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After reading Jasmine Opperman and Daniel Lebowitz’ latest op-ed titled, “Time to Rethink the Role of Women in Terrorism”, I felt oppressed. As a Muslim woman, I felt oppressed- the underlying insinuation throughout the article was that Muslim women are real terror threats, and that the only way to defeat terrorism is to be suspicious and even active in this suspicion against us. As a medical doctor, I felt oppressed- oppressed by the outlook generated by Opperman and Lebowitz (and in actual fact the West at large) which confines us to a more domestic role, denying me all the public spaces and accomplishments that I have achieved. Allow me to elaborate on the countless glaring loopholes that were present in this op-ed, as well as the ridiculously inflammatory and poorly researched piece that was the outcome of such analysis.

 

“Ironically, involvement in attacks, …allows the woman to gain the kind of gender equality often assumed to be lacking in traditional religious relationships. Empowerment is redefined in an extremist context.” This was the first assumption made by the writers, which not only falls into the category of stereotyped bigotry, but is also largely speculative. To assume that the only place Muslim women can find equality is in acts of violence is an assumption which leaves me highly offended. Contrary to popular belief, Muslim women have served as revolutionary and heroic characters throughout history, right until present day. However, in recent years, due to the global socio-political climate, the phrase “Muslim woman” might conjure an image of a demure un-empowered woman sheltered by her burqa, exactly the image Opperman and co. serve to perpetuate.

 

Beginning during the time of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH),  where Aisha bint AbuBakr, his wife, was widely respected and consulted as one of the most learned scholars, to the point where she corrected errors made by many scholars in the field of canonical jurisprudence and issued perfect interpretations of a number of religious rulings. This tradition of female priority had been passed on throughout the generations of great and influential Muslim women. The writers are obviously not aware that Fatima al-Fihri of Morocco was the founder of the oldest degree-granting university in the world. Al Qarawiyyin University is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records and UNESCO to be the oldest continuously operating institution of higher education in the world! While Hilary Clinton is using her womanhood as the reason she hasn’t been elected as president yet during her campaigns, notably saying ““I am a woman and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious..”  there is Atifete Jahjaga, a muslim woman, who served as the fourth President of Kosovo, was the first female President of the Republic of Kosovo, and youngest female head of state to be elected to the top office. She is surrounded by the current Prime Ministers of Bangladesh (Sheikh Hasina Wazed) and PM of Mali until 2015 (Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé) both of whom are Muslim women not finding their only gateway to gender equality in terrorist activities.

 

The second major fault in this piece is the underlying innuendo throughout that Muslim women are real terror threats. I am gravely concerned that through pieces like this, Opperman and Lebowitz are importing European Islamophobic views on Muslim women, which has impinged on their everyday living and led to them being viewed with suspicion and detest. It is dangerous to suggest, as the writers do, that Muslim women are to be profiled in a racist manner- profiling is a demeaning characteristic which has dehumanised victims of the “War on Terror”. In fact it is conveniently omitted that in the West’s quest to eliminate terror, defined singularly by one religion, the US has led a global rampage that every democracy-loving individual should be ashamed of. Through the emergence of ground-breaking discoveries, such as the Senate Torture Report, we have been enlightened to the exact extent of murder, torture, extrajudicial killings and attempts at legal justification against suspected Muslims. We have witnessed injustice being legalized. These extreme acts of violence and gross human rights violations have not been limited to men. The “War on Terror” has targeted women and children, it has imprisoned without charge women and children, it has murdered women and children.

 

If we are to move forward in a world where tolerance and open-mindedness are to be the order of the day, having pieces like this one published is most certainly no place to start. We should strive to combat stereotypes, speculations and assumptions that only serve to fuel hatred and sow the seeds of distrust amongst us.

Written by: Dr Aayesha J Soni

Vice Chairperson of the Media Review Network

 

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The aspiration of the Media Review Network is to dispel the myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster bridges of understanding among the diverse people of our country. The Media Review Network believes that Muslim perspectives on issues impacting on South Africans are a prerequisite to a better appreciation of Islam.
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