was, I nonetheless feel it lacks not only topical relevance, but basic respect for me as a discussion partner and person to negatively comment on language/writing ability or style.

    I realize these comments may not be deemed relevant for discussion and may therefore not merit publication. I still find it important to refer to you as moderator feedback on the point of view you expressed on whether, from your perspective, anything wrong or doubtful had (not) happened. I suppose we will have to agree to disagree on the evaluation of what happened here.

    • tasnim

      Thanks for your response, Chris. I am publishing your comment and responding to it in the interest of transparency, but I think the topic of debate has been well and truly exhausted at this point!

      As you may know, I am acting as editor while Krista is away, so any decisions made here have been my responsibility and any mistakes made are mine. The choices I have made in moderating are that I have erred on the side of not modifying anything unless it clearly violates MMW’s comment moderation policy. I apologize if as a consequence you felt attacked by confrontational responses, however it was perhaps inevitable given the topic that this post would provoke a more than usually heated debate. To be honest, I think the agitated tone and strong comments you describe can be discerned on multiple sides of the debate, and I would not attribute either a penchant for or sensitivity to the confrontational to any particular cultural bias.


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