March 16, 2015

The Attack on Muslim Women

Mariam Ahmad

As we have witnessed, Islamophobia is on the rise. Following the events of Charlie Hebdo, we’ve seen that attacks on Muslims, and especially Muslim women, have gotten worse. In Canada we have seen bills like C-51 (the “Anti-Terrorism Act”), and Bill S-7 (“Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices”) tabled with shockingly large support from the Canadian population, even though they clearly target minorities, specifically Muslims. This is after an intense campaign of Islamophobia by the corporate media and pro-war politicians that goes back decades. This ideological offensive has gotten hotter in the last six months as Canada joined the latest invasion of Iraq. More and more, Muslim women are put in danger just because they choose to observe their religious rites.

In Quebec, a Muslim woman named Hanady Saad was walking along René-Lévesque Boulevard in Montreal with her friends, when a stranger yelled at her. “...Terrorist, go back home, we don’t want to see your hijab. You have to take it off,’” Afterwards Saad said. “I’m a human, you know? I have the right to wear the veil. I have the right, like everybody, to be who I am”.  Why aren’t governments taking steps to address such a hostile environment for its citizens? Why are there no proactive steps taken to curb hate crimes against Muslim people?

Even though some studies have argued that hate crimes tend to be a male-on-male phenomenon, we see exactly the opposite phenomenon take place: white men under 30 attacking women wearing traditional Muslim dress. This is because Muslim women appear more ‘visibly’ Muslim when wearing “traditional Muslim dress”. Also, statistically women are targeted more due to the overarching sexist culture. All in all, it is undeniable that anti-Muslim xenophobia is on an exponential rise, serving imperialist interests abroad and boosting polls for right-wing politicians domestically. It is an election year, after all.

This is obvious in the case of the Chapel Hill Shootings, where three young Muslims were gunned down in a parking lot. The dead are two women, Deah and Razan, as well as Deah’s husband Yusor. After the shooting, Yousef Razan’s younger brother said “I knew in my head this was hate because of who my sister was and how she looked — she wore the headscarf proudly”. He noted that the violent harassment didn’t begin until Yusor moved in with Deah. A study on the rise of Islamophobia done by “Tell Mama”, a hotline for recording Islamophobic crimes and incidents, found that, excluding online abuse and threats, 58% of all verified incidents between April 2012 and April 2013 were against women and that in 80% of those cases the woman was wearing a hijab, niqab or other clothing associated with Islam.

Similarly in a new report published recently by Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, shows that 80% of the anti-Muslim acts which occur in France are carried out against women. Attacks on Muslims have been on the rise in France since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. Earlier this month the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) reported that 26 separate mosques had been attacked across the country. In some cases the buildings were firebombed and in others grenades were thrown. Fiyaz Mughal, the director of UK-based interfaith think tank “Faith Matters” says that the term ‘acts’ covers a huge range of hostile actions. He says they have received complaints from Muslim women which include: “Spitting, general abuse, pulling and tearing at the niqab and the hijab, plus dog faeces being thrown at women, as well as bottles from passing cars and people shouting things like ‘Muslim whore’ ‘Muslim bitch’ or ‘Muzzie’.”

Gayatri Spivak’s classic formulation, “white men saving brown women from brown men,” still applies today, and this was commonly used as justification for recent American imperialist projects. In her essay “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?”, Lila Abu-Lughod makes the argument that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was justified in the same way; Bush and his overwhelmingly white administration, far-right leaders who had consistently worked against women’s rights in their own country, were now suddenly desperate to save Afghan women from Afghan men.

The narrative even in Canada is that Muslim women need saving at home in the West. So that whenever there is a case of abuse in a Muslim home it becomes more than a case of domestic violence and is instead framed as Islam being a violent and abhorrent religion from which Muslim women need to be saved. The media tactfully chooses to ignore all the domestic abuse cases that happen in non-Muslim homes. This narrative is a symbiotic relationship between the war at home and the war abroad. Muslim women do not need saving. However, we can start by fighting Islamophobia in all it’s form, create stronger hate crime legislations, struggle for a foreign policy of peace and disarmament, and for the protection and expansion of our democratic rights.


This article is included in Rebel Youth's 18th print issue, released in March 2015. This issue is produced by women members of the Young Communist League of Canada. To subscribe to Rebel Youth click here. To learn more or to join the YCL or click here.

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