This is what Laila Alawa, Muslim American activist, blogger and supposed feminist has to say in response to Amina Tyler’s images of her bare breasts in defiance to the religious patriarchy oppressing her in her native Tunisia and the support she received from the feminist organization FEMEN this past month (FEMEN is often billed as a “radical” feminist organization, even though they have not engaged in any kind of activity that would terrorize or hurt people. Demanding equality, fighting for it boldly and exposing flesh are hardly radical, unless you have an issue with the female body). Anyway, Alawa says:
“I am a proud Muslim-American woman, and I am tired. I am tired of being told that I am oppressed. That I have no voice. That I need to be liberated.
I am tired, and I am speaking out for the rights of my and other fellow Muslim sisters to be able to dress and be how they wish to be.”
She continues alleging that FEMEN was doing nothing but engaging in shameless Islamophobia with “sex appeal” and that she feels “offended and disgusted” by the outpouring of support for not only Amina but oppressed and subjugated women in all Muslim countries.
Well, it’s a good thing to know that after all the death and rape threats Amina has received this far, Alawa is disgusted by her bare breasts essentially.
In her article, Alawa goes on stating that FEMEN’s protests “display a blatant expression of orientalism and colonialism in their belief that there is only one way to be free: through the utter disrobing of all garments covering the body.” She assures us that men in the Islamic faith are “sweet [and] supportive” and that rape and sexual violence are practically unheard of in her home country of Syria.
She, further, insists that Muslim men do not hold women “back from speaking out” and goes on to reduce FEMEN’s and Amina’s activities to just the actions of a bunch of “condescending protesters, all skinny, white and fitting squarely into the acceptable media paradigm of ‘true beauty‘” trying to tell her what to do. She concludes by stating that “[Her] choice to cover is [her] own.”
Indeed. The operative word here being choice.
Memo to Ms. Alawa: Yes, you do have a choice and are not oppressed because you are a Muslim-American practicing lite-Islam.
If you were a Muslim-Saudi, or a Muslim Iranian, or a Muslim-[insert oppressive Islamic state here] you’d be singing a different tune.
Or would you? It seems as if Laila Alawa, including all the critics of FEMEN and Amina, completely missed the point, namely that this is about choice.
As Inna Shevchenko, the leader of FEMEN stated “you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day.”
By definition, choice is “an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.”
Since when do Muslim women have an option to not wear the hijab?
Fact is that women in Islamic countries do not have a choice with respect to the hijab (and much less anything else for that matter). If they do not wear it, they get in trouble. It’s the law of the land. It is not optional.
If you have no choice but to wear the hijab then how can you, with good conscience, insist that you have a choice?
And more to the point, if you do not even grasp the concept of choice how can you proclaim to the world that you have one?
The difference between Alawa and Muslim women actually living in Muslim countries is that Alawa has a choice and they do not. For her to speak out of a position of privilege – and having a choice is a huge privilege – and think she is speaking for all Muslim women or even a fraction thereof or that she represents the typical pro hijab standpoint is deeply problematic.
See that’s the thing with unexamined privilege: it assures you that things are good for everyone, when they really are just good for you. Alawa has relative privilege compared to other members of her community. As her HP profile write up states, she is “a graduate of Wellesley College where she received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in education studies and currently works as a research associate at Princeton University. During her time at Wellesley, she conducted and presented on a breakthrough social psychology study examining the gendered stereotypical perceptions of science careers.”
She is planning to pursue a graduate degree, is a fundraising chair and social media advisor, as well as the head of the alumni committee for the Muzslim Public Affairs Council Young Leaders. She also has a blog and you tube channel.
This does not sound like an oppressed woman to me.
It is also interesting to note that with all her (false) comparison of FEMEN to imperialist tools of the West, she is currently living in such a country and enjoying the freedoms that were fought for so hard.
Furthermore, Alawa sounds like a woman who has the choice to do whatever she likes, such as get a higher education, hold leadership positions, be an activist for controversial issues and even have her own you tube channel where she can show her face expressing her opinions, support as well as criticism for various political and social and cultural causes. I do wonder if she would be able to lead the same kind of life, and pursue the same kind of endeavors, if she were living in her native Syria.
No one, no one, can tell me that women in Muslim countries have a choice to not wear the hijab (for the sake of discussion we’ll disregard for a moment here that even her choice to want to wear the hijab is a result of her having been manipulated and conditioned into the patriarchy since day one).
FEMEN = Respects Choice. Islam = Does NOT Respect Choice
The difference between FEMEN/Amina and the regimes of Muslim countries is that FEMEN does not take away a woman’s choice to wear hijab or be nude, nor does it force anyone to do either.
The position of muslim countries, on the other hand, forbids women to be bare and makes them wear hijab.
There is a world of difference.
FEMEN’s position expands freedom; the Islamic regime/patriarchy limits it or takes it away completely.
The FEMEN position treats women as autonomous, rights-bearing human beings deserving of full equality; the Islamic regime/patriarchy treats women’s bodies as state property and women as second-class human beings, not just citizens.
FEMEN expands freedoms and autonomy, the regimes and governments if Islamic countries limit and take them away.
One of the hallmarks of oppression is the lack of choice. When you do not have choice – regarding many things in your life but especially as pertaining to your own body – then you do not have a voice. When you do not have a voice, you are not free.
Oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in social identity groups, such as being a woman. Oppressive consequences can be institutional in the form of laws, customs, or practices – such as wearing hijab and else having no say and autonomy over one’s own body and life.
Do women have a choice not to wear hijab in Saudi Arabia? In Iran? In Syria? In Lebanon? No. Then they are not not oppressed.
Choice is a fundamental aspect of freedom. If you don’t have a choice then you are not free and if you are not free you are in shackles.
For Alawa or any Muslim woman to state that, despite all of the above – which we all know to be true in all Muslim countries – she is, in fact, not oppressed is mind blowingly ignorant and a testament to the extent of her manipulation and conditioning by said oppressors.
Alawa can cloak herself in chains or paint as far as I am concerned, but it has to be her choice. When I see women like Alawa and other Muslim women insist that they do not feel oppressed given that, unlike their fellow Muslim sisters in Islamic countries, they can choose to not wear the hijab, it really makes me wonder if they ever actually understood the point Amina was making, which is not just the showing of bear tits like this was porn, but to state that she should be able to do with her body whatever she wants, be it to expose herself or cover up every inch with cloth.
Disgusted by FEMEN?
It is also very sad and somewhat unsettling to see Alawa be insulted, infuriated, and disgusted by FEMEN and naked, female body parts when Amina has been the one receiving death and rape threats from the so-called gentle muslim men Alawa insists populate all Islamic countries; where holy men like Tunisian imam Adel Almi, chair of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (a commission solely put in place to control women, not men) proclaimed that Tyler “deserves to be whipped or stoned to death”.
If I was an Islamic leader relieving myself on women’s rights on a daily basis and issuing death threats against Amina and I saw the outpouring of support for my cause essentially by Muslim women around the world, including Alawa, I sure as hell would not feel inclined to change my position and make women be anything else but subjugated, third class human beings deserving of only the things the patriarchy I perpetuate permits them to have.
Instead of standing in solidarity with FEMEN and Amina, recognizing the symbolism and meaning of their protests, these women are just shooting themselves in the foot by taking the side of their oppressors.
What is More Offensive: Breasts or Stoning?
So I ask you Laila Alawa and esteemed readers, what in the rational world is more offensive, a young lady baring her breasts or a man that calls for her to be stoned to death?
Is it more offensive to be born gay or to be killed for being gay? Is it more offensive to be raped or having to marry your rapist? Is it more offensive to write a few lines rejecting the faith imposed on you by your parents and culture or is it more offensive for 100,000 people to march calling for your death?
Is it more offensive to drive a car or be whipped for driving a car? Is it more offensive to uncover your hair or to be imprisoned for it? Is it more offensive to talk to a man in public who isn’t related to you or to receive 100 lashes and imprisonment if you do? Is it more offensive for a 14 year old to have a couple of boyfriends or being executed for it? Is it more offensive to make a film or to be killed for making it?
I have no beef with Alawa and Muslim women or anyone who chooses to wear hijab. I do, however, have a problem with someone claiming that they, in fact, have a choice, when clearly they don’t. I also have a problem with people who cannot condemn all of the above atrocities without reservation or hesitation. If you chose to be insulted on behalf of all Muslims, Laila, then you must also defend all punishments and policies in its name.
Alawa’s ignorance and sheer head-in-the-sand approach with respect to her and that of other Muslim women’s predicament only underscores the need for people like Amina Tyler and FEMEN. It is unsettling to see someone visibly carry with herself the symbols and tools of oppression; someone who witnesses her Muslim sisters be subjugated every day to the tyranny of the religious patriarchy and yet still have the audacity to say that she and her Muslim sisters are not oppressed.
The manipulation, brainwashing and gas-lighting these women undergo is immense. And it is the ultimate tool of control, namely to really believe that you are not oppressed and that despite all evidence to the contrary the system is working for you and in your favor.