Katharine Viner on Imperialist Feminism

Muslimah Pride (from muslimgirl.net)

Katherine Viner, for the Guardian, wrote a piece entitled “Feminism as imperialism”, subtitled, “George Bush is not the first empire-builder to wage war in the name of women.” A small section is excerpted below (as always I recommend reading the entire piece):

This cooption of feminism without a care for the women on the ground is not without consequences – although, predictably, it is not the colonisers who suffer them. Ahmed writes: “Colonialism’s use of feminism to promote the culture of the colonisers and undermine native culture has… imparted to feminism in non-western societies the taint of having served as an instrument of colonial domination, rendering it suspect in Arab eyes and vulnerable to the charge of being an ally of colonial interests.”

Indeed, many Muslim women are suspicious of western-style feminism for this very reason, a fact which it is crucial for feminists in the west to understand, before they do a Cromer and insist that the removal of veils is the route to all liberation. The growing Islamicisation of Arab societies and the neo-colonial impact of the war on terror has meant that, according to academic Sherin Saadallah, “secular feminism and feminism which mimics that of the west is in trouble in the Arab world”.

But just because Arab women are rejecting western-style feminism, it doesn’t mean they are embracing the subjugation of their sex. Muslim women deplore misogyny just as western women do, and they know that Islamic societies also oppress them; why wouldn’t they? But liberation for them does not encompass destroying their identity, religion or culture, and many of them want to retain the veil.

Reflecting this, a particular brand of Muslim feminism has developed in recent years which is neither westernised and secular nor Islamist and ultra-traditional, but instead is trying to dismantle the things which enforce women’s subjugation within the Islamic framework. Increasingly relevant and influential, Leila Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi are the most significant theoretical voices. (emphasis added)


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