Fatemeh Fakhraie's article "The dos and don’ts of defending Muslim women" has been widely circulated on feminist blogs. When I first read it, it disappointed me quite a bit. Today, after a while, I find it every bit as annoying as I did on the first reading.
The goal of Fakhraie's piece is to berate non-Muslim feminists for defending Muslim women in a manner she finds offensive and unacceptable and to suggest more productive ways for doing it. She confesses right away that anger is what motivates and colors her entire piece. The object of Fakhraie's anger isn't patriarchy or male domination, as one could have expected. Feminists are her real enemy. It is pretty obvious from the article that Fakhraie's stated goal of showing non-Muslim feminists a more productive way of defending Muslim women is pure sham. The wording and the tone of the article cannot but offend any one with an ounce of self-respect. So it's not the "correct" feminism that's being defended here as opposed to an intolerant, close-minded, Orientalizing version of the movement. What Fakhraie wants to defend is Islam. (Which is perfectly ok, of course. Recently, I saw a blog by someone who self-identifies as "a radical feminist and a housewife." After that, supporting Islam and feminism at the same time can hardly raise any questions.)
Fakhraie chooses the field of feminism to achieve her goal simply because of certain tendencies within today's liberal movements that bring together people who love being berated for their apparent "privilege." Progressive sites are filled with people who ardently denounce themselves for being privileged and never repenting enough for that. Fakhraie knows that as soon as she starts wagging her finger at them, they will absorb every shred of her contempt for them with an almost lascivious fervor (For the causes of this phenomenon, see my post on liberal guilt).
So, what are Fakhraie's dos and don'ts? The first one is arrogance, which is pretty funny coming from an author who produced the most arrogant piece of writing I have seen in a while. Fakhraie berates non-Muslim feminists for "the arrogant-but-sometimes-well-meaning “I know what’s best for you” attitude that flies in the face of respect for others’ lifestyles, worldviews, histories, and differences, and ignores or disrespects Muslim women’s personal agency." For a person who comes up with a list of what other people should or shouldn't do, this call for respecting "others’ lifestyles, worldviews, histories, and differences" is very curious. What if my worldview includes rejecting Islam (and any other monotheistic religion) because of its denigration of women? Is Fakhraie prepared to respect that? Is she prepared to respect a list of "dos and don'ts of talking to a non-Muslim feminist about Islam" that I might want to come up with?
Fakhraie's second point is prejudice which is "the refusal to listen to me or believe me when I tell you that Islam has given me wonderful things." I am personally more than willing to believe that Islam has given Fakhraie some wonderful things which she unfortunately avoids mentioning. I am equally willing to believe women who say it has given them some horrible experiences. There are tons of practices in the world that I find oppressive but that some of the objects of what I perceive as oppression find enjoyable.
Fakhraie's third don't is "the constant victim narrative that Muslim women are forced into." This comes from a person who writes an entire article to tell us how Muslim women are victimized, misunderstood, belittled and persecuted by the bad, mean and nasty feminists.
As for Fakhraie's list of what we should actually do to defend Muslim women, it is even more contradictory. here is the first one: "If a Muslim woman doesn’t ask you to be her voice or speak for her, don’t. If you wish to help a Muslim woman you feel is voiceless, help her get a voice. Never assume you have the right to speak on someone else’s behalf." If I didn't know that was impossible, this statement might lead me to assume that all these Muslim women on whose behalf Fakhraie is speaking in this very article personally asked her to do that.
The next series of commands are the most confusing and contradictory part of the article:
1. "Recognize that I might not view Islam or my culture the same way as you do". I most certainly recognize that. Now it would be great to have Fakhraie recognize that I might not view Islam or her culture the same way as she does.
2. "Don’t accept information about Islam from unqualified sources, especially those who don’t have my best interests in mind. " So now I'm expected to decide which sources have YOUR best interests in mind? And that wouldn't be condescending?
3. "Don’t demonize my faith or my culture or the men in my life, no matter what I say about them, no matter how bad my experiences have been or how I complain: they are my experiences to sort out, and no one else’s." Translation: listen to what I have to say, but don't dare have an opinion of your own.
Many people have tried in recent years to reconcile the anti-feminist message of the Bible, the Koran and the Torah with their liberal feminist values. In my opinion, these attempts always fail. You can't make a text say what it doesn't and deny what it actually does say. This is why the defense of a chauvinistic religion in feminist terms can only be done in this aggressive, shrieking, rambling, liberal-guilt-promoting tone.