In addition to the typical American Christian Islamophobia, we also see a rise of Islamophobia among the so-called New Atheists and “feminist” movements like FEMEN.
The New Atheist strain of anti-Muslim paranoia and violent hatred is not new. Christopher Hitchens long ago called for Muslim countries to be bombed back into the stone age in order to free humanity of Islam’s stench. Personally, the Christian call for unholy war against Muslim and Arab peoples (which we’ve dealt with here) is the most troubling because it so clearly goes against our founder’s directive to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Further, since much of the animus directed against the West by Muslim peoples is directly related to the Christian West’s horrible treatment of Third World peoples, we are actually responsible for much of their hardship and for creating “enemies” in the first place – let alone for physically attacking and thereby amplifying the conversion to “enemies.”
But that doesn’t mean I would be silent from pointing out these other grave injustices just because they are committed by secularists. Injustice is always injustice and does harm to us all. Colonization and its ideas hurt our neighbors of color and the poor. As a Christian, I recognize that that means it hurts my God as well. Since many of my community and many of my clients and students are Muslims – some who are women and choose to wear traditional garb – I feel a somewhat more direct relation to this issue as well. Muslims in my city, in my country, and in our world are being bullied by Americans and Europeans and by the extension of our own ideology onto the various Muslim communities and peoples. And because those same ideas can come back and be used to harm other groups of poor and marginalized peoples, I am further alarmed. I do not see the benefit of being silent, but rather the harm of not speaking.
Additionally, these groups – Femen and New Atheists – do not pose threats merely to Muslims, but in their hypocrisy, they also target anyone who does not align with their views of beauty and truth.
The Frustrated Arab talks directly about the coopting of Muslim women’s voices to suppress them in “FEMEN and the Suppression of Native Voices“:
Despite having our religious attire, skin colour and even facial hair, being routinely mocked and worn as makeshift costumes as a part of ‘solidarity actions’ it is said time and time again that we should be ‘grateful‘ that anyone simply has reason enough to ‘care‘.
Despite the watered down slogans of liberation and freedom being copy-pasted by the parade of online followers of groups such as FEMEN many of these same activists are so inebriated with colonial feminist doctrine that they gleefully take part in patronizing , Islamophobic and misogynistic rhetoric in response to women of colour telling them that they take great offence, that their voices will not be usurped, that they are the sole guardians of their plights and no one has the authority to speak on their behalf, no matter how allegedly ‘well-intentioned’. In response to FEMEN’s topless “jihad day” event Muslim women created #MuslimahPride on Twitter; Sofia Ahmed, one of the women behind “Muslimah Pride Day” described the campaign as follows:
“Muslimah [term for a female Muslim] pride is about connecting with your Muslim identity and reclaiming our collective voice. Let’s show the world that we oppose FEMEN and their use of Muslim women to reinforce Western imperialism.”
Using #MuslimahPride many Muslim women began voicing their disapproval of FEMEN, one such woman was Zarah Sultana who posted the following photograph on her public Twitter page, which I have received permission to post here, and which in turned catalyzed many other Muslim women to do the same in an array of languages, by women from multifarious backgrounds:
The sign reads: “I am a proud Muslimah. I don’t need “liberating”. I don’t appreciate being used to reinforce Western imperialism. You do not represent me!”
The responses Sultana received were drenched in perverse Islamophobia, sexism and pure, unashamed hatred:
“Fuck off back to your own country”, “burn in hell”, “grab your ankles and remain silent”, “Mohammad was a pedophile”, “put on your burka”, “she’s happy with her chains” etc.- all coming from those who, just moments earlier, were tweeting gleefully in support of Muslim women.
When it comes to non-natives speaking in regards to native issues – it is a path that must be tread upon lightly in order to avoid (a) tokenization and (b) the usurpation of native voices. Solidarity is great, but it is when campaigns turned publicity stunts like the ones FEMEN indulges in begin using brown bodies as props while at the same time perpetuating orientalism and engaging in blatant prejudicial acts to promote their idea of ‘liberation’. FEMEN, and other such groups, offer no solution to the undeniable subjugated of women present in the Middle East-North Africa, it is all a show of thin, white grandeur.
Sarah Salem, in Femen’s Neocolonial Feminism: When Nudity Becomes a Uniform, also draws attention to the cross-strains of racism and homophobia that groups like Femen travel in:
Feminism has the potential to be greatly emancipatory by adopting an anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic and anti-Islamophobic rhetoric, instead of often actively being racist, homophobic, transphobic and Islamophobic. By clearly delineating the boundaries of what is “good” and “bad” feminism, Femen is using colonial feminist rhetoric that defines Arab women as oppressed by culture and religion, while no mention is made of capitalism, racism, or global imperialism. It is actively promoting the idea that Muslim women are suffering from “false consciousness” because they cannot see (while Femen can see) that the veil and religion are intrinsically harmful to all women.
Not only is the publicization of Femen bad for Muslims, it’s bad for women and great for patriarchy’s Male Gaze as Mona Chollet details in The Fast Food Feminism of the Topless Femen:
The permanent reduction of women to their bodies and their sexuality, the negation of their intellectual abilities, the social invisibility of women who cannot please the male gaze: these are keystones of the patriarchal system. It is rather stupefying that a purportedly feminist ‘movement’… cannot see this. “We live under male domination,” Inna Shevchenko told The Guardian, “and nudity is the only way to provoke them, to get their attention.” So, a feminism that bends to male domination: well, it had to be invented.
Shevchenko not only accepts this order of things, she approves of it: “Classic feminism is a sick old woman, it does not work anymore. It is stuck in the world of conferences and books.”
Both the Femen criticism of Muslim dress and of Western women who don’t conform to Western ideals of feminine beauty are troubling as they dehumanize both Eastern and Western women to what they wear – or refuse to wear – and how they appeal to straight, Euro-American males. This type of dehumanizing leads to a legitimizing of murder-through-war – which is directly what neo-cons such as New Atheist leaders (and their proxies who flood the Twitterverse) argue should be done to the Threat of Islam upon Western Civilization.
Sam Harris’ recently vocalized declarations are nothing new. The late Hitchens himself long ago expressed supreme pleasure at the murder of scores of Muslims – apparently seeing little difference between Taliban leaders and any living, breathing Muslim. “It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them. It’s a duty and a responsibility to defeat them. But it’s also a pleasure. I don’t regard it as a grim task at all.” This he says a minute after drawing a distinction between the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan and the “racist” war in Vietnam.
For something a bit more contemporary, Sam Harris has been under the microscope a bit more recently – even though he has been citing anti-Muslim arguments for many years, as Glenn Greenwald notes:
The key point is that Harris does far, far more than voice criticisms of Islam as part of a general critique of religion. He has repeatedly made clear that he thinks Islam is uniquely threatening: “While the other major world religions have been fertile sources of intolerance, it is clear that the doctrine of Islam poses unique problems for the emergence of a global civilization.” He has insisted that there are unique dangers from Muslims possessing nuclear weapons, as opposed to nice western Christians (the only ones to ever use them) or those kind Israeli Jews: “It should be of particular concern to us that the beliefs of devout Muslims pose a special problem for nuclear deterrence.” In his 2005 “End of Faith”, he claimed that “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death.”
This is not a critique of religion generally; it is a relentless effort to depict Islam as the supreme threat. Based on that view, Harris, while depicting the Iraq war as a humanitarian endeavor, has proclaimed that “we are not at war with terrorism. We are at war with Islam.” He has also decreed that “this is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with millions more than have any direct affiliation with Al Qaeda.” “We” – the civilized peoples of the west – are at war with “millions” of Muslims, he says. Indeed, he repeatedly posits a dichotomy between “civilized” people and Muslims: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the earth.”
This isn’t “quote-mining”, the term evidently favored by Harris and his defenders to dismiss the use of his own words to make this case.
Harris has previously made this distinction before, that Muslims “do not have a clue as to what constitutes civil society.” This allows him to suspect any possible Muslim as a potential terrorist. In fact, “anyone who potentially looks like he or she could conceivably be a Muslim” should be targeted as a security threat and needs to be profiled. How these views are not problematically racist is beyond me.
In Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists, Murtaza Hussain is much more direct in making the connection between the old scientific-covering of racism (ie, phrenology) and the new “scientific” covering of racism of these New Atheist anti-Muslim apologists (Emphases mine):
Citing “Muslims” as a solid monolith of violent evil – whilst neglecting to include the countless Muslims who have lost their lives peacefully protesting the occupation and ongoing ethnic cleansing of their homeland – Harris engages in a nuanced version of the same racism which his predecessors in scientific racism practiced in their discussion of the blanket characteristics of “Negroes”.
Indeed he argues in his book that the only suitable form of government for Muslim people is “benign dictatorship”, an echo of the 19th century social theorist George Fitzhugh who argued in favour of slavery by saying:
“The Negro is but a grown up child, and must be governed as a child.”
Finally, dismissing the possibility that Muslims may have legitimate objections to being subjects of torture, murder, and – as he’s advocated – wholesale nuclear genocide, Harris helpfully states:
“The outrage that Muslims feel over US and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns.”
Get that? Hatred of colonialism is merely theological and, according to New Atheism, therefore not legitimate.
Which makes sense, as any other concerns, feelings, objections that Muslims and Arabs feel (or any who look like them and are therefore automatically suspect) are also illegitimate.
Meet the new colonial racism, same as the old colonial racism.
*Kipling’s White Man’s Burden