Topless Jihad and Dawkins/Harris Drama: This Week in Islamophobia

Hey, all. The Sunday Roundup ran a bit long, particularly because of the two big stories in Islamophobia this week – the “Topless Jihad” story and the “Richard Dawkins tweet” story.  So I decided these two stories deserved their own article.

Let’s start with the “Femen” controversy. A Tunisian activist named Amina Tyler, a member of the radical feminist group FEMEN, sparked a controversy by posing topless wearing a hijab with “Fuck your morals” written on her. You know what? Good for her. She’s standing up for what she believes in against fundamentalism and oppression. It may not be the best or most productive way to protest these things, but that’s easy for me to say from my Western couch.

You know what else is easy to do from your couch? Rip on Islam. And indeed, that is what westerners did in response to Tyler. Because the women protesting across Europe for the “International Topless Jihad Day” were not Muslims or Arabs: they were white Europeans, gleefully appropriating hijabs and beards and turbans. But don’t worry! The Guardian’s Johnathan Jones wanted people to know that, as a white man, he didn’t see anything wrong with this. So that solves it, right?

Well, actually a lot of Muslim women did see something wrong with it. And that’s why “Muslim women against FEMEN” was born. The group summed up their side of the controversy perfectly,

This group is primarily for muslim women who want to expose FEMEN for the Islamophobes/Imperialists that they are. We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency. Muslim women have had enough of this paternalistic and parasitic relationship with SOME western feminists. The group is open to all, muslim and non muslim, men and women.

Yes and yes. You know what would be a good thing to do, European feminists: Why not have a topless protest against rape culture in the West? Or about how women in France can’t wear the hijab without being arrested? Not only does the behavior of FEMEN cause people to ignore problems of sexism at home, it completely co-opts the actions of Islamic feminists and makes their incredible agency and bravery in the face of oppression equivalent to the easy protests of Westerners  who live in liberal democracies.

To steal a line from another of this weeks Islamophobia controversies, “I find extremely suspect the behavior of westerners…who spend the bulk of their time condemning the sins of other, distant peoples rather than the bulk of their time working against the sins of their own country.”

This line comes from Glenn Greenwald, who wrote a scathing column against the growing Islam-baiting of the new atheists. First, Richard Dawkins made a pair of incredibly ignorant tweets. The first of these read, “Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter and verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam [is the] greatest force for evil today.” Then, in response to that, “Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read the Qur’an. You don’t have to read ‘Mein Kampf’ to have an opinion about Nazism.”

This prompted a number of articles in response, including one from Salon and another from Al-Jazeera. The latter critiqued Dawkins and Atheist Sam Harris as the heirs to the long tradition of “scientific racism” in the West. Sam Harris then got pissed off with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald for tweeting the Al-Jazeera article, and they had a lengthy e-mail exchange, which was posted here. Then Glenn Greenwald wrote a detailed response to the situation, which has to be one of the best critiques of New Atheism that I’ve ever read. Here’s just one quote,

As I noted before, a long-time British journalist friend of mine wrote to me shortly before I began writing at the Guardian to warn me of a particular strain plaguing the British liberal intellectual class; he wrote: “nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defense of a left liberal principle.” That – “defending power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle” – is precisely what describes the political work of Harris and friends. It fuels the sustained anti-Muslim demonization campaign of the west and justifies (often explicitly) the policies of violence, militarism, and suppression aimed at them. It’s not as vulgar as the rantings of Pam Geller or as crude as the bloodthirsty theories of Alan Dershowitz, but it’s coming from a similar place and advancing the same cause.

This has all been quite inspiring because it shows that the critique of the neoconservative new atheism is really starting to become widely disseminated. Perhaps, instead of the atheist voices of the past, we can now start paying attention to voices like Chris Stedman, who take a much more balanced, compassionate, anti-racist approach to atheism.

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