I had the beautiful opportunity to attend the Annual Conference on Islamophobia at UC Berkeley this year–where I presented a paper on the Islamophobia of misogyny in Muslim communities, arguing that misogyny in the Muslim community is a form of Islamophobia–and I’m so deeply inspired. I don’t know if I just got lucky by having had a great audience, or what, but the conversations, not just post my presentation but all others, too, were profoundly stimulating and enlightening. Seeing so many Muslim (and some non-Muslim) intellectuals, especially from my own generation, gathering in one space to talk about a topic that some (read: Islamophobes mostly) don’t even acknowledge and sharing their research and findings on the matter was a much-needed reminder to me that I do belong in academia. Not to mention, I met so many great people, and the bonding that took place among the women was breathtaking. #somuchlove!
There were a great number of brilliant, thought-provoking panels and questions that speak to the kinds of research currently being conducted on the problem that is Islamophobia. It was a 3-day conference, with 12 panels (4 presenters in all but the last panel, which had 5 presenters), so it’d be too much for me to provide a summary of each presentation, but just know that it was great stuff.
One of the questions that consistently came up in my mind, especially after the conversation on my paper, was who the ideal, preferred victim of Islamophobia is or can be and who the ideal, preferred perpetrator of Islamophobia is or can be. When I presented my argument, many in the audience disagreed that Islamophobia could come from within the Muslim community, some suggesting that we (Muslims) are the victims and to consider us perpetrators as well is to divert the focus from the actual problem. (P.S. I highly disagree with this thinking. It’s tantamount to the question of whether a woman can be sexist/misogynist, or if a black person in America can be racist against black people, and so on. Of course Islamophobia is an internal problem, too, and we need to acknowledge our own role in perpetuating it. This idea of an internal Islamophobia, or of Muslims as perpetrators of Islamophobia, continued on to the next days of the conference as well when several participants spoke about the different ways in which Muslims have internalized Islamophobia such that we perpetrate it. This could come in the problematic ways that Muslim leaders and organizations condemn terrorism committed by Muslims, the good vs bad dichotomy forced on Muslims, or even one group of Muslims thinking they know what’s better for another group of Muslims or for all Muslims (read: the MLI. Sana Saeed’s presentation on this was mindblowing. God bless her and her mind). And my argument, while not completely along the same lines as this sort of internalized Islamophobia, is that Muslims are perpetuating Islamophobia when they practice, believe in, or promote misogyny, especially when attributing that misogyny to Islam; because it is a question of whether “Muslim women” count as Muslims or not, of whether Muslim feminists count as “Muslims” or not. More on this briefly below. Others wondered if we might simply consider it patriarchy and not Islamophobia, and I insist that it’s both Islamophobia AND patriarchy, that there’s a stark relationship between Islamophobia and patriarchy–and I need to write a separate blog post on this, pointing specifically to the patriarchy of Islamophobia as we see it among Western/ex-Muslim/non-Muslim bigots (including feminists who deny women of faith the right to claim feminism as theirs, too) against Muslims and especially against Muslim women.
(This is not the extent of the disagreement with my argument; eventually, I will write a blog post about some of the suggestions that were made me for me to improve my case and will share a longer, revised version of that previous one on my blog. Valid remarks and critiques were made, and I need to address those in a longer version of this discussion.)
After conversing with many of the presenters and other audience members, I came to realize also that there is something bigger going on here: the regulation of definitions, concepts, and discourses and who can own them. Who gets to even define Islamophobia, and who gets to decide who a victim and a perpetrator of Islamophobia can be? Needless to say, Islamophobia is much bigger and more profound than simply “a/the fear or hatred of Islam/Muslims” – we know it’s also discrimination against people who “look like” Muslims, and so there are large questions of privilege, power, race at play here centered around a flawed theory of Muslims as an ethnic and racial other. BUT a question remains: fear/hatred/discrimination against precisely what kind of or which Muslims and Islam? Are Ahmadis included in this collective group that is “Muslim”/Islam? (I dread the answer. Please don’t respond.) How about Shi’is? How about feminists? Or Black Islam and black Muslims? Other non-mainstream Muslims? Or Muslims who identify as lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, and otherwise gender non-confrming individuals?
So, these questions are to encourage anyone who’s uncomfortable with my argument that *misogyny in the Muslim American community is a form of Islamophobia* to ask themselves why exactly they’re uncomfortable with it. What is Islamophobia? Is there an ideal victim or target of Islamophobia in your mind? Is that ideal target preferably a Muslim male who adheres to a Sunni orthodox mainstream form of Islam, or can targets of Islamophobia include Muslim women belonging to a Sunni orthodox form of Islam, or feminists and others committed to an Islam that embraces, if not demands, sexual equality and gender justice as well? What about the ideal perpetrator of Islamophobia? Is it necessarily a non-Muslim or ex-Muslim bigot? Or can he/she also be a Muslim who is absolutely against gender quality and thus against anyone, but especially Muslim women, who promote gender equality in the Muslim society and who unearth the feminist angle of Islam?