GenderHuman Rights

Women’s Rights vs Anti- Muslim Bigotry: An Unfortunate Tension

Today the Arab American News begrudgingly reports, “We hate to do this but…investigators say that the Muslim girl lied about getting attacked by Trump supporters on a NYC subway. She was out drinking with friends and made up the story to ‘distract her angry father.’ She ran away from home a few days later but was found–and charged for falsifying a police report.”

HECK, I think, this is that moment… that moment when someone hides behind plausible, culturally legitimized anti-Muslim bigotry to shield themselves from the obscured/denied epidemic of patriarchal control and misogynistic abuse endemic to Muslim communities…

What manifest tension in the lives of us from Muslim backgrounds such an incident embodies. For the sobering, pervasive phenomenon of anti-Muslim bigotry is not only acknowledged, but legitimized and heralded above all other concerns where we are from, while other human rights abuses and bigotries continue to be silenced. And where  do those stuck in the middle find themselves? With no support and acknowledgement from either side, it seems.

Her name is Yasmin Seweid. She told a plausible lie to cover a sin that ought not be sin in a free and liberal world–partying with friends–but that is the gravest of sin in her own community.

And of course, though she told this lie for fear of what her father would do to her if he knew the truth (and how many lies have we all told to escape the wrath of the honor-crazed men in our families?), her community has nothing but hate and blame for her for doing something so foolhardy to discredit a minority population already at risk– with no thought or consideration to the minority within the minority at much more consistent and severe risk, because the numbers of women controlled and abused cannot compare to those threatened on subways for their hijabbecause the lives and bodies of Muslim women mean shit all and only the integrity of the outward-facing Muslims and their image matters.

And so silenced pandemics of control and abuse continue to flourish in Muslim America, Bravo.

And sure enough, “Don’t read the comments” holds true here as ever, for the comments are full of this young woman’s community members full of censure and blame, advocating she be imprisoned, denigrating personal conduct absolutely irrelevant to her lie, in general blaming her for the violent actions of others towards Muslims. All, apparently, on the shoulders of a teenager who made a surely foolhardy and very likely unethical choice in how she chose to deal with the predicament too many women from conservative patriarchies face– yet her constraints, rather than being a salve, seem only to further condemn her among her Muslim community:

One comment reads “It’s morons like her who make Muslims look bad! You wanted to go behind your parents back staying out, drinking with a guy you knew they wouldn’t approve of so you decide to play the victim card and pull a disappearing act?!? Muslims in America have enough to deal with without a spoiled little brat like you making up false hate crimes. You deserve to go to jail!

Another commenter writes, “That’s not the full story. She was not out drinking with friends. She was having sexual relations with her boyfriend, and her parents disapproved. She had to make up the story of abuse to gain the sympathy of her parents. Due to her promiscuous behaviour, her parents shaved her hair as punishment. I guess Hijabis are in reality Hoejabis.”

Never mind her right as an adult to self-determination, never mind whether she wanted to wear hijab or not, never mind her bodily autonomy, her fear, her concern for her safety NEVER mind–never mind the violation to her body so casually just described–slutshaming, denigrating her for her personal associations, advocating incarceration and violence towards a woman in this position is the default assumption it seems, and surely her transgrasseion merits holding her responsible for the potential violence and bigotry deliberately committed by others.

And yet another: “If anything happens to my mother or my elderly women neighbors becausw [sic] of a hate crime idea given by any of this disgraceful girls wearing the hijab, locally and out of state, makr [sic] my words i swear to God I will find each one of you and i will seriously smack you across the face.

How fucked up is this? Instead of conmmensurate accountability for injustice against someone falsely accused, the blame launched against Yasmin today holds her personally accountable for the unrelated actions of others– not the wolves to blame, the actual predators and those who breed them, but the person who cried wolf in a moment of selfishness or fear or lapse of integrity–while at the same time denying the constraints underlying her actions (notice ‘spoiled brat’ and ‘making it up’?) and demonizing her for citing them to begin with–surely her immodest conduct is the disgrace here, and her story of a controlling family is a fabricated lie. This is how she is treated for daring to dissent to her community’s norms. This seems to be the greater sin, far greater than the lie, where these people are concerned.

If only I had the eloquence, the words, to emphasize how the above comments are nothing anomalous, but the mainstream we hear, we heard growing up, bandied in our communities and mosques and social settings. ‘Hojabi’. Slut-shaming. Blatant denial and disingenuous rationalization of manifest sexism and inequality. Violence and cruelty hidden and obscured and dressed in the comfortable trappings of respectable conservatism.

I don’t know what her full story is, heck, and I surely would not have behaved in the same way, but heck do I have sympathy for Yasmin Seweid today.

Can you imagine how much fear she had to have had to tell a lie like this and then run away from home rather than face her father? I have attempted to run away from home as a teenager, alone, bereft, nigh penniless, to escape the prison of my home life and my father’s violent wrath at the perceived transgression of my immodesty and there have been few so terrifying circumstances in my life.

For neither the cold streets nor hell have fury like that of a particularly possessive Muslim father scorned.

I am tired of the pretense that there is no tension between the fight against anti-Muslim bigotry and the fight for the rights of women and LGBT folk and general dissenters in Muslim communities. It is simply untrue, and it s clear which is always given precedent. Especially when the sense of scale is so skewed. Legitimate human rights abuses toward Muslim women, eg the burkini ban, are so disproportionately focused on in comparison to a far more staggering scale of transgressions and abuses towards women in Muslim communities globally. The most urgent of causes are absolutely drowned out, and I am convinced it is unintentioned but not therefore any less of a problem.

Surely anti-Muslim bigotry is a sobering phenomenon steeped in prejudices that need to be fought– but too often this fight is embodied in a denial of other very real and pervasive forces of oppression, going so far as to justify and enable the grossest of human rights violations such as female genital mutilation, and to champion Muslim-brand purity culture in the form of ideological enabling and normalization of hijab— the very critical spirit towards conservatism and patriarchy, the very standards progressives hold for themselves, for women and queer folk here, seem to suddenly break down to waffling, fumbling tolerance for atrocity, packaged in terms less offensive and stark.


Every damn leftist thinkpiece claiming that the oppression of Muslim women is a lie or hijab is feminist or it’s a racist myth that homophobia is a thing in Islam or that non-Muslims are treated and viewed as equal in Islam embodies this tension.


If it is marginalization one cares about, it cannot be carried forth through such facile double standards. It is possible to defend a community against unwarranted hate and bigotry without burying all of its sins and painting its monsters as saints. Our families and home communities need not be perfect, sinless, free of our own deep bigotries and aggressions to warrant defense against unfounded attack. Enough.




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