I belatedly encountered this essay, in, of all places, the Harvard Crimson, the venerable university newspaper, by an undergraduate Muslim woman, Marian H. Jalloul. It's called "Mind over Boobs," though as an Editor I always keep in mind that may not have been the author's preferred title. I think it nails it pretty well and is the most eloquent statement I've seen. (Some quoted strong language.)
Amina’s message is beautiful, and I wholeheartedly agree with it: Her body is hers, and she has the right to use it as she pleases, including as a canvas of expression. It is not the source of anyone else’s honor. I even respect the bold execution—it definitely caught my attention. What I do not appreciate is FEMEN’s inability to accept Muslim women’s definition of freedom. I do not respect their projection of their ideals onto me, or their implication that I am too weak and oppressed to speak for myself.
It is ridiculous how widely accepted it is that Muslim women are oppressed in choosing to cover their bodies. This “clash of civilizations”—more accurately explained as the clash of ignorance by Edward Said—is preserving the idea that Islamic views and Western views cannot coincide. I know how much Western society loves its feminism: I was born and raised into it with a strong, highly educated and respected mother who kicks butt in her field—all while wearing a headdress. That being said, it is almost imperialist to apply Western concepts of feminism to other cultures. There are varying definitions of feminism, and not all urge a woman to flaunt her body because it is her right. On the contrary, feminism from the Muslim perspective encourages women to be modest in their dress and to be seen as equal intellectuals, not merely as bodies.
Just as some women feel strong and confident showing a little skin, veiled Muslim women feel strong and confident covering their skin—and there is nothing wrong with either. The West may see oppression in Muslim women covering their bodies at the will of a male-dominated society in the same way Muslim women may see oppression in the objectification of Western women’s bodies at the hands of a male-dominated society. I am a veiled, Muslim-American woman, and I am also a feminist. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
The message that has been spawned by this “noble movement” is disgraceful. FEMEN seems to imply that Islam is to be blamed for global sexism. Imperialist rhetoric that Islam is a woman-hating religion and stands on five pillars of sexism does nothing but aid the global surge of Islamophobia. No other nations, religions, or cultures are targeted to quite the same extent. In turn, this opens the door of opportunity for other countries that have a perpetual track record of discriminating against their women, the U.S. included, to point the finger at Muslim societies.
The vast majority of veiled Muslim women are not oppressed in their hijabs, and even if we were we (and even to those veiled Muslim women who are being oppressed) sure as heck are not seeking liberation from a group of women who will insult our religious beliefs in order to affirm their own self-importance. As another Muslim woman put it, “We won’t be needing any of that ‘White-non-Muslim-women-saving-Muslim-women-from-Muslim-men’ crap!” FEMEN holding up signs that read “Fuck your Morals” is not liberating us—it is simply making us angry. I am all for supporting Amina and her rights, but when it is done through plain offense, Islamophobia, and at the expense of the reputation of over a billion Muslims, I will stand my ground. We do not need saving. We do not need you to defend us. We can speak for ourselves. And moreover, we do not need to flaunt our breasts to feel liberated.
I understand that FEMEN is trying to defend Amina, but supporting her rights by attacking a religion is counterproductive to their movement. If they find freedom through being nude, then that is great. All the power to them. As for me, my mind is my means of liberation. Not my boobs.Amen. I hope that is the last word on this. (Not on feminism, but on Femen and Islam.)