Maajid Nawaz has valiantly jumped to the defence of a Muslim teenager that received death threats for twerking in Birmingham city centre. His article describes how this girl was subsequently forced to publicly apologise by a Muslim social media preacher, Ali Dawah. Barring a few sentiments in his article, he makes a few fair points through the pseudo-intellectual language. However, his first mistake lies here:
“Two days later the world celebrated International Women’s Day. But amid a plethora of “feminist” pronouncements, including denunciations of transgender women, Emma Watson’s breasts, and even “Zionism,” not one major feminist organization or mainstream media outlet touched on what had just transpired.”
Not only is he incorrect about a mainstream media outlet not reporting this story, he has the audacity to blame feminists for the plight of Muslim women for ‘focusing only on first-world problems’ – this statement alone is problematic. it implies that Muslim women and their problems belong in the third world; it is yet another way of alienating us as the ‘Other’ instead of viewing us as part of the heterogenous group of British women whose problems are multitudinous. Mr Nawaz has also undermined the efforts of feminists, some of whom have worked tirelessly to raise awareness on issues that would have otherwise been ignored. I find it alarming that a man should feel so entitled to comment on women’s issues that he can pompously pit one group of women against another. What’s even more worrying is that he calls himself a liberal.
The incident that this Muslim teenager underwent was horrendous and highlights the problem of misogyny within the Muslim community. But Maajid’s theatrical rant masked by a veneer of faux concern for these supposedly oppressed women is far more sinister – it silences Muslim women. His approach to the entire situation is as if Muslim women are unable to speak for themselves and therefore need the help of feminists. God forbid should he meet a Muslim woman who can actually defend herself! But more importantly, what this shows about Maajid Nawaz is that he, too, is a misogynist and it makes him far more dangerous than Ali Dawah whose following is comparatively meagre. Much of Maajid’s followers view him to be a spokesperson about Muslims and unwittingly fall into his trap of a disingenuous anxiety for the state of Muslim women. The proof lies in the fact that he has never truly tackled the cause of Muslim women’s situation – where is the rant about the misogyny rife among men, from all ethnicities, that has forced women into a corner? It is mainly men that have problematised Muslim women by focusing only on our attire, not knowing who we are as our own entity and conflating us with foreign notions only found in Muslim-majority countries. Perhaps it’s because he, as a brown man, struggles to point out the elephant in the room lest his job be put on the line – and that is precisely the point. He has built his reputation on political point-scoring.
The problem with people like Maajid and even Ali Dawah is that they actually hold very little concern for Muslim women’s wellbeing. Their despicable exploitation of the status of Muslim women with claims of female empowerment is done to fuel their own ego and authority. They offer opinions that are informed by populist, misogynist rhetoric – that Muslim women are oppressed, need saving and policing in everything they do. Indeed, there is some truth that Muslim women are currently facing oppression from wider society, as well as internally, but this is all culturally driven, instead of religiously catalysed. This is precisely exemplified by both men who view us through the prism of culture rather than religion. If either men were truly sincere to this Muslim teenager, they would have highlighted the issue of mental health.
On the part of Ali Dawah, it was highly irresponsible to shame this girl where it seems she was coerced into a public apology knowing full well that she suffers from a diagnosed mental health condition. The Mental Health Foundation states that ‘people with a diagnosed mental health condition are shown to be at a higher risk of attempting and completing suicide’ with the highest rates being related to depressive disorders – a condition that this girl said herself that she suffers with. It was beyond careless for all involved to put her in this position; it was dangerous and life-threatening.
But for all the liberality that Maajid Nawaz speaks of, where is his stance on this girl’s mental health? This is where his second mistake lies. He acknowledges that the teenager will resent his rekindling of her public display and rather than championing awareness of mental health, the impact of the government’s austerity cuts on mental health services and the effect that these cuts are having on mental health patients of which 3.9% are Muslim, he instead victimises Muslim women for apparently being too oppressed to speak for themselves and erroneously places the blame on women. He then has the gall to call his bigoted approach ‘liberal’.
What this situation shows us is that for all their rhetoric about the rights of Muslim women and what the Muslim community needs to do, neither Ali Dawah nor Maajid Nawaz have any idea what Muslim women truly face in their daily lives. They are both cut from the same cloth – they claim to protect women by blaming them through the guise of liberation. Neither men have addressed discussions that threaten the freedoms of Muslim women – the possibility of a face covering ban, the false notion that Muslim women need to learn English (when it was actually women of certain cultural communities), the way they are viewed as foreign and objectified accordingly, and the conflation of hijab with oppression – all assertions made by men. Yet the blame falls solely on women, whether they are Muslim or otherwise.
Furthermore, this shows the self-absorbed nature of both men. Ali Dawah has rarely, if at all, shown any awareness about wider issues preferring to stay within his comfort zone of Muslim rhetoric, while Maajid’s approach to anything Muslim-related always comes back to a populist agenda. When it comes to the issues of women, I implore both Ali and Maajid to follow this advice – stay in your lane. We are all more than capable of speaking for ourselves. But for those whose egos and reputations are at stake, it’s much easier to subjugate women.
“Welcome to the United Kingdom, 2017”, writes Maajid. Sounds more like 1917 to me.