The voice of Muslima’s Lib

There is no escaping it: the debate about the headscarf is everywhere. But it is mainly white man voicing their opinions and concers, while Mulsim women are neglected. Not because they don’t have an opinion, writes Samira Bendadi.
The Muslim woman is oppressed. Whether she lives in Brussels, Paris or Kandahar, she is forced to wear a veil, undergoes circumcision, will be stoned when found to be adulterous. Responsible for this situation is, clearly, Islam. Get rid of Islam and all problems will be solved. Even kids in kindergarten can tell you that much.
Even the “naive” progressive intellectuals feel they’ve been beaten. “We’ve lost”, was the title of Flemish wrioter Tom Naegels’ column in the Belgian newspaper De Standaard of 2nd February 08, referring to the pointlessness of another debate about the veil. And the girls of BOEH! (Baas over Eigen Hoofd - BOOH! - Boss of Our Own Head) write on their website they have had it with the discussion. And yet, time and again the debate about the muslima and her veil flares up. 
This obstinate “concern” is not a novelty. In the past too particularly white men worried about the situation and attire of women. Lord Cromer, British consul in Egypt from 1883 to 1907, was serious about the emancipation of the Egyptian woman and pleaded the abolition of the face veil. In Women and Gender in Islam (1992), Egyptian-American Leïla Ahmed reveals how imperialistic men, themselves hardly feministic - in England Lord Cromer was against the right to vote for women- used feminism to attack the colonized men and to demonstrate their cultural inferiority.
The sociologist and anthropologist Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, co-author of Les feministes et le garçon Arabe [Feminists and the Arab boy] situates the present issue in a more general trend at the core of which lies the confrontation between the West and the East. She too says that the issue of emancipation originates in the colonial period. It faded into the background after the dismantling of the old colonies, but now it’s back in full force. Today’s predominant narrative in the media and in the public debate is nothing but a subtle variant of the brazen mindset about good & evil, about the clash of cultures, about the incompatibility of Islam with the West, about the Other and terrorism.
As before, the voice of muslim women remains unheard today. Because when this woman does speak out, it’s to defend the right to wear the veil.
In one of her first treatises, sociologist Nadia Fadil mentioned the paralyzing effect of the white man’s “urge for emancipation”. Those who make the effort to look beyond the long dissertations of white men, can see a massive emancipation-movement on the rise. That’s why I wrote “Dolle Amina’s. Feminisme in de Arabische wereld” [Muslima’s Lib. Feminism in the Arab world; the book gets published in Dutch beginning of October]. I really wanted to know what Muslim women had to say and how they wage their struggle for emancipation.
Whether they live in Paris or Brussels, whether their point of departure be secular or religious, muslim women managed to create instruments to escape captivity, to fight for women’s rights without rising to the bait of islamophobia. They do so by linking feminism to anti-racism, by dissociating patriarchal relations from religion and culture, and by tackling problems in a playful way instead of denying them.

Dolle Amina’s. Feminisme in de Arabische wereld door Samira Bendadi wordt uitgegeven door Manteau. blzn. ISBN

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