Sunday, December 20, 2015

What Motivates The Harassment and Violence Against Muslim Women in the US?

Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley writes in the Time Magazine about the violence and harassment of Muslim women in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. The headline (not usually picked by the author) argues that violence against Muslim women is racist and misogynist.

I feel like a worm for picking this particular article* as the example for my thesis (to be covered below), because Tinsley's message is mostly about the need for women to stand together and to defend those who are exposed to various hate crimes. She addresses women of color, in particular, and refers to the recent case of Larycia Hawkins, a Christian Wheaton College professor, who was suspended by the college for wearing the Muslim veil (in solidarity) during the Christian Advent period. And it can indeed be true that some anti-Muslim bigotry interacts with racism and misogyny.

At the same time, I disagree with the headline, because violence against Muslim women would probably exist even if** there was no racist or misogynist aspect in it. That's because it is largely fueled by anti-Muslim bigotry and general (and media-stoked) fear of Muslims.

These hate-attacks would be equally aimed at men if it was as easy to spot men of Muslim faith. But traditional Muslim women are much easier to spot, because their dress differs more from the general dress in the United States. The men have a certain privilege (heh) here, and can more easily become invisible to the haters.

This, in turn, links to the way the three ancient Abrahamic religions have coded female and male behavior, how literal interpretations of their holy texts place the burden of controlling sexuality on women, their dress and their general behavior, and how forgetting about those underlying injustices can color today's debates about religious freedom or religious rights, especially for women.

*  The reason I do it at all is that it helps to be precise in naming what might be behind certain types of hatred. 
** It's naturally impossible to know what's in the mind of someone harassing or attacking Muslim women. But I doubt that their first motive would be anything but religion-based.