Article on Femen in Le Monde

An article I wrote about Femen was published in Le Monde. Here is the English version:

Femen are a group of Ukrainian-based feminists who have become well-known over the past few years for their provocative tactics and confrontational strategies. Most notable among these is the tactic of protesting topless, in an effort to reclaim their bodies as their own rather than as instruments of patriarchy. Because women’s bodies are constantly instrumentalized by men and the media, their protests act as a way of re-appropriating the female body as a symbol of resistance against patriarchy. Stripping is therefore a means by which women can “take back our bodies” in the broader fight against patriarchy.

While this logic is accepted by some feminist circles, it is not my aim in this article to discuss feminist tactics. Rather I want to focus on Femen’s tendency to universalize their brand of feminism that renders their activism and organization as neocolonial.

The issue of universalizing feminism is not a new issue. First wave feminism in Europe and America had the same problems: they based their feminism on their own experiences, and expected it to apply to women from all over the world who had completely different experiences. These women also ignored the fact that their own lives were affecting the lives of women elsewhere. For example, many first wave feminists were unable to see how imperialism and colonialism on the part of their governments was destroying the lives of women in other parts of the world. In fact, many western feminists actively participated in the colonial process, by trying to “civilize” and “modernize” women in Arab and African countries. For these women, feminism was about becoming like them.

There was a backlash to this kind of feminism, coming mainly from post-colonial feminists from decolonizing countries, from African-American and Latina feminists in the US, and from some second-wave feminists in Europe and the US. These feminists argued that feminism was more complicated, and that it had to represent the diverse lives and views of women around the world. They also introduced the concept of intersectionality: the idea that women are not only affected by gender, but also by other identities such as race, nationality, sexuality, and so on. This meant that feminism had to account for multiple identities and the ways in which they interacted with one another.

Despite coming after this backlash, Femen seems to be going back to the tendencies of first wave feminism. A large part of their work has focused on Muslim women, in an effort to “liberate” and “save” them from Muslim men, Muslim culture, and Islam in general. At one protest in front of the Eiffel Tower, they wore burkas and then stripped, in an effort to bring attention to the fact that the burka is oppressive. In another protest, they marched through a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in France, they decided to march down the streets naked, in an effort to convince Muslim women to unveil. It is clear that for Femen, liberation is defined in a very specific way: as being free from religion, culture, and oppressive dress codes.

In this view, the more you wear, the more oppressed you are. It is only within this context that a process of stripping can be seen as a liberating process. This kind of logic ties women’s liberations to their bodies and the way they dress, which is very problematic. Who decides what is oppressive and what is not oppressive for women to wear? Also problematic is the assumption that all women who veil or wear the burka are oppressed and need to be liberated. These assumptions reveal a certain view of the world that is Eurocentric and cannot be generalized universally.

My view as a feminist is that women should be able to choose. These choices depend on our socio-cultural, economic and political environment, and cannot be dictated from outside. Femen’s recent stunts in Tunisia show how out of touch they are with the Middle Eastern and North African contexts. Instead of spreading awareness about gender issues, they are instead prompting a backlash from a society who does not see them as anything except outsiders imposing their views on women, similar to the colonial process that occurred decades earlier.

The Middle East and North Africa is already home to a wide array of gender and feminist movements, projects, and activism. If the goal of Femen is to act in solidarity with women around the world, then they should contact these indigenous movements and ask how they can help. The politics of solidarity in a post-colonial world that is full of power imbalances is a difficult process, but it certainly will not go anywhere if movements like Femen keep imposing themselves and asserting that “their” feminism is the “right” feminism.

Women of colour have struggled too long to show how feminism can only help them if it is more diverse and not just about heterosexual white middle-class Euro-American women’s experiences. Unfortunately the amount of coverage Femen is getting is undermining the progress made in this arena. Moreover, the current global climate in which Muslims are already seen as problematic makes the situation much worse. Nevertheless, the criticism Femen has received is a good sign, and it comes from both Euro-American feminists as well as feminists from the Global South. The simple point at the bottom of many of these critiques is that feminists should be careful not to draw new lines of exclusion and to accept that feminism will only succeed if it accepts a plurality of voices.

West & Multiculturalism

I just wanted to share one of the best articles I’ve read recently, called “On the West’s Moral Panic Over Multiculturalism” by Gary Younge.

For certain groups the price for belonging and conditions for banishment have shifted dramatically in Western nations, particularly but by no means exclusively in Europe, in recent years. Citizenship is no longer enough. The clothes you wear, the language you speak, the way you worship, have all become grounds for dismissal or inclusion. These terms are not applied equally to all—they are not intended to be. The intention of this series of edicts (popular, political and judicial) is not to erase all differences but to act as a filter for certain people who are considered dangerously different.

To achieve this, certain groups and behaviors must first be pathologized so that they might then be more easily particularized.

Still cannot believe the racist speech in which Chirac said this:

Jacques Chirac, 1991: “How do you want a French worker who works with his wife, who earn together about 15,000 francs and who sees next to his council house a piled-up family with a father, three or four spouses and twenty children earning 50,000 francs via benefits naturally without working…If you add to that the noise and the smell, well, the French worker, he goes crazy.”

Even as the Catholic Church is embroiled in a global crisis over child sexual abuse and the Church of England is splintered in a row over gay priests, Islam and Muslims face particularly vehement demands to denounce homophobia.

The combined effect of these flawed distinctions and sweeping demonization is to unleash a series of moral panics.

And what I think his most important point was:

At a time of diminishing national sovereignty, particularly in Europe, such campaigns help the national imagination cohere around a fixed identity even as the ability of the nation-state to actually govern itself wanes. It is a curious and paradoxical fact that as national boundaries in Europe have started to fade, the electoral appeal of nationalism has increased; fascism, and its fellow travelers, is once again a mainstream ideology in Europe, regularly polling between 5 and 15 per cent in most countries.

I have yet to meet a Dutch liberal who has not done this:

Many who consider themselves on the left have given liberal cover to these assaults on religious and racial minorities, ostensibly acting in defense of democracy, Enlightenment values and equal rights—particularly relating to sexual orientation and gender.

And this:

The first is an elision between Western values and liberal values that ignores the fact that liberal values are not fully entrenched in the West and that other regions of the world also have liberal traditions.

And this:

The second is a desire to understand Western “values” in abstraction from Western practice.

And now, to multiculturalism:

Unable to come up with a single, coherent new term that both encapsulates the atmosphere of fear, threat, panic, disorientation, confusion, contradiction and paradoxes and unites both far right and liberals, the opponents of this diverse, hybrid reality resurrected an old foe—“multiculturalism.

The beauty of multiculturalism, for its opponents, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean so long as you don’t like it.

Finally,

The nation-state is in crisis; neoliberal is in crisis; multiculturalism is simply in situ.

I would add that Europe is also in crisis.

Some thoughts

I’ve been in Cairo for a week and a bit now, and until today wordpress wouldn’t let me write a new blog post :S Looks like it’ll finally work today!

A few things I’ve been thinking about lately…

I wonder how affected designer brands and the luxury sector in general are doing during this recession. Walking through malls in Cairo makes it look like they are doing just fine. Is this because the rich haven’t really been affected by the crisis, and in fact have probably continued to make more and more money? Following the revolution in Egypt, where many shops got vandalized, Starbucks re-opened weeks afterwards. I wonder whether small, family-owned businesses were able to do the same, whether they could afford it? Feels like the sad reality is that our current economic system is killing the poor; making the middle class struggle to just survive, and continues to make the rich richer.

Finding out more about US presidential candidates made me realize how fast the American empire is crumbling.  The economic crisis was the beginning; the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were another sign; but the sheer stupidity, racism, bigotry and homophobia found in the election campaigns are just ridiculous, and show why the US was never going to be an empire or superpower for long.  While large parts of the world are becoming more aware of neo-colonialism and societal problems, it seems like many Americans are becoming more and more racist, Islamophobic, and petty. Focusing on things like birth certificates and the building of mosques says a lot about current discourses in America.

Then again, Europe isn’t much better. On my plane ride from Amsterdam to Cairo there was a Dutch guy coming to “help Egyptians choose who to vote for.” In classic Orientalist style he was very worried about the “tension” between Muslims and Christians, and the “threat” of the Muslim Brotherhood. I was dying to ask him why he was even going to Egypt.  I would say Dutch people are in desperate need of help when it comes to “choosing who to vote for” – Wilders? Really?

Why does extreme poverty exist?

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, was recently taken to court for hate speech against Muslims. Today he was acquitted. Wilders is head of the PVV, the Dutch Freedom Party, which is currently the third most popular party in the Netherlands. Wilders is famous for his controversial statements about Islam, such as:

“Islam is not a religion, it’s an ideology, the ideology of a retarded culture. I have a problem with Islamic tradition, culture, ideology. Not with Muslim people.”

“Why are we afraid to say that muslims should adapt because our norms and values are of a higher, better, nicer and more humane level of civilisation? Not integration, assimilation! And if the headscarves will protest on the Malieveld, let them come. I’ll have them for breakfast.”

“If it ever may come to racial riots, which I really don’t want, then this doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative result.”

Just to remind you that this guy’s party is the 3rd most popular party in the Netherlands.

What’s on my mind: Pinkwashing

I’ve been pretty busy this past week working on my thesis proposal as well as choosing topics for the final papers of my classes. I actually finished classes last week which means that after I finish my thesis I’ll be done with my second MA!

While researching paper topics, I came across interesting info on “pinkwashing” which is basically the attempt by governments/groups/countries to divert attention away from a touchy political issue onto the topic of homosexuality/LGBTQ rights. Israel has been doing this recently:

Recently, Israel has launched a publicity campaign aimed at portraying the country as a safe haven for homosexuals in the Middle East.  Advertisements, public stunts and activities have been set up, all geared towards convincing the world that Israel is the only homophobia-free country in a very homophobic Middle East.  This campaign has been especially effective in portraying Palestine as a place that is dangerous for gays, lesbians, queers, and transgendered people.

This campaign is problematic on several levels.  First, Israel is not free of homophobia and portraying itself that way is simplistic and misleading.  Second, Palestine, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, have vibrant LGBTQ scenes which include organizations, events, campaigns, and media promotions.  Third, it appears that Israel is attempting to divert attention away from the occupation of Palestine and the various crimes it repeatedly commits there by re-branding itself as a gay-friendly country and thus endearing itself to western democracies and human rights organizations.  Finally, Israel is using and reproducing old Orientalist assumptions many in the west have about the Middle East, particularly in regard to homosexuality.

sexuality.

Recently, an article on CNN questioned whether “gay rights” or the lack thereof would dampen the revolutions across the Arab world. Jadaliyya (one of my all-time favourite sites) responded with an article called “Gays, Islamists and the Arab Spring: What Would a Revolutionary Do?”]

The “gay issue” is becoming an increasingly hot topic in Western media coverage of the Arab world. In fact, beginning with the spate of gay killings in US occupied Iraq, the status of non-normative sexualities has perhaps been enfolded within a discourse that highlights the plight of “women” in Arab/Muslim countries, and the ideological, material, and military mobilization that such a discourse licenses. The already mentioned CNN article is one of several devoted to the issue of what will happen to “the gays” after the revolutions, in addition to spates of comments on many other pieces analyzing what the revolutions may mean. A critical reader might ask what lies behind this interest in gays? Where did it come from and what kinds of discourses and practices is it contributing to? What assumptions does this conversation make as to international practices of sexuality and politics, and what silences about other forms of oppression is this anxiety over the status of gay Arabs in Arab democracies implicated in?

“A focus on the dangers that Islamists pose to minority and sexual rights discourages people from asking serious questions about the structural issues that will determine the outcome of these post-revolutionary societies.”

EXACTLY. Let’s focus on how those Arabs oppress gay people so we don’t have to talk about how WE have oppressed those Arabs. Classic pinkwashing.

Instead of questioning the role of the US-allied Egyptian military, the IMF’s renewed interest in Egypt, or the architecture of political oppression still in place in Egypt, we should be worried about the crazy Muslims.

This is something happening in the Netherlands as well, where homosexuality is often used against Muslim “immigrants” (if you’re not white you’re forever an immigrant), rather than focusing on what Dutch society and government could be doing to help “integration” (which often means assimilation). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about homophobia among Muslim/Arab communities, since that is certainly an issue. But we should always be critical of who is asking the questions, and why.

Gay Arabs cannot be cut out of the fabric of their societies; they are Arab, they are Muslim, Christian, conservative and progressive, soldiers and civilians, communists and capitalists, sexist and feminist, classist and revolutionary, and both oppressors and the oppressed. Islamist discourses are not ossified and stuck in the 16th century, as most Western commentators assume. They are plural, responsive, dynamic, and they represent the point of view of a large and diverse public.

While I don’t agree with everything in the article, I do believe that it is an important point to make. Orientalism has shown how the west often focuses on issues of sexuality to criticize and Otherize Arabs/Muslims (even though the west is still homophobic), and pinkwashing seems to be this process once again.

The Islamophobia Industry

Just came across an amazing blog called “muslimerican” and found this great post on the Islamophobia Industry in the US:

It would be hard for anyone to ignore the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. (If you hadn’t noticed it, this horrifying video will bring you up to speed.) The transition seemed to begin during the 2008 presidential campaign, when a segment of the Republican party used Islam as a smear against Democratic candidate Barack Obama. In 2010, the “ground zero mosque” controversy went further, establishing Islamophobia as a force to be reckoned with in mainstream American politics. While this seemed inevitable to some people, it was not a natural development; this was the the triumph of a well-oiled PR campaign.

In the last couple of decades, a full-blown industry has developed before our eyes, driven by best-selling authors, prominent media personalities, influential nonprofit organizations and terrorism “experts” all bent on portraying Islam and Muslims as threats to the United States. These voices include non-Muslims, ex-Muslims, and even a few self-styled “devout Muslims”.

He also adds some great links for anyone interested in the subject:

Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim (TAM) has taken the time to create a list examining almost every major anti-Muslim personality in the US. This is the most exhaustive tally I’ve seen, and it is being updated continuously: “A Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry“.

A second list, compiled by media watchdog FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), is also helpful. “Smearcasters: Islamophobia’s Dirty Dozen” profiles 12 of the most prominent figures in the anti-Muslim industry. If you don’t have time to pore over Musaji’s list, be sure to look at this one; it is much more brief.

Finally, there are four outstanding pieces of journalism that explore the ins and outs of this world, revealing its disturbing influence in law enforcement circles and murky connection to right-wing politics. Pour yourself a cup of tea, get comfortable, and read these essays. What you learn will surprise you.

The F-word…again

Jehanzeb at Muslim Reverie has just written another brilliant blog post. (I seriously want to marry this guy; if you’re reading this, yes it’s an official proposal :D)

I see all of these reactions as dismissing a disturbing reality about racial hierarchy, white “privilege” and power, interlocking oppression, power relations between the West and Muslim-majority countries.  Rather than challenging white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy, the society in which we live, the focus of every conversation shifted towards personal attacks against me.  The goal in each case, whether deliberate or not, was to silence anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist politics.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again; whenever someone who is not a racial/religious elite gets criticized, they fail to respond (since they know the attack is valid) and therefore have no choice but to simply insult the person who criticized them or the system they are a part of. I also find it interesting that anyone from the “third world” is usually brainwashed/impassioned/anti-west when they criticize the west, whereas someone from the west is always neutral/objective/unbiased. Right.

Jehanzeb also makes a great point about racism: it does not need to be in your face to be considered racist. You don’t have to be a member of the KKK to be racist towards black people. You don’t have to have voted for Geert Wilders to be Islamophobic. My time in Holland has shown me that many Dutch people are racist/Islamophobic in a more subtle, less-obvious way. This makes it even more difficult to deal with them, or to deal with racism/Islamophobia in general.

 I’ve heard so many discouraging stories in the past few weeks about movements that oppressed, excluded, marginalized, or even discriminated against other groups of people.

This is a serious problem within many movements. I saw this in Greece last week, where more than one feminist organization was very discriminatory towards migrants, and made quite racist comments. I was also talking to another friend a few days ago who pointed out that Turkish gay men in Germany were not accepted in the mainstream gay movement for a long time. I always expect feminists to be open to all kinds of differences, and homosexuals to be open to diversity, but this is clearly not the case. In fact, the main LGBT organization in Holland approved of and supported Geert Wilders!

When we say “men and women,” which men and women are we talking about?  White men and women?  Black men and women?  Brown men and women?  Homosexual men and women?  Disabled men and women?  And if homosexual or disabled men and women, are they white or of color?  Using general language about feminism and gender only ignores the other significant factors like race, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. that determine our experiences.

I think a major problem with “feminism” is that it rarely takes intersectionality into account. There is NO WAY we can talk about women as though they are a homogenous group. What about class, race, religion, sexuality, political views, legal status, etc? For too long, feminists acted as though there was one problem and therefore one solution for all women. An excellent critique of this has come from Chandra Mohanty (her work is amazing, a must-read!)

Islamic feminists, for example, must constantly fight a battle on two fronts: against patriarchy within their communities, and against racism/Islamophobia from feminists outside their community (as well as others outside their community).

Generalizing about Muslim/Arab men is a serious issue in the blogosphere today, and unfortunately when these generalizations are made by Muslim/Arab women or women of colour, they hold even more value and are often used by the Orientalist/imperialistic project. They absolutely love it when a Muslim or ex-Muslim criticizes Islam/Arab/Asian culture. What more could they want? This is not to say that we shouldn’t be self-critical; but generalizations are never the way to go. It is not true that ALL Muslim men are patriarchal, violent, misogynistic, or selfish.

I will quote from an article Jehanzeb also posted on his blog, which I found touching and unfortunately, still true today:

Your racism is showing when we are invisible to you; an afterthought solicited to integrate your white organizations.

Your racism is showing when in frustrated anger, you don’t understand why we won’t do your racism work for you. Do it yourself. Educate yourself. Don’t ask another Black woman to explain it all to you. Read a book

Your racism is showing when you pay too much attention to us. We resent your staring scrutiny that reveals how much we are oddities to you.

Your racism is showing in your cowardly fear of us; when you send someone else to talk to us on your behalf, perhaps another sister; when conflict resolution with us means you call the police. When you ignore what the police do to Black people and call them anyway, your racism is showing.

Your racism is showing when you eagerly embrace the lone Black woman in your collective, while fearing, resenting, suspecting and attacking a vocal, assertive group of Black women. One Black woman you can handle, but organized Black women are a real problem. You just can’t handle us having any real power.

Your racism is showing when you comment on our gorgeous “ethnic clothing or ask us why we wear dreads when we are perfect strangers to you. Would you do the same to a white stranger wearing Ralph Lauren and a page boy? These are also ethnic styles.

Your racism is showing when you demand to know our ethnicity, if we don’t look like your idea of a Black person. We are not accountable to you for how our bodies look. And we don’t have to be “nice” to you and tolerate your prying.

Your racism is showing when you insist upon defining our reality. You do not live inside our skin, so do not tell us how we should perceive this world. We exist and so does our reality.

Your racism is showing when our anger makes you panic. Even when we are not angry at you or your racism, but some simple, ordinary thing. When our expressed anger translates to you as a threat of violence, this is your unacknowledged fear of retribution or exposure and it is revealing your guilt.

Your racism is showing when YOU, by your interference, will not allow us to have our own space. We realize you never expected to be denied access to anything and any place, but sometimes you should stay away from Black women’s spaces. You do not have to be there just in case something exotic is going on or just in case we are plotting against you. In these instances, you are not just uninvited guests, you are infiltrators. This is a hostile act.

Your racism is showing when you cry, “Reverse discrimination!” There is no such thing. Only privileged people who have never lived with discrimination, think there can be a “reverse.” This means thatyou think it shouldn’t happen to you, only to the other people it normally happens to — like US.

Your racism is showing when you exclaim that we are paranoid and expecting racism around every corner. Racism inhabits this society at a core level. Ifwe weren’t constantly on our guard, we, as a people, would be dead by now.

Your racism is showing when you daim you have none. This economy and culture would not have existed without slave labour to build it. The invasion and exploitation of the Americas depended upon the conviction that people of colour were less than human. Otherwise, we could not have been so cruelly used. You grew up in a racist society. How could you not be racist? You cannot simply decide that racism is “bad” and therefore you are no longer racist. This is not unlearning racism. Black people could not afford to be this naive.

Your racism is showing when you think that all racists are violent, ignorant, card-carrying Nazis. You are fooling yourself, but not us, if you think that racism refers to the unconnected, isolated, “just-plain-meann actions and attitudes of bad people. Most racists are nice folks, especially in this country. Racism is systemic and cannot be separated out from this culture.

We do not want to witness or dry your tears. Yes, racism hurts. It hurts you, but please do not entertain the notion that it hurts much as us. Racism kills us, not you. Your tears will not garner our sympathy. We are no longer your property, therefore we will no longer take care of you. We don’t want to see your foolishness, so take your racism work to your own place and do it there.

TO WHITE FEMINISTS, BE YOU LIBERAL, RADICAL, SEPARATIST, RICH, OR NOT-YOUR RACISM IS SHOWING. YOU CAN EXPECT TO HEAR FROM VOCAL, ORGANIZED BLACK WOMEN WHO WILL BE IN YOUR FACE ABOUT IT.

– Carol Camper, “To White Feminists” Canadian Woman Studies, 1994

Athens

I just got back from a study trip to Athens, Greece, and it was definitely an interesting experience. Although my specialization is gender, the trip ended up being more about migration and race-relations in Greece.

Before we went there, we had no idea that Greece is having a huge immigration problem. Some things we found out from NGOs while we were there:

  • Mosques are not allowed to be built in Athens, which means that there are only informal mosques in basements (need to double check this).
  • Over the past few years, right-wing Greek people have trapped Muslims inside these informal mosques and then thrown petrol bombs inside, killing many.
  • The second day we were there, a Greek man was robbed and then killed by 3 “dark-looking people” who were assumed to be immigrants. Later that night, neo-Nazi TV channels (yes) and blogs called for Greek people to go out and attack and beat immigrants.
  • The next day over 17 immigrants ended up in the hospital after being stabbed.
  • There was also a clash between the left-wing and the police, who are overwhelmingly right-wing (surprise, surprise).
  • There is a huge back-log in terms of applications for legal status as a migrant, and some have to wait up to 20 years. Thus they can be arrested at any time, and they are kept in 2-by-2 cells with no toilets, little food, and no dignity.
  • There are reportedly 2 million undocumented migrants in Athens, who are now at risk of being attacked.
While Athens is certainly extreme, these discourses can be found all over Europe now, including the Netherlands. Anti-Islam rhetoric has become so widespread and acceptable, it is no surprise that in some countries, like Greece, it has led to violence.
Some feminists criticize porn because they say it leads to violence against women, since it objectifies and dehumanizes them. The same can be said about discourses on Islam in Europe today. By dehumanizing, stigmatizing, and insulting Muslims, violence is only a few steps away.
Uffff.
On a positive note, Greek men are very good-looking!

Islam in the Economist

I’m currently doing a media analysis class, and I think it is one of the most stimulating classes I’ve ever taken. It’s amazing how many types of analyses you can do on different types of media, and how many biases you can find. One technique is to go word by word through an article to see which words are repeated the most. I would never have thought of doing this but it is so interesting to find out which words recur the most often. I would be very interested in doing this to some Dutch newspapers at some point, especially articles about Muslims, immigrants, Moroccans, Arabs, etc.

Anyway we had to find an image that represented social relations of power. I thought to myself that it should be pretty easy to find something in a western media outlet about Islam or Arabs. After some searching, I found this picture:

This is the cover of The Economist, March 31 2011. The title is Islam and the Arab Revolutions. Subtitle is: Religion is a growing force in the Arab awakening. Westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy.

This picture is troubling on several levels. First of all, there is a clear sign of Islam, which is the crescent and the star. This has somehow come to represent Islam in the media.

So this picture is characterizing the following with Islam (represented by crescent and star):

  • the desert
  • a man
  • in black
  • with a gun
  • with his head covered
  • the desert is unsettled, not calm
So we see a man, who is in all-black with a head covering, coming towards us, carrying a gun that looks like an AK-47. And this is somehow to supposed to make westerners who are “worried about Islam” feel better. Hmmm.
If I were a westerner afraid of Islam (as many apparently are), I would not feel better after seeing a picture like this.
The man is intentionally made to look scary: all-black, hidden, his features are not clear, he’s wearing a head-covering, he HAS A GUN. I mean how is this supposed to convince anyone that everything will be fine and that they should “hold their nerve”??
And WHY is this representative of Islam? A MAN who is not very CLEAR with a GUN? Who is approaching me through a desert? With a gun? A GUN? Okay seriously, this is ridiculous.
Finally, what kind of a story is this anyway? So what if religion is a growing force in the Arab revolutions (not awakenings, for God’s sake)? Why does that scare the west? (oh right, their ridiculous preoccupation with Islam and politics). And why should they hold their nerve and trust democracy? (as if the west would ever allow democracy in the Arab world anyway, see: Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia) Is anyone telling us Arabs and Africans that we should hold our nerve about DONALD TRUMP or SARAH PALIN running for president in the US? or WILDERS or SARKOZY in Europe?
No. Well I’m telling everyone now: Islamophobia, right-wing politics and stupidity are rising forces in European and American awakenings. Non-westerners should hold their nerve and trust democracy.
Oh wait, these people are getting in through democracy. Hmm.
Anyway, back to the post. I expected more from the Economist, which isn’t exactly Fox News. But I guess when it comes to Islam, it’s pretty much the same story in every western newspaper/magazine/news channel.
I’m pissed.

Islamophobia in Europe

"For more security" Used in an election campaign

There is little doubt that Islamopobia is rife in Europe, a continent that only 60 years ago was host to the worst genocide in human history, shocking in both scale and execution.  Today, one by one European countries are electing far-right parties into parliament and presidential office, and Muslims and other non-white Europeans are finding it harder to “fit into” European society.

I just read a brilliant article called “The success of Islamophobia in Europe” (here). There is no doubt that things in Europe are getting tense:

Immigrants are caricatured and scapegoated, whole ethnic groups are implied to have criminal personalities and to be anything but normal, moral and hard-working. Wilders, for example, speaks of Moroccan ‘street-terrorists’ while his party proposes replacing civil servants with street militias; the Sweden Democrats commissioned an advertisement showing a woman in a burqa harassing an elderly pensioner; the Danish president of the International Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, asserts that Muslim men routinely allow their daughters to be raped by family members, while the Scandinavian internet is awash in tales of ‘Islamic rape gangs’; and the head of Germany´s new Freedom Party, René Stadtkewitz argues that it is impossible to integrate (Turkish and Arab) Muslims into German society without doing fundamental damage to its Judeo-Christian culture.

Top: Zurich 2010; bottom: 20 years later

What is even more worrying is that so many Europeans seem to support anti-Islam rhetoric. In an election in the Netherlands in the summer of 2010, Wilders’ party received approx 2 million out of the 8 million votes that were cast. If that isn’t scary I don’t know what is.

The article brings up many good points.  One of these is the fact that Europe seems to be plagued by the Holocaust, yet not by its colonial past. Why so much guilt over the Holocaust but not the colonial empires so many European countries ruled over brutally?

While the Holocaust has increasingly been taken as the foundational trauma for the whole of western Europe – a shared inheritance enabling an overarching moral project – colonialism has been approached from the opposite perspective. Notwithstanding that at one point 85% of the world was under European control – affecting the economics, ideologies, politics, consumption, and cultures of all Europe and all non-Europe along the way – colonialism nonetheless has been seen as a matter of purely national significance, to be dealt with individually as each nation and state might occasionally see fit.

One major misleading effect is that non-western immigrants are now largely imagined to be encountering Europe for the first time and to be bringing with them a purely alien culture untouched by decades and centuries under European control and influence. It is as if Europe had never gone out into the world in any significant cultural fashion, but only economically and militarily, while its own cultures were somehow left magically untouched.

Another interesting point is that Islamophobia is not necessarily a resurgence of racism:

The critical innovation of these movements, particularly in northern Europe, is that they have managed – for their supporters – to delink Islamophobia from racism so that today it is quite possible to argue that one is both anti-Islam and anti-racist.

This could explain why the Dutch, for example, normally obsessed with political correctness, have no problem complaining about (at the least) or insulting (at the most) Islam. Stephen Gash, co-founder of Stop Islamisation of Europe, has taken as his tag-line:  “racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the highest form of common sense.” This reminds me of how being anti-Islam has become acceptable in many parts of the world. It’s okay to complain about Islam, to generalize about Muslims, and to support anti-Islamic proposals/laws/wars. Muslims are the ultimate ‘Other’ and so any negative action/rhetoric used against them is completely understandable and therefore acceptable.

Across Europe there is legislation against hate speech, against racism and anti-Semitism, against the defamation of whole groups, minorities, and (if inconsistently) religions.

When Muslims appeal to such legislation, said legislation is suddenly accused of inflicting an unacceptable limitation on one’s freedom of speech – a misuse of anti-hate legislation that silences all criticism.

The author suggests 2 solutions to the problem. One: the formation of Islamic political parties in Europe (yeah right! there will be some kind of mass conflict before that happens); and two: remove all anti-hate speech legislation (so all groups can be targeted? isn’t it better to ensure that anti-Islam speech is punished, the way all other hate-speech is?)

Personally, I think the problem at this point can only be solved through socialization. No legal, economic, or political solution will work anymore. The problem is racism, Islamophobia, and the fact that Europeans just do not seem to like people different from them. The colonial past and the Holocaust are two events that make it clear that Europe has an issue with difference. This is not to say, of course, that ALL Europeans are like this; but from my personal experience, many are. This is especially the case with Muslims, who are seen as completely different and simply backwards. They are not modern, rational, and do not support human rights (what exactly are human rights? are they universal or western? when did non-white people agree to these universal human rights?)

In conclusion:

How rare it is for a national politician to claim Muslims as one of his or her own. The fundamental paradox is that while the established and progressive elite of continental Europe are fiercely against rhetorical and institutionalized discrimination – to the point that many consider this a deep violation of their most vital personal and national values – many are at the same time highly unwilling to stop considering Islam and immigrants as backward in one fashion or another.

Elite and populist alike agree on the Muslims´ otherness; they just differ on the question of what to do about it. And as long as they agree on this – through their actions even more than their words – we have nowhere to go but down.