Of course stoning is bad, but…

Well here’s a horrible piece of crap posted at Jezebel. Callie Beusman looks down on the protests in support of Amina because Islamophobia and white and European and blah.

While it is unquestionably necessary, brave, and noble to stand with Amina (who is reportedly not free to move or speak safely), the protests were distressingly and distractingly Islamophobic. A photo from one of shows a white woman with crescent moons covering her nipples, wearing a fake beard, a unibrow penciled in with eyeliner, and a bath towel on her head. Another photo, highlighted on FEMEN’s Facebook page is of a topless woman protesting at a mosque in San Francisco (because, when you’re fighting the good fight of “TITS AGAINST ISLAMISM,” standing topless in front of any mosque anywhere will do) with the following caption:

TODAY IS AMINA TOPLESS JIHAD DAY. I was at the Islamic Mosque in San Francisco. Some Arab guy tried to grab my sign and pushed me in a violent way. My friend stopped him. MY BODY IS MY TEMPLE.

Callie Beusman is missing the point. Yes “some Arab guy” is not a helpful thing to say but then neither is “a white woman.”

Further down is a cartoon of a woman crawling out from under her burqa to light on fire the beard of a caricature of a Muslim man (or should I say “some Arab guy”?). In the comments, a woman posted a link to an Al Jazeera article about Muslim women counter-protesting the protest, as they rightfully feel that it was condescending and imperialistic in both tone and intent.

Well I “rightfully feel” that Carrie Beusman is being condescending herself, and that “imperialistic” is just stupid rhetoric.

The counter-protest, Muslimah Pride Day, calls for women to speak out for themselves on social media:

[P]lease post pictures of your beautiful selves, whether you wear hijaab, nikaab or not. This is an opportunity for Muslim women to get a say and show people that we have a voice too, that we come in many different shapes and sizes that we object to the way we are depicted in the west, we object to the way we are lumped in to one homogenous group without a voice of agency of our own.

FEMEN needs to recognize that Muslim women do in fact have agency, and the idea that Muslim women are helpless, passively indoctrinated by the alleged evils of Islam, and desperately need of Western feminist help is oppressive and orientalist. Patriarchy is not specific to Islam — although there are inarguably extreme and truly saddening examples of misogyny in the Muslim community, patriarchy is a global issue. Furthermore, feminism is not only a Western institution — to assume that Muslim women need someone to “speak for” them is insulting to all the grassroots political organizing and activism that Muslim feminists have done. It’s disturbing how a the rhetoric of “women’s liberation” has been co-opted to justify aggression, violence, and prejudice against Muslim communities. In what way is it appropriate to “rescue” women by indulging in and re-circulating essentializing, stereotyped, and offensive depictions of their culture?

How incredibly patronizing it is to assume that that is “their culture.” How patronizing and ignorant to assume that “Muslim women” are a monolith and all identify with the most harshly repressive and punitive elements in their “culture.” How ignorant to assume that all “Muslim women” adore the hijab and the niqab and rejoice to be urged to post pictures of themselves wearing them. How blinkered and parochial to disappear all liberal secular universalist rebellious Muslim women from the picture and side only with the most traditionalist and reactionary ones.

It’s what Maryam calls the racism of low expectations.



  1. says

    You know… I know Islamophobia is a real thing, but it’s getting to the point where Islamophobia has become as diluted and meaningless as antisemitism (which isn’t even the proper term for anti-Jewish bigotry).

    Just like you can’t even nicely criticize Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite, now you apparently can’t criticize Muslims, even the fanatics, without being an “Islamophobe”.

    Why are declarations of bigotry now being used to silent legitimate criticism?

    Depressingly, it’s getting to a point where I no longer trust charges of Islamophobia. If I hear or read it levied at anyone, it makes me want to see what they have to say more, potentially putting more stock in what they have to say. That isn’t good, because I might give room to actual Islamophobia by accident. It’s just, the charge is losing all meaning, now.

  2. maudell says

    Jezebel just continuously posts garbage. I’m sick of people thinking they represent feminism as a whole (I’m not saying they’re not “real” feminists, but they surely don’t represent me).
    This type of thinking reminds me of the sociologist who published a paper about how racist it was of us to be against female genital mutilation (I forgot her name). Or people who believed that the Balkans were doomed to genocide because “it’s just in their culture” (it’s that way of thinking that brought the disastrous Dayton agreement, but I digress).
    Now, some of Amina’s supporters have said ignorant racist crap. But there is no justification for such violations of human rights, not even “women agree with being oppressed”. Following this logic, western feminism should not have happened at all because until recently, the majority of women were opposed to having rights. Lets reel it back pre-1848, ladies! We went against female opinion, therefore feminism is anti-feminist!

  3. The Mellow Monkey says

    This type of thinking reminds me of the sociologist who published a paper about how racist it was of us to be against female genital mutilation (I forgot her name).

    Lisa Wade. And, yes, this is quite a bit like that.

    Silence the radical. Silence the protester. Silence the women screaming for justice. Only recognize those who are defending the status quo.


  4. whysoskeptical says

    I have conflicting views on this whole thing. On one hand, I understand the support western feminists want to give Amina but on the other hand, I’m not sure whether protesting in a similar way makes as much sense in a western context. Similarly, while muslim societies are *on average* more patriarchal and as such, the women there can internalize certain ideas about their own sexuality much more strongly, I’m not sure whether they ultimately need that much to be told by western feminists what’s a more enlightened way of carrying or viewing themselves.

    I’m also supposing that the writer wouldn’t criticize every western topless protester in the same terms as she did FEMEN and she’s simply decrying the more nonwesternophobic expressions so perhaps your description of the piece is a bit ungenerous, in that regard.

    I guess certain courses of action can have both pros and cons, at the same time, and I’ll leave it at that. Ultimately, this is about different attitudes, that are present in all societies in different ratios, on the same issues and, as you said, not about monoliths. The fact that religion is (always) involved does provide some ammo “from above” which is why I like atheism in that regard (I mean besides the fact that it’s true).

    I read some of the comments on the “Muslimah Pride Day” page. It’s unfortunate how much any potential dialogue is hampered by exceptionalism on both sides – “Decadent/Free” West vs “backwards/traditional” Islam.


    Don’t follow that trail. It’s true that this can be an easy way to stifle criticism but just remember where, from what kind of people and for what reasons you might have seen that argument before. Ultimately, the best you can do is argue your point well and if people don’t want you in their spaces, argue it elsewhere. It’s always better for people to cogently criticize the content on top of insulting/labeling you, or even omitting the latter if possible, of course.

  5. says

    Rutee Katreya

    Not so. It is well known that members of oppressed classes can largely internalise their subordinate status and often constitute some of the strongest supporters for the status quo–especially when the opposition is new and radical. There were counter protests by women against the suffrage movement, there were blacks who opposed desegregation. Take a look at any anti-choice group in front of an abortion clinic–you’ll see women counter protesting against their own right to bodily autonomy. Or how about all those people willingly counter protesting the Enlightenment in churches every Sunday?

  6. maudell says

    @ Mellow Monkey
    Thanks for the info!

    Unless you think of “Muslim women” as a monolithic thing, I don’t think people like Amina are counterprotesting (because the protests are about her, and countless similar situations). There are women living in theocracies that are not down with it. I doubt Amina would be part of her counterprotesters (obviously). These women exist, in Muslim theocracies, but also other types of authoritarian societies, and they are ignored enough as it is.

  7. Ysanne says

    It is well known that members of oppressed classes can largely internalise their subordinate status and often constitute some of the strongest supporters for the status quo–especially when the opposition is new and radical.

    Right, so if the oppressed disagree with what their allies do, their opinion on what they want/need is only relevant when they already “liberated”. Or only when it agrees with what the “real” feminists (i.e. Western, preferably US, politically liberal, etc) think should be done?

    Personally, I agree that many Muslim women have bought too much into the women-need-to-be-oppressed tropes of the cultures they live in, and thus help perpetuate the oppression. They do need support and solidarity against the oppression, but telling them “shut up and be grateful, you have no idea what would help you” is none of that. Just like standing bare-breasted in front of a random SF mosque and pretending that pestering its patrons has anything to do with Amina’s rights, or dressing up in a downright racist stereotype of what muslims look like, is not even helping the most liberal and radical muslim feminists. It’s only a statement of “look at me, I’m sooo courageous, and now it’s all about me and my pretty perky boobs instead of those boring political issues”.

  8. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Am I just missing something? I thought the protests were in support of women like Amina who do want the freedom to opt out of their ancestor’s folly without being bullied, harassed, locked up, threatened, mistreated or killed. If other women want to live the only way they are currently allowed to live, I don’t see anyone denying them that right.

    But that’s not what this is about is it? This is not about saying “I should be free to chose living according to the dictates of my ancestors if I want to“. It’s about saying “I should not be free to chose differently, and neither should anyone else”.

  9. latsot says

    When the people you allege to be helping are counterprotesting you, you’re doing it wrong.

    Surely only if you’re claiming to speak for every single member of a group. And it would be that claim, rather than necessarily the protest, that was being done wrong. When you protest something, some people are going to disagree *by definition*.

    But let’s not lose sight of what the protesting is about: it’s about women’s rights (or lack thereof) to do what they want with their bodies. If a culture doesn’t afford that right, then so much for that culture, it needs to be changed.

    This is not islamaphobia (in the context of Amina), it’s a reaction to the undeniable fact that Islam is oppressive. It’s a culture that needs to change. Culture is not a thing that can have rights. Women are people who *can* and *should* have rights. Shouldn’t that claim to rights automatically win over oppressive denial of those rights? Once people have rights, what they choose to do with them is their own concern. Comply with cultural norms all you want providing it really is what you want. Providing you are protected from punishment if you don’t.

  10. Bjarte Foshaug says

    Re. charges of racism and “Islamophobia”, here’s something I recently wrote on Facebook:

    I think the key concept here is over-compensation: There is such a thing as prejudice against Muslims, it is often disguised as religious criticism, a fake concern for the treatment of Muslim women etc. Leftists know this, and so they have learned to be suspicious and always on the look-out for hidden hidden agendas.

    But then you get into something rather like the pattern detection problem: Unlike a map reality doesn’t come with neat, painted borders, so if you are going to make sure you stay on the “right side”, as in “never siding with (white) racists”, you are inevitably going to generate a lot of false positives and dismiss some actual, legitimate criticisms in the process.

    Of course some of it is also just plain cowardice and hypocracy. As [Nick] Cohen has argued, nobody has more reason to feel betrayed by western liberal’s hyper-defensiveness re. the oppressive nature of Islamism than those in the “Muslim world” who actually share their values (feminists, queer rights advocates, religious dissidents etc.), and don’t think they should be limited to white people.

    I seem to remember Maryam Namazie (?) once making the point that people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali were pushed into the arms of the ultra-right, such as the American Enterprise Institute, because that’s the only place they could hope for any real support. That should be appalling to anyone who considers him/herself “progressive”.

    It really cannot be stressed strongly enough that Islamism is a far-right movement that loathes everything liberals and leftists claim to value*. It’s ultra-reactionary, ultra-authoritarian, ultra-misogynistic, ultra-homophobic, etc. etc. This is not about one “man’s terrorist” being “another man’s freedom fighter”. Freedom isn’t even part of the agenda, neither is equality, neither is tolerance, neither is anti-imperialism or anything else the progressive left used to support.
    * For white people anyway…

  11. says

    FEMEN needs to recognize that Muslim women do in fact have agency, and the idea that Muslim women are helpless, passively indoctrinated by the alleged evils of Islam, and desperately need of Western feminist help is oppressive and orientalist.

    In other words, FEMEN needs to shut up. So why did Amina use FEMEN to post her protest?
    Why do so many women oppose the fight for women’s freedom? The suffragettes got it, the women’s lib movement back in the 70s got it, and even today youtube is full of “why I’m not a feminist” vids by young women. Do they really think misogyny will go away if they refuse to acknowledge it? Or do they hope to get a better deal by being the “good girls” as opposed to the evil feminists, who actually want to be treated like human beings?

  12. says

    When the people you allege to be helping are counterprotesting you, you’re doing it wrong.

    Well that’s one of the worst attempts at a general rule I’ve seen in awhile.

  13. equisetum says

    When the people you allege to be helping are counterprotesting you, you’re doing it wrong.

    And Amina is conspicuously not counterprotesting, so I guess they’re doing right.

  14. Wave says

    As expected the do-gooder progressives at Jezebel toe the line for islamist patriarchy. the wirter of that piece chose to ignore the fact that some of the protesters are Arab women.

    This protest is somewhat crude, but it’s highly effective, and shines a lot of light on the plight of Amina.

    It’s great that topless women, some of whom were Arab and North African, would burn a black salafist flag in front of a mosque filled with salafist boy-men.

  15. says

    Well that’s one of the worst attempts at a general rule I’ve seen in awhile.

    It’s overstated as an abstract rule, but as a push toward serious thinking it’s worthwhile. Protesting as allies is a situation in which, as in everything else, intent isn’t magic. Despite our best intentions, we can blunder and cause harm. I haven’t read the article you’re responding to, and it might well be overwrought and hyperbolic, but the response isn’t especially useful.

    We need to keep several things in mind. For example:

    We’re not objective observers outside of human social relations, but people who are located in cultures and political systems. In this case, we’re not the ones whose lives are directly affected. In fact, we’re in/from countries that not only host significant and dangerous Islamophobic movements and practices of discrimination against Muslims but whose governments have a long history of destructive actions in majority Muslim countries, including overthrowing democratically-elected governments, propping up dictatorships, funding and supporting rightwing theocrats, and most recently invading, with terrible human costs. (The “liberation” of women in these countries has often been used as the justification for violence and oppression, including too often by feminists here.)

    This means that my actions, even if they’re parallel to those of women in those countries, have a different social meaning and different effects. My protesting in front of a mosque or mocking Mohammed has a different social meaning than the same acts done by a woman (or man) there (and a different meaning from my protesting a Catholic or Protestant church about sexual and reproductive rights). It’s an unavoidable fact, independent of my motives. We didn’t create this reality, but it’s the one in which we make our choices, and we have to be cognizant of it as we choose our course of action and shape our methods.

    Given the reality in which we’re acting, we need to be aware that however great our intent, we can sometimes say or do things that contribute to stereotypes (“Islamic men are savages”), give comfort or support to racists or encourage prejudice against Muslims in our countries, promote our government’s militaristic agenda, or cause Islamist theocrats or fanatics to bring harm to the people we’re trying to support. We can also simply sound arrogant and condescending and therefore disrespectful to the people we’re fighting for.

    We have an obligation to listen to the people we seek to help, including (probably especially) when they’re angry or critical. If possible, we should try to consult with them about how best to coordinate our actions with theirs and support their efforts. (It’s even possible that in some cases they’ll tell us that the best thing we can do is oppose our own government’s imperialistic projects.)

    To the extent that we ignore or actively discount their perspective or deny our own “situatedness” and its effects, people have good reason to question the sincerity of our professed motives. None of this is to say that our actions as allies are always misguided or indefensible or that every criticism of our methods coming from the people whose supporters we claim to be is correct and should cause a change of course. It’s not to say that critics represent everyone in their category and that we should listen to their voices exclusively. I’m saying simply that to go about this ethically we have to maintain this critical and humble attitude about our own actions and continue to listen and respond to them and to our fellow allies. If we can make a reasonable argument defending our choices, then great; if we need to change our methods in response to learning and considering their full effects, also great.

    This is what we’ve been asking of our male allies in the freethought movement – we just need to keep applying it to ourselves as allies. There’s more, but that’ll have to wait for part 3 of my ethics of debunking series…

  16. says

    Ysanne – did anyone say “shut up and be grateful, you have no idea what would help you”? Or anything much like that?

    Obviously, Ophelia, no one here did, but the Jezebel article was referencing some folks that (IMO) definitely seemed to have that kind of tone, “Stupid Muslim women, made brainless by the Quran,” something along those lines.

    While I fully agree with the impulse to protest for Amina, I think it’s clear that some of the protests go beyond criticism of Islamism, or even Islam itself, and cross the line right over into outright racism.

  17. rumblestiltsken says

    Ophelia … usually a fan here, and while you probably don’t recognise my name I am a regular over on reddit.com/r/atheismplus (if you need proof I am not a crank, or something).

    I really, really, really am upset with your set of articles about this, this one in particular. I am also really surprised no-one else has called you out. Bear with me as I try to explain why.

    First of all, the article you call “a piece of crap” is criticising racist behaviour among feminists. You not only elided this fact from your entire response (and every response afterwards) but even went as far to say “Islamophobia is not racism” in a comment just above this one.

    THIS IS NOT ISLAMOPHOBIA. The women in the first picture in the article you criticise was in the middle-eastern equivalent of blackface dress-up. Fake beard, turban, monobrow. How you don’t see that as racist I cannot understand.

    To call it Islamophobia is ridiculous. The “character” doesn’t look Indonesian, right? Or Malaysian? Or African? They look Arab. Which is a race. So this is clear, blatant racism. As is many of the other examples floating around right now, or in the piece you criticise.

    Then, responding to the piece as “a white feminist” (I’m getting to that) you totally elide any discussion of racism. Do you understand how bad that is? The entire piece was about racism and how Muslim women are responding to it, and your criticism as a member of the same group as the oppressors was “lalalala not gonna talk about the racism, here is what is wrong with some minor points in the article”. The equivalent is in an article about male sexism, criticising an outcry while totally eliding any mention of sexist behaviour.

    Not only that, you called the entire article “a piece of crap”. Which presumably includes the charges of racism you conveniently didn’t talk about.

    Not only were you silent about racism among feminist allies (which “white, Western” feminists have a history of) you also paired that with a criticism of the people calling them on it, without mentioning racism! Silence is complicity anyway, but what you have done is worse than silence.

    Secondly, on the charge that saying that the racism is coming from “white women” is as bad as caracituring Arabs … holy fuck! You cannot be serious. That you and the Femen protestors in question are white is directly relevant to the issue, because we are talking about racism. You know, the axis of oppression (for dark skinned people) and privilege (for white people). It is white supremacy 101 that being white matters!

    Would you have ever considered writing a piece like this if the argument was coming from people of colour in USA? They argue all the time that “white western feminism” doesn’t speak for them, excludes them and is often overtly racist.

    The article you complain about here is exactly the same thing. Overt racism by white feminists, coupled with not listening to the cultural group the issue is about, and a big pushback saying “you don’t speak for us”. And you respond completely without nuance, denying all outcry.

    Did you actively set out to make all the same mistakes non-intersectional feminism did with people of colour? Because you couldn’t have done a more comprehensive job.

    I have other more minor issues with what you have been writing about the veil etc. but I have probably exceeded my criticism quota for now.

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