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In defence of nude protest: freedom is my culture

600286_500584530000840_728079130_nNews 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:

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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%”.

Comments

  1. Contessa de Metoncula says

    Human animals are inherently stupid and needy of man made Myths that keep them mentally alive, while it is all an illusion, a big farce!
    Nudity is not a sin, we are born naked!
    I tend to believe there must be intelligent life in the rest of the Universe, because I fail to find it here on this Planet full of hatred and darkness.
    Namaste!

    • vulcan29 says

      Not all is full of hatred and darkness. People such as Amina show us that there can be light and justice. We have to fight for it. We cannot give up our fight until all are free to live their lives in the way that they want to.

  2. vulcan29 says

    I always seem to asking the same old question – “What right do these people have to impose their views and standards upon others?”.

    In my small world, I can’t find any other answer than – THEY DO NOT!

    Perhaps I am just lucky. I’m male, 61 years old. I have a life partner who is female. Her views and actions make her what she is and I am very fortunate to have her in my life. She is the equal in intelect to any man that I know. Being small in stature and being partially disabled, she cannot undertake many tasks that simply require strength but she has the brains to find other ways to do these things. She is compasionate; a supporter of freedom for all; a fighter for justice. Like so many women, she has had to fight not only for her rights but also for her life. I am here to support her and all women who are oppressed and abused.

    I’m an atheist and therefore I do not look to a god to defend me or others so all that I can say is let the powers that be defend those who oppress and abuse others for I shall not. If the fearful Islamists continue as they are they will bring about their own destruction and that destruction will come from within as well as from without. Islam is a discredited medieval myth that only fools continue to believe in. I’m not disriminating. All religions are myths. All so called “gods” disappear when people stop believing in them. Gods do this as they are figmenst of superstitious and uneducated imaginations and, in truth, simply do not exist at all.

    Islam is the most oppressive of religions. It is used by some repressive states to hold their populations in check. It is the religion of fear used as an instument of repression by the fearful and the hateful. Judaism and Christianity went before it and have ceased to be creeds by which to live as both have become discredited dogmas despite having creditable pinciples. How different are any of them from sun worship?

    Any one who has a conscience; anyone who can think beyond religious dogma; anyone who has compassion for our fellow human beings must stand up for Amina and for all women who are oppressed and abused. We must oppose the religious and political oppressors in every way that we can.

  3. says

    The article by Shohana Khan is mind-bending–the first half could have been describing any Muslim community, and the second half showed how that reality is covered up.

  4. says

    At the core of Yvonne Ridley’s argument are two cliches most commonly used when anyone is defending Islam–“…but I get the feeling this was more about attacking Islam than anything else,” and “…much-maligned, much-misunderstood religion of Islam.” If I had a nickle for every time I heard these two statements, I would be an incredibly wealthy person. Misused is the word, and all they are doing is working nonstop to hide that fact.

  5. skeptomai says

    Thank you for reminding me that rights had be fought for, and that they were fought for by “progressive social movements and the working class”. You are so right that they “belong to all humanity”.

  6. logicthoughts says

    What is OCD? (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
    Someone double checks things sometimes. But people suffering from OCD continue doing it all their life.. For example, they might continue writing to keep certain topic which is going to die its own or died already. .
    People with OCD feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals of writing the same topic again and again associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life.
    The frequent upsetting thoughts are called obsessions. To try to control them, a person will feel an overwhelming urge to repeat certain rituals or behaviors called compulsions. People with OCD can’t control these obsessions and compulsions.
    For many people, OCD starts during childhood or the teen years. Most people are diagnosed by about age 40 and above.
    If they are not treated, it will become a headache for the society and people around them.
    Symptoms of OCD may come and go and be better or worse at different times.

  7. says

    Many people believe it is best not to dwell on negative things, but to let them go and follow the advice of the three wise monkeys who see no evil. hear no evil. speak no evil, or the line, “it is better to forgive and forget, than to remember and regret.” However, the Muslim community carries this to an extreme. The solution for everything, even criminal acts and gross injustices, is to cover up the bad and talk up the good. And the worse the bad gets, the more the good has to be made to sound even better, the more the victim card is played, and the more the bad of everyone else is played up to make sure everyone’s attention is diverted. It is an approach that neither prevents nor solves problems.

  8. Eristae says

    Yes, yes, yes! I loathe culture relativity. When a woman is being stoned to death by her fathers, her brothers, and her uncles, some people feel the need to defend this as “their culture.”

    Whose culture? Surely not the woman’s, for she is weeping, begging, and struggling. She does not want to die in agony at the hands of her own kin. If anyone bothered to ask her, she would insist that she should not be murdered.

    So whose culture is it? It is the culture of the fathers, the brothers, the uncles, a culture that they are imposing on women through any means necessary, including a tortuous death.

    Why are we granting legitimacy to the culture of the oppressors and not to the culture of the oppressed? When women scream, “I don’t want to die!’ and murderers scream, “But we want to kill you!” why would we heed the words of the murderers?

    No. I will have no part of that. My culture demands that murder be stopped. My culture declares that all humans have inalienable rights, not just the humans who managed to shed oppressive cultures in the past. If the cultural relativists don’t like it, then they can remind themselves that they have no right to criticize the actions that are dictated by my culture. They can, in short, practice what they preach and shut up.

  9. geoff says

    I have yet to find a useful definition for the word ‘Islamist’ . it would seem to indicate ‘a person who practices Islam’. That would include all Muslims, I think maybe the issue is with the sharia law aspect of Islam. This law developed as, I understand, some hundreds of years after Mohammed developed the basic precepts of Islam in an attempt to bring together all the factions of the deserts and end the infighting over moving tribal boundaries in the desert sand. Initially the post Mohammedan Islam was all inclusive. Only after the age of the Crusades when both Christian and Islamic forces used the word ‘infidel’ as a war cry did Islam become isolationist and exclusionary. All monotheistic religions are by definition theologically linked through the concept of one god.
    Thus the difference is in the rules various groups have developed over the years.
    The task facing humanity is to bring freedom of thought and expression to all people.
    The fact that some ‘legal systems’ apply laws unacceptable to a great number of people is the real problem that needs to be sorted.

    This can only be achieved through the actions of brave citizens from all countries backed by the moral, educational, financial and political pressure of all peoples throughout the world.
    Amina is one of these brave women who may pay with they lives in horrific ways legal in their countries.
    Facebook has recently carried a picture of a child beaten to death by sharia law for reporting her rape. She was found guilty of underage sex. Such savagery cannot be acceptable in an enlightened 21st century.

    Superior firepower is available to some governments as long as the oppressive one do not have nuclear weapons.
    The use of superior military might can only work in open warfare. In the theater of insurgency and home terrorism is is ineffective.

    United Nations or some future development of it may have some place in ensuring legitimate governments are not over run by invading armies. Without the dialogue of involved protagonists and the peoples being suppressed,, oppressed or militarily overrun there will be no progress.

    My question then is how does a government, or protest movement, open constructive dialogue with a legal system developed on the practice of the ‘oral’ tradition. A tradition in which the law is applied on the basis that ‘this man heard this man say so and so told him he heard from a man who said so and so told him” and the idea was written down under living conditions we no longer understand over 1000 years ago?

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