Hussein’s review got me thinking about two important issues- men speaking on behalf of women, and the meaninglessness of the labels of death we throw around.
Men speaking for women
The reason why I resist critiques is because it is so rare to find pro-female Muslim male commentators in the media that when they do appear you can all but restrain yourself to make a mad dash and hug them.
Certainly it is only through these mainstream voices of power and authority- heavyweights such as Tariq Ramadan, Khaled Abou El Fadl and to a lesser extent authoritative figures such as Waleed Aly that change is going to occur.
This however should not preclude a critique of their argument and their positioning in making that argument. The fact that it is the muslim male dissident voices that are listened to and commanded respect, those who have the pristine credentials from Al-Azhar and Ivy League schools says precisely a lot about the male privilege and power status quo they are embedded in.
Whilst male feminist voices should not be precluded from speaking of course (their counterparts certainly aren’t) a sensitive understanding is needed of how the exercise of their power and the very vocalization of it robs those of whom they are speaking on behalf of (if even positively) of agency- which is precisely the problem we are complaining of.
It is only with deep self-reflexivity and humility that those in power can help those without.
East/West/Secular/Religious (or labels of death)
This continuous attempt to represent muslim and “western” feminists essentially at odds with each other seems to play into convenient hands. It seems convenient to project this mirage of an overblown hostility or incompatibility to make the claims of secular feminists completely irrelevant to issues of gender reform in muslim societies and insist a reform can only be made in purely islamic terms or paradigms.
To assert that all secular feminist voices in muslim contexts are alien to the concerns of women within these contexts merely re-affirms the stereotype of the out-of touch, pro-colonial shrill western puppet whose ideas are to be rejected out of hand because she does not fit a stereotype of piety
What if you are like famous feminist dissidents- Pakistani lawyer and activist Asma Jehangir or former Iranian judge and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, professed muslims, but who accept ‘western’ concepts of human rights and feminism- and are being essentially being politically pragmatic by arguing within the islamic paradigm to formulate gender reform in their societies?
Whilst these women might have been influenced by the “western” ideas of their colonisers this did not make them ‘traitors’. In the complex and contradictory relationship between colonizers and colonized- this training was often used against the colonial powers.
This stereotyping also ignores the fact that often the lines between secular and religious, western and eastern are easily blurred in our globalised society. How is “western” defined- by geography or your ideas? Precisely what are western ideas or “western feminism” which we repeatedly hear is incompatible with any kind of Islamic outlook? We realise that identities and philosophies are not so neatly bound but spill over from centuries of cross-civilisational dialogue (and conflict).
With the emergence of new categories of post-feminist, post-modern categories which understand the individual as a space for many concurrent identities- whether gender, racial, religious or even personality-wise these kind of neat demarcations no longer make sense.