Anti-racist feminist statement on Islamophobia

Following Boris Johnson’s column in The Telegraph on the 5th of August, in which he mocked and belittled women who wear niqabs and burqas, there has been an intensification of (already prevalent) Islamophobic language, arguments and attacks in the press, on social media and in the streets. While couched within an ostensibly liberal argument against a ‘total ban’ of niqabs and burqas in public places, Johnson’s comments were clearly and very deliberately aimed at stoking already entrenched anti-Muslim racism and appealing to the right of the Conservative Party to build support for his likely leadership bid.

It is important to note that amid his dehumanising descriptions of women who wear niqabs and burqas, Johnson’s argument contained echoes of a liberal feminism, both in his description of these garments as oppressive and in his argument that ‘a free-born adult woman’ should not be told ‘what she may or may not wear, in a public place’ (hypocritically stated just after claiming he should be entitled to ask a woman to remove parts of her clothing in his MP surgery). In affecting a concern for Muslim women’s rights while peddling Islamophobia, Johnson is treading the well-worn path of gendered racism. The demonisation of Muslims in western political discourse originated with the orientalism of European colonisers, and has always proceeded on highly gendered terms, with the figure of the ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ operating as a symbolic shorthand to justify all manner of imperial foreign and domestic policy interventions.

This is a history deeply entangled with western feminism, from imperial feminists claiming their place in the European empires as ‘saviours’ of colonised women, to organisations such as the Feminist Majority Foundation supporting the US and UK military invasion of Afghanistan in the name of ‘women’s rights’, to secular feminists campaigning to ban the burqa in France. In other words, there is a long history of purportedly feminist arguments being used to promote anti-Muslim racism and imperialist ventures, by feminists and non-feminist alike. As Naaz Rashid writes, ‘everyone is a feminist when it comes to Muslim women’.

Writing about the racist effects of Johnson’s comments, Huda Jawad notes: ‘What is most painful about this whole episode is the lack of public outcry from our allies. Where are the feminists? This is violence against women.’ Silence from non-Muslim feminists at this time becomes complicity in the Islamophobic project. As Sayeeda Warsi highlighted in her response, Johnson’s words ‘send out a message that Muslim women are fair game. What starts as useful targets for “colourful political language” and the odd bit of toxic campaigning ends up in attacks on our streets.’ Already, there have been reports of attacks on niqab-wearing women specifically referencing Johnson’s ‘jokes’. Hate crimes against Muslims in Britain are already at an all-time high, and the majority of those attacked are Muslim women who wear veils. A Sky Data Poll conducted in the days following the publication of Johnson’s column found that 60% of respondents did not find his comments to be racist, which speaks to the normalised status of Islamophobia within British society. 59% of respondents also responded positively to the question ‘should burkas be banned?’ which ominously indicates the public support any attempt to raise this on the British political agenda would generate.

As anti-racist feminists we wholly reject the mobilisation of ‘feminist’ arguments for Islamophobic ends. Muslim women and Muslim feminists are on the frontlines of resistance against this violence, but a louder and collective feminist response is needed to fight back against institutionally-supported attacks on Muslim women specifically and Muslim communities more broadly. While, importantly, there are a diversity of views and contestations among Muslim women around different forms of veiling, we reject the idea that arguments like Johnson’s have anything to do with genuine concern for ending oppression of Muslim women. As Mariam Khan writes,

…all of this uproar is not about the burqa. Every time a Muslim woman and her body are discussed, we are used to political point score, improve white men’s bids for leadership or appeal to the far right. All of these conversations are hollow. They lack sincerity, lack real want for any sort of progress or well-being of those being discussed.

Political dehumanisation and (where bans exist) criminalisation of women who wear niqabs and burqas fosters violence against women, and enables increased street harassment and assaults. This endangers not only women who wear niqabs and burqas but all women who are read as Muslim. In the context of Brexit Britain’s virulent anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and anti-black racism, and the rise of far-right transnationally, anti-racist feminist resistance to this form of racialised gendered violence is more urgent than ever.

Terese Jonsson, University of Portsmouth
Lani Parker, Sideways Times
Dr Naaz Rashid, University of Sussex
Dr Humaira Saeed
Dr Sarah Keenan, Birkbeck Law School
Dr Nadine El-Enany, Centre for Research on Race and Law, Birkbeck College
rashné limki, University of Edinburgh
Ella Sprung
Carlus Hudson, University of Portsmouth
Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg, University of Manchester
Marion Dawson
Yvette Russell, University of Bristol
Dennis Queen (MDPAC & NDYUK)
Dr Kate Hardy
Kimberley Brayson,
University of Sussex
Rita Liavali Coquet
Sharon Adetoro
Jo Church
Andrea D’Cruz
Eleanor Lisney, Director, Sisters of Frida
Daira Hopwood
Sharrianna Rice – Director of Allies Academy
Ruth Gould
Tink Flaherty
Fran Springfield – Clinical Nurse Specialist & Trauma Councillor
Sophie Talbot, Disability Equality Act Labour
Claire Harris, Northampton CLP
Danielle Tiplady
Mrinalini Greedharry
ProtestStencil, artist
Zak Suffee
Ella Grace McPherson-Newton
Anne Worthington
Tanya Mikaiel
Sarah Lamble, Birkbeck School of Law
Barbara Hulme, Withington CLP
Ewa Jasiewicz
Ms Orion Quinton-Porter
Alasdair Mussell
Jet Moon, writer
Beth Stratford
Nadia Hasan, Jawaab
Unis Resist Border Controls
Sanaz Raji, Activist & Independent Scholar
Catherine Long
Khadija Najlaoui
Mandy Colleran
Christa Holka
Bianca Remer
Helen Ringrow
Dr Jessica Gagnon, University of Portsmouth
Dr Clare Tebbutt
Scott Neigh
Dr Claire English
Nila Gupta
Sarah Taylor Norwich CLP
Nicola Aldous
Reuben Roth, Laurentian University
Sally Abbott (Writer)
Lorraine Harding
Dr Alison Wilde, Leeds Beckett University
Tracey Woolf
Zoe Young
Shirley Blair Procter, Stretford and Urmston CLP
Sofa Gradin
Louise Brown
Kate Perris
Fran Crumpton
Rose Thompson
Mel Evans
Kim Burridge
Jen Johnson, Thorneloe University at Laurentian
Mo Mansfield
Lise Frances
Lois May-Miller
Ooffii Hardwick
Areeba Hamid
Roxy Nazmia
Jamal Adryon
Stuart Hazel Thompson
Debbie Thompson
Anna Evans
Catherine Oliver
Laura Stratford
Gina Heathcote SOAS
Jackie Grace, social worker
Constance Lally
Liz Crow
Leah Williams
John Whitehurst
Yinka Olusoga, Leeds Beckett University
Polly Denton
Katie Leslie (BEIS London and South PCS Union Branch Secretary)
Jo Hamilton
James Goldsack, PCS Union
Alison Mitchell
Clare Quinn
Dr Hilary Aked
Julie Webster PCS
Natasha Nkonde
Rachel O’Brien – NUS Disabled Students’ Officer
Dr David Scott, The Open University
Aneesa Peer
Joanne Hartley
Naadir Jeewa
Caterina Nicolau
Smash IPP
Beth Stevens
Heather Kennedy, London Renters Union
Charlotte Carson, Feminism In Schools Network
Jenny Corrin
Simona Prilogan
Zita Holbourne, Author & Artist, National Chair; BARAC UK
Nadia Whittome
Val Leyland
Louise Regan, Ex-President NEU, NUT section
Anne Rae Sal Morawetz -Women’s Officer: Nottingham East CLP
Angie Mindel
Heena Patel
Lola Okolosie
Sarah RK
Melanie Swan
Sarah Lasoye, NUS National Women’s Officer
Farrah gray
ZJK
Deborah Grayson
Ayesha Mehta
Nydia Swaby, SOAS, University of London
James Angel
Amani Zarroug (Clinical Psychologist)
Rehanna Neky
N.KH
Phe Amis
Tirza Waisel, Social Workers Union, Labour party branch Chair
Aleasha Chaunté
Alison Smith Eran Cohen, Finchley & Golders Green CLP Bradley Allsop
Yasmin Gunaratnam, Goldsmiths (University of London)
Terry Conway, Islington UNITE Community Chair (pc)
Sita Balani (King’s College London)
Joanna Pares Hoare
Kyoung Kim, Feminist Review
Avtar Brah
Jane Kelly
Irene Gedalof, London Metropolitan University
E Oliver
Professor Aisha K. Gill (University of Roehampton)
Sam Grove, Labour activist
Sara Salem, University of Warwick
Professor Nadje Al-Ali, SOAS University of London
Becka Hudson, Radical Housing Network
Gloria Morrison, Campaign Co-ordinator Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association
Dr Jennifer Jones
Dr Lisa Tilley
Dr Nivi Manchanda
Althea Gordon
Sara Ahmed
Community Action on Prison Expansion
Enrica Inversi
Dr Nicola Pratt
Len Lukowski
Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert
Alison Phipps
New Socialist Editorial Group
Eleanor T. Higgs
Tanya Serisier, Birkbeck College
Kate Clayton-Hathway, Oxford Brookes
University Jane Mowat, Support Worker
Dr Khursheed Wadia, University of Warwick
Dr Ruth Lewis, University of Northumbria
Jessica Ringrose
Paola Minoia
Alexandra Kokoli
Marlo DeLara
D H Kelly
Dr Ope Lori, TrAIN Research Centre, University of Arts London and Leeds Arts University
Tray Yeadon-Lee
Rebecca Fisher
Catherine Eschle
Leah Burch, University of Leeds
Carolyn Jackson
Tanya Palmer, University of Sussex
Victoria Beckwith
Josie M. Moore
Frank Rudiger Lopes
Desy Pirmasari
Elizabeth Hudnott
Lara Choksey
Elaine Swan, University of Sussex
Arianne Shahvisi, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Dr Kay Standing, Liverpool John Moores University
Sarah Turnbull, Birkbeck, University of London
Charlotte Skeet, University of Sussex
Karen Ross
Dr Synne Dyvik
South Asia Solidarity Group
Dr Kalpana Wilson, Department of Geography, Birkbeck
Kate Marston, Cardiff University
Dr Shelley Tracey
Jo Brewis, The Open University
Madelaine Noor Baker
Dr Carrie Hamilton
Iain Jack
Emma McNally, Women’s March Co-organiser
Karen Moore
Sasha Nemeckova
Julia Cameron, Unite Community
Dr Fauzia Ahmad, Goldsmiths, University of London
Jane Aaron
Dr Annabel Tremlett, University of Portsmouth
Bethan Harries, University of Manchester
Kathryn Dawson, Rape Crisis Scotland
Andrea James, UEA
Dr Ruth Pearce, University of Leeds
Victoria Redclift, University of Sussex
Dee Woods
Nicky Priaulx, Cardiff University
Carrie Paechter
Laura Wylie, Sexual Violence Prevention Worker
Denise Walsh, University of Virginia
Dr Polly Wilding, University of Leeds
Heather Parker
Loraine Williams, Forth Valley Rape Crisis
Shona Hunter
Tamanda Walker
Lily Rose Moharrer
Emeritus Professor Fiona Williams, University of Leeds
Lena Wånggren, University of Edinburgh
Dr Natalia Gerodetti, Leeds Beckett University
Rose Clout
Dr Alexandra Lewicki, University of Sussex
Ashley R. Bullard, University of Leeds
Andrea Cornwall, SOAS
Dr Vivian Vignoles, University of Sussex
Andrew Chitty, University of Sussex
Anna Starianakis, University of Sussex
Murielle Galvani, Chair of Coventry Against Racism
Lara Montesinos Coleman, University of Sussex
Dr Anne-Marie Angelo, University of Sussex
Jelke Boesten, King’s College London
Lynne Lacock
Ian Parker, Manchester Withington CLP
Bex Bauer
Penny Newell
Dr Samuel Solomon, University of Sussex
Edi Whale
Michelle Green
Dr Omni Gust
Dr Gail Lewis, Birkbeck College, University of London
Ruth Fletcher, Queen Mary University of London
Charlotte Morris
Tiffany Page, University of Cambridge
Dr Ulrike M. Vieten, Queen’s University Belfast
Pauline Neilly
Lynne Johnston, Rape Crisis Scotland
Sandie Barton, Rape Crisis Scotland
Jane Elliot, King’s College London
Siobhan McGrath, Durham University
Simon Williams
Emily Danvers, University of Sussex
Gurminder K. Bhambra, University of Sussex
Katy Sian, University of York
Tasnim Al-ahdal
Sian Fletcher
Elinor Page
Laura Nacyte, Rape Crisis Scotland
Mridul Wadhwa, Forth Valley Rape Crisis Centre
Dr. Julia Downes (The Open University)
Miranda Shaw
Hannah Brown, Rape Crisis Scotland
Nat Raha, University of Sussex/Edinburgh College of Art

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