"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Feminism vs Islamism

Now Playing: Good Intent by Kimbra (I know you didn't mean it, boy, you meant so well)

So on the feminism scene on Facebook there is an interesting chain of events floating around.

1. A 19 year old Tunisian woman called Amina posted topless photos of herself with 'My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone's honour' written on her chest in Arabic. Amina is now apparently missing and/or receiving death threats and a lot of backlash from conservative Islam - a five second Google search didn't unearth any specifics but you get the idea.

2. In response to this, there is now a 'topless jihad', in which women are protesting in various states of nudity against Islamism.

3. Some Muslim women are now presenting a counter-protest, claiming that they are not 'liberated by nudity' and that they do not need 'saving from Islam'

...That's some pretty intense shit, huh?

What do I think? Well, there are a lot of issues here and I think a lot of people are oversimplifying things and jumping to conclusions and etc etc etc.

First things first. Amina.

I think Amina Tyler is a hero. To post such a provocative and defiant image of yourself on the Internet is brave and, for her and for many other women in Islamic countries, empowering. Because the reality is that conservative Muslim countries with a strict adherence to Sharia law do not have the best track records in dealing with gender issues, especially in upholding the rights and freedoms of women, in protecting women against domestic and sexual violence, and pretty much idolizing some very backwards and dangerous stances on female sexuality, reproductive rights and the social and legal status of women.

These are facts. There are a thousand cases from Islamic countries - Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc etc etc - that I could quote to back this up. This is not an attack on any religion or any race or even any particular country. The fact is that Islamic countries are not safe, free places for women and this will not change without secular government and freedom of religion, just as a start.

But aren't women suppressed in liberal Western democracies as well? Yes. Rape culture and women's rights continue to be ongoing issues worldwide. But we have to focus on where this discrimination and violence is coming from. In the West, it's predominantly from conservative Christian values. In Islamic countries, it's predominantly from conservative Islamic values. It's really as simple as that. When we criticise how women are treated in the West, we are criticising the Christian values from which stems all this discrimination and violence. When we criticise how women are treated in Islamic countries, we are criticising the Islamic values from which stems all this discrimination and violence. All the outrageous punishments of women for 'adultery' and 'getting raped' are given under religious law, and violence within families against female members who damage a family's 'honour' are religiously justified. Whether you like it or not terrorist organisations like the Taliban and Al Quaeda are Islamist organisations, and use Islam as justification for their actions.

But then, of course, we must make the distinction - just because the Taliban and Al Quaeda and some instances of gendered discrimination can be attributed to Islam doesn't mean that Islam is all about Taliban and Al Quaeda and gendered discrimination. It's like Tony Abbott is a white heterosexual male and a total dickhead but that doesn't mean that all white heterosexual men are dickheads. But this distinction doesn't excuse a religion from responsibility in religiously-justified crimes. When Pope Benedict said that distribution of condoms in Africa causes AIDS Catholicism can't just immediately cut itself off and distance itself from the stupid words from a stupid and stupidly powerful man. We excuse religions - all religions - from responsibility for pretty horrific crimes and violations of human rights in the name of political correctness and that's just wrong. I visited the Blue Mosque and spent time with the most lovely people you will ever meet from Islamic countries, and that is a side of Islam that is often forgotten, that is true. The Muslims that I have been privileged to know are honest and kind and just good people. But the other side of Islam is ugly and it is wrong to erase that and pretend it's not part of Islam. It is. That's that.

Secondly: What do I think of the topless jihad?

I fully endorse it. It is important for women to make a stand and using nudity as protest is nothing new. The outrage surrounding it isn't about the actual nudity, it's about who is naked and why - men walk down the streets topless in Australia all the time and nobody cares, as long as they don't try and enter a pretentious 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' establishment. It's because breasts have been oversexualised and female nudity has been simultaneously glamorised and demonized that this is an issue. Women can get their tits out whenever and for whatever reason, I stand by their right to do that.

But more than that, the protest is important. Because the reality is that many women in Islamic countries live in fear. Many women in Islamic countries are denied their basic human rights - many are illiterate, married off at extremely young ages, and are forced through societal convention and fear to do things against their will. Many are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and the laws of many of these countries protect the rights of men to use this violence against women instead of protecting women against violence. The governments in these countries don't protect these women; nobody gives them voice. When I and thousands of other feminists protest for the rights of these women, we are not launching a blind attack on any religion - we are simply trying to procure the rights of less privileged women to education, healthcare and freedom. We just happen to piss off a lot of 'religious' people in the process, people who don't consider women to be full human beings and hide behind religion as they hurl abuse at others. We're not afraid of them.

And what do I think of the counter-protest by Muslim women who say that they are not 'liberated by nudity' and that they do not need 'saving from Islam'? Mixed feelings, to be honest.

Of course not every woman is liberated by nudity. I am, but that's just me. But all women are liberated by the right to dress however they like for whatever reason. The acceptance of nudity is often confused with the sexualisation of nudity, which is not liberating by any means and puts a lot of unecessary and stressful pressure on people of all sexes and genders. But the right for women - or anyone, really - to be nude, to celebrate nudity, and to protest in the nude should not be taken as an attack on peoples' rights to...wear clothes, which is how I feel a lot of the anti-topless jihad stuff is coming from.

But the idea that 'we do not need to be saved by Islam' - I hate to break it, but some women really do need saving from Islam. Perhaps Islamic women living in more liberal areas who have managed to get human rights and religious beliefs to harmonise - and seriously, that is an amazing thing that people of all faiths should be striving for. But when someone like me hears of child brides, rape, punishment of victims of sexual assault, brutal attacks on women who spoil their family's 'honour', and people preaching bullshit like 'female unchastity causes earthquakes' and some women 'ask for rape'...it is justifiable to say that some women need saving from Islam. Some people need saving from religion.

On the attack on Islam specifically...I feel like when people are defending a religion - any religion, but specifically Christianity and Islam - they try to paint religion as something totally innocent, some poor defenceless pillar of purity and integrity under constant siege by atheists and feminists and other Satan-worshippers. Whilst Amina's photos and the topless jihad is a critique of some ideals that are preached by some sectors of Islam, it is what it is - a critique of a religion. But religion is a choice - well, it would be, if it wasn't for many countries making heresy and blasphemy and apostasy criminal offences. Part of being an atheist is accepting that there is no hell, no heaven, no God, nothing after this life which is not planned out by anyone or anything - and that...that is really fucking scary, I won't lie. Part of being a follower of any religion is accepting that every religion has its nutcases, and every religion will be used to preach violence, hatred and discrimination. Pointing out the obvious isn't a violation of religious freedom, it's protecting the innocent. Not everybody chooses religion, but religion has an undeniable and sometimes not altogether pleasant impact on everyones' lives.

I also don't quite understand the argument of 'my religion isn't like that'. Religious belief or lack thereof isn't defined by an impartial third party - social groups of all kinds define themselves, and are judged by the definitions that are created internally. The nicest, sweetest, most honest and generous and kind person in the world can be a Christian, and so can the most ragey sexist homophobic violent asshole. It is unreasonable for one to say that all Christians are ragey, sexist, homophobic, violent assholes, but it is unrealistic to say that all Christians are nice, sweet, honest, generous and kind. And it is not an attack on anyones' religious beliefs to call the latter Christian a ragey sexist homphobic violent asshole. It's your choice to choose a religion, to choose the same identifier as the world's quacks and conservatives and terrorists and preachers of hate and blatant lies.

It is time for the world to stop hiding behind political correctness and face the facts. Religion is a major cause for much pain, hatred, violence and suffering in this world, and it's time for the world's religious extremists and bigoted leaders to be held accountable. Nobody will have any right to critique any religion if people did not insist on hiding behind religion to excuse, justify and glorify discrimination.

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