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I don’t frequent forums as much I use to because I find it so much harder to deal with stupid comments. Another reason why I don’t frequent forums, however, is because I often encounter people who I really think have the best intentions but who also have a hard time acknowledging the various privileges they have and questioning the biases they have. I think in order to help yourself and help others–I mean really help yourself and others, and not just give yourself a pat on the back–you have to recognize not only the oppression that occurs, but also your own relationship with the people you’re working with and perhaps even your role in the oppression.
I was having a discussion with one such person. She is a white woman who is also a non-Muslim. I honestly believe that she wants to help Muslim women. However, we got into an argument over the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don’t like the book for a lot of reasons, but the woman in question said that there aren’t enough books like Infidel: basically, books that discuss how Muslim women have to “overcome” oppressive cultures, perhaps leave Islam or just make it so watered down as to render it completely unrecognizable, fight those oppressive Muslim brutes with beards, escapes a whole lot of death threats and more.
I disagreed with that assertion for two reasons. The first is that there are so many books, articles, and website dedicated to Muslim women or former Muslim women who have agendas that seem to work more for conservative political agendas rather than equality for Muslim women. I don’t want to discount Hirsi Ali’s experiences, especially in regard to FGM and forced marriage (not to be confused with arranged marriages). However, I don’t think we should overlook the role of colonialism and neo-colonialism in the plight of Muslim women. Even certain practices like FGM have been aggravated by colonialism in some societies.
The second and bigger problem I have with that assertion is that it basically strips Muslim women of any control they have over the movement. Muslim women want to tell their stories in their own ways. We shouldn’t be forced into telling stories ultimately serve only two purposes: making Muslims look bad and making Western societies look great, while absolving them of any role in current problems that Muslim women in various countries face. I’m not being apologetic, nor am I saying that Muslims shouldn’t give themselves a cold, hard look in the mirror when looking at gender inequality. However, Muslim women’s stories shouldn’t be usurped to serve political and imperial purposes, nor should we be told to only tell stories where Muslim men are the boogie monsters and the West, including Western feminists, are our saviors. The oppression that Muslim men live under concerns us just as much as it does our brothers. After all, those men are our sons, our brothers, our fathers, and our husbands.
Additionally, we want to tell our stories in our own way. So yes, we will speak about “honor” killings and masajid that have poor or no accommodations for women, but we will also speak about war rapes that occur against Muslim women in Iraq, women having their privacy invaded everyday in the name of “security”, Western media that portrays Muslim women, especially those in hijab and niqab as “oppressed” and “weak” and more. By fighting all of these biases and oppressions, we show that we are not helpless. We are strong and we will write our own narrative.