The Feminist Wire censorship: An unpublished response

Here is my unpublished response to a collective response (signed by over 70 feminists) that was published on The Feminist Wire website opposing my article: ‘To be Anti-Racist is to be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab are not Equals’. I sent this response to TFW editorial collective for publication, prior to their removing both my article and their collective response.

Thank you for this collective response to my article. I absolutely accept and welcome the effort by The Feminist Wire Collective to challenge hierarchies of privilege and build solidarity. I have listened to your concerns and taken them to heart as well. We can all learn something from this debate. I also welcome any initiative for an honest conversation about privilege, racism, and Islamophobia within feminist collectives and movements. If my article has in any way helped to kickstart that initiative, then I welcome that.  I would also like to express my gratitude to the founder, Tamura Lomax, for inviting me to join The Feminist Wire collective last year. I am proud and honoured to be part of such a writers’ collective.

For the record, and in my defence, prior to publication, I actively sought out the opinion and feedback of four Collective members. The feedback I received from two members was complimentary and positive. No-one offered any objections to it or suggested any significant editorial changes. Although, that is not to say that they agreed with the content either. That said, some of my comments have clearly been distorted, and at times, misrepresented in your letter.  I have also been accused of holding views that I do not. I will address these matters below.

First, I was upset by, and strongly object to, the accusation or suggestion that I am ‘racist’. The views that have been expressed in relation to me and my family members on Facebook and The Feminist Wire website, were not only offensive and but also denied us our basic humanity.  To claim, as one woman did, that I used the ‘ties’ of ‘non-white bodies’ to ‘obfsucate my whiteness’  not only reduces me and my family to the level of our skin colour but also categorically ignores our intimate connections and unique personal experiences and cultural and religious backgrounds. Most importantly, it denies us the experience we share as human beings in terms of genuine love, care and compassion.  The very thing you accuse me of doing in relation to Muslim women.

Then there are the misrepresentations and distortions. You state:

For her (the author), Trayvon Martin’s hoodie signifies a history of racism, whereas Shaima Alawadi’s hijab signifies only male domination and female oppression.

I never stated that the hoodie ‘signifies a history of racism’.  I stated that the history of the hijab and the hoodie were not comparable or ‘equals’. The hoodie is an item of commercial sports wear, produced by sports clothing companies, in the name of comfortable clothes freely worn by men and women alike. The hijab is not comparable to the hoodie in that respect.  That is not to deny that some  people may seek to highlight the racial aspects of both items of clothing, what I am denying is their equality in terms of their origin, purpose and the general freedom to wear them.

I also never stated that the hijab ‘signifies only male domination and female oppression’. Yes, I quoted Muslim feminists who support the ban of the hijab in French schools and who find the hijab representative of male domination and female oppression.  I agree with their viewpoint but that’s not the same as claiming that myself. In fact, later on I concede that a minority of Muslim women (who have the freedom of choice) may exercise that choice freely, without the constraints of force or punishment.

You then state:

What we do find deeply problematic, however, is the questioning of women’s choice to wear the niqab and the presumption that this decision is rooted in a “false consciousness.”

This is not a presumption, there is significant empirical evidence from Muslim women bearing witness to a deeply oppressive patriarchal culture and religious practice which entails being brainwashed and forced to wear the hijab and burqa from a young age and being severely punished for not doing so.  Women have been tortured and murdered for not wearing these clothes.  However, you only refer to the Muslim women who have the freedom to exercise choice. What about the millions of Muslim women who don’t? Are their voices and experiences not relevant in this debate at all? Is the fear of Islamaphobia so intense that it cannot accommodate the voices of Muslim and non-Muslim women who want to see the hijab banned?

In terms of the subtle issue of ‘false consciousness’, my article clearly stresses that we should not conflate two issues here a) the freedom to choose and b) the choice itself. You have conflated the two issues in your response. I accept that there may be women (outside of Islamic states where women and girls do not have a choice) who freely choose to wear the hijab, but argue that this choice could still be critiqued. In the same way that women who choose to have cosmetic plastic surgery, as a result of patriarchal norms  and pressure, are criticised by women of all races and backgrounds. In fact, the picture (below) that I chose to be published along with my article, clearly demonstrates the parallels I  seek to draw between patriarchal control of female bodies and physical appearance in both secular and religious countries:

There are some double standards at work here too. On the one hand you attack me for using my ‘ white privilege’ to suggest that some Muslim women, who can freely choose to wear the hijab, may be doing so as a result of ‘false consciousness’. On the other hand, you accuse me of the ‘false consciousness’ of (i.e. unintentionally) propagating the views of white privilege and racism. If you can accuse me of not fully understanding the impact of my words on some Muslim women, then by the same token, why is my accusation that some women similarly suffer from that same lack of empathy/understanding in respect of the impact their choices have on myself and other females? And I would argue that the choice Muslim women make to wear the veil in secular countries, to impose that choice on the their daughters whether by force or by social pressure, most definitely does have the potential to cause a negative impact on myself, other women, men and children. For example, what message does it send to young schoolboys and girls when they see a Muslim schoolgirl covering her hair in the name of patriarchal religion, while Muslim boys’ heads go uncovered?

You also portray my view as if it lacks any support from Muslim or Arab women. As I stated in my article, I agree with Fadela Amara who explained her support for France’s ban:

The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular spaces of France’s public school system.

When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the grounds of “tradition”, Amara vehemently disagreed:

They define liberty and equality according to what colour your skin is. They won’t denounce forced marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they say, it’s tradition. It’s nothing more than neocolonialism. It’s not tradition, it’s archaic. French feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French feminists supported them. But when it’s some young girl in a French suburb school, they don’t.

If we take Amara seriously, and I do, there appears to be a no-win situation for a white feminist in this debate. If we support, defend and promote your viewpoint, we will be accused by Muslim feminists like Amara of neo-colonialism. If we support feminists like Amara, we face condemnation and accusations of racism and privilege. Are you suggesting that neither I nor Muslim feminists (if my skin colour and religion offends you) can condemn this choice at all?   Are you seriously suggesting that we can only debate an issue if we have first-hand experience of it? Do I have to be a porn star to critique pornography?

You also then claim that I reduce Muslim women and women of colour

to a piece of cloth and the experiences of people of colour and practioners of an increasingly racialized and demonized religion are repeatedly questioned and denied.

Again, this completely ignores and glosses over the quotes in my article from Muslim and Arab feminists. In fact, ironically, I and others would argue that it is the very people who defend and promote the veil that reduce Muslim women to a piece of cloth.

I agree with you that it is absolutely essential to highlight the racism and Islamaphobia present when it comes to ‘the demonization, incarceration, and oppression of Muslim men, women, and children at home and abroad.’ However, let’s not forget that Muslim women and children are regularly demonised, incarcerated, and oppressed by Muslim men at home and abroad, the hijab being just one example. Yes, colonialism and Islamaphobia also play a key role in the oppression of Muslim men and women, but the real enemy here cannot be reduced to white men in suits and military clothing; and it certainly cannot be reduced to ‘white privileged’ feminists either.

Reading through your response and the subsequent comments about it online, the main point of contention appears to be my skin colour. If a Muslim feminist had written the same piece I doubt very much it would have come under the same level of hostility or scrutiny.  You state you dislike women of colour being reduced to their skin colour but that is exactly what you have done to me. You gloss over and ignore any of my own intersections of race, culture, religion and ethnicity with very little knowledge about me on a personal level.  Had it ever occurred to my detractors that I might be challenging the hijab on the basis of my Buddhist viewpoint not my skin colour? Does the presumption always have to be viewed through the reductionary lense of a person’s skin colour?

For example, the fact that one woman who posted on Facebook immediately assumed, when I was discussing immigration in the UK in a previous article for The Feminist Wire, that I was talking about non-white immigration, demonstrates the level of presumption and prejudice here. In addition, when I welcomed and agreed with another woman’s post, it was argued that I must have done so because she was white, further revealing an excessive level of paranoia and hostility towards whiteness. Whereas the truth was it had never even occurred to me, nor was I even aware, of the woman’s skin colour.  It is also a false accusation because I did thank and concur with the comments of a non-white woman on TFW website, who stated my article was ‘brilliant’. You can see how ridiculous my defence becomes when skin colour is deemed to be so important.

In conclusion, I understand that emotions are running high in this debate and am very sorry for any offence or upset I may have caused. It is important to stay calm and rational though.  It is sad that my article, whose sole aim and purpose was to attack patriarchal religion and culture, was interpreted by many within TFW Collective as oppressing and violating the identity of Muslim women. This could not be further from my intention. I am listening and accept that there may have been issues I could have expressed differently or with greater sensitivity.  However, I believe you also need to be careful that you do not fall into the cultural relativist trap of defending and supporting misogynists and patriarchs.

To end, I randomly read this quote today and thought it worth sharing:

“Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.” – Thomas Szasz

Yours in learning, peace, love and solidarity


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