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We dont all wear burqa's : Rising Islamic feminism

by Helen Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 09:10:30 AM EST

I went looking at Johan Hari's site for something entirely different and found an essay on Shazia Mirza, the muslim comedienne. (http://www.johannhari.com/index.php).  It chimed with an article in the Independent today regarding Hammasa Kohistani, a young muslim woman who was the recent Miss England. (http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article1223137.ece)

Excerpts below

In 2001, as the world began to come to terms with the great gash in the New York skyline, a small tinder-dry Muslim woman wandered onto the London stand-up circuit. "My name is Shazia Mirza," she announced. "At least, that's what it says on my pilot's license." Wearing a hijab, she lived in a pincer movement of prejudice - feared from the outside for being a Muslim, and oppressed within the community for being a woman. She was determined not to be bullied into silence either by racists or by men who try to impose the values of a nineteenth-century Pakistani village in twenty-first century London. Instead she joked about everything from the Queen to Primark to how good Allah would be as a judge on Pop Idol, and asked the audience, "Does my bomb look big in this?"...........

Shazia is part of a wave of heroic rebellion by Muslim women that can be witnessed - slowly, tentatively - across London. Shazia used to be a teacher in Tower Hamlets, where I live, and she would see Muslim girls rebelling against the chafing medieval codes of their fathers every day. "They would arrive at school peel off the hijab, put on make-up, and head down the pub to get pissed," she explains. "They would snog their white boyfriends behind the staff room. But I would look at them and feel so sad, because they are forced to live a double-life. Come 3.30 they put the hijab back on and they're carted off to the mosque to rote-learn the Koran for three hours. They would come in the next day exhausted, having not done their homework, and they would say, `My parents say the Koran comes before homework.'"

Shazia understands this better than most: her parents are, she says, "fanatics." She was forbidden to leave the house throughout her teenage years except to go to school. "I'm a woman, and I couldn't stand the repression. I wanted to go swimming, do ballet, ride horses, tell jokes. I was allowed to do all those things until I went through puberty and then it was all taken away from me, and I couldn't stand it...................................

Tens of thousands of Muslim women are kicking back against Islamic fundamentalism. They have immigrated from countries where there has never been a feminist revolution, so they are having their feminist revolution here, on our streets. Shazia comments, "I always wanted to be like my white friends, who had abortions, herpes and chlamidya. And my mother would say, `Wait until you are married, your husband will give you all of that.'"

These brave, brilliant women are the key to breaking the back of Islamic fundamentalism, since without them the fanatics literally cannot reproduce. But these men are not going to give up their patriarchal privileges any faster than Western men did. ........................

But Shazia comes from a pakistani community rapidly acquiring a reputation for patriarchal backwardness, she has to fight for the right to breathe.. Here's an interesting counterpoint of an afghani woman who cannot imagine having to wear the hijab

She won the title, and became the first Muslim Miss England in the history of the contest.
Then aged 18, Ms Kohistani, the daughter of Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban, had no idea just how much the beauty crown would change her life, not least because it came just two months after the Tube bomb atrocities of 7 July. The timing meant her role was politicised from the start, and she found herself unwittingly placed in an ambassadorial role for modern Islam.

That was never more evident than yesterday, when Ms Kohistani criticised Tony Blair for stereotyping the Islamic community in the wake of the London bombings. Her strong views and willingness to voice them have highlighted the tensions inherent in being both a Western beauty queen and a Muslim. While liberal Muslims from across the world hailed her as their mascot, her modelling career was met by frostiness in orthodox Islamic quarters.......................

But it can be difficult as well. In interviews, people always ask me questions about being a Muslim and about politics. At first it was quite rewarding and I enjoyed it. But after the first 200 interviews, I realised that it was all about me being Muslim. I won a beauty contest, not a politics degree."......

"Tony Blair addressed Muslims in particular, telling them that they need to sort out the problem within." she said. "That was a huge stereotype of the Islamic community and many feel penalised, and placed under the 'fundamentalist' category. Even the more moderate Muslims have been stereotyped negatively and feel they have to take actions to prove themselves...............

Meanwhile, Ms Kohistani does not limit her observations to the shifting nature of Muslim identity in Britain. After a year of travelling the world as Miss England, she has met world leaders including Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan, and exchanged views with a diverse range of Muslim women.

"Shaukat Aziz told me it was women like me that would make the world aware that there are so many more kinds of Muslim women out there than the stereotype that the Western media has of them in a burqa," she said. "Whenever we see images of Afghan women, they are in a burqa but there are so many women who don't look like this.

"My own grandmother never wore a burqa. When people see me, they can't believe I'm from Afghanistan because I'm not covered up.

So, just as in so many other parts of the world, social progress is dependent upon the emancipation of women, Liberated women will educate their sons to expect more than mere servility. Educated women are less likely to raise children in poverty, they are more flexible economically. In Islam, as elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves...cos the men aren't helping.


Display:
Mirza is incredibly funny.  ("I always wanted to be like my white friends, who had abortions, herpes and chlamidya. And my mother would say, `Wait until you are married, your husband will give you all of that.'")  Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Helen.  I'm going to have to try to catch one of her shows at some point.

"They would arrive at school peel off the hijab, put on make-up, and head down the pub to get pissed,"

If that's not full integration in England, I don't know what qualifies.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 09:23:30 AM EST
I had the great fortune to see her do a short set at the WOMAD festval.

She's really funny.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 09:32:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I saw her on a tour in Sweden. But she is both very funny and very good in pressing the jokes to the point were they turn sour as the audience has to see themselves and realise the reasons why they are laughing.

Or so I saw it.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 05:01:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. I got a real out-loud chuckle from the stand-up lines.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 09:34:45 AM EST
This has little to do with Islam. This is about social practices in a post-agricultural culture that has adopted what was originally status signalling into a pseudo-religious rule. As the lady says: "my own grandmother never wore a burqa".

This comment took me an hour. Wonder why I haven't posted any stories today?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 10:51:27 AM EST
If the next coven of the Order of the PN may take as a text to be meditated upon in our quest to glean total meaning out of all structures formed of words, the following gem?

"social practices in a post-agricultural culture that has adopted what was originally status signalling into a pseudo-religious rule"

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 11:07:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right. "adopted" is a bad choice of word there. "mutated" might be better.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 11:17:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Rushing to Colmans aid I would offer this re-statement:

the meta-construction of societal praxis resultant from continuous negative import of agonomy as a fundamental life and economic mode (sitz-im-leben) intimates cognitive adherence to previous high prestige in-group informal communicatory norms of satorial display, the texte, as an ad-hoc methodological enforcement of a dys-natural albeit conceived as a metalanguage for semi-sacrial patterning.

I trust this clears up the confusion.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 11:52:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well this is it, isn't it? And there's an awful lot of it going on...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 11:58:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Critical Theory - it's, like, the David Hasselhoff of the academic world, isn't it?
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 12:50:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a name I never would've associated with academics.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 01:22:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
AT - I know your entry to the inner sanctum is under discussion, but I think I can say openly that this brilliant semiotic tour de force will assure you of acceptance. Welome to the Ancient Order of the PN. Virgins on the left.

However the use of such semitoic monstrosities as dys-natural, though common among neophytes, tend to result in negativity among the Elders.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 02:39:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am gratified and humbled.  

Does this mean I get a Magic Decoder Ring?  

And I will take your admonishment to heart.  I have been puzzled why I don't get invited to the best parties and now I know.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 02:54:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
None of your gay chit-chat will influence the Elders one iota.

But I am happy to inform you, in a self-organizing kind of way, that you have done well. We await the dissolution of your humility that we may proceed with the inititation. There is now a vacancy in our Order.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 05:01:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The vacancy knows who he is. We shall be observing carefully to ensure that the Rites of the Sacred Lemon continue to be upheld.

Let us simply note the following facts:

There was a dancing and shoe episode involving a new female member of the Gnomes.

The vacancy purports to be in France - the centre of the gnomic whirlpool.

Figs are traditional symbols of ambivalence. Allow me to quote from wikipedia:

"Most figs come in two sexes: hermaphrodite (called caprifigs from goats - Caprinae subfamily; as in fit for eating by goats; sometimes called "inedible") and female (the male flower parts fail to develop; produces the "edible" fig). Fig wasps grow in caprifigs but not in the other because the female trees' female flower part is too long for the wasp to successfully lay her eggs in them. None-the-less, the wasp pollinates the flower with pollen from the fig it grew up in, so figs with developed seeds also contain dead fig wasps almost too tiny to see.

Do we need more evidence?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 05:46:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen:

"In Islam, as elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves...cos the men aren't helping."

Did you study at the Sven school of sweeping generalizations ? I assume this isn't really meant to be serious. This is on a par with "Tony Blair ... stereotyping the Muslim community". There are, of course, plenty of men within Islam, as elsewhere, who are opposed to fundamentalism and who support the emancipation of women and they deserve recognition and support. Men also benefit from emancipation and education (which didn't do much for Mrs Thatcher), and it's likely that their children would too. Given that they also grew up in modern British society, many young Muslim men are likely to be quite different from their fathers.

In Britain there are organisations like Mpacuk. It tries to encourage Muslims to take an active role in politics and not to just follow their elders, e.g. in continuing to support Labour, even after Iraq. When a young Muslim woman wrote about how she refused to obey her father who wanted her to abandon her involvement with Mpacuk and focus on her studies, some guys told her to do what her father said. But some were very supportive:

Abdul:
"Are you guys serious? Are both of you men by any chance? If you are then I feel sorry for your daughters who wish to help the Ummah.

Both of you should be ashamed of yourselves..."

Muhammed:

"...Instead of applauding this sister for her bravery and firm stance to continue to perservere for the Ummah for the sake of Allah SWT (Jihad - a FARD) despite what obstacles she may come across, 'Lab' & 'outlook' just shun her actions! Typical backward muslim men! Women like this fight to do Jihad whilst you guys hide behind your PC's mumbling and shunning those that put Allah's Jihad first. [Mpak is for peaceful struggle "jihad"]

Mali:
"I think this girl father should be proud of his daughter, not stop her of doing good things, instead he should encourage her."

http://www.mpacuk.org/content/view/451/35/

These guys should be supported as well as the girl.

Frankly I don't think that to "peel off the hijab, put on make-up, and head down the pub to get pissed" represents progress, but rather surrender to the corporations which want us all to be passive consumers - preferably drunk much of the time. Otherwise we might actually start thinking and changing things !

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 10:19:17 AM EST
Well Ted, we all like to avoid generalisations that are unhelpful, but sometimes you have to use one or two to smooth the path of discussion. Simply attacking my use of one by pointing out that some muslim men are supportive (which I'd already suggested as the second woman I cite could hardly have done what she did at the age of 18 unless her father had been supportive) seems to be making an attempt to dismiss my entire argument as invalid. Well actually, I do think there is an issue with religion being used as a bludgeon to justify wicked misogynistic practice. This time it's islam, but hang around, I'll have a go at a few others in time.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 01:51:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Well Ted, we all like to avoid generalisations that are unhelpful, but sometimes you have to use one or two to smooth the path of discussion."

You don't have to use ones which, quite illogically, condemn, not only Muslim men, but all men:

"In Islam, as elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves...cos the men aren't helping."

You continue:
" seems to be making an attempt to dismiss my entire argument as invalid."

No, it's just rejecting your sweeping conclusion.

"Well actually, I do think there is an issue with religion being used as a bludgeon to justify wicked misogynistic practice. This time it's islam, but hang around, I'll have a go at a few others in time."

Of course there is an issue - but it doesn't entitle you to condemn all Muslim men, let alone men in general. The fact that you might attack others (I hope more logically) does not excuse your unwarranted generalisations, especially as conclusions.


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 07:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In all honesty this article is about women's emancipation in Muslim communities and the way they are treated by extremists for trying to break out of certain social norms.  It is not about Islam as such.  Still, these extremists claim to be talking on behalf of Islam and that is why people that oppose such views have to support this girls, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  

The idea that you have to change your ways in order to please people that want to control you and thus avoid a confrontation is to me out of this world.  That will mean the surrender of people's freedom to elements that are threatening with violence and trouble.  If society is going down that road there will be no laws that can protect ordinary citizens from abuse in the future because it is all about avoiding confrontation with extremists.
   

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:01:55 AM EST
"In all honesty this article is about women's emancipation in Muslim communities and the way they are treated by extremists for trying to break out of certain social norms.  It is not about Islam as such."

In that case Helen shouldn't say:

"In Islam, as elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves...cos the men aren't helping."

"The idea that you have to change your ways in order to please people that want to control you and thus avoid a confrontation is to me out of this world."

Oh really, maybe that's because you have internalised the corporate view that everything is really just a choice of what to consume and so young people are experts on what young people want. Sure they are, but just maybe older people's more informed views about life in general might be better guides - as has been accepted in most pre-capitalist societies. Freedom to choose what lipstick to wear and what to drink to get "pissed" might not be the most significant freedoms.

 

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 07:59:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well you have to put that sentences into context and yes the sentence can be seen as to much of a generalization, but she adds, as elsewhere(.....) after Islam in the first sentence you are quoting.  This is, to me, clearly indicating that she is not only referring to women's emancipation within Islam, but also within other spheres of society where women are facing difficulties.

Well every person have the right to choose what they want in life without being forced or pressured to do things they do not want.  In this case a Muslim woman wants to be a comedian and is threatened by religious extremists that claim to be the guardians of Islamic customs.  I find that appalling, nothing more nothing less.  

I do agree with you that it is wise to listen to more experienced people but then the advice have to be good and in the end they are to be guidelines and not commandments.  I have the impression that most of those women Helen is referring to are grown ups and thus are legally masters of their own lives.  

Freedom to choose what lipstick to wear and what to drink to get "pissed" might not be the most significant freedoms.

No that might be, but then again that is for each and every person to decide and no one else.  After all to grow up is to make mistakes thru personal experiences and hopefully learn from those mistakes as your life progresses.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.

by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 08:46:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't it a bit ironic that only 50 or so years ago, women in many Western countries were required to wear veils, mantillas, and gloves to church and to follow a range of oppressive rules or risk serious consequences? And now that the West has largely progressed past that point, we now insist that Islamic society instantaneously adopt our new conventions?
by asdf on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:17:36 PM EST
I agree that we hardly have a long history of encouragement to justify preaching to others. In the UK women were still not not treated as financially responsible adults until the passing of the Equal Opportunity act in the 70s. Indeed there are parts of the west where women still have a second class status.

By and large we have now moved beyond that and see this previous behaviour as self-deafeating, lamentable and stupid. Having admitted that, how long do we need before we earn a right to suggest to others that they are making a mistake as well ?

But this isn't actually about imposing our conventions. It is about saying that the dignity of men is diminished by the subjugation of women. If such men want respect, then they should earn it by their respect for others.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 02:31:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]

"But this isn't actually about imposing our conventions. It is about saying that the dignity of men is diminished by the subjugation of women. If such men want respect, then they should earn it by their respect for others."

Fine, but if women want respect they ought to avoid absurd generalisations about men, such as:

"In Islam, as elsewhere, women are doing it for themselves...cos the men aren't helping."

If a man had made such a generalization about Muslim women I think there would have been a lot more objections - let alone, adding "as elsewhere", suggesting that this is true of all men. I'm surprised that you haven't just admitted that this was an unfortunate, absurdly sweeping generalization.  


Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 08:12:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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