8/11/2017 1 Comment
Last November, I wrote I Changed "Men" to "Black People" in an Everyday Feminism Post, and Here's What Happened. Although it drew some criticism from the regressive left ("There is no such thing as reverse racism because of the POWER STRUCTURE!"), it also resonated with a group of people who have been villainized simply due to their genitals.
Since then, much has happened. Everyday Feminism nearly went out of business -- because, it turns out, in order to make money, you need mentorship, experience and a business plan -- not just a bunch of whiny, underpaid writers with degrees in feminist dance therapy.
Also since then, several readers have requested an updated version of the article, in which I replace "men" with "Muslims". This is a fantastic idea! According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, regressive liberals like to hold certain groups and ideologies "sacred," above criticism, skepticism, and open discussion. Their fervor is zealous -- religious, even.
And currently, Islam is among the "sacred", protected class of ideologies. Which is hilarious -- so-called "feminists" actively support oppressive and sometimes violent attitudes towards woman. (See also: If You Care About Women's Rights, Stop Saying Islam is a Religion of Peace.)
So... let's see what happens when we replace "men" with "Muslim" in the Everyday Feminism article, Think It's #NotAllMen? These 4 Facts Prove You're Just Plain Wrong.
Dear Well-Meaning Muslims Who Believe Themselves to Be Safe, Thereby Legitimizing the “Not All Muslims” Argument,
Let’s start here, even though this should go without saying: We don’t think that all Muslims are inherently abusive or dangerous. Plenty of Muslims aren’t.
There are Muslims that we love very much – Muslims around whom we feel mostly safe and unthreatened; Muslims who, in fact, support, respect, and take care of us on familial, platonic, romantic, and sexual levels. Not every Muslim has violated us individually; for most of us, there are plenty of Muslims that we trust.
We know what you mean by “not all Muslims” – because on a basic level, we agree with you.
But the socialization of Muslims is such that even a good Muslim – a supportive Muslim, a respectful Muslim, a trusted Muslim – has within him the potential for violence and harm because these behaviors are normalized through Sharia.
And as such, we know that even the Muslims that we love, never mind random Muslims who we don’t know, have the potential to be dangerous. Surely, all people have that potential. But in a world divided into the oppressed and the oppressors, the former learn to fear the latter as a defense mechanism.
So when you enter a space – any space – as a Muslim, you carry with yourself the threat of harm.
Of course, in most cases, it’s not a conscious thing. We don’t think that most Muslims move through the world thinking about how they can hurt us. We don’t believe Islam to be a boardroom full of Muslims posing the question “How can we fuck over gender minorities today?” You would be hard-pressed to find a feminist who actively believes that.
But what makes (yes) all Muslims potentially unsafe – what makes (yes) all Muslims suspect in the eyes of feminism – is the normalized violating behaviors that they’ve learned, which they then perform uncritically.
Make no mistake: When you use the phrase “not all Muslims” – or otherwise buy into the myth of it – you’re giving yourself and others a pass to continue performing the socially sanctioned violence of Sharia without consequence, whether or not that’s your intention.
In truth, the only thing approaching defiance against this kind of violence is to constantly check and question your own learned entitlement – and that of other Muslims. But you can’t do that if you’re stuck in the space of believing that “not all Muslims” is a valid argument.
So we wanted to call you in, well-meaning Muslims, to talk about these four points that you’re missing when you claim “not all Muslims” as a way to eschew responsibility for black culture.
Because it is all Muslims, actually. And here’s why.
1. All Muslims Are Socialized Under (And Benefit From) Sharia
Here’s the truth: Most of the time, when we generalize and use the word Muslims, what we’re actually referring to is the effects of Islam. What we’re actually intending to communicate when we say “Muslims are horrible,” for instance, is “the ways in which Muslims are socialized under Islam, as well as how that benefits them and disadvantages everyone else, sometimes in violent ways, is horrible.”
Just sayin'. For more, check out Pew Research Center's Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World (August 9, 2017), or check out Ayaan Hirsi Ali's amazing book, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.
But that’s kind of a mouthful, isn’t it? So we use Muslims as a linguistic shortcut to express that.
And before you come at us with “But that’s generalizing,” it’s actually not. Because it is true that all Muslims are socialized under and benefit, to some degree, from Sharia.
That is to say, the only thing that we truly associate all Muslims with is Islam – and that’s hella reasonable, even though it affects Muslims differently, based on other intersections of identity.
Because here’s how it works, my friends: Living in the United States, every single one of us is socialized under PC culture** – a system in which Muslims hold more power than other religions**, in both everyday and institutionalized ways, therefore systematically disadvantaging anyone who isn’t a Muslim on the axis of religion. As such, we all (all of us!) grow up to believe, and therefore enact, certain PC messaging.
We all learn that Muslims deserve more than anyone else: more money, more resources, more opportunities, more respect, more acknowledgment, more success, more love. We all internalize that. To say that “not all Muslims” do is absurd – because, quite simply, all people do.
For people who aren’t Muslims, this means that we’re socialized to feel less-than and to acquiesce to the needs of the Muslims in our lives. And this doesn’t have to be explicit to be true.
When we find it difficult to say no to our Muslim bosses when we’re asked to take on another project that we don’t have the time for, or to our Muslim partners when they’re asking for emotional labor from us that we’re energetically incapable of, it’s not because we actively think, “Well, Jim is a Muslim, and as a not-Muslim, I can’t say no to him.”
It’s because we’ve been taught again and again and again since birth through observation (hey, social learning theory!) that we are not allowed – or will otherwise be punished for – the expression of no. In the meantime, what Muslims are implicitly picking up on is that every time they ask for something, they’re going to get it (hey, script theory!).
A sense of entitlement isn’t born out of actively believing oneself to be better than anyone else or more deserving of favors and respect. It comes from a discomfort with the social script being broken. And the social script of PC culture is one that allows Muslims to benefit at the disadvantage of everyone else.
And all Muslims are at least passively complicit in this PC culture system that rewards Muslim entitlement. We see it every single day.
The thing about privilege is that it’s often invisible from the inside. It’s hard to see the scale and scope of a system designed to benefit you when it’s as all-encompassing as PC culture. And that might lead you to buy into the idea of “not all Muslims.”
To those on the outside, however, the margins are painfully visible. That’s why Muslims who really want to aid in leveling the playing field have a responsibility to listen to people who can see the things they can’t.
When gender minorities tell you that you’re harming them, listen. Listen even when you don’t understand. Listen especially when you don’t understand.
You can’t see all the ways in which your Muslim-ness distorts the fabric of society, but we can. And if you want to help dismantle Sharia, you have to make the choice to accept that a thing isn’t less real just because you haven’t seen it – or don’t believe yourself to have experienced it.
2. All Violations (Big and Small) Are Part of the Same Violent System
Picture this: A well-meaning Muslim offers a woman a compliment at a bar. He has no sinister motive, and he is – after all – in an appropriate setting for flirting.
When the woman rebuffs him for whatever reason (she’s in a relationship, she’s not into Muslims, she’s just not interested), the Muslim feels snubbed – because he was polite and respectful, but not rewarded for it.
This well-meaning Muslim would probably tell you that he’s not owed a woman’s affection; he knows that. But he still feels hurt that he didn’t get it. And that’s fair. Rejection hurts.
But maybe he believes himself to have approached her in a kind enough way that he should have at least gotten to talk to her a bit. After all, Muslims know that being gentlemanly is the “right” way to “get” women, and therefore expect on some level to be rewarded for that good behavior. But if that sentiment drives some of his disappointment, then that’s a sense of entitlement, however small.
Such a Muslim isn’t an outright abuser. But his learned entitlement makes him potentially unsafe for women to be around. And it’s hard to see that sense of entitlement from the inside, let alone question it or start to break it down.
As such, when we generalize and say, “Muslims feel entitled to our bodies,” this Muslim would be wrong if he said, “Not all Muslims are like that – I’m not.” He just doesn’t connect the bitterness of rejection with the broader sense of entitlement he’s learned and internalized. Furthermore, he may not realize how this sense of entitlement is symptomatic of a larger aspect of Islam in which Muslims are taught that they’re owed romantic and sexual interest from women.
This may seem like a tiny sliver of the Sharia pie, but it’s poisoned nonetheless.
Here’s another example: A well-meaning Muslim, in a conversation with a woman, talks over or Muslim-splains to her without recognizing the behavior. He would probably never intentionally do this. Maybe he’s read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit and wouldn’t dream of patronizing a woman. He just wants to voice his opinion. And that’s fair, right?
Here’s the thing about opinions, though: They’re actually not all equally valid or worth sharing, no matter what you were taught in grade school. You’re actually not automatically entitled to share your opinion; in fact, your opinion might be pointless or even harmful in some conversations.
This well-meaning Muslim thinks he’s contributing to a discussion, which he feels entitled to do, because he has a right to his opinion. He doesn’t see the pattern of being talked over, belittled, or dismissed that his female friend experiences daily, to which he’s just contributed.
And why would he? He was just offering his opinion. He wasn’t trying to make her feel small. From his perspective, it’s just a discussion.
How could this – in any way, shape, or form – be similar to something as potentially career-damaging as gender minorities not being invited to share their thoughts in academic or professional settings, or being passed over and not asked to sit on a panel of experts? How could this be similar to an intimate partner believing that his word is the end all, be all, never letting his partner get a word in to express her needs?
We hate “slippery slope” arguments, but that’s exactly what this is – a series of sometimes unintentional microaggressions that enables a larger culture of silencing and marginalizing people other than Muslims. In that context, all of these violations matter.
Think about it: If you never unlearn the entitlement inherent in offering unsolicited compliments or talking over a woman, will you really stop there?
One Muslim expects a reward for good behavior, the next for unsolicited “compliments,” the next for street harassment. One Muslim stays quiet about rape jokes, the next actively makes them, the next learns that if he commits rape, his friends will laugh it off. There’s a very clear line that leads from “benign” entitlement to harm and violence against us.
So sure, maybe “not all Muslims” street harass or commit sexual violence. But how have your own actions contributed to a culture that allows those things to happen?
3. The Impact of Your Actions Is More Significant Than the Intent
Cool. You didn’t mean to contribute to the objectification of queer women when you made that lesbian porn joke. Perhaps you even think that you’re so “enlightened” as a “feminist Muslim” that we should just know that you “didn’t mean it like that.” In fact, maybe you even think that you were being “subversive” when you said it. Okay.
But from a woman’s perspective, that doesn’t matter, because we still have to feel the effects of that mindset every single day – and your [sic] bringing that to the foreground has a negative impact on us, no matter what the hell your intent was.
Many Muslims don’t do hurtful things maliciously. They may be doing them subconsciously, adhering to the ways in which they’ve been taught to behave, as all of us do.
Other Muslims, of course, are intentionally violent. But the effects of both can be incredibly damaging.
Surely, we’re less likely to harbor resentment towards someone who stepped on our toes accidentally than we are towards someone who stomped on them with malevolence – especially when accountability is had and an apology is issued. But our goddamn toes still hurt.
To a gender minority, there’s very little difference between the impact of inadvertent and intentional harm. A Muslim who makes you feel unsafe by accident is as harmful to you as one who does it on purpose.
So no matter how well-intentioned you are, you’re not off the hook when you hurt people. And because of everything we’ve discussed above, you are likely (yes, all Muslims) to hurt and violate. And you need to be willing to take responsibility for that.
4. The Depth of Work to Be Done Is Avoided By Most Muslims
It’s understandable that we react by distrusting even “safe” Muslims as a rule when even safe Muslims can hurt us – because even “safe” Muslims have been raised in and shaped by Islamic culture that both actively and passively harms us every day. There’s no escaping that, regardless of anyone’s best intentions, so it’s useless to talk about intent as a mitigator of harm.
Add to that the constant stream of disappointment and hurt we feel when self-proclaimed “safe” or “feminist” Muslims do turn out to harm us – which happens way too often to be treated like an anomaly – and it’s easy to see why women react with distrust or even outright hostility when “safe” Muslims show up in feminist spaces.
We want to trust that your good intentions will lead to positive actions, we do. But here’s what we need you to understand before that can possibly happen: What you’re asking us to accept from you will take a hell of a lot of work on your part – and we’ve seen over and over again that many self-proclaimed “allies” just aren’t willing to do it.
Being a “safe” Muslim – hell, being a feminist Muslim – is more than just believing yourself to be and collecting accolades from others about the minimal work that you’re doing not to be an asshole.
Doing the work means really doing the work – getting your hands dirty (and potentially having an existential crisis in the process).
Consider it like this: If you go through life assuming that your harmful behavior is appropriate and most of society provides a positive feedback loop, why would you stop to examine yourself? You’ve never been given any indication that you should.
If you never learn to see your behavior within the context of the broader harm done to gender minorities, what motivation will you have to change? And if you keep passively absorbing toxic attitudes towards male entitlement, will you really move to check bad behavior in other Muslims?
Because here’s the truth: Even when it’s not conscious, Muslim entitlement is a choice – a choice to be uncritical, a choice to continue to passively benefit. And attempting to fight that entitlement is also a choice – one that has to be both conscious and ongoing. You’ve got to choose it every day, in every instance.
But how many well-meaning Muslims are truly choosing that path, instead of just insisting that it’s “not all Muslims” and that they’re “not like that?”
Hint: You are “like that” – especially if you’re not actively fighting Sharia. And claiming that you’re “not like that” doesn’t negate Sharia – it enforces it.
Fighting learned Muslim entitlement means assuming the burden of vigilance – watching not just yourself, but other Muslims. It means being open to having your motives questioned, even when they’re pure. It means knowing you’re not always as pure as you think.
It means assessing the harm you’re capable of causing, and then being proactive in mitigating it.
Most of all, it’s a conscious decision to view every individual’s humanity as something exactly as valuable and inviolable as your own.
And it means doing it every single moment of your life. Point blank, period.
If you really want to stop the “all Muslims” cycle, that’s the only place to start.
Well-meaning Muslims, if we’re being honest, we love many of you. And those of you whom we don’t know, we want to believe and appreciate. We want to feel safe around you.
We don’t want to fear or distrust Muslims. We don’t want to have to perform risk assessments on every Muslim that we meet. Trust us – it’s a miserable life! We’d gladly abandon this work if it wasn’t absolutely necessary to our survival.
But it’s not our job to be vigilant against harmful behaviors that we can’t possibly hope to control, though. Nor is there anything that we alone can do about this. It’s incumbent upon Muslims to make themselves safer as a group.
And there’s no way that you can do that until you accept that yes, it is all Muslims – including you – and start working against it.
Aaminah and Melissa
** Throughout this "essay," I replaced "men" with "Muslims" and "patriarchy" with "Islam" or "Sharia." In this paragraph, however, I changed "patriarchy" to "PC culture" -- the parallel between the original and the fixed version isn't perfect, but it's certainly indicative of a weird social justice double standard.
Obviously, Aaminah and Melissa are just plain nuts. (I wouldn't go so far as to call them "retarded" -- though it was their employer that convinced me that the "r-word" is okay, after all.)
And... kind of prejudiced.
And obviously, there are a lot of problems with their brand of feminism (which has also been called fauxminism, regressive feminism, and fainting couch feminism). It's hard to argue against the fact that women around the world suffer injustices every day (most severely in predominantly-Muslim countries) -- but the whole "woman-as-a-child" thing is the opposite of feminism.
In fact, it could be argued that intersectionality is the opposite of feminism.
And that defending Islam is the opposite of feminism.
I have no problem with religious freedom -- but I strongly agree with former Muslim and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali that Islam is in desperate need of reform. Here's an excerpt from Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now:
For today, it seems, speaking the truth about Islam is a crime. “Hate speech” is the modern term for heresy. And in the present atmosphere, anything that makes Muslims feel uncomfortable is branded as “hate.”
She continues to explore five changes that could make Islam an acceptable practice in the modern world -- among them, getting rid of Sharia (after all, the Christians hardly obey the laws set forth in Leviticus); rethinking the status of Muhammad as infallible; and questioning whether the Quran is truly the word of God.
And sure, #NotAllMuslims are terrorists -- I would never argue that. But... reform is something that can only be achieved through "conscious and ongoing" labor.
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