One of the events at the All About Women program held at Sydney Opera House this year was entitled “Conversations with Muslim Women.” Featuring two Australian Muslim women, Randa Abdel-Fattah and Susan Carland, the event was advertised as a conversation with, rather than about, Muslim women. So the three women on stage have an engaging discussion, by turns funny and poignant, about the dilemmas of being a Muslim woman in Australia, from facing discrimination, to negative perspections of Islam, to being expected to be experts in international politics. Carland shares a story of her daughter asking: “Why does everyone hate Muslims?” Abdel-Fattah talks about her writing being motivated to the need to create a narrative that is not “beneath the veil/under the veil/behind the veil/beyond the veil.” Of course, despite the title being “Conversations with Muslim women” the event was actually a conversation with two particular Australian Muslim women who talked about their life and their work. What they did not do is metamorphose into those experts on international politics some people expect all Muslims to become. In other words, there is no in-depth analysis of the motivations, tactics and expected life-span of Da’esh and associated psychos. And so one of the comments on the video is “This conversation is so politically correct that it uncovers nothing.” This charge of political correctness as a “cover” to hide what we should all be talking about reminds me of the taking up of Taqiya by the right-wing. If a Muslim says anything that doesn’t suit what the audience imagines Muslims should be saying, then it is Taqiya. If a Muslim talks about anything other than what the audience thinks they should be talking about, it is political correctness. But let’s overlook that. And let’s overlook the point of this conversation “with rather than about” Muslim women – which is the idea that they get to set the agenda and “discuss their own priorities.” The question then is: what should (or could) these two Australian Muslim women have said that would not be dismissed as “nothing”?
As the questioner points out, there is a generational view that has developed about Islam in this first decade of the 21st century, from 9/11 to Da’esh, whereby Muslims are sorted into extreme and moderate boxes on the basis of everything from their modes of dress to their way of speaking. Those granted the moderate label are then expected to play-act the extremists and explain the political motivations, theological roots, and potential de-radicalization of said extremists. At the same time, they are granted the moderate label on a provisional basis –renewed through condemning the atrocities their co-religionists conduct as regularly and promptly as possible.
This is a never-ending process.
As illustrated in this Daily Show segment, when applied across the board, condemning all crimes committed everywhere by anyone sharing any aspect of your identity becomes ridiculous. The idea that someone might have some doubts as to what I think about psychotic nihilists into beheading and slavery makes me mad. What do you think I think?
This is where condemnation goes hand in hand with defensiveness, the constant awareness that you are walking a tightrope where every step could land you into the “extremist” category – and that, sometimes, people will see you as a defacto extremist until very clearly proven otherwise (and even then, for some it’s all Taqiya). This is why “Conversations with Muslim Women” can be dismissed as a hollow conversation about “nothing.” Muslim women living in the west today are expected to explain, condemn, deny, and apologize, always facing a non-Muslim audience whose attitudes range from suspicious to sympathetic, because any conversation they have is expected to stem from the default positioning given to them, by virtue of their identity and their living in the West in the time of Da’esh. Like all hijab women, I inhabit this defensive position every day, reading the looks that people give me as a visible Muslim woman. I try not to let those looks affect how I behave – because I don’t want to be responding, condemning, denying all the time. Like Carland and Abdel-Fattah, I want to talk about my work and my priorities, and not have that be dismissed as “nothing.”