You Can’t Cure Sexism With Islamophobia

The story of Tunisian women’s activist Amina Tyler is horrifying to anyone who believes women have the right to their own autonomy. After she posted a photo of herself — topless with pro-equality slogans written on herself in Arabic — to the site of women’s activist group FEMEN’s Facebook page, Tyler was threatened by religious officials with death. Now, Tyler lives in fear for her life, and is planning to leave Tunisia for her own safety.

Needless to say, nobody should be threatened with death for expressing their right to be free in their own bodies, and FEMEN, understandably, has risen up to protest Tyler’s treatment. Unfortunately, FEMEN has chosen to do so by embracing some of the worst in anti-Islam stereotyping and Western patronizing — effectively replacing sexism with Islamophobia.

The Ukraine-based FEMEN has a history of topless protests, designed to bring attention to women’s issues, and in response to the harassment of Tyler, FEMEN organized a “Topless Jihad Day” for April 4. The name itself is problematic, but the imagery to come out of the event — including the image at the top of this post — is far more so. It does not advance the idea that feminism is compatible with Islam when you attack Islam with racist caricatures.

This is made all the worse in that FEMEN’s leadership is almost exclusively white and European; the voices of Muslim women were absent from the leadership of this protest. Indeed, when some, like Sofia Ahmed, called out FEMEN for ignoring Muslim women’s voices, they were attacked with vitrol and anti-Muslim hatred.

It’s easy for those of us in the West to criticize those poor, benighted people in Those Countries, and to try to lift Them up through the power of Our goodness. It is much more difficult for us to actually listen to those people, to ask them what they want, to ask them how we can help them achieve their goals, to work in support and solidarity of them as they work for their own goals, rather than to drag them into the world as we believe it must be.

Quite simply, you cannot liberate people by bashing their faith and claiming that you know better than they what their lives are like. It is all well and good to deride the hijab as a tool of the patriarchy; I personally dislike its symbolism. But when you tell someone who wears a hijab that she is foolish, weak, wrong, that she should be barred from wearing it — well, that’s where I part company with you.

We can and should demand that all nations, whatever their religious backgrounds, treat women with equal dignity and respect. This is true whether we’re talking about Tunisia, Israel or the United States. But we should not substitute our own voices for those of the women who live in those nations. Must we stand with those who seek equality? Yes, we must. But we must not claim to stand for them.


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Image Credit: FEMEN


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin4 years ago

Also, don't cram all muslims into one box. There are many muslims that doesn't subscribe to the fundamentalist version. Their (male muslims) wifes and daughters dress like anyone else, make their own decisions about their lifes and islam is treated as a private affair.
There are at least five different teachings in islam and they all hate eachother. Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ibadi and Wahhabism. The latter are the state religion of Saidi Arabia and we all know what that means for women.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin4 years ago

Stop defending hijabs and burkhas forced upon girls and women. It's not an expression of freedom and respect. It's a symbol of repression and those that demand our respect give none back. Stop defending child marriages. It's not right to force a child to marry someone at the age of 6, no matter reason. I don't care if you're hassidic jew, fundamentalist muslim or christian; Children have a right to be just that!
Sharia courts are all over Europe and USA. Some people, what I call the PC-mafia, refuses to realize this fact. One day it will be too late!

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin4 years ago

I agree with some of the posters here. (You know who you are due to that Green Star you got). Whenever someone criticize islam, they are called islamophobes. As pointed out by Alan G. it's silly. Noone criticizing the catholic church are called catholicaphobias. When it comes to islam, there's a whole different ballgame. How many religions can call upon it's believers to attack churches, synagogues, embassies, corporations, hijack airplanes, burn houses and kill anyone that even whispers any form of critic?
But what most turned my stomach in the article was that the writer accuses Femen of speaking for the women in muslim countries without asking them what they want. The writer does the same and even worse. I call it neo-colonialism when Westerners tries to be PC and speaks for the "poor oppressed". They have a voice of their own. At least some of them do. And those women that uses their voices to object against patriarchal and fundamentalist religion and its leaders, pay with their lifes. Some have to flee their home countries and live in hiding for the rest of their lifes. Some are imprisoned and raped. Some are murdered. And some, like Malala, gets attacked and almost killed and now have to live in another country, probably for the rest of her life.
Stop defending hijabs and burkhas forced upon girls and women. It's not an expression of freedom and respect. It's a symbol of repression and those that demand our respect give none back. Stop defending child marriages. It's

Salvatore L.
Salvatore L.4 years ago

Islamophobia ?? I'm not scared of them and I'm not afraid to say what i think about it !! one thing is the respect for other people and cultures, and i agree with it, but defend cruel and sometime stupid behaviors just because it is someone culture I cannot agree with it. especially for a religion that ask for respect but do not try to respect other people religion and culture...In Europe they us to respect the way they dress, they wanted the cross removed from schools in Italy, but if you go to their country you have to dress like they want and do what they want .. I'm atheist and the cross in the class room at school never bothered me...what are they vampires ?? it not going to burn them...they can come to school with the veil on the head but we have to remove the cross...? Respect must be from both sides !!!
Nobody should be discriminated, but also we shouldn't exaggerate with politically correctness that is killing the freedom of speech.. would you defend racism if it was on some religion book just to be politically correct..?
I can't believe that in 2013 people still thinking about religion like something so unteachable , i'm sure that out of 1000 people maybe 1 chose his religion how can you call that faith ?
children do not know hate for other religion or racism they learn both from adults and society, (culture) shall we defend and respect both ? or just what is more convenient to us ?

Mark S.
Mark Smith4 years ago

Jacinta S.

"What makes anyone think that the rights of one group of people to live without having to suffer discrimination or abuse is more important than another group's rights?"

Observed and conditioned behavior based on our cultural foundation text when we are very young-it appears 0-5 years. Prejudice levels (do not ask me how they are measured) at the younger age peaks and marginally falls then rises afterwards nigh impossible to change.

Teenagers believe themselves open to new ideas Bah! Not so but neither are the adult versions. Apparently the only way to reduce prejudice already gained is to marry into the Other culture.

The only way to reduce prejudice (cultural perceived costs in dealing with another culture) in the long term is to get rid of any foundation text which determines Other less and therefore destined for grievous harm. It has to be gotten rid of in every cultural foundation text within the society otherwise prejudice will remain.

You like to think yourself as a rational person who can change their mind if the facts are clearly laid before you-you are mistaken-simply ask yourself how long does it take for a New Years resolution to last.

Also I would propose cultural relative ethical nihilism simply does not work. Its OK to say I accept Other cultures individuals to live their life as they wish. Say you were living next to another culture which authorized the beating of women and children, not an unreasonable question is it? Sit quie

Jacinta S.
Jacinta S4 years ago

One of the biggest problems with the world is that we try to fight one form of prejudice with another. What makes anyone think that the rights of one group of people to live without having to suffer discrimination or abuse is more important than another group's rights? In the end, all of it is just coming back to "me against you", and "I'm right and you're wrong because I said so" instead of trying to create more tolerance and respect for everyone.

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence4 years ago


.4 years ago

Islam is a cruel cult organised entirely by men for the subjugation of everyone and everything else besides themselves. Its illiterate founder Mohammed said, "I have been made victorious by terror." Many other passage in the Koran, e.g. 9:5 “Kill Jews and Christians wherever you find them” and “Wage war on the infidel and kill them until Islam is dominant” (Koran 8:39) sum all that needs to be said about this horrific game plan for subduing the whole world.

Men and women of ALL other countries need to be aware of what islam really is and stand up against it, for themselves, their children and their countries, which won't be free much longer if islam gets a hold. Look at the UK - there are over 100 sharia courts already, which the British govt has no jurisdiction over, and the Christian churches are being turned into mosques, their graveyards bulldozed.

I warn you.

Sylvia P.
Sylvia P4 years ago this article a joke? I think it must be a joke. I mean did you just use that hilarious oxymoron you know as if you didnt know that phobia meant IRRational fear? And did you really call attacks on Islam racist? How new, how oryginal! And yeah attacking with caricatures...what a cowardly thing, not like one could possibly get killed for it - liked what you did there.

(...) It does not advance the idea that feminism is compatible with Islam(...) . Islamophobic witches the lot of them! Next they'll imply it's incompatible with religion full stop. And that religion is manmade. I mean, by the goddess, mind boggles!

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia4 years ago

I hate that people treat islam like it's a race. These protesters, whom are from predominately islamic countries are protesting sexism in islam for a reason.