As right-wing pundits are gaining momentum in North America, minority groups are unsurprisingly being targeted. Among the questions being raised is: when does “national security” trump the need to address an instance of sexual assault against women? Muslim women, especially those who wear the hijab or niqab, experience a unique sense of vulnerability in the post-911 world. Two cases come to mind when pondering the parallels between the state’s fixation on curbing terrorism and the frustration that can be felt amongst Muslim women in North America who experience sexual violence.
Experience of Sexual Assault? First, let’s make sure you are not a terrorist
I’ve read numerous articles about Balayla Ahmad, a 35 year-old black Muslim woman of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, who reported a series of instances of being sexually harassed by a fellow student to the university administration, and was met with apathetic responses. Similar to numerous cases of reported sexual assault, Ahmad’s claims weren’t taken seriously. After approaching the dean of her university, he simply told her that his “hands were tied” and asked her what she suggested should be done.
Here’s the astonishing part: instead of the university showing appreciation for Ahmad’s strength to stand up and speak out, Ahmad was not only denied any reprisals against her attacker, but was later approached by university security personnel, who informed her that the F.B.I wanted to interrogate her based on allegations that she was involved in terrorism that was provided by her attacker.
The university’s decision to act on threats of a potential terrorist in their midst, while ignoring reports of sexual harassment, clearly sends the message that the violence and terror that is wrought on women’s bodies are trivial, especially in comparison to potential terrorist acts against homeland security.
Forget your abuse; your niqab offends
This past December, a Muslim niqab-wearing woman known as NS took a complaint to the Canadian Supreme Court to fight the request that she remove her veil while on trial, in a case against her cousin and uncle, who sexually abused her when she was a child, between the years of 1982-1987. When the sexual assault case was first brought to court three years ago, NS’s uncle and cousin argued that her attire impeded on their right to a fair trial; the preliminary judge agreed, concluding that the rights to a fair trial trumped the rights to religious freedom. [Read more...]