North Texas Daily

Muslim women are not political proxies

Muslim women are not political proxies

Muslim women are not political proxies
November 04
12:00 2022

When Iranian morality police fatally beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 for not wearing her hijab according to legal standards, it sparked nationwide protests and global outrage. Yet, even as people around the world announce their support for the protests, a sizable portion of western responses are ill-informed, if not blatantly influenced by Islamophobic rhetoric.

Countries must not use the plights of Muslim women to promote policies that isolate minorities within their borders. The international community must reiterate that the struggle for feminist ideals manifests in various ways. 

Twenty years after 9/11 and the flush of Islamophobia it caused, Americans still struggle to accept Muslims as fellow Americans. Seventy-five percent of American Muslims agree Muslims experience discrimination in the United States, according to a 2017 study by Pew Research Center.

Most stereotypes paint Muslim women as soundless victims of overbearing patriarchy. Popular media seldom represents Muslim women, and when they do, they depict Muslim women as pitiful immigrants desiring a more Western appearance. 

These stereotypes portray Islam and the men who practice it as anti-feminist and oppressors, while insinuating oppressive Islamic laws are the only obstacle for Muslim women to become the ideal Westerner. Often, these orientalist perspectives promote xenophobic and Islamophobic agendas.

Western media and society hyper-fixate on the hijab because of its supposed display of otherness and direct contradiction to the cultural expectation of assimilation. Combined with Western-centric ideology convincing people that proximity to Western culture can only increase quality of life, biased feminists struggle to see past the hijab and comprehend Muslim women’s intersectional issues. 

At first glance, an Islamic state which enforces hijab through violent means paints Islam negatively. A more ignorant outsider would see the hijab burnings and hair cutting as an act of defiance against religious doctrines. At its core, the protests in Iran are not about the hijab. They’re a revolt against spiritual and physical oppression based on gender.

The individual, not the state, must make personal religious decisions. External entities have meddled in Muslim women’s autonomy worldwide: In France, religious symbols, including the hijab, are banned in schools. Face coverings, including burkas and niqabs, are prohibited in public settings, with violators facing fines of up to 150 euros. 

Canada, the European Union and the U.S. condemned Iran’s crackdown on protests. Still, looking beyond their proclamations of solidarity, there is not enough condemnation of the existence of Iran’s morality police in the first place. After all, that would require countries like France to analyze their wrongdoings. 

Israeli citizens and politicians publicly condemned Iran’s compulsory hijab laws for years. Amid rising tensions with Iran in 2018, Israeli clothing brand Hoodies posted an advertisement titled “Freedom is Basic” in which a narrator asks, “Is Iran here?” before depicting a non-Muslim model taking off a niqab and dancing.

Backlash prompted the brand to remove the slogan referencing Iran and replace the advertisement with a replica of woman in a hijab and a man in a kippah, but the damage had already been done.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, dismissed the riots in the country as a product of American and Israeli meddling. Though Khamenei’s claims attempt to discredit demonstrating Iranians, Israel’s support of Iranian women seems opportunistic considering the two countries’ unfriendly relations. Simultaneously, the Iranian government disregards women’s demands to promote anti-Israeli rhetoric. This leaves the protestors without advocates on either side.

Despite Iran’s government’s claims that 99 percent of its population is Muslim, only 40 percent identify as such, according to a study by Scroll. Still, because an Islamic state enforces these religious laws, critics of the Iranian government can accidentally slip into Islamophobic rhetoric if they aren’t conscious of their criticism. Iranian law is not synonymous with Islamic law, and violently forcing women to wear the hijab doesn’t align with Islamic standards

Time and time again, Muslim women have been at the forefront of women’s rights movements but are still excluded from feminist conversations. Western feminists with an American-centric view of women’s rights issues sometimes develop a savior complex that possesses them to turn foreign human rights violations into a self-righteous quest to “liberate” others.

Support Muslim women by listening and including them in discussions about their autonomy rather than operating on age-old assumptions and contributing to other oppressive systems. Otherwise, feminist spaces risk becoming as toxic as the patriarchy they oppose.

Featured Illustration by Isabella Isquierado

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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