“Wouldn’t it be fun if all the castles in the air which we make could come true, and we could live in them?” said Jo, after a little pause.
“I’ve made such quantities it would be hard to choose which I’d have,” said Laurie, lying flat and throwing cones at the squirrel who had betrayed him.”
Bringing together feminism and Islam or feminism and the Arab world, the same thing always happens on this side of the world. We exhaust all our forces in useless debates about the compatibility of both concepts, the eternal oxymoron that puts the same ones down, the measuring stick that we have invented to be applied in any society on the planet. It is exhausting but useful, because it never gets beyond this dispute.
Let’s stop for a moment. What are everyone’s favourite topics that always come up when talking about Islam from the West? The veil and terrorism. There is no debate beyond these matters. It does not delve into the Arab-Muslim past of these territories that we claim homeland. Nor in the looting of knowledge that we called our own. Those thorny issues are left out of the discussion. (Not much less than the values promoted by the Quran).
The new threat
All these efforts to belittle the other have a name: the Palestinian theorist Edward Saïd coined the term orientalism. There are orientalist books, orientalist movies, orientalist attitudes, orientalist politics, countless wars built on orientalist ideas. They are all based on the same thing: the need for a lower other to build ourselves as the top element. And that inferior other, obviously, lives on the other side of the Mediterranean; it is the Arab, Muslim, stunted, to whom progress has not reached him and his tradition has not yet perished in the clutches of modernity.
After the end of the Cold War, Islam came to be the great enemy to fight. With the disintegration of the communist threat, a new enemy was invented, devoted to a religion that went from being exotic to dangerous. In the construction of this rival, the other par excellence is born, in the words of Sirin Adlbi Sibai: the Muslim woman with hijab. The weakness of the East, of the newly released enemy, is symbolized in the ridiculed, sensualized and inferiorized representation of its women. Hand in hand with this image, we justify warlike incursions into Afghanistan that respond only to geopolitical interests, not to a disinterested concern for the rights of Afghan women.
Even today, by 2020, these mechanisms that present these women as inferior or submissive are perpetuated through the media or political discourses. There are infinite cases that journalism itself presents to us individual heroines “brave” enough to get out of the framework of submission that corresponds to them for having been born a woman, Muslim and across the sea, and … aspire to the West.
They are as submissive as we are free
Of course, Western feminist movements bought this idea because “the unfortunate representation that these discursive strategies construct of other women, automatically give us a very gratifying image of Western women as active, free and emancipated agents, where Western-style feminism it appears as the only possible path to follow to achieve freedom, progress and development.” Thus, we engage in eternal debates about whether a hijabi woman can call herself a feminist, or her moral irresponsibility with fellow Iranians or Saudi women for covering her head.
The result? Entertained in these discussions, we achieved the homogenization of tremendously diverse women with various struggles that we ignore, because they do not touch us, because they depart from our orientalist conception of these others. As we settle into this abyss between us, we fall squarely into a trap that makes us absolutely believe our supposed liberation in the West. Doesn’t another veil oppress us? “While the Ayatollahs consider women according to their use of the veil, in the West it is their round hips that point and marginalize her.” Amen, sister.
Altars for Sherezade
Confused by a piece of robbery that covers their heads and a faith that appears ignorant to us, we dwell in the perpetual question when we argue with a Muslim woman here, in our house and theirs. I, who was born an orphan of devotion, will not be the one who justifies it or who defames it. Perhaps they, under their fickle refuge, discover autonomy. “If the image is the main weapon that Westerners use to dominate women, the hijab of Muslim women in/from the West can be re-signified as the main counter-weapon from which the freedom of women to dispose of their bodies and their images is claimed and they are to be considered for their intellect and their personal capacities ”. Here, yes, in the West I buy this argument even if it ignores those accused of orientalists in defeating social pressure and dressing their hair with the wind. Beyond our borders, the debate is another.
But the weapons of an orientalist modernity have not only deprived them of a voice in the public space of which they are already part, but have also taken away the mirrors in which to reflect. This other par excellence lives in her own flesh the absence of female Muslim references to aspire to. These others advocate claiming them, because they know that Sherezade’s virtues resided in her abilities as a political strategist, not in her sensuality. From which the harems were emptied, where political exchanges and the ebullition of ideas with women’s firms abounded. With my pen, I will build an altar for them.