Jump to condemn the obviously condemnable

Marwa Berro at Between a Veil and a Dark Place: Missives of an Ex-Muslim Woman did a post last week wittily titled The racism of the white wolf who cried Islamophobia.

I’m tired of a certain faction of Western liberals, especially white guys, Westsplaining about how anti-Muslim bigotry and Western colonialism and imperialism and international geopolitics provide *essential context* for understanding the sources of Muslim problems, which don’t come from a vacuum, how there are striking *parallels* between liberal critique of Islam and right-wing anti-Muslim bigotry.

Not that there’s no such thing as anti-Muslim bigotry, not that imperialism and geopolitics have never fucked anything up, but…there’s more to it than that.

But those things are not an *explanation*. They are contributing factors at best that neither sufficiently explain nor excuse the blatant transgressions of Muslims and the horrible conditions in Muslim-majority countries. There is also an ironic lack of focus on Arab imperialism and the manner in which Islam has been reified, propagated, and been used to justify horrors in the Middle East and South Asia *far preceding* the West dipping its fingers into that mess. Sorry to strip you of credit for this, really, but it’s not the West that created the dehumanizing elements of Muslim cultures.

Not everything is about us (us being people in “the West”). Neither for credit nor for blame is everything about us. We don’t make everything happen. It can be useful to remember this.

There is also ironic lack of focus on the booming (essentially) slave trade disguised as a migrant worker system exploiting Africans and South and Southeast Asians that is utterly normalized in the Gulf and Levant.

That’s one reason I bring it up a lot. The main reason is of course that it exists and it’s horrible, but it’s also to make the point that people treat others (especially Others) like shit in a great many places.

And the supreme irony here? The blatant condescension of this PoV. It really is such a white-centric thing to try to explain the Muslim issue in those terms, to essentialize our problems in terms of your culture’s imperialism. It is also–and I’m not holding my breath for anyone to realize this anytime soon–buying into the same anti-brown racism to continually draw analogies between liberal critiques of Islam and right-wing anti-Muslim bigotries, to present eg the often-racist ignorant spewings of Dawkins and his ilk as the FACE of liberal and atheist discourse regarding the matter so you can self-righteously jump to condemn the obviously condemnable just as you raise it to the level of being representative of the entire liberal and atheist community, ironically completely drowning out and excluding the voices of Ex-Muslims and progressive Muslims, especially women, from the categories of ‘Western’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘atheist discourse’, othering us and contributing to our silence and marginalization. We don’t want Dawkins and Harris to be the driving voices of liberal discourse regarding Islam either. Stop excluding us. Stop alienating us. Stop reducing us to the norms of our home cultures, as if we’re incapable of engaging with them or transcending them, and stop creating a binary between us and our values and liberalism and its values.

To be fair, for all his faults, Dawkins has done a lot to amplify the voices of Ex-Muslims in general and e.g. Maryam Namazie in particular (but then he goes and undercuts some of that with his fatuous [at best] tweets about Islam). But yes: I think the non-Muslims who rant about Islamophobia do a very bad job of listening to people like Maryam and Marwa.


  1. Shatterface says

    I kind of wanted to like the article but I already had doubts by the first reference to ‘white guys’.

    Most of the support I saw for segregation in public halls came from women, white and brown, not ‘guys’; and much of that support took the former of attacking other women, white or brown, who stood up against it.

    But white men who opposed it were often condemned by both sides, usually in exactly the terms used here against Dawkins and Harris: they’re all ‘Islamophobes’ ‘drowning’ out liberal muslims

  2. Decker says

    Muslims are the new proles for many like Seamus Milne.

    I’m sure he’d describe someone like AHA as a neo-con stooge…or whatever.

    I find it amazing the number of sincere, secular, ex-muslim women thrown from the train by White males with ‘lofty’ ideals.

  3. Katherine Woo says

    The worst direct Islam apologists of recent fame that come to mind are Karen Armstrong, Tariq Ramadan, and Reza Aslan. Technically Aslan and Ramadan are Caucasian males, but not “white” as in European.

    Past them the people not defending Islam per se, but conspicuously not talking about it, when it is screaming out to be addressed, are the stars of Internet-era feminism: Valenti, Mukhopadhyay, McEwan, Marcotte, Penny, Filipovic. They basically mention Islam solely to make an accusation of ‘Islamophobia’ or ‘anti-Muslim’ bigotry.

    White males like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bruce Bawer, Nick Cohen, Jerry Coyne, Author (of Jesus and Mo), Christopher Caldwell, Peter Thatchel, etc. have said more in critique of Islamic misogyny and LGBT oppression than all of the feminist ‘superstars’ I named above. It gets even worse when you add in non-white males like Ibn Warraq, Kenan Malik, Salaman Rushdie, and many more.

    And, of course, we all know how ‘well received’ ex-Muslim or genuine reformers women like Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazie, Ishrad Manji, Wafa Sultan, etc. are by the feminists named.

    I think the rape scene on Game of Thrones this week caused more passion among the Internet-feminist–superstars than the nine+ honor murders of Muslim women in North America since 9/11 either individually or combined.

  4. johnthedrunkard says

    I need to read the original post. But the chief objection to Dawkins and Harris is that they are guilty of Male Whiteness.

    If Atheist, progressive westerners are told to shut up, there won’t be any space for escapees from Muslim hell-holes to have a voice.

  5. Katherine Woo says

    Dawkins & Co. are certainly guilty of more than “Male Whiteness.”

    They have said wholly objectionable things (e.g. Harris on racial profiling), or as in the Rebecca Watson case, chosen unjustifiable targets of their snark. I think ‘Dear Muslimah…’ would have had a lot more sting and meaning if dropped on, for example, Amanda Marcotte’s outrage about an incident on Game of Thrones this week.

    As polemicists, it is inevitable that they will say something unjustifiable or genuinely offensive to liberal sensibilities. The difference is that Mukhopadhyay or Marcotte can say outrageously stupid things and get a pass. When I reminded people of Marcotte’s support for genital nicking of girls (which the UN defines as FGM, even if she chooses not to) someone immediately rushed to her defense with the ‘she is allowed to make mistakes’ line.

    I am going to go out on a limb and say nothing Dawkins has ever said is as bad as supporting unnecessary cuts to a girl’s genitals.

  6. says

    Katherine, the people who “come to [your] mind” aren’t necessarily the most representative or obvious or conspicuous or anything else. You’ve made a somewhat arbitrary selection so that you can beat it to death.

    Also…you seem to think this is all new, or at least new to me. I would draw your attention to a book titled Does God Hate Women?, not to mention my blogging for the past 11 years or so.

  7. Katherine Woo says

    Sorry, but they are not “arbitrary.” They are the public image of feminists under 40, for better or worse. They work for major left-of-center publications in most cases. McEwan and Mukhopadhyay are the only one with minimal mainstream presence.

    Your book, which I read, was excellent actually and was how I started reading this blog. But while I respect your efforts, I cannot pretend you have the same audience as most of the women I mentioned. FTB ain’t The Guardian.

    They get the clicks precisely because they have mastered the ‘4th wave’ outrage machine that can be more upset over whether character A raped character B on a premium cable drama than an actual, real life crime.

    Their are hacks and political animals feeding off the vapid, attention-deficit zeitgeist for their own advancement and they are betraying feminism as a universal ideal along the way.

  8. Shatterface says

    I think anyone who uses the word ‘Westplaining’ needs to fuck off on principle.

    The whole ‘white guys’ meme is as useful to informed debate as ‘here comes the waterworks’ as a response to complaints by women.

  9. says

    Yes they are somewhat arbitrary, which is what I said, because they are not exhaustive of the category “feminists under 40” or even the public image of same. Also, what’s “under 40” got to do with anything? You nowhere said you were talking only about younger feminists. Dawkins is not under 40 so it’s hardly obvious that you’re talking solely about people under 40.

    I don’t even know what your point is, unless it’s to derail the whole thread.

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