Opinion //

Islamophobia: it’s a feminist issue, too

Sahra Magan thinks intersectionality is key to any discussion of Islamophobia

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Islamophobia. The knee-jerk reaction is to visualise the public spectacles of hate and hostility vividly reported in the media, the theatrics of anti-Islam rallies, the grotesque comedy of the anti-Halal movement and the bigotry of political policies that denigrate mosques. When it comes to the more insidious everyday experiences of Islamophobia, it is hardly surprising the silence is more resolute.

The primary victims of everyday islamophobia are those most “visibly” Muslim – women who wear the headscarf or hijab. These women are abused on a daily basis as their “oppression” is simultaneously used to justify denigrating their communities. The graffiti on USyd posters reported by Honi last week exemplified this, with some of it reading “Muslims rape babies”. A March 10 post on USyd rants shows the same “concern” for Muslim women used to justify racism.

A Muslim woman posted asking for men not to not hug or offer her, or other women wearing hijabs, a handshake. The post couldn’t have been more polite, yet the response was sadly as expected. With 64 likes, one of the first comments reads, “It [refusing a handshake] makes me consider that your values are entirely contingent upon what religion your parents indoctrinated you into as opposed to a well thought out position on men not touching women.”

“Women need not be untouchable or unseeable objects,” the commenter concludes. The language of sexual liberation often used by feminists and sexists alike used to justify bigotry.

There’s no inconsistency in the minds of Islamophobes who rationalise their vitriol towards Muslim women on the grounds of empowering us, yet in the same breath abuse us. It reflects our dehumanisation; we are not women, we are mere representations of their own ignorant perceptions of Muslims. 

These perceptions of scarved Muslim women as oppressed and docile relics are not new. Theypersists in Orientalist understandings of Islam, where white men try to “save” Muslim women. All the while, they brazenly attack us on trains, in shopping centres and other public spaces.

Understanding these patterns of violence and abuse cannot be situated in a discussion that only addresses the “religious” motivations of these incidences. Islamophobic incidents cannot be divorced from the identity of the victims and need to be understood in a matrix that recognises the relevance of sexism and racism in informing the ways scarved Muslim women of colour experience Islamophobia.

It does a disservice to victims when the framing of Islamophobia does not reflect the intersectionality of their experiences, because it implicitly validates the social narrative that regards their experiences and voices as less worthy of recognition. 

Art: Steph Barahona