Thursday, October 15, 2015

Is Liberal (Canadian) Media Silencing non-orthodox/ex-Muslim voices?


Photo from: lemoutongris.liberty.me


As the Canadian federal election date draws closer, I can't get my mind off the niqab debate. I can't stop thinking about the fact that this one issue demonstrates how voices like mine - from within the Muslim community are routinely ignored, cast aside, betrayed by the illiberal 'liberal' West ...simply for the crime of not fitting the simplistic tribalist narratives.

Zunera Ishaq - a Pakistani immigrant to Canada just like myself ....took on the government regarding the issue of niqabs during the citizenship oath and won the right to wear a mask in court when no one else is allowed to. She won the privilege to flaunt her alliance with an inflexible, misogynistic, hardline, right-wing, extremist interpretation of Islam in the face of already marginalized, threatened, liberal minorities from within the Muslim community.

Widespread liberal support for her is as distasteful as support for 'White nationalism' or 'Straight Pride'. Except not many liberals can see past the 'minority' aspect. Well, the KKK would be a minority in Pakistan, but it wouldn't mean that we start treating them as liberal heroes if they challenged 'the majority'.

This issue showcases how utterly alone people in my position are. We don't align with the position of the western 'right' on so many things, we are orphaned liberals - abandoned by the left which usually champions 'equality' and free speech, stands against the religious right....unless....'Islam', we are thus pushed into a corner where the only people willing to listen to us are associated with the right...which is not necessarily a compromise everyone is willing to make. But if they do, you can't fully blame them for wanting to be heard.

***

After centuries of burning witches, imprisoning freethinkers, certain parts of the world have finally reached a place where science and rationality prevail - where in the interest of protecting equality, the religious aren't favoured over the questioning or the godless. For once. But again, regarding Islam even in the 'human-rights championing West', our voices are silenced, left out of the conversation, misrepresented. We continue to be marginalized, targeted with unbelievable bigotry from the left and the right. If we speak out against our own oppression, we are labelled 'native informant' or 'house arab' by the illiberal liberals.

We are seen as being from the same stock of foreign 'savages' by the far-right, and the conversation is hijacked by these two extremes; the xenophobes who wish to cast suspicion and doubt on all Muslims, or the 'liberals' who ally with our bigoted Muslim far-right, our oppressors.

I am left with an ache in my gut, and a sinking feeling when I see the hypocritical left, fight against victim blaming, slut-shaming but celebrate it in the form of niqab simply because it is not 'their culture', it is not their fight. Their fight is with fox news, Stephen Harper, and that's it. Their fight for equality ends there. Misogyny is acceptable if packaged as part of a foreign culture.

With their caricature representations of orthodox Muslims as 'authentic', they create a wider gap, they fuel the Us. Vs Them, they fuel anti-Muslim bigotry. It is not just the Conservatives (who perhaps oppose niqab for their own opportunistic purposes) that feed this fire, it is these hypocritical illiberal liberals too.

Crushed... are the voices who want progress within our Muslim communities.

How 'Regressive Progressives' and 'Illiberal liberals' promote intolerance towards Muslims
(click to enlarge)


This inversion of left and right is truly a bizarre phenomenon...

(click to enlarge) 


This debate in Canada has been going on for a while, and sure some cautious articles have spoken mildly about what the niqab may symbolize, and what a person who *chooses* to fight for it may be like, they have failed to include the voices of the oppressed in this dialogue. Mostly religious supremacists, who already buy into the misogyny are interviewed, or people from outside the culture making false equivalences to nuns, lip gloss and high heels are given platforms to speak.

On the other side angry anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists, or anti-muslim bigots are heard shrieking about how niqabs should be done away with. People from within the community who've personally been affected by forced modesty concepts in the religion are disturbingly excluded from this debate. Everyone talks over those who have suffered through this. And even women like myself who grew up in Saudi Arabia, who have seen morality police caning women's ankles for their hair showing - we are labelled 'bigots' for opposing our own oppression. It's sickeningly twisted.

I hear people on the radio say, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper must *STOP THIS NOW*, this is not our Canada, this is divisive", I hear people implying that he's responsible for the bigoted attacks on Muslim women. Its so intellectually dishonest to hold him responsible for the attacks (and no, I'm not a fan of his), because all he did was state fact, that this is a misogynistic practice. And it is - he did not condone violence or aggression or hate towards Muslim women. In fact, not addressing the obvious elephant in the room, that this regressive practice is harmful and disrespectful towards women, and the fact that it gives extremists anonymity privileges in situations no one else gets them, is what fuels bigotry. The longer these blatant issues go unaddressed the more the frustration grows.

No one is helped through denial and accommodating religious supremacy.

The idea that all opposition to the niqab is 'misguided' because people assume women are always coerced doesn't address those grievances that acknowledge some women choose this. It doesn't address the question, "what *kind* of person fights to perpetuate this?"

In this way, political extremist Islam, non-violent as it may be in this case, is given a pass...its given a foothold to establish itself, to grow and flourish. This is not just about the niqab, this is about the disturbing brand of Islam that is rapidly expanding across Muslim communities.

Naively I think, that perhaps these liberal (Canadian) media outlets are just not aware that a perspective like mine exists. So I reach out, time and time again, I am ignored. At times, others reach out on my behalf, with an interest in hearing the other side. Sometimes media outlets have contacted me for my views on the niqab, but as soon as they hear what I have to say the interview gets called off or 'bumped' or 'restructured' for some mysterious reason.

Ex-Muslims, we are treated like untouchables. Especially when its Hardline Muslims vs Liberal Muslims, the hardliners always, always get platforms, support....we do not fit the box of what the media wants to show as 'Muslim'.

*silence*

*silence*

*silence*

After multiple requests from tweeters - the media sometimes approaches me
with an inquiry about my views.  (Btw the story being referenced is one where they spoke to niqabis and a hijabi about their thoughts on niqab.....surprise, surprise....they were *all* very supportive)

Once I speak to them though, that's the end of it. Its becoming quite predictable.
So I figured I'd save people the trouble of doing this dance and remove the personal details from these emails
and share, to demonstrate the clear patterns. When it comes to issues important to fundamentalists,
like the niqab, it is incredibly taboo to oppose.
Or incredibly inconvenient that I oppose from within.
A 'white' opposer can easily be cast as a xenophobe.

Sometimes the inquiries are even ALL CAPS URGENT. And then we get a chance to speak to each other...

Once we communicate, and its clarified that I am indeed
not easily portrayed as ignorant, or aiding bigotry, my shock value role isn't
useful any more. 

This is the narrative Al Jazeera prefers. Poor minority Muslim woman,
opposed by 'the other', 'the westerner'.  Without this Us v. Them distraction,
people may actually be forced to think about the issue of
treatment of women re:niqab
These are the views of the Al Jazeera panelist on niqab. This is the kind of person they would rather
hear from and provide a platform to. Someone who isn't shy about their support for
barbaric Sharia....unsurprising if one would stop to consider the type of person
who would fight for niqabs to continue.
More disturbing views from the Al Jazeera niqab panelist, comparing female 'circumcision', aka
Female Genital Mutilation, (done for the sole purpose of controlling a woman's sex drive)...to elective, consensual
surgeries women choose as adults, to enhance sexual pleasure or body image like clitoral hoodectomies

*silence*


*silence*

There was once a time right after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where I read
a particularly nauseating, apologist article in the Toronto Star...
I was so appalled, that I reached out to them, saying I'd love to offer a different,
though controversial perspective in their publication. I mentioned that
I am anonymous because I receive countless death threats, I was told "to apply formally" - despite
my mentioning, the fact that I....um, can't because I am anonymous and cannot use my real name. It's like they are just not
reading or hearing the words I'm putting out there, or understanding the gravity of them. They would rather
continue to hear from Muslims who fit the profile.

Canada is not alone in this skewed regressive representation of 'Islam' or 'Muslim'. Even someone I admire like Jon Stewart - previously from the Daily Show, someone like him who made a career out of mocking the far right, the religious right....even he became guarded and uncomfortable when hosting a 'notorious' critic of Islam like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. On the other hand, he welcomed with great warmth a blatant apologist and spouter of idiocy like Reza Aslan. Jon hates being called a self-hating Jew, yet the suspicion he regards an ex-Muslim like Ayaan with is similar to that.

The situation in the UK is worse than North America, perhaps as a reaction to their far-right extremist nationalist groups...publications like the Guardian often misrepresent, censor or just exclude *true* liberal or ex-Muslim voices like those of Maryam Namazie and Maajid Nawaz. Ex-Muslims like Maryam Namazie are banned (then re-invited after public pressure) from speaking at Universities, when Islamists are welcomed without a thought. This is the attitude the niqab debate in Canada is representative of, not just 'a piece of cloth'.

Maryam puts it well in her piece recently censored published by the Guardian (emphasis mine), "Through Islamist Eyes":

"In their ‘anti-colonialist’ worldview, which unsurprisingly coincides with that of the ruling classes in the ‘Islamic world’ or ‘Muslim community,’ dissenters are either ‘native informants‘ or contributing to the ‘demonisation of Muslims.’
For those who have bought into the Islamist narrative, there are no social and political movements, class politics, dissenters, women’s rights campaigners, socialists… – just homogenised ‘Muslims’ [read Islamists] who face ‘intimidation’ and ‘discrimination’ if an ex-Muslim woman speaks on an university campus."
****
The level of intellectual dishonesty around this niqab debate has to be the single most frustrating thing I've experienced in a long time. This is not a 'non-issue', it is not a 'piece of cloth', it is about how real, living, breathing, women are treated in some branches of Islam. The least that can be done here is to *not* minimize the harm these practices cause, the least that can be done is to not applaud mockery of women's suffering. Someone, not even Muslim...has created an ignorant, dishonest tumblr called the 'Niqabs of Canada' comparing it with surgical masks, hockey masks, winter hoods and scarves. Things that have an actual purpose other than 'controlling women' or 'blaming them for men's lust', you know...the least we could do as Canadians is recognize that these comparisons are offensive. There are theocracies that whip and cane women for not being  dressed modestly enough. Surgical masks are not comparable. 
It's beyond distasteful. I discussed this in my open letter to niqab supporting media, and here we are again, applauding insensitivity. 



considering how many little girls are forced into hijabs without their consent...
this one is particularly upsetting.
You are on the wrong side of history, and supporting gender segregation, you're going to look as stupid as those who supported racial segregation one day. I hope that day comes in my lifetime. 

click to enlarge

click to enlarge - shocking that even someone smart enough to teach at Harvard,
cannot grasp the offensiveness of equating niqabs with surgical masks. It may be a non issue
for him because hey, he's never been forced into modesty by Islam. But it is certainly an issue for me,
and for the multitude of women who continue to be oppressed by this misogynistic practice.

So great, isn't it? 

Really no big deal at all, just that most women wearing them are
threatened or beaten for not doing so! YAY. 

So please, continue dear illiberals, continue supporting our right-wing hardline bigots. We'll be over here waiting...for you to come around to your senses. Perhaps some day the progress and freedom of our communities will matter more to you than your political narcissism, where you simply must oppose 'the conservative', no matter what.

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7 comments:

  1. 'It doesn't address the question, "what *kind* of person fights to perpetuate this?"''

    This is exactly right, and it's an important point that's rarely made. We're often told that if someone has chosen the niqab/hijab/etc we must respect that choice. Why? I don't "respect the choices" of conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly who fight against the cause of equality for women, who think the proper role for a woman is to subordinate herself to her husband, or who consider same-sex marriage to be an attack on their exclusively heterosexual institution. So why should we respect the choices of women in other societies when those choices support and perpetuate oppressive, misogynistic, illiberal systems?

    To attribute that to "culture" and then to claim our respect is based on a belief in the importance of multiculturalism is absurd and offensive--should Americans have respected the "culture" of the Southern racists who kept slaves (for example)? Of course not. So why should we respect elements of other cultures that deny people their basic human rights? There's a strong argument to be made that this kind of "respect" is more bigoted and condescending than criticism could ever be.

    I can understand your frustration, but I hope you'll keep speaking out, because your point of view is sorely needed and you express it so well.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I share your frustration. People like relatively simple narratives, for better or worse. Even otherwise intelligent people seem to fall into thinking in false dichotomies. I call it "Hanoi Jane" syndrome. As you may know, Jane Fonda figured out the war in Vietnam was a BAD thing, and promptly went off to Hanoi to sing to the people there. Not exactly a democratic regime either......

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm glad to hear an (ex) Muslim speak out against the wearing of the niqab, and draw attention to it being an article of clothing that has been imposed upon women by misogynistic men who wish to dominate over, and control, their women. On those grounds alone, it should be banned, as it totally flaunts our Canadian Constitution, and our adherence to the belief that men and women are equal in the eyes of the law.
    But my objection to the niqab (and, by extention, the burka) is based on other factors that are rarely touch on: that is, by wearing a veil over her face, a barrier is put up precludes communication with the wearer, and ensures that she will remain isolated from mainstream society. I personally put great stock in observing facial expressions; one gets a certain amount of information about an person's emotional state, and a sense of whether or not further interaction with the individual would be welcome. The face veil most certainly sends out the message: "don't talk to me", and more-or-less ensures the wearer will never be integrated into our supposedly open, and inclusive, society, no matter how welcoming we try to be . Why on earth would we Canadians want to invite in this form of reverse discrimination?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for your courage!

    Sam Harris has coined the term "regressive liberal" to describe left-wing celebrities and pundits who silence criticism of Islam. It seems to be the same idea as your reference to "illiberal liberals", just a bit easier on the toungue :)

    I was a fan of Jon Stewart until I saw a particularly distasteful piece he did to ridicule the French after Charlie Hebdo. Him, a Jewish satirist! What part of the Qu'ran does he not get, or does he refuse to read it like many of my liberal friends.

    The treatment of women under Islam is slavery. There is no better word to describe it. Those who don't submit are beaten, many are killed. Women who wear the niqab or burka are choosing it out of fear.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I support your campaign to ensure that alternative Muslim voices are heard. You are also on the button to describe how difficult it is to get support from those whom you expect such support.

    Here Maajid Nawaz explains how certain members of the "regressive left" threaten progress within minority communities. http://bigthink.com/videos/maajid-nawaz-on-islamic-reform?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1447870498.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hey Eiynah, dude I find it ironic that you have issues with the Niqab, when you are concealing your own identity in a pseodonym. I think that your voice is being ignored for exactly that reason. The second part of your logic which totally escapes me is that you find liberals not aligned with you because you call yourself an ex-muslim, and somewhere in there all that is read is the muslim part!If I gave up my Canadian heritage and tried to assert myself in Canadian politics would I be ignored as well? I wonder if this chicanery on your part was just a reaction or do you still hold this view after Harper is gone? Keep up the good work, and it would be nice to know where you graduated from, and where all your resentment and anger is stemming from. In other words who messed withjeu?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dude, could worse logic skills exist than yours? I shouldnt have to explain something as basic as why niqabs are different to pseudonyms, why the issue is with the oppression they symbolize and the anonymity they demand in court, banks, etc. I do not use my pseudonym while i am in court , or banking, traveling. Its like explaining to a child , jesus. What do liberals abandoning other liberals in muslim communities have to do with abandoning Canadian heritage. Being ex muslim is not abandoning your heritage, you can't abandon your background even if u wanted to... ex muslims still face anti muslim bigotry on a regular basis, and are active , knowledgable members of the muslim community.. so yet again, another analogy fail. As a non Canadian i would definitely be able to express opinions on Canadian politics safely...I wouldn't be able to get in to Canadian politics because nationality is a requirement for obvious reasons. Religion is a belief.. u see how thats different to a country? People change their beliefs all the time..Islam is not a nation or form of government, and where it is... its not working out too well. No one messed with me at all..I reasoned myself out of religion, because i read the scriptures as an adult. Because i don't believe in archaic fairytales that don't treat men and women as equals.

      Why would i change my views on womens oppression after harper is gone? It has nothing to do with him... are you delusional, sir?

      "it would be nice to know where you graduated from" - right...like thats a relevant question here. That i'd answer, for anyone random on the internet.

      Read a few books, work on simple logic, and making better analogies. lol Psudonyms and Niqabs, thanks for the laugh.

      Delete