And ain't I a woman? Racists hiding behind feminism

Issue 

Racists hiding behind feminism

Since the September 11 mass murders in the United States, attacks on Muslims in Australia have dramatically increased. Nearly 90% of those reported have been upon women wearing the hijab (clothing worn by Muslims, for women it generally covers the hair, body and sometimes the face).

There is nothing new about attacks on women being "justified" by what they wear and what these clothing choices supposedly imply about a woman's morality. What is unusual is that some racists are using so-called "feminist" arguments to justify not condemning these actions, or to imply that Muslim women may deserve their fate.

On a now closed discussion board hosted by Ninemsn, one contributor said that it was hypocritical for Muslim men to complain about harassment of "their" women because "they all beat up on them anyway". On a feminist email list, a woman wrote that she felt "uncomfortable" offering Muslim women "unconditional support" given that the hijab "represents the silencing of women".

Women's liberation means freedom from the threat of violence for all women, not just those who agree with some "correct" set of ideas. Our opposition to sexist violence is not dependent on who the victim is.

The attacks on hijab-wearing women are clearly sexist and racist. They are not perpetrated by Islamic men, but by "ocker" men who are used to judging women as "good" or "bad" and feel they have the right to punish those who are bad. These ideas are perpetuated by a society that values women less then men. They are buttressed by ideas that dehumanise those from non-white races and non-Christian religions.

The most effective way to struggle against sexist violence is by united action led by those who suffer from it. Any campaign against the violence must involve all women on an equally footing. It must be inclusive and non-patronising.

All women should have the right to wear what they want. Just as we need to oppose vilification of women who wear the hijab, so too feminists should support the struggle of women in Iran, Afghanistan and other places against the forcible imposition of it.

Women's oppression serves, and is reinforced by, social and economic factors, not religion. According to scholar Fatima Mernissi writing about women in the Muslim states, "the existing inequality does not rest on an ideological or biological theory of women's inferiority, but the outcome of specific social institutions designed to restrain her power."

Religious ideas, however, can be interpreted to support or oppose ideas about women that suit the needs of a society's elites. After the revolution in Iran, women had more rights than in predominantly Christian countries in the Third World.

The mandating of hijab is based primarily upon the Hadith of Sahih Bukari. Surah XXXIII, verse 59, of the Koran ("Tell thy wives and thy daughters to draw their cloaks close around them") is also quoted to support the practice. Its implementation varies widely according to region and belief.

The Bible, on the other hand, has explicit directions to women to veil their heads in Corinthians 11 (7-10): "For a woman ... let her be covered... For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and the glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man."

The interpretation of Islam in Afghanistan, current-day Iran and Iraq that results in severe restrictions upon women's lives is caused by the political repression that those countries use to crush dissent.

Opposing the oppression of women should not fool us into reinforcing the government's stereotypes of Muslim and Arab men as oppressive, uncaring and abusive, and Islamic women as powerless victims.

Quite the contrary, it is though respect for the struggles of women around the world, and united action against both racism and sexism that the liberation of women will be won.

BY ALISON DELLIT