A Girl With a Hijab in Playboy or The Hatred of Women

A girl wearing a hijab is interviewed in Playboy! The world goes berserk! Liberals are super happy! The religious ones gets furious!

And most people, according to me, are missing the point.

This is what happened: A woman from a religious and/or ethnic minority is represented in a mainstream magazine famous for it’s exhibition of scantily dressed women. The woman, Nour Tagouri, is featured due to her profession, she’s a journalist, and she’s not dressed like one of the women who usually features in the Playboy photos; undressed. No, she’s well dressed but good looking and makes some facial expressions as if she has an attitude, or, as the interviewer puts it, “badass”.

Now we’re living in a women hating world, women from minorities are usually more severely attacked, and some cultures and countries are worse when it comes to it’s treatment of women – legally, culturally, socially. Women from these groups are often believed to be oppressed by people in the West, even though we don’t know their individual situation.

At the same time, the men’s magazines are still here, in the 21st century, where women who value themselves in terms of their looks and bodies are featured again and again.

That’s why I’m all for representation, the kind if representation that portray the individual as an individual, and not describes a person in a stereotypical way. But Nour Tagouri, while not being portrayed as an oppressed, voiceless Arab woman, now falls into the trap of being included in a sexist context. When liberals appreciate this move, they fail to recognise that Nour is now being included in another stereotypical context. When religious people criticise her for not being honourable enough, they put her in the context of having to be an obedient woman.

But a woman in a hijab featured in Playboy is not a sign of victory for the group she represents. It’s the sign of women who hate themselves, and that sometimes, us women don’t need men to bring us down. Our internalised misogyny works perfectly well itself.

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All Religious Groups Should Show their Support for the LBGT Community Now. But Will They?

Catching my breath after the Orlando massacre on innocent visitors at a gay club. I have been wondering if any of my American friends could have been around, especially any of my gay friends; also my cousin is gay and living in US since a few years, but none of them have been in Orlando, so I’m fine. For now.

After a while, a photo was shared by the Swedish Islam Academy, a respected institute in Southern Sweden, with a statement commenting on the massacre. I read it, curiously. Would the Islam Academy take a stance for equal rights for the LBGT community? Would they condemn attacks on homosexuals? This kind of reconciliation would be very needed in this moment.

This is what the message from the Islam Academy said (my translation):

“Another terror attack has affected innocent civilian people. This attack is unfortunately not the first one and probably not the last. While terrorist groups are being affected by military losses in the Middle East we will probably see more cowardly terrorist attacks affect different parts of the world. Regardless of whether the people who perform these attacks are lone maniacs or organised groups, these attacks are being born out of the same evil ideology. An evil and devilish ideology that has nothing to do with God or Religion. 

This violence that these terrorist groups are performing are affecting Christians, Jews, and others, but they are even affecting Muslims. They easily blow up a church, a synagogue, a dance club as well as they blow up a mosque.

The lastest act was directed towards a LGBT club in Orlando, USA. For the vast majority of Muslims, there is no doubt that this act is pure evil that needs to be condemned. It is important to clarify that regardless of Islam’s or Muslims’ views on LGBT issues, this cowardly killing of civilians can not be legitimised by Islam and the traditional Muslim faith. Muslims and Muslim organisations around the world have clearly condemned this terrorist act, like they condemn other acts of violence that affect civilians and innocent people.

It is also important in the context to remind that the Syrian and Iraqi people are constantly being affected by this violence and this evil. We can never forget their suffering and exposure. We continuously need to pray and actively work for a quick and impartial end of the conflict.

Our thoughts and prayers goes out to all people around the world that are being affected by unjustified violence. We ask God to remain the security and safety in our country, Sweden, and around the world. We also ask God to strengthen and protect our Muslim brothers and sisters from potential reprisals.

Peace!

 Signed by the chairman of the Islam Academy.

How did I feel after reading the lengthy message? The answer can be summarised by one word: disappointed.
Why? We all know that many people around the world are being victimised again and again and again. This is not something new. In Uganda, gay people are being oppressed by the state, sometimes even lynched by mobs. In DRC Congo, different rebel groups have been trying to outmatch each other in a race to the bottom, where massacres have been outranking one another. In Afghanistan, the ethnic minority group Hazara people have continuously been victims of deadly attacks. In Egypt, the Christian minority have been subjects of massacres several times.
I was disappointed, and I wish I could have told the Islam Academy this:
One victimised group doesn’t oust another one. When one group have been victimised, massacred, killed; please don’t suddenly bring up another victimised group that you are fond of. You mentioned the Syrian and Iraqi people, but there are many, many more, and it doesn’t really make sense. This time, it was the already oppressed LGBT community that was being brutally massacred by a lone ranger who believed he had support in the Islamic State (and he did), and maybe he believed he had support other Islamic groups? All religious groups have had a low tolerans towards the LGBT communities historically – and being a religious community, you need to show that this is wrong. Otherwise there is a great potential for future lone rangers to believe that they have the right to perform similar massacres again.
Show the LGBT community compassion during these hard times, this community and no others, just during this difficult time. There is a time and place for everything, and this time, it’s their time. And what’s more important: show that you respect human rights for everyone. Show that you respect human rights for the international LGBT community.
Now is not the time to point at other massacres. Now is the time to show compassion to this very group that have been victimised. Show that you can see the bigger picture. If you do this, I won’t have to be disappointed with you.
Unfortunately, I’m not in touch with the Islam Academy personally. That’s why I, instead, decided to share my views here. I hope that they might read it. And if they won’t, maybe some of their sympathisers. Now is the time to stand up for the rights if the LGBT community. For all of us.

How to Fuck up Your Kids Using Religion as a Tool

Do you have a hatred inside you that you wish to transfer to your children? Do you channel the hatred by religion? Is hate more important to you than children feeling safe and loved? This piece is for You.

Dear Hater,

This is how You should roll it.

Speak directly the kids that You want to transfer the hate to – Your kids, Your grandkids, other kids that You are taking care of or have an influence over, kids that are dependant on You and Your care in order to feel safe and secure, and therefore have no other or little other reference they can relate to, no other safety net, no other strong role models that they can rely on instead, when You start your hateful indoctrination.

Tell the kids that there is A Certain Religion that is bad, simply bad with no specific reason. Tell the kids that whoever belongs to That Religion is dirty, unclean, unfaithful, greedy, cheap. Any negative adjective You can use – use it for That Certain Religion.

Use a stereotype for anyone coming from That Certain Religion. Tell the children about the certain features of that religion. These people have certain hair colours, noses, facial features. That’s how you can tell they belong to That Religion.

The people from That Religion is all bad. Everything they do, they’re bad. You can never be friends with them. You can never go to school with them. You can never be neighbours with them. You can never work with them. This, the children needs to know. Before they start school, they need to know. They can never accept other people as individuals. Everything should be filtered in the dirty filter that You use for life.

Does anyone in the children’s extended family belong  to That Religion? Did they, God forbid, marry an outcast who belongs to That Religion? Did someone make the unforgivable crime of converting? Tell the children that all these people that have committed that unforgivable sin will be punished for what they did. Family or not, religion cuts through everything. They don’t celebrate the same religious occasions as You and the children do, and therefore, they are bad. They will never be able to enter certain religious places because of their religion. Even when life is over, when they’re dead, they won’t find peace. They will burn in hell. Hell, to children, is scary. Use that fear as an incitement. Fear filters everything. Fear is a useful filter against love. Fear is a useful filter against happiness.

You hope that You succeed. Succeeding in passing on the hate is,  first and foremost, the ultimate goal for the children that You care for.

But wait! Somehow, with one child or more, You were not successful. The children grow up, slowly but steadily along a rocky path, and where fear had it’s way, hate somehow didn’t make it. They could not buy the concept of hate, but they could not resist the concept of fear. Confusion and anxiety took the place where You hoped hatred would be.

You did not succeed. The children are not haters the way You hoped. But they are not secure, happy, grown up persons. Any hateful comments, they flinch and dodge. Any hateful comment, they might attack. Any hateful comment, it hurts them as if a bullet went straight to their heart.

You have made everything poisoned. Any religious holiday, any family gathering, it’s all attached to the fear and confusion, to the hatred You hoped would be planted in their heart.

You have succeeded, but You have not succeeded. You have created a damaged, fearful person where You hoped hatred would have been a part of the child, now the grown up person’s, spine. The hate have stopped, but the pain hasn’t. The pain probably never will. You have succeeded, but You have not succeeded. Where You wanted a strong hate to take place, something else took it’s place.

In the worst case for You, the grown up child recent everything that You were standing for. The grown up child might recent You and Your ways, even long after You have left this life. But the grown up child is still not happy. Still not secure. They are just fucked up. But they won’t carry on Your hate. This means, You have really not succeeded at all.

Regards,

Someone who’s not carrying on with Your hate

Non-Religious Doesn’t Mean Open-minded, Religious Doesn’t Mean Close-minded. Got It?

There’s so much talk of religions nowadays and many, especially in the West, seem to presume that being religious automatically makes you close-minded, while being non-religious automatically makes you open-minded. Even if being faithful to a religion usually comes with a pattern that you will want to follow (sometimes not, though), this doesn’t necessarily make the faithful person close-minded and unwilling to accept other people’s lifestyles. And even if a person claims not to be religious, this doesn’t make him or her an open-minded, liberal person.

We are in an international fragile situation right now where some automatically make a connection between religion and closed minds. I believe this is a dangerous road to take, so I wanna straighten some things out. Ready?

Drinking alcohol doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Sleeping around before marriage doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Moving to a Western country doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Having a mixed circle of friends doesn’t automatically make you liberal.

Claiming you don’t want to hang out with people from your country of origin, to score points with white people, does absolutely not make you liberal.

Close-minded, or can we call it hypocrite?, is the man claiming to be liberal, but who makes a girl he got pregnant have an abortion since he can’t tell his family he had a child outside marriage. Or if she still keeps it, he never tells his family he fathered a child, tucks the child away as a secret. I have met many of these men and girls who have had a baby by these men, it’s not a nice experience.

Open-minded is the religious woman who doesn’t condemn her girlfriends when their life choices dramatically differ from hers. I have met many such women who were believers and who weren’t bothered by my lifestyle (important note: I also wasn’t bothered by theirs). It has always been a great experience. A religious Swedish-Egyptian girl who has a special place in my heart, has been supportive of me in some difficult situations, always without being judgemental, despite our sometimes very different values. Another close friend is hajja (she has made the pilgrim trip to Mecca), and she has often been the first one I reach out to for advice.

People don’t impress me when they claim not to be religious. People impress me when they have non-judgemental, egalitarian values and stick with them, stay honest with who they are. Some of our values might always clash, but there can still be mutual respect and friendship. I’ve had this proved many times.

Forget about people having to be close-minded since they’re openly religious. Forget about people being open-minded since they claim not to be religious, or play down the role of religion. If we want to tackle the challenges of extremism and alienation between groups, we have to widen our gaze and see people’s actions and acceptance for other people. That is what really tells us who a person is. That, rather than the label of a religion.

Swedish Muslim Students Responds to Hate With Baklava

In Malmö University in the city of Malmö, Sweden, a university that prides itself of being very mixed and with students from many different countries and backgrounds, a Muslim student discovered someone having posted a print of one of the Muhammed caricatures on the public notice board. These news was shared with me by Swedish journalist Nizar Keblawi, who made a news coverage about the incident in Swedish public TV, and then e-mailed me the news. The student who saw it, Lina Abu Zarour, snapped a photo, removed the print and gave it to the Students Union, who handed it over to the university’s administration. It turned out more pictures of the same kind were posted at the university, about four or five. The university reportedly took the matter seriously and launched an investigation. In media, university staff said they encourage all students to report such offences and pointed out that students from all backgrounds are welcome at the  university.

Then following the incident, Lina herself did something different. She and her friends decided to respond to the caricature by hosting an event where they handed out baklava (typical Middle Eastern sweet) wrapped in hadiths, teachings from the Quran. To Nizar Keblawi, Lina said:

“The event became a success, you can say.”

Her take on the postings of the caricatures is that people are usually scared to know of new things.

“It is lack of knowledge that’s behind these things”, she said. “People are afraid of learning about for example Islam. But you can’t judge the book just because of it’s cover.”

By sharing baklava with hadith quotes, she wanted to teach the other students more about her religion in a friendly way. And many students showed up, some of them wanting to show their support to the Muslim students at the university. Lina Abu Zarour made headlines in Swedish media with her response, and was among many things invited to an in-dept interview in Swedish radio. What more is, she was able to show the whole country a way to respond to hate and ignorance: with kindness.

Dina – Women’s Rights Activist in Iraq

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Dina Najem became an activist after finishing her degree in French at the university in Baghdad, when she started blogging and became active in social media and realized how invisible the women were in Iraqi media.

“Iraq has always been a closed society,” she says. “Even before the US invasion the society was controlling towards women, and after 2003 there was no security at all. Women couldn’t even walk outside alone.”

Dina, now 24, decided she wanted to work for women to be able to participate more in the society.

“I have myself no support from the society” she says. “It’s my husband and my family that supports me. The government has the ability to improve the lives for Iraq’s women, they have the financial resources, but they are not doing anything.”

After a few years as an activist within local NGOs and social media Dina applied in 2012 to the Swedish Institute’s academic program for human rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa, “Social Innovation in a digital context”. She was accepted as one of 15 participants, and so was her husband Hayder, who is also an activist.

“I wanted to focus on women” she says. “Men are already dominating trainings, the political life, everything.”

She believes many women have not been fighting for their own rights.

“The war made so many stay at home, they were prevented from educating themselves. Women don´t have the knowledge to demand their rights.The one that does are not a big number.”

Lack of technical skills is another reason for the absence of women in Iraqi media according to Dina.This makes them unable to compete with men who are in the same business. With the knowledge gained on digital media from the Swedish Institutes program Dina was able to start training others.

After the six months long course she returned in April this year to Baghdad and started the photography project “Rights Without Words” for young women in the ages of 20 to 30. She went herself to look for a sponsor and got International Media Support to fund the project. By publishing information about the course online she received an overwhelming number of applications. There are obviously many young Iraqi women that want to make their spot on the media scene.

Finally Dina chose to include 22 participants instead of 15 as originally planned. The training was divided into three courses: human rights, photography and social media.

“I want to promote human rights in a creative way in my project. The participants have learned how to express themselves by photography, and how to illustrate the declaration of human rights without using any words.”

Dina has already been able to show the photos in the Iraq National Theatre, when the Iraqi musician Nasser Shamma was hosting a concert, a previously rare but nowadays more frequent happening in the capital.

Dina hopes that the world is interested of the positive development that is taking place in Iraq. She and her husband are not planning to move abroad – they want to continue with their activism despite the insecurity in Iraq. Even though she criticizes the domestic politics she thinks that there is hope in the expanding civil society. The many applicants to her project are a sign of willingness to change.

“I’m hopeful” she says. “I see so many girls that want to study and participate in everything.”

Next up in her work is to focus on women bloggers, and she also wants to work with mixed groups of young women and men. In a country where the sexes often are separated she thinks it’s crucial for women and men to work together and get to know each other.

The struggle for women’s rights is the core of her activism and she openly calls herself a feminist despite the resistance she often encounters. At the same time she is a Muslim and proud of that.

To the ones who question Dina’s commitment to human rights in a country where civilians are killed every day, she usually says:

“Well, but you can’t just sit on your chair. You have to defend your own rights.”

Rights without words

Participants in “Rights Without Words”

Photos: Copyright Dina Najem

Umayyad Mosque, Damascus

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Umayyad Mosque in the heart of Damacus old city, an ancient building completed in year 715. Photos are taken during a Friday evening in June 2013.

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Also an excellent place to spend a Friday night at, for prayers and socializing. Or a playground, with it’s shiny floor perfect for sliding on…

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Let’s hope it will remain throughout the war.

Photos: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog