Whether Asian, Arab or African, the discussion over Muslim women’s agency (particularly of women of color) has been a one-dimensional, narrowed act of discourse where the agency of Muslim women is rarely discussed by her own terms. She, therefore, becomes the inferior Other. Less than a human being, she is rendered invisible yet visible. She is there but she is not in the sense that her voice does not matter as long as her image is presented before the ‘liberated, progressive’ Western feminists as they choose to interpret it. Her concerns are relegated to the issues of the veil, clitoridectomy, beatings from male members of the family and/or society. As Azizah Al-Hibri says, “The white middle-class women’s movement has bestowed upon itself the right to tell us […] what are the most serious issues for us—over our own objections.” As an Asian Muslim female participant in this oft-occurring discourse, it becomes very obvious to me to see that these issues are over-simplified and ignored by Western feminists with their ‘preference’ for issues that have been used as symbols to demonize the culture and religion in these regions. Most importantly, issues rooted in political and historical contexts are nearly never discussed because, in simple words, the finger is then pointed at the West. e.g. U.S. backed dictatorships in the Middle East and Asia, economic disparity, former Empire’s (Britain) exploitation of religion in the Asian diaspora, U.S. invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more. The equality debate strictly revolves around the veil (be that the Hijab, Niqab, Burka, Chador) and are consequently decontextualized and overtly politicized in hegemonic discourse(s) to demonize Islam and Muslims. As a result, Muslim women are viewed with the Orientalist Gaze. It is the lens with which the veil is seen as an exotic and erotic object to fuel fantasy and Islamophobic assertions that “it must be removed” in order to “liberate Muslim women.” The realistic occurrence and posibility that the veil is donned by many as a choice, and that it enables them mobility and agency is rarely considered. It is simply seen as an emblem of Islamic oppression, violence and “rejection of modernization.” The West (colonizer) therefore defines the parameters for which emancipation is achieved for the Muslim women of those regions (the colonized). Western culture is shown as the “right culture” while the East is treated with xenophobic bigotry. It is, basically, a war shown in a dichotomy of Us VS Them. In this war of ideological differences, Muslim women become the battleground over which oppressors from the West and oppressors in the East fight each other to maintain claim over. Naturally she becomes Invisible.
An excerpt from my essay: The Other-izing of Muslim Women in Western Feminism and Hegemonic Discourse(s).
Sometimes we brown Muslim women get academically serious.