Time to confess something to you: I’m more than a little disturbed by some of the responses to my post on the Pakistani Taliban’s threats to maim women with acid.
Talk about missing the point! I’ve received emails from seething white supremacists who want to annihilate all Muslims, angry feminists demanding that I remove my headscarf (funny, shouldn’t feminists be fighting for choice?! As a feminist, I fight for theirs!), not to mention verbose comments about “sheparding cultures breeding terrorists” – (wait, wasn’t Jesus “the good sheperd”?), etc etc etc. I even got a message from someone who felt the need to let me know how hideous he thinks I am. Thanks for the pointers, buddy. Now stop looking through my album before you get sick.
I’ll tell you right now – my gut reaction is not just shock at how people can completely overlook the point of something like this – not to mention how anyone can feel absolutely no mercy when it comes to the suffering of others. I’m also choking down a desire to tell individuals to quit wasting our collective time, save their herding commentaries and hit-lists for their own diaries and get back to us when they’ve decided how to help the world in a constructive way. A good many of us have work to do – take your hate and get out of our way. (And a tip for the would-be lynchers: your emails are traceable. D’OH!)
At the same time, I encourage open dialogue. So, other than some downright undigestable hate language, I let most comments go up over the weekend. I’m glad I did, because some positivity did come of it: I received notes from several of you looking for more ways to help Pakistan’s women. I also heard from contacts at the International Campaign Against Honour Killings that they experienced an increase in requests to join their mailing list. This is great news. I encourage more of you to support the work of the ICAHK. This is not a partisan issue. This is something all people of conscience must address.
Some contributors made excellent points:
* A writer from Malaysia reminded readers that Muslims are not the monolithic entity many would have us be;
* Several men decried violence against women, including one who wrote:
“I, RJ as a man, personally condemn these horrible/terrible attacks on women for whatever purpose they have been done for, for whatever period of time these crimes will be carried out or have been carried out, whereever in this planet/realm they have been carried out, are being carried out or are being planned for the future. I respect the rights of women and their dignity not to conform to violent views of their sexual practices, morality ( including outlawing and punishing having sexual intercourse before marriage, having multiple partners and etc..), or other manufactured perceptions of their clothing, style and ethics. I personally use all my power and will to stop violence and lack of understanding that is used as a sword against women and their rights. And I from all of my hearts do call upon those in the know, those who lead the banks who support religious terrorism and extremism of whatever kind and also my very distant bloodline relatives, who like to think of themselves as in the minority to do something to stop this – since my example might not be enough. I was not picked by the Divine before I was even born to rule over others and to say to them what to do, but clearly I am not a peasant who will stand by the sidelines and watch one of the few pure sources of joy in my personal life be abused. Since harming women is harming me as a man.”
* Someone named Daoud brought a meaningful defense of Islam to the table – while also calling on Muslim leaders to take action. What do I mean? He didn’t just cite Qur’an and hadith, then stomp away indignantly. He also said:
“It is the role and responsibility of imams, shaykhs, scholars, and political and government figures to lead and give relevant advice to those they are responsible for for the time and situations we are living in. If they will not do this, then they are betrayers of their trust the consequences of which we see meted out to such as these poor women.
If people are genuinely concerned about these atrocities then they should be demanding that the appropriate authorities take appropriate action against the perpetrators – they often know which of the birarderi elders sanctioned these attacks. How about putting them in prison? How about putting the person who actually threw the acid in prison for a very long time? This would be quite acceptable under the Shariah, although the classical punishment would have been even more severe.
There is no tribalism in Islam (”la ‘asabiyyah fi-l Islam” is a well-known hadith. “The best of you are the best of you to your womenfolk…” (akhyarukum akhyarukum li nisa’ikum… is another.“
* When confronted with hate, a Muslim woman wrote:
“Well, here’s the thing: there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. If we were all terrorists, the world would have imploded years ago. The truth is that the majority of us are kind, normal people. The radicals, like the Taliban, Hamas, Al-Qaida etc etc are the ones doing all of the speaking through their actions.
I have said for a long time that it is time for moderate, peaceful believers in Islam to *speak up for ourselves* and say NOT in the name of Allah, of OUR God do you do these heinous things.”
Music to my ears.
* The post has been picked up by Impunity Watch. See their mention of it here, in an article by Managing Editor Lindsey Brady. The mission of Impunity Watch – housed at Syracuse University College of Law – is to “monitor and address horrific human rights abuses.”
* Someone else provided this link, to Pakistan’s Acid Survivor’s Foundation. They help survivors and work to end acid attacks. Their site also contains a list of actual ways you can help. Now that’s a useful contribution to the conversation.
Finally, I received an email containing the story of Imrana, a survivor of sexual assault in India. When local authorities failed to produce a humane verdict in her case, Imrana, a Muslim, took her story elsewhere. Women’s groups mobilized to assist in her cause, and she’s inspired the formation of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement. Spread over 13 states in India, with over 2,000 members, these women don’t need the approval of clerics (or racist wingnuts on the internet) to go after their God-given rights. They know that Islam gives them these freedoms. You go, sisters.
“The most perfect man of religion is he who excels in character. The best among you is he who gives the best treatment to his womenfolk.”
In June of this year, Faiza Silmi was denied French citizenship because of her choice to wear the niqab – a facial covering worn by some Muslim women. French officials cited her lack of “sufficient assimilation” into French society. They elaborated that they viewed her niqab to be a “straightjacket”, “prison”, and a symbol of her willingness to be oppressed by the men in her family.
So far, the New York Times reports, citizenship had only been denied to those Muslims who had close ties with fundamentalist groups. Ms. Silmi does not have such ties – this decision was based on her choice of garment alone.
It seems that Ms. Silmi leads a pretty standard life as far as that of a Western housewife is concerned: caring for her children (all born in France – her husband being a French citizen himself), shopping for their necessities, driving to run errands, etc. She does all of these in mainstream French society. Nonetheless, officials viewed her niqab as prohibitive to her full integration.
When it comes to the niqab within a democracy or open society, I have only one question myself – I am not sure that it is possible to navigate societies functioning on identifiability – from driver’s licenses to banking – without permitting your face to be seen. (Note – I said I am not sure. I’d be interested to hear what niqabis have to say about their experiences with this). In any event, it isn’t made clear that Ms. Silmi has encountered troubles in the public sphere. All that is clear is that the French officials deciding her case determined that she is oppressed.
As a twisted sidenote, officials apparently approved of one thing in evaluating her case: that she had seen male gynecologists during her pregnancies. Are they seriously using that as a mark of feminist liberation these days? What is this, the year 1700?
Perhaps what the French could have noted is that Ms. Silmi actually felt freer to wear her niqab in France than she did in her home country of Morocco. In France, religious freedom in one’s personal life is protected by law. Not so in many Islamic countries – where religious expression must often look exactly the same across the board.
The burden falls on the French government, then, to make the case as to why Ms. Silmi has not assimilated. She chooses to wear the niqab not to work as a judge or a public official. She chooses to wear it in her personal life – as French law would seem to permit.
What are your thoughts?
P.S. I dig this commentary.