art · racism · women · women's rights

‘A personal attack on Muslim women’: Ms Saffaa mural defaced in Melbourne as featured in the Guardian

Leading story on Guardian Australia's Culture page.
Leading story on Guardian Australia’s Culture page.

A Melbourne street-art mural featuring a Muslim feminist protest paste-up by prominent artist and activist Ms Saffaa has been defaced in an act of vandalism the artist has labeled a “personal attack on Muslim women”.

Featuring pictures of well-known Saudi activists and artists, women in headscarves, Saudi poetry and a pink stencilling of the words “radical Muslim”, the mural was defaced on Saturday night, with the faces of the women blacked out and the words painted over.

The defaced mural. Picture: Hana Assafiri.

Ms Saffaa collaborated on the mural with a handful of emerging and well-known female artists, including the American writer and artist Molly Crabapple. Saffaa said she believed the vandalism was fuelled by a political climate of rising anti-Muslim sentiment.

“I almost wanted to cry … it’s quite disheartening,” said Saffaa, a Saudi-Australian artist. She expected the work to be tagged by other street or graffiti artists, but says the extensive defacing had more aggressive overtones.

The self-funded work, which went up in December, took months of preparation and ten eight-hour days to complete, she said.

 “I feel like it’s not just an attack on me but them too,” she said, referring to the Saudi women represented in her work. “What do I tell these women? You have to fight the misogynist men back home and the Islamophobic racist bigots in this country?”

The mural forms part of the #iammyownguardian campaign, a movement protesting Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system which prohibits women from travelling, marrying or even leaving prison without the permission of a male guardian. Saffaa’s imagery – featuring a face shrouded in the Saudi shemagh – became emblematic of the movement.

Crabapple said the work was a reflection of the complexity of the Muslim western experience that challenged conservatives on both sides of the spectrum.

“I couldn’t decide if the perpetrators were Islamist misogynists, infuriated by the mural’s opposition to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system – or Islamophobic racists, infuriated by the mural’s depictions of proud Middle Eastern women and assertion of multifaceted Muslim identities,” she said.

The original mural. Picture: Supplied.
The original mural. Picture: Supplied.

“No matter who did it, those who try to blot out art reveal only their own impotence. Censors always lose.”

The mural is featured on the wall of Morroccan Deli-cacy cafe, run by feminist activist Hana Assafiri.

Assafiri, known for hosting public salon-style conversations at her Melbourne restaurants, says she discovered the vandalism as she was opening the cafe on Sunday morning.

Assafiri, who employs only women, says vandalism in Melbourne’s progressive inner-city enclave highlighted her fears around security at the restaurant.

She also expressed concern at the ripple effect from the election of President Donald Trump in the United States on local artists and communities, particularly the recent executive order barring Muslim migrants and refugees from certain countries from entering the US.

“That this sort of rubbish and the expression of hate can be had in East Brunswick … it’s a manifestation of an attitude of continued bigotry and hate being fostered in all political climates.”

Saffaa said she felt “heartbroken and drained” at the prospect of repairing the wall.

“This has taken its toll on me [but] of course I will redo it bigger and better.”

human rights · islam · media · racism · religion

Stop the dog whistling on radicalisation, Minister- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

Muslims are framed as a ‘problem to be solved’ by political leaders. Picture: Flickr/ Brian Jeffery Beggarly.

Andrew Robb wants quick fixes and easy answers for the problem of radicalisation, but his framing of the “Muslim” as a problem to be solved isn’t helping one bit, writes Sarah Malik.

My phone is exploding with Happy Eid! texts.

Except it’s not Eid. Not for me at least.

The texts are mainly from my well-meaning white friends who have watched Eid celebrations at Lakemba mosque on Channel Nine.

I’m celebrating the next day, like half the rest of the state’s Muslims. The old school method of marking the end of Ramadan involves waiting to see the arc of the new moon indicating the beginning of the lunar month as opposed to the fixed scientific calendar method.

This is one of the million fine details of the complex and diverse Muslim communities who hail from dozens of varied cultures and strains, but are forced into a uniformity by an external culture that imposes modes of understanding aligned with its own understandings of religious ritual, politics and practice.

Chief among these is the myth of a unified and Vatican-like leadership hierarchy Andrew Robb seems to be appealing to in his demands on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night that Muslim leaders pull in their radicalised youth.

One of the great attractions of Sunni Islam is the lack of hierarchical or mediating priest-class, with a focus on the individual’s direct relationship to God.

Sure there are imams who lead prayer, and scholars who have spent years nutting out points of law, and an axis of orthodoxy most mainstream leaders are guided by. Beyond that, leaders are made more by their following and popularity rather than anointed by overarching councils or bodies.

This makes things difficult for politicians like Mr Robb, who needs someone to cop the flak for the rash of young nutcases running to the Middle East.

When it’s young Muslim men, the community is expected to take responsibility.

Only when it’s a young white male like Jake Bilardi, there is a recognition of the risk faced by young, isolated people with complex personal compulsions and histories that make them vulnerable to the call of extremism.

There is a barrage of material trying to understand the lure of militancy. Is it the search for belonging? Alienation and marginalisation? Anger at foreign intervention in the Muslim world? The promise of an Islamic golden age utopia in the face of political humiliation? Sex and kittens? The internet? An outlet for existing criminal tendencies, or just a way to escape the tedium of ordinary life?

One thing remains clear, there seems to be no one-size-fits-all approach to the trajectory of these lone and few individuals who often leave behind their own baffled and distraught families and communities.

These few individuals rarely interact with mainstream leaders or mosques. Like most young people, not just Muslims, traditional religious authorities (read: old people) have failed to connect with the millennials’ quest for meaning in a changing social media world.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

The internet, like most things, is a reflection of the people who use it.

Social media provides communities for minorities rarely given a voice in the mainstream. Hamza Yusuf and Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan are among a spate of celebrity sheikhs that have connected online with global youth audiences.

They successfully market a homegrown western Islam, that despite their detractors is grounded in the world migrant kids can understand and for all its conservatism generally stress political participation and integration.

Mr Robb wants quick fixes and easy answers for the problem of radicalisation.

There is one simple one that I can offer free of charge.

The constant framing of the “Muslim” as a problem to be solved by politicians and media who use these communities to whip up ratings and dog whistle politics is a disgrace. It is far disproportionate to any risks posed.

It only adds to the genuine anguish of Muslim communities struggling against a small but virulent association of extremism with the added burden of racial aggression and hysteria.

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum ( Read the original article here (