Feminist, anti-imperialist and student movements of the 1960s and 1970s brought to the fore the concept of the ‘personal [as] political’. Since that time, the ‘personal [as] political’ has become axiomatic, offered as a means of dismantling the dichotomy between the public and private spheres of our gendered lives. Feminist activists and scholars often use ‘the personal [as] political’ to address a diversity of questions related to gender, patriarchy (Hanisch, 1969), class and race (Lorde 1978; 1984). Similarly, I use the personal [as] political to show how it has been personal experiences and events that have attracted me to feminism. However, there are few causal lines between my ‘personal life’ and my adopting a feminist politics. Rather, it is my feminist principles that much affect on personal life.
I also come from a Muslim, Iranian, migrant background – where many in my family migrated to the U.S. from Iran in 1979 and throughout the 1980s as both economic migrants and refugees from the Iran-Iraq war – though we never considered ourselves that. In America, at least in the 1980’s, immigrants weren’t categorised as such–we just became ‘Americans’ for better or worse!
So, for me, though I did a PhD on the subject of Islam and feminism, my ‘expertise’ (if I have any to impart) is sourced at the intersection of my studies as well as my life experience. Continue reading
Lately, there have been many stories of non-Muslim women deciding to wear the Muslim head scarf (or hijab) as a way of showing solidarity with Muslims, especially Muslim women, in this age of growing Islamophobia. One example is the Wheaton College professor, Larycia Hawkins, who is donning the hijab for the Christian season of Advent, explaining, ‘as part of my Advent Worship, I will wear the hijab to work at Wheaton College, to play in Chi-town, in the airport and on the airplane to my home state that initiated one of the first anti-Sharia laws and at church.’ Continue reading
Collective hatred comes from narratives of cultural memory.
In 1916, anticipating victory, France, Russia, and Britain created the “Middle East” out of the remains of the 600-year old Ottoman Empire. Lebanon and Iraq were directly controlled, others kept in spheres of influence. Haifa, Gaza, and Jerusalem were an Allied “condominium.” Arms control was strictly European. The Arab powers learned of this at war’s end (1917). Agreements assuring Arab independence had disappeared. Continue reading
Walli Ullah Safi, 21 years of age, has been in Cloverhill prison for more than two weeks.
In very different circumstances, I was in prison at the same age for two weeks after protesting the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was one of hundreds of demonstrations I had been on after returning to the United States from Iraq. I had first travelled to Iraq, just barely 18 years of age, with a campaigning group who had highlighted the humanitarian crisis Iraqis faced under the sanctions. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the group had rallied in opposition to the Iraq war, mobilising thousands onto the streets. Continue reading
Impossible Solidarities: Islam, Feminism and (fortress) Europe’s shifting frontiers
Whilst co-organising a vigil this past week commemorating those who drowned in the Mediterranean attempting to breach fortress Europe, I came across a passage by the late James Baldwin that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. The passage comes from an interview Baldwin did for the NY Times on the occasion of his 52nd birthday and his return to New York after more than a decade in Paris. Time constraints won’t allow me to give you much of a background, but given the ways in which racism and the tropes it perpetuates again and again remain as prevalent today as they were in 1977 when this article was published, it’s perhaps better you hear it as if Baldwin is speaking about Baltimore or Ferguson or even Lampadusa or Calais when he says,
there is a history we all have to contend with…For a long while, liberty was a privilege in this country–if you’re doing well, you can shout to your heart’s content, provided no one starts listening to you and your message doesn’t threaten too many people. We act as if this is a free country, until the White people tell us its not by jailing us or killing us. And a lot of us have been locked up or murdered over the centuries we’ve been here. Its a hard thing to talk about…Some people have tears in their eyes and let me know how awful they feel about the way our poor live, our blacks, or those in dozens of other countries, but people can cry much easier than they can change.
The silence around feminism and religion is a profound one, and I think some of its roots lie in the narrative of secularism and its influence on feminism in both the academy and in feminist social movements. I think the silence functions to highlight a difficulty in approaching the subject of female autonomy in relation to religion, but also indicates a negativity towards religion on the part of feminist scholars –justified or not.
Although there has been a significant amount of work on religion and patriarchy (Dominance of a society by men, or the values that uphold such dominance.) as well as on agency, autonomy, and gender; there has less on the subject of women, religion and autonomy. Continue reading
I ask the Afghans and the Muslims of the world: Would you rather be the smashers of idols or the sellers of idols? – Mullah Umar, supreme leader of the Taliban
It is not those who forget, but those who “remember” the past that are condemned to repeat it. -Sheldon Pollock, “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India” Continue reading
In the wake of the massacre that took place in the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, I have been called upon as a scholar specializing in Islamic paintings of the Prophet to explain whether images of Muhammad are banned in Islam.
The short and simple answer is no. The Koran does not prohibit figural imagery. Rather, it castigates the worship of idols, which are understood as concrete embodiments of the polytheistic beliefs that Islam supplanted when it emerged as a purely monotheistic faith in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century.
The fact is that Islamic feminists in western countries, and especially in France, struggle with identity affiliations and fight against multiple forms of oppression that bind them to post-colonial and anti-racist movements. Continue reading
‘Islam and feminism have had a troubled relationship’, and goes on to warn us of the perils of faith-based feminism. While concurring with the essence of her critique of political Islam’s gender discourse, I suggest that the ‘troubled relationship’ has changed, and this change is actually due to the rise of political Islam, which has opened a dialogue between feminism and Islam. But before I go any further, some clarifications are in order. Both ‘feminism’ and ‘Islam’ are contested concepts, that is, they mean different things to different people and in different contexts. In other words, we need to start by asking: Whose Islam? Whose Feminism? These questions are central to Sholkamy’s critique, but remain implicit and unpacked in her essay. Continue reading
n a cool, breezy evening in March 1999, Hollywood celebrities turned out in large numbers to show their support for the Feminist Majority’s campaign against the Taliban’s brutal treatment of Afghan women.
The person spearheading this campaign was Mavis Leno, Jay Leno’s wife, who had been catapulted into political activism when she heard about the plight of Afghan women living under the brutal regime of the Taliban. Continue reading
In a faded photograph of the nineteenth-century Cumberland County jail, the squat assemblage of thick walls and barred windows stands like a child beside the more imposing courthouse that dominated the public square of Fayetteville, North Carolina. On the day in 1810 when an escaped slave found himself standing in front of these two buildings, the local authorities pushed him toward the former without hesitation. As far as his captors were concerned, runaways had no right to expect due process or legal protection. Even if he had been given the chance to plead his case, he would have found it impossible. Inside a courtroom, he would have understood neither the words spoken by the judge nor those within the book upon which he might have placed an oath—swearing hand. He was no stranger to laws, but his were found in another scripture, formed of another tongue.
It is nearly impossible to read any article about Iranian women and not spend the entire time rolling your eyes. Historically, the Western media has tended to make liberal use of Orientalist and infantilizing depictions of Iranian women as, alternatively, trapped in the harems of their turbaned overseers (a historically pre-1979 trope applied liberally to all Middle Eastern women) or militantly crazed and clad in black “traditional garb” (a post-1979 trope specific to Iranian, and later Islamist, women).
Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war. Days after I’d filed my essay for The New York Review on Ari Shavit and his fellow liberal Zionists, the perennial tension between Israel and the Palestinians had flared into violent confrontation and, eventually, a war in Gaza—the third such military clash in five years. For liberal Zionists these are times when the dual nature of their position is tested, some would say to destruction. What the Israel Defense Forces called Operation Protective Edge—a large-scale mobilization that by the time a twelve-hour “humanitarian truce” was agreed on July 26 had reached its nineteenth day—was no different. Continue reading