International: 'The Feminist Wire Controversy: A Documentary History'
The Feminist Wire is an online women's studies journal “founded by African American feminist scholars that is run collaboratively and with mutual respect and love by a diverse Collective that spans races, ethnicities, sexualities, class statuses, geographies, religions, and feminist perspectives." On April 13, they published an article by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, an English journalist who was then a member of their collective, entitled "What It Means to be an Ant-Racist Feminist in the 21st Century." The article argued against an equation being made in the blogosphere between the hoodie worn by Trayvon Martin, a black youth murdered by a vigilante in Florida, and the hijab worn by Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant woman found murderd in California, who had received a racist note. Said Wilde-Blavatsky
"What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men's desire to control women's appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it."
Two days later, The Feminist Wire published "What It Means to be an Anti-Racist Feminist in the 21st Century," a blistering response by a group of 77 "feminist writers, activists and academics," mostly based in the US, accusing the author of white racism. The original article and the response of the 77 are still available on Portside. The collective response but not the original article is still posted on Jadaliyya.
The Feminist Wire also opened their page to unmoderated comments, and a number were posted, some supportive of the original article, others quite abusive. Several days later, clearly alarmed, the editors removed the entire controversy from their pages, and also removed Wilde-Blavatsky from their editorial collective.
The Centre for Secular Space considers this an act of censorship. In order to keep these documents available, we are reposting them below, though cannot repost most of the comments because we did not copy them. What follows are:
DOCUMENT 1: Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, "To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals,” published by The Feminist Wire, April 13, 2012.
DOCUMENT 2: "What It Means to be an Anti-Racist Feminist in the 21st Century: A Collective Response to 'To Be Anti-Racist is to Be Feminist: The Hoodie and Hijab are Not the Same,'" published by The Feminist Wire, April 15, 2012
DOCUMENT 3: “Comment,” posted by Meredith Tax on April 17, 2012
DOCUMENT 4: “The Feminist Wire Responds,” April 19, 2012.
DOCUMENT 5: “Hoodies and Hijabs Are Not the Same,” published onFreethoughtblogs, including international letter of support.
DOCUMENT 6: Adele Wilde-Blavatsky response, April 25, 2012.
DOCUMENT 7: Letter of support from Fatou Sow, Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws
DOCUMENT 1: Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, "To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals,” published by The Feminist Wire, April 13, 2012.
Last month, an American-born Iraqi woman, Shaima Alawadi, was viciously murdered in the United States. According to reports, her daughter stated that a racist note was left outside the family home before the attack. Alawadi's death came shortly after another allegedly racially-motivated murder, that of African-American man Trayvon Martin. CNN reported:
..social media users quickly compared Alawadi's death to that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, calling both hate crimes, and drawing a parallel between a hijab and a hoodie... On Sunday morning, the authors of the parenting Blog, Momstrology, tweeted: `A teen murdered for wearing hooded sweater. An Iraqi woman beaten to death for wearing a head scarf. Our hearts ache for you.'
To be clear, murder or violence motivated by hatred based on skin color, race, age, gender, or sexuality is wrong and should be condemned.
A `One Million Hoodies' march was organised to demand justice for Martin. As Brendan O'Neill argued, this use of the hoodie is questionable enough. The wearing of `One million hijabs' to show public solidarity and outrage at the murder of Alwadi? I cannot think of anything more ironic and counter-productive.
What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men's desire to control women's appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it. The history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different; like comparing the crippling footbindings of Chinese women with a `Made in China' Nike trainer.
So why has the anti-racist debate taken this rather bizarre turn?
The Misplaced Sanctity of Culture
A common liberal response to this issue is that if Alawadi (and other Muslim women) had freely chosen to wear the hijab or burqa - in the same way that some women freely choose to have breast implants - then it could be a symbol of racial pride and identity; and any criticism of their choice is cultural prejudice. Germaine Greer, the renowned Australian feminist, made similar comments about female genital mutilation (FGM) as practiced by women of African origin both inside and outside Africa. In The Whole Woman, Greer argued that attempts to outlaw FGM amounted to "an attack on cultural identity", adding: "One man's (sic) beautification is another man's mutilation."
Even if we accept that some women make such choices `freely' (which is clearly debatable), this response conflates two issues. First, the freedom to choose something (if we take that to mean the absence of `obvious' force); and second, the ethics of the choice itself. I am not a cultural relativist like Greer and think her views on FGM represent `a misplaced sanctity of culture'. If we become cultural relativists on human rights, then it also means we cannot question a woman's `choice' to become a prostitute, a hardcore porn star, or to engage in endless amounts of plastic surgery and dieting. All highly questionable choices for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, unless such practices are clearly non-consensual or cause significant physical harm to women and girls (such as FGM), then they need not be banned either.
I am a libertarian at heart.
Whether it's a hijab or a mini-skirt, the question we must ask is the same. When women `choose' to wear these clothes, is it really a free choice? What does such clothing represent in their culture and why? Is it worn predominantly to please religious leaders and men, to fit in, to be accepted, and (for some women) to avoid punishment?
`It's Not Tradition, It's Archaic'
This is not neo-colonialism either. Muslim feminists have spoken out against the burqa and hijab, and even supported the French ban in schools. Fadela Amara explained her support for France's ban:
“The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular spaces of France's public school system.”
When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the grounds of "tradition", Amara vehemently disagreed:
“They define liberty and equality according to what colour your skin is. They won't denounce forced marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they say, it's tradition. It's nothing more than neocolonialism. It's not tradition, it's archaic. French feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French feminists supported them. But when it's some young girl in a French suburb’s school, they don't.”
Z.M. Hosseini also recently argued in Criminalising Sexuality that the patriarchal rulings on the hijab are used even today to sanction control over women's bodies and freedom, and that it was only recently that the hijab became a marker of Muslim identity and faith. Author and human rights campaigner Malalai Joya, often referred to as `the bravest woman in Afghanistan', one of the fiercest critics of the Afghan government and the foreign occupation of her country, recently referred to the burqa as `disgusting'.
Other women are taking more direct radical action to challenge the dogma of the hijab. Egyptian naked blogger Aliaa Mahdy addresses the notion that a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen by showing that nakedness and sex can become weapons of political resistance. Similarly, this week in Paris, Femen feminists from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa came together to join forces and protest. Among the participants were Iranian human rights activist Mariam Namazi, popular Lebanese actress Darina Al Jondy, and well-known French feminist of Arabian origin Safia Lebdi.
Nakedness and sexuality have long been effective weapons in the feminist arsenal (bra-burning and free love). However, feminists take note: (as Greer also later claimed) this `sexual revolution' was also hijacked by a male-dominated and misogynistic media who managed to sell back to women a distorted form of sexual freedom and nudity that was more about pleasing and servicing men's sexual desires than genuine liberation. It has not all been a waste of time, though. A small minority of women who benefited from the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s do have far more freedom and control over their bodies than ever before.
I have heard some Muslim men (and women) claim that the hijab can be used to challenge and reclaim the idea of female freedom from the hyper-sexualized porno West with an alternative idea of sexuality and femininity about covering up, modesty, mystery, and so on. Nice as it sounds, it is the classic virgin/whore false dichotomy, yet again.
Whatever women wear (or don't) to challenge their oppressors, it is important not to lose sight of the root source of their bondage. Let's not forget amidst the public cries of `racism', the silent truth that the killers of both Martin and Alawadi were men.
Racism and a Global Culture of Male Supremacy and Violence
The chief problem with much of the mainstream anti-racist debate is its failure to recognize the gender dimension. Focusing an anti-racist gaze on a person's skin color alone misses one of the most crucial aspects of racist violence: patriarchal power and domination.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that ALL men are racists, sexists, or violent either. As Hollywood actress Ashley Judd recently stated, in response to the media's obsession with her own physical appearance:
“Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women.”
The fact that Martin's murder generated far more headlines, public outrage, and support shows that a man's death is still considered worse than a woman's. Yet, with three women per week in the U.S. being murdered by their former or ex- partners, why is that? Paying lip-service to the notion of equality and justice, by tagging Alawadi's death on to Martin's murder, insults everyone's intelligence.
The equating of the hoodie with the hijab misrepresents and denies the root source of Alawadi's murder. Ironically, Alawadi and her family fled to the United States trying to escape the effects of state-sanctioned male aggression and violence, otherwise known as the 1991 Persian Gulf War. By wearing the hijab in the U.S., Alawadi was doing the `right thing' by the Iraqi patriarchal `team'. Yet, it produced the opposite effect in men from the U.S. 'team'. This clash of patriarchal ideologies on the issue of female sexuality and physical appearance certainly exposed the hatred of `other', that other being `woman'. Alawadi's `mistake' (like all women blamed for victimhood) was not fitting the home team's vision of appropriate femininity and freedom.
It really is time to re-frame the tired, mainstream debate on racism.
Racism is not skin-deep: white vs. non-white. If that were the case, then why has there been centuries of caste discrimination and violence in countries like India? Why are Muslim women beaten and murdered by Muslim men for refusing to wear the hijab ? How did both these deaths occur in a country that is led by a black male President? How does it explain the fact that about 150 black men are killed every week in the U.S. - and 94 percent of them by other black men? This is not to play the `race card' nor the `violence card'. This is to make sure we do not miss the major problem.
The social constructs and divisions of race are clearly drawn by those who hold and control religious, economic, and cultural power. So however much mainstream anti-racist discourse claims this is about race, or fear of `hijabs' and `terrorists', this is too simplistic. Scratch the surface and what is underlying racist fear and violence is an all-pervasive global culture of male power and domination. If people want to see an end to racism, and I certainly do, then we need to see an end to the celebration and perpetuation of patriarchal norms, values, and institutions. In the twenty-first century, to be anti-racist is to be feminist.
As Shaima Alawadi tragically discovered, whether it is white men in the U.S. or brown men in Iraq, women are literally `damned if they do and damned if they don't'.
Dedicated to all the brave, beautiful, and forgotten women who have been raped, tortured, murdered (and blamed), for not wearing `suitable' clothes.
DOCUMENT 2: "What It Means to be an Ant-Racist Feminist in the 21st Century:A Collective Response to 'To Be Anti-Racist is to Be Feminist: The Hoodie and Hijab are Not the Same,'" published by The Feminist Wire, April 15, 2012
To our friends and allies at The Feminist Wire:
It is with loving concern with which we, the undersigned feminist writers, activists and academics from diverse racial, religious, economic, and political backgrounds, write to this brilliant collective today.
An article recently published on The Feminist Wire's website and circulated via its facebook page has prompted this note. In her article, "To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals," Adele Wilde-Blavatsky attempts to address the important question of what it means to be an anti-racist feminist in the 21st century. Her article, however, serves to assert white feminist privilege and power by producing a reductive understanding of racial and gendered violence and by denying Muslim women their agency.
In her article, Wilde-Blavatsky takes "issue with ... the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity." Oblivious to the important cross-racial and cross-ethnic connections and solidarities made in light of the tragic murders of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi, the author contends that the hoodie and the hijab cannot be compared because "the history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different." For her, Trayvon Martin's hoodie signifies a history of racism, whereas Shaima Alawadi's hijab signifies only male domination and female oppression. Revealing her own biases, Wilde-Blavatsky writes, "The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men's desire to control women's appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is achoice for everyone who wears it" (emphasis in original).
As readers on The Feminist Wire facebook page and website began to object to the piece, a respondent posting as "The Feminist Wire" (who later identified herself to be Wilde- Blavatsky), attempted to counter some of these objections by obfuscating whiteness and showcasing a lack of knowledge of the history and function of the hijab. To defend her position, the author cited her intimate connections with people of colour and informed her critics that "acknowledging the differences between women in terms of race, religion and culture" was politically divisive. We know these to be common defensive responses from those in positions of privilege. And our response is as common: "Listen."
As feminists from diverse backgrounds, we value challenging, difficult, and necessary conversations on patriarchal violence within all our communities. We also recognize the importance of having an honest discussion about how racial hierarchies, discrimination, and prejudice differently impact racialized communities (for example, as blacks, Muslims and/or black Muslims). What we do find deeply problematic, however, is the questioning of women's choice to wear the niqab and the presumption that this decision is rooted in a "false consciousness."
We also take issue with Wilde-Blavatsky's depiction of the violent motivations behind Alawadi's murder. Wilde-Blavatsky states, "Scratch the surface and what is underlying racist fear and violence is an all-pervasive global culture of male power and domination." In writing this, the author has all but stripped women of colour of an intersectional understanding of violence against women, one that is attuned to both patriarchal and racist violence. Instead, Muslim women and women of colour feminists are reduced to a piece of cloth and the experiences of people of colour and practioners of an increasingly racialized and demonized religion are repeatedly questioned and denied.
To us, it is deeply troubling to be patronized by a person who insists the hijab is never a choice made of free will. But what is even more saddening is that such opinions are being propagated on a feminist site with a commitment to highlighting the consequences of the "ill-fated pursuit of wars abroad and the abandonment of a vision of social justice at home." The consequences of such wars have included the demonization, incarceration, and oppression of Muslim men, women, and children at home and abroad.
Wilde-Blavatsky's desire to see "women as human beings first and foremost" is admirable. However, for many of us, the category of "women" is not singularly understood. We live our lives not simply as women but as people with complex, diverse, and intersecting identities. These identities - including religious, racial, and sexual identities - are not universal, absolute, or stagnant. Recognizing this is essential for building solidarity among feminists and our allies.
As feminists deeply committed to challenging racism and Islamophobia and how it differentially impacts black and Muslim (and black Muslim) communities, we wish to open up a dialogue about how to build solidarities across complex histories of subjugation and survival. This space is precisely what is shut down in this article. In writing this letter, we emphasize that our concern is not solely with Adele Wilde-Blavatsky's article but with the broader systemic issues revealed in the publication of a work that prevents us from challenging hierarchies of privilege and building solidarity.
We hope The Feminist Wire will take our concerns to heart and initiate an honest conversation about privilege, racism, and Islamophobia within feminist collectives and movements.
Ziad Abu-Rish, PhD Candidate, Department of History, University of California Los Angeles
Sophia Azeb, PhD Student, American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California
Abbie Bakan, Professor and Head of Gender Studies, Queen's University
Nancy Barrickman, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Waterloo
Liat Ben-Moshe, University of Illinois Chicago
Simone Browne, Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Syeda Nayab Bukhari, PhD Candidate, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University
Lisa Bunghalia, PhD Candidate, Geography, Syracuse University
Fathima Cader, MA, JD, University of British Columbia
Carolyn Castaño, Los Angeles based artist
Josh Cerretti, PhD Candidate, Global Gender Studies, SUNY Buffalo
Sylvia Chan-Malik, Assistant Professor (incoming July 2012), Departments of American and Women and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
Piya Chatterjee, Association Professor, Department of Women Studies, University of California Riverside
Sabina Chatterjee, Centre for the Study of Gender, Social Inequities and Mental Health, Simon Fraser University
Elora Halim Chowdhury, Associate Professor, Department of Women's Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston
Christopher Churchill, Assistant Professor, History and Global Studies, Alfred University
Maria E. Cotera, Associate Professor, Program in American Culture/Latino Studies, Department of Women's Studies, University of Michigan
Jessica Danforth (Yee), Executive Director, The Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Huma Dar, UC Berkeley
Lamis J. Deek, NY-based Arab-Muslim Organizer-Activist- Attorney, JD 2003
Amal Eqeiq, PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, University of Washington - Seattle
Maria Hantzopoulos, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Vassar College
Zillah Eisenstein, Professor of Political Theory and Anti-racist Feminisms, Ithaca College
Nassim Elbardouh, Gender, Sexuality, and Women Studies Alum., Simon Fraser University
Lisa Factora-Borchers, feminist writer and editor
Carol Fadda-Conrey, Assistant Professor, English Department, Syracuse University
Meaghan Frauts, PhD Student, Queen's University
Trieneke Gastmeier, MA Public Issues Anthropology
Macarena Gomez Barris, Associate Professor, University of Southern California
Jasmin Habib, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo
Lisa Hajjar, Sociology Department, University of California Santa Barbara
Deborah Heath, Director, Gender Studies, Lewis & Clark College
Fatima Jaffer, Interdisciplinary Studies PhD Student, University of British Columbia
Suad Joseph, University of California Davis
J Kehaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, Wesleyan University
Dr. Laleh Khalili, Senior Lecturer in Politics of the Middle East, Research Tutor, Centre for Gender Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies
Farrah Khan, Violence Against Women Counselor & Advocate, Toronto, Canada
Molly Kraft, Geography MA, University of British Columbia
Jennifer A. Liu, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Waterloo
Jenna Loyd, Department of Geography, Syracuse University
Lorraine Halinka Malcoe, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University
Eli Manning, Gender, Sexualities and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University
Theresa McCarthy, Assistant Professor, American/Native American Studies, Department of Transnational Studies, SUNY Buffalo
Anne Meneley, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Trent University
Dian Million, Assistant Professor, American Indian Studies, University of Washington
Salma Mirza, Third World History Student, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, Sociology, and the Cultural Foundations of Education & Dean's Professor of the Humanities, Syracuse University
Scott Morgensen, Department of Gender Studies, Queen's University
Amitis Motevalli, Iranian and Los Angeles based artist
Catherine Murray, Chair, Gender, Sexualities and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University
Nadine Naber, Associate Professor of American Culture and Women's Studies, University of Michigan
Mary-Jo Nadeau, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto Mississauga
Marcy Newman, Independent Scholar
Dana M. Olwan, Ruth Wynn Woodward Junior Chair and Assistant Professor, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, Simon Fraser University
Margaret Aziza Pappano, Associate Professor, Department of English, Queen's University
Melanie Richter-Montpetit, York University
Krista Riley, Editor-in-Chief, Muslimah Media Watch
Robin L. Riley, Assistant Professor, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, Syracuse University
Judy Rohrer, Assistant Professor in Residence, Women's Studies Program, University of Connecticut
Samah Sabra, Canadian Studies, Carleton University
Dr. Jillian Schwedler, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts
Sherene Seikaly, Assistant Professor, Department of History, The American University in Cairo
Simona Sharoni, Professor and Chair, Gender and Women's Studies Department, SUNY Plattsburgh
Tamara Lea Spira, President's Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California Davis
Itrath Syed, PhD Student, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University
Farha Ternikar, Associate Professor of Sociology, Director of Peace and Global studies, Le Moyne College, Syracuse
Sunera Thobani, Associate Professor, Centre for Women's and Gender Studies, University of British Columbia
Elizabeth Tremante, LA Art Girls
Amina Wadud, Visiting Scholar, Starr King School for the Ministry
Harsha Walia, activist, writer, co-founder of No One Is Illegal, Radical Desis, and Anti-Authoritarian People of Colour Northwest Network
Theresa Warburton, PhD Candidate, Global Gender Studies, SUNY Buffalo
Waziyatawin, PhD, Indigenous Peoples Research Chair and Associate Professor, University of Victoria
Laura Whitehorn, New York Taskforce for Political Prisoners
Bekah Wolf (Abu Maria), Social Justice Activist, U.S./Palestine
Valerie Zink, Editor/Publisher, Briarpatch Magazine
DOCUMENT 3: “Comment,” posted on The Feminsit Wire page by Meredith Tax on April 17, 2012
Why should a group of—count them—77 “feminist writers, activists, and academics” have thought it necessary to write a blistering critique of a blog by a young writer of whom they had probably never heard? Was their purpose to make sure this young woman never wrote anything again? Or to prevent the Feminist Wire from publishing anything in future that might controvene the orthodoxy of identity politics?
I have been doing free speech work for the last twenty-five years, first in PEN, then as President of a global free speech network of feminist writers called Women’s WORLD (Women’s World Organization for Rights, Literature and Development), and now in the Centre for Secular Space. To me, this heavy handed response smacks of a censorship campaign. Say the seventy-seven:
“Adele Wilde-Blavatsky attempts to address the important question of what it means to be an anti-racist feminist in the 21st century. Her article, however, serves to assert white feminist privilege and power by producing a reductive understanding of racial and gendered violence and by denying Muslim women their agency.”
Clearly this is meant to end the discussion. Why discuss anything with someone who is racism incarnate—as is shown by her “questioning of women's choice to wear the niqab.”
Are all women who question this choice racist by definition? What about women in Iran who risk jail for being “mal-hijab?” What about Muslim women in Nigeria who want to wear their traditional head-wraps rather than the burquas being pushed by Saudi-financed mullahs? Do these women have agency? Or do women have agency only when they wear the veil?
Feminists should be encouraging discussion of such questions rather than trying to shut it down. Congratulations to the editors of the Feminist Wire for having had the guts to publish something controversial.
Meredith Tax. US Director, Centre for Secular Space
DOCUMENT 4: “The Feminist Wire Responds,” April 19, 2012.
On April 13th, TFW published the article “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals.” The piece provoked a vociferous response on the TFW website, on our Facebook page, and throughout the sphere of social media. The exchanges—which quickly morphed from civil dialogue to hostile debate from many quarters—also prompted a deep level of soul-searching among members of the TFW Collective.
The content of the article was called into question by many, as was TFW’s mission and commitment to multiple feminist viewpoints. Most troubling, TFW was cast as racist and colonialist, and many readers wondered why the piece was allowed to be published in the first place. As we struggled to identify an appropriate response that would support dialogue and conversation, rather than just fuel the flames, we were given the opportunity by a group of feminist writers, activists, and academics to publish their collective response to the said article. That response appeared atTFW on April 14th. (However, due to an appeal to legal action, it has since been removed.)
Both the original article and the response (due to an appeal to legal action, both have been removed) have generated unprecedented readership and social media sharing, suggesting that the topics—women and Islam, Muslim feminism, race, religion, and violence—are urgent and must continue to be discussed. However, theTFW Collective was saddened by the level of vitriol leveled by some of our readers, and by the degree of intolerance expressed by many participants in the exchanges. We made the decision to “let it play out” by not censoring or even moderating the commentary. Unfortunately, the author of the original article responded to some of the Facebook comments under the TFW handle rather than her own—which led some of our loyal readers to question our commitments.
We have written this statement for several reasons, including the confusion over authorship of the Collective Statement published on April 14th—which was not written by our TFW Collective. But in large part we share this response because we, collectively, cannot remain silent in the fury of this exchange. Our intention is not to fan flames, or to point fingers, or to defend ourselves. We are human beings deeply engaged in feminist, anti-racist work, and sometimes we may call it wrong. We offer a sincere apology to readers who were hurt, angered, and offended by the author of the said article and her initial responses, and we have amongst ourselves spent countless hours in discussions about the issues raised. But we also recognize that many of our articles challenge and provoke; this is the nature of feminist criticism, which inevitably activates other structural locations and intersections.
Sadly, the Internet also swirled with many rumors about TFW in the wake of this incident, rumors that circled back to us via our multiple feminist, anti-racist, activist networks. So we offer this statement also as an opportunity to clarify and to reiterate TFW’s mission: We are fundamentally committed to feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist critique and commentary. We are a site founded by African American feminist scholars that is run collaboratively and with mutual respect and love by a diverse Collective that spans races, ethnicities, sexualities, class statuses, geographies, religions, and feminist perspectives.
Let us be clear: Not all of us agreed with the argument expressed in the original article, nor did all of us agree with the statements expressed in the Collective Response on April 14th. We are diverse, and we absolutely support different viewpoints. But collectively, we all recognize that the author of the original article and especially her Facebook responses failed to advance TFW’s mission. And, more corrosively, the incident eroded trust among the Collective and among our readership, and we have taken, are taking steps to reinstitute that trust.
As part of our efforts to move forward, we are undertaking a series of initiatives, which will include, among others, a call for articles for a forum on Muslim feminism/women and Islam that will be guest edited by prominent scholars, writers, and activists in this area. We are also engaged in expanding our Collective to include even more diverse voices, recognizing of course that TFW cannot do it all; we cannot represent all viewpoints, nor can we be “the” voice of feminism. Yet we can continue to provide a space for multiple expressions of feminist, anti-racist critique and commentary, and we welcome your participation.
In peace and solidarity,
The TFW Collective
DOCUMENT 5: Maryam Namazie, “Hoodies and Hijabs Are Not the Same,” published on Freethoughtblogs, including international letter of support.
A few days ago, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote ‘To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and the Hijab Are Not Equals‘ on The Feminist Wire. In response, 77 feminists wrote an open letter accusing Adele of racism and Islamophobia (surprise, surprise). Both Adele’s original article and the open letter are no longer available on The Feminist Wire (but can be found via the links above) due to an ‘appeal to legal action’.
In support of Adele, we sent in the following statement that was published on portside.org:
“We extend our full solidarity to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky for such a clear and rare analysis from feminists in Europe and North America, in which women’s resistance to the Muslim Right -including by resisting all forms of fundamentalist veiling – is made visible and honoured, rather than sacrificed on the altar of anti racism and anti imperialism.”
* Marieme Helie Lucas, sociologist, Algeria, founder and former international coordinator of the international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws ( wluml), coordinator Secularism Is A Women’s Issue
* Fatou Sow, Researcher, Senegal, international coordinator, Women Living Under Muslim Laws
* Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, Iran/UK
* Karima Bennoune, Professor of Law, Rutgers University, U S A
* Khawar Mumtaz, Shirkat Gah, Pakistan
Of course a lot more can and must be said on this important matter and we all plan to write more in the coming days but we wanted to get something out quickly in support of Adele hence the brief statement above.
You’re welcome to register your support in the comments section below since The Feminist Wire has shut down any discussion on the matter.
Meredith Tax of Centre for Secular Spaces has already written something on this. She says:
…Clearly this is meant to end the discussion. Why discuss anything with someone who is racism incarnate – as is shown by her “questioning of women’s choice to wear the niqab.”
Are all women who question this choice racist by definition? What about women in Iran who risk jail for being “mal- hijab?” What about Muslim women in Nigeria who want to wear their traditional head-wraps rather than the burquas being pushed by Saudi-financed mullahs? Do these women have agency? Or do women have agency only when they wear the veil?
Feminists should be encouraging discussion of such questions rather than trying to shut it down.
Khawar Mumtaz writes:
In the US, I am told, an “authentic” Muslim woman is the one who is in some form of hijab or veil. The rest, I suppose, are fakes or pretenders. Talk about stereo-typing! And coming from feminists is alarming.
DOCUMENT 6: Adele Wilde-Blavatsky response, April 25, 2012.
Dear Maryam and all the women in your letter who have publicly supported the publication of my article and condemned the censorship and threat of legal action by TFW, thank you. My voice has been bullied and censored into silence. I am currently exploring other forums where my article can be re-published with a postscript explaining what happened at TFW afterwards.
To summarise, the article was completely undermined by the majority of TFW (there were some dissenters) and I was defamed by many women online as a ‘racist’ and ‘white supremacist’. References to my mixed-race family were mocked as my using my ‘ties’ to ‘non-white bodies’ to ‘obfuscate my whiteness’. My Buddhist views were mocked. Other Muslim women or women of colour who supported and agreed with me publicly were either ignored or told they needed to read certain North American academic textbooks.
The TFW Collective after publishing two responses to my article then decided (without my being present) to remove me from the editorial collective, and I was informed of this in a curt email from the Founder. I was then threatened with legal action if made any more posts that TFW members of the collective has seen and approved my article as ‘excellent’ before it was published. When I then counter-responded that I would sue them for defamation if they did not remove defamatory comment about me and my family from their website and social media, they responded by deleting both my article and their initial response, again without any consultation.
This censorship and hostility is unacceptable in any open, free debate on the issue of patriarchal values and dominance in religion and in racist violence against women (and men). Thank you again for your support. I will let you know where and when the article is re-published.
DOCUMENT 7: Letter of support from Fatou Sow, Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws
I again congratulate you on your wonderful courage. You are absolutely right: the hoodie is not the hijab. As an African Muslim woman, no one can convince me that the headscarf and the Islamic veil are signs of my female or Muslim identities. I am sorry that such brilliant women have taken up their pens to condemn your arguments as white supremacy. That is facile, when so many women in the world fight against these injustices. I urge you to continue writing to express your anger against all of these alienations that mark us in body and spirit. Please be assured of my support and my friendship.