News Flash: 15 April 2013: There are reports that Amina has escaped from her detention but is still not fully safe or free. We await the day she is free and safe – hopefully soon. More information here.
13 April 2013: Today, FEMEN activists stormed a conference at which Tunisian president Marzouki was speaking at in Paris shouting “Free Amina”. They also chanted: “Who killed Chokri Belaid?” We continue to demand the freedom and safety of 19 year old Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina who is being detained by her family after receiving death threats for posting a topless photo of herself. Below is my response to criticism of topless activism in support of Amina:
The International day to defend 19 year old Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina was not “racism”, “colonialism”, or “cultural imperialism” as some have said.
It was just good old fashioned human solidarity – across borders and boundaries (many of them constructed).
Those who say otherwise have bought into the culturally-relativist notion that societies in the Middle East and North Africa (and even the “Muslim community” in the west) are “Islamic” and “conservative”.
Whilst those in power determine the dominant culture, there is no one homogeneous culture anywhere.
Those who consider nude protest as “foreign” and “culturally inappropriate” are only considering Islamism’s sensibilities and values, not that of the many who resist.
Clearly, in the same way that there are opponents of nude protest and supporters of the veil in the “west”, there are also supporters of nude protest and opponents of the veil in the “east”.
This shouldn’t be surprising. A large young population in many countries of the Middle East and North Africa brings with it challenges to the status quo as does the recent women-led revolutions and the backlash against Islamism. When one is faced with an Islamic movement that considers you to be worth half of a man and demands that you be bound, gagged, veiled, and segregated, then nudity becomes an important form of resistance and dissent as well as solidarity. Islamists want us covered up, hidden, and not seen and not heard; we refuse to comply.
Those who claim outrage at our nudity on behalf of all “Muslim women” are merely attempting to conflate Islamist with “Muslim” (who comprise of innumerable people with countless characteristics). They do it so that Islamism can feign representation, restrict dissent, and prescribe the limits of “acceptable” expression.
But no one speaks for everyone.
Amina speaks for me and us, and for a new women’s liberation movement that is confronting misogyny head on. It’s a movement where nudity is seen to be an important challenge to the veil and Islamism. And “Islamic feminists” speak for their movement; for the abomination that is Sharia law, gender apartheid, and the veil. They are deafeningly silent on the death fatwa against Amina and countless others. And they are more concerned with defending Islamism and Islam, than defending women’s rights and equality. One such critic of the nude protests, Shohana Khan, who is described as a “London based freelance writer” in the Huffington Post, is in fact the deputy media representative of Hizb ut Tahrir, a far-Right Islamist organisation. Another “journalist”, Yvonne Ridley, has worked for Press TV, the propaganda arm of the Islamic regime of Iran and is a patron of an Islamist-front organisation called Cage Prisoners.
The nude protest in support of Amina has nothing to do with “cultural imperialists” patronisingly “rescuing Muslim women” anymore than the fight for women’s suffrage was a rescue attempt and a form of cultural imperialism (after all the idea was “foreign” to begin with).
Only those who see their rights and lives as separate and different from those deemed “other” and who have bought into (or are selling) Islamism’s narrative can see solidarity and the demand for equality in this warped way.
In one article, a “feminist” goes so far as to say that the nude protest for Amina justifies “aggression, violence, and prejudice against Muslim communities”. But no violence was involved. Burning an Islamic flag and even protesting at a mosque does not violence make. In fact, the act of solidarity was in response to Islamism’s violence and threats of violence via a religious fatwa against a young girl whose only “crime” was to scrawl on her breasts: “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour” and “fuck your morals”.
No one “forced” nudity on “Muslim women”. Any force has always been from the Islamic movement against women – “Muslim”, ex-Muslim, and none.
Those who equate the nude protest in support of Amina with racism and an attack on “Muslim” immigrants erroneously see an attack on misogynist beliefs and movements as an attack on people and choose to side with culture and religion over the lives and rights of human beings.
This culturally relativist perspective implies that women’s liberation is only for those who are ”white” and ”western”; the rest of us are only allowed “freedom” within the cultural and religious confines of Islam.
But no religion frees women, particularly not one that has access to political power and is spearheading an inquisition. Women are freer the less of a role religion plays in the public space, in the state, in the judicial system – not the other way around.
And since when are rights “western”? Islamists use the latest technology to advance their barbarity but when it comes to women’s rights, it’s “western” and “foreign”. Even if rights are western (which they are not), they were fought for by progressive social movements and the working class and belong to all humanity.
In the words of women’s rights campaigners who chanted on the streets of Tehran in 1979 in opposition to compulsory veiling: “Neither eastern nor western, women’s rights are universal” and “Freedom is our culture”.
Of course, there are many wonderful women’s rights defenders who are Muslim, secular and anti-Islamism who oppose nudity as a form of protest. They feel it is offensive. But anything that breaks taboos and demands fundamental change will offend existing sensibilities. Nudity outrages and offends because the actuality and frankness of women’s bodies as a form of protest upsets the religious, patriarchal, pornographic and commodified image that is separate from the reality of women’s bodies, minds and lives. Nudity is deemed offensive because it dares to reclaim a tool used for women’s suppression for women’s liberation.
They say nudity is shocking and shakes the very foundations of our societies.
But that is exactly the whole point.
In the fine words of Amina: “my body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour”…
The above article was written for the publication of the Communist Youth Organisation: “We are the 99%”.