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How we obsess over and then ignore violence against Muslim women

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

The killing of Muslim bodies is nothing new. The 14-year institutionalized effort known as the War on Terror is in many ways the latest installment of centuries of anti-Muslim violence. But the murders of Razan, Yusor, and Deah last week delivered a soul-crushing reminder that no amount of American Dream can safeguard us

I feel perverse relief, knowing that my sisters and mother live abroad. But that relief is brief and followed by an immobilizing kind of fear that, on some days, I find myself drowning in. I think about the possibility of my sisters being next. I watch conversations of our parents pleading with our daughters to take off their scarves. I am paralyzed by daydreams where my best friend becomes the next dead Muslim body because Oklahoma police ignored gun threats against her.

I recognize that this how-does-this-crime-affect-me thought process in some ways is incredibly self-centering, but I think that’s what hate crimes do — what terrorism does. Hate crimes force us to recognize the vulnerability we desperately wish to ignore; they remind us that our distance from the victims cannot protect us from terror. They leave Muslims — particularly women — questioning their visibility. How do you tell your boss that you can’t work because you are consumed with the grief of knowing your sister could be next? Debilitating fear is far from representative of our community; Muslim women show remarkable courage and agency in how they perform their faith and femininity. But those who choose to wear hijab always make a choice that recognizes potential for violence.

Violence against Muslim women — domestically or abroad — has not been entirely ignored by white feminists. In many ways, it’s been obsessed over. FGM, honor killings, acid attacks, sexual violence within insular Muslim communities are recognized, discussed, and fetishized. Much has been written on the problematic ways in which this obsession happens. How this discourse is instrumentalized by colonial and imperial projects. How it strips Muslim women of their contexts and intricacies.  How it projects white egos onto brown and black women’s bodies.

What I want to comment on here though is not the ways in which white feminists obsess over us, but the moments in which they don’t. Hypervisibility has an insidious counterpart: “the singular obsession with private violence against ‘oppressed’ women by their ‘patriarchal’ husbands often excuses public violence perpetrated by others motivated by both Islamophobia and sexism,” explains Barbara Perry at the University of Ontario. Where is the feminist mobilization over the execution-like killings of Yusor and Razan? Why were my friends more more likely to celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg drinking than mourn with Chapel Hill? Why were institutions either silent or offering shallow condolences (but never recognizing the crimes as a feminist issue)? Why did the Chapel Hill shootings require mass mobilization and global social media outrage before being picked up by the media when the sexual abuse of Muslim women by an imam found a New York Times spread the same week without so much as a trending hashtag?

Why do white feminists only discuss violence against Muslim women when it is perpetrated by Muslim men?

The White House is hosting a national summit to “counter violent extremism” this week. While CVE’s stated goal is “to support and empower American communities,” its exclusive focus on American Muslim communities stigmatizes them as inherently suspect. Today, a panel provides law enforcement space to share tactics on policing women (presumably women of color). The entire event continues to institutionalize profiling on the basis of racialized faith and how women perform their gender. Cue the white feminist silence. Why hasn’t a single feminist organization joined the national outcry?

I raise these questions not to suggest that Muslim women do not suffer brutal misogyny and violence from men amongst their own communities. We do. And I raise these questions not to suggest that this violence should not be called out. It should.

I do question, however, the implications of white feminists picking and choosing which forms of violence against our bodies to cover. I wonder whether white feminists show solidarity with Muslim women not out of sisterhood but out of convenient narratives of imperialism and racism. I wonder whether they stay silent on the abuse inflicted upon us by white men because the contradiction exposes the racism in the tools they use to “save” us. Perhaps treating these killings as a rash of hate crimes suggests that such violence can be attributable only to  lone individuals — rather than to a global Islamophobic campaign, in which feminist movements are complicit.

The ways in which white feminism fails those of us whose bodies are not dominant is nothing new, but still needs to be called out. Muslim women deserve a feminism that practices intersectionality instead of talking about it. Our mosques fail one third of their population when ignoring anti-black racism; our feminisms fail all of us when they ignore violence compounded by gender, race, and religion. Racist patriarchal thought often forces us to compartmentalize our oppression. I hope this past week serves as another reminder of why we cannot have situational feminist platforms that ignore Islamophobia.

White violence against bodies that look and dress like Yusor and Razan and Imaan and Dena and countless others is anti-feminist.  The way in which their dress is racialized is anti-feminist. The omnipresent fear amongst Muslim parents when their daughters choose to cover their hair is anti-feminist. The fact that women need to rethink their visibility out of fear of physical violence against their beings is anti-feminist. It’s 2015 and about time we recognize this.

Header image credit: Yousef Abu-Salha’s Facebook

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

Read more about Mahroh

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