Have you read this thank you letter by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid?

Have you read this thank you letter by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid?  [Link shared by Arun]
Spent the morning reading in details about what made him write this. Let me share what I learnt.
Background:
1.

Femen activists have declared 4 April “topless jihad day” as a gesture of support for a Tunisian woman who was threatened with death by stoning for baring her breasts online.

Amina Tyler ignited a storm when she posted images of herself with the words “Fuck your morals” written across her chest to the Femen-Tunisia Facebook page.

Another image with: “My body belongs to me, and is not the source of anyone’s honour”, written …across her bare chest, was also posted…

In what is believed to be her final interview before her disappearance, Amina told Federica Tourn she believes she will be beaten or raped if the Tunisian police find her  [From here]

And some reactions:

2.

Muslimah Pride: We Reject Femens Islamophobic and Neo-Colonialist Crusade to Save Us

… Instead of ‘getting naked’ Muslim women from across the world tweeted and uploaded pictures of themselves to Facebook in their hijabs, niqabs, and western attire. They held up signs telling the world why they were proud of their identities and did not need racist Islamophobic women to dictate to them on how they should dress.

3. Another indignant reaction.

I Am Not Oppressed

..as though there is only one way to be ‘free.’

FEMEN protests … In perpetuating the belief that there is only one way to go about being free, FEMEN provides a narrow-minded solution that is not feasible for anyone else to fit into.

Femen’s response.

4.

You say we are Islamophobes, just recently we heard from anti-gay Catholics that we are Christianophobes. Yes, I’m scared of all your religions … I’m an atheist and I cannot say that you are atheistophobe as there is nothing that you can be scared of. You personally have rights to believe in whatever you want …but until the moment there are no stones, bullets and blood of your religion we are going to fight it. [Topless in the Country of Hijab? – by Femen leader Inna Shevchenko]

5.
“And you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day but don’t deny millions of your sisters who have fear behind their scarves… ” [Topless in the Country of Hijab?]
The letter.
6.
A letter of gratitude to #MuslimahPride social media jihadis
Dear Muslimaat,
I don’t have words to express my gratitude and appreciation for your noble battle against evil. …
What the ignorant world does not realise is that once you have the permission of your husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, the approval of your neighbours, in-laws, their relatives and the consent of your spiritual guardians, their God and their scriptures, you can be quite the rebels. It takes a lot of courage to ridicule something that is already taboo where you live. It takes volumes of bravery and valour to bow down to the status quo, and toe the lines that have been forced upon you. It takes unbelievable amounts of gallantry to act out a script that someone else has written for you. And it must take guts and the proverbial cojones to take a stand against cruelty and the personification of tyranny that a horde of topless women is.
Who are those shameless activists to try and liberate you? Do they not realise that you can’t be liberated without the permission of your mehrams? I can’t thank you enough for choosing to be more offended by naked bodies than dead bodies.
Thank you for citing your personal example to highlight how you wear the hijab by your own choice, ignoring the fact that an overwhelming majority of Muslim women are coerced into doing so. Thank you very much for making the whole debate about you, when it was always about the torment and suffering that most of the Muslim women are going through.
Thank you for accepting contrasting definitions of modesty for men and women, and for not being a source of strength for your sisters and daughters, vindicating the men’s claim of you being the weaker sex. Thank you for teaching your daughters about the sin that having sex is, throughout their lives, and then compelling them to do it immediately with a man they first met a couple of hours ago, after signing a few papers and getting the clergy’s approval.

66 thoughts on “Have you read this thank you letter by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid?

  1. “choosing to be more offended by naked bodies than dead bodies.”
    “Thank you for teaching your daughters about the sin that having sex is, throughout their lives, and then compelling them to do it immediately with a man they first met a couple of hours ago, after signing a few papers and getting the clergy’s approval.”

    What kind of a pride is this? This is the conspiracy of silence about all oppressive systems like patriarchy,making the victims believe that they are being”protected” not “restricted.”

    However wearing a hizab or a bikini should be a woman’s choice not of any “mehram”

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    • I admire the sarcasm of the second letter- it took me a few seconds to realise that the writer is actually making fun of the women opposing the Femen protests. I loved it , and wholly agree with him.
      Femen is protesting against FORCED wearing of hijab. When Muslim women counter such protests by stating that it’s their ‘choice’ to do so, they are missing the point- the protests are on ‘behalf’ of women who do not have that choice.
      You can argue that Femen have no right to protest on someone’s behalf, but the fact remains that they wouldn’t have to do it if the ‘liberated’ Muslim women gave a damn about their more oppressed co-religionists..

      A good analogy in India would be the volunteers from Western countries who come to India and do a few weeks of NGO service. The educated and urban elite may scoff at them, and accuse them of appropriating the suffering of poor Indians – while missing the point that they wouldn’t have had to step in if we had done so first!

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  2. While I don’t disagree that millions of women are forced into wearing the Hijab, I do think many more millions of women choose to wear it. And I can understand their annoyance when people keep telling them that they are oppressed and need to be liberated.

    I do agree with both the Huffpost articles in the sense that declaring a ‘topless’ day in support of Amina is counterproductive and will not help her.

    Interesting letter. This line is hilarious: ‘And it must take guts and the proverbial cojones to take a stand against cruelty and the personification of tyranny that a horde of topless women is.’

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    • “And I can understand their annoyance when people keep telling them that they are oppressed ”
      – I have to say that I actually don’t understand their annoyance at all. If their hijab truly is a choice then the argument of oppression is not aimed at them. This is someone saying that you never see girls playing outside in India, only boys – and me countering that by saying ‘but I chose not to go outside, I preferred books’. While it was my choice, this is not an appropriate response because it is not a choice for the vast majority of girls in India, especially post-puberty, and my choice does not make the lack of their choice alright. Basically this sums it up:

      “And you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day but don’t deny millions of your sisters who have fear behind their scarves”

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      • I don’t disagree. But I was referring to the HuffPost authors who were talking about themselves–random people coming up to them on the street, supermarket, wherever and telling them to get liberated. That’s got to be majorly annoying.

        At the same time, I do think something like Topless Day is more of a publicity stunt, and less of a movement that’s actually trying to bring change.

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        • “At the same time, I do think something like Topless Day is more of a publicity stunt, and less of a movement that’s actually trying to bring change.”
          That’s true.
          However, Femen are more than just topless women. They are women who use their topless bodies as signboards to paint slogans on to, because they know that it’s a surefire way to getting people to read what they’ve gotta say.
          The group is sometimes used as an example of ‘viral’ marketing- the toplessness of the protests ensure heavy media coverage, and slogans on naked bodies get seen.With near-zero investment, they’ve gained global fame (and notoriety!).
          I’ve mixed feelings about their methods, but they sure have succeeded in getting seen and heard!

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        • Publicity stunts are instrumental – nay, indispensable – in bringing about change. What do you think the Dandi march was, or Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus?

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      • Actually, it is. If a person is locked un in a jail-cell, and I come protesting saying that: “Innocent people should not be jailed, they should be free to come and go as they please!” then it’s not much of an argument for one of the jailed to say: “But I like my cell, it’s comfortable and I want to be in here!”

        While that may be true, the issue isn’t with being in a room that she likes (or wearing a piece of clothing that she likes) — the issue is with being *forced* to do so. Even those people who themselves want to wear a hijab, should nevertheless support the freedom to *choose* what to wear.

        This is the core problem with many of the worlds religions. It’s of course perfectly fine for anyone to believe what they want, and to behave in any manner they like aslong as it stays within the limits of law and does not cause unreasonable problems for others.

        But what’s not okay, is to think that one persons belief, gives him or her the right to restrict the choice of others. Today, you hear this from people in most of the worlds religions. I’m a christian – therefore *you* should not be allowed an abortion. I’m a muslim therefore *you* should not be allowed to walk down the street with your hair freely visible. I’m a [insert-religion-here] therefore you should not be allowed to marry the person you love, if that person is of the wrong gender.

        The problem is not the clothing. The problem is the idea that faith is a valid reason for restricting the freedom of others. It’s not.

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      • I have to say that I actually don’t understand their annoyance at all. If their hijab truly is a choice then the argument of oppression is not aimed at them.

        Unfortunately, it goes beyond mere arguments, and descends to the level of daily life.

        Having known a couple of women (both highly educated, and otherwise liberal) who chose to don Islamic headgear in Canada, I know for a fact that the common perception of them being oppressed and helpless often results in them being condescended to, seen more or less as ‘damsels in distress’, so to speak, and generally just not taken too seriously.

        One of those friends was an actual law professor and an Ivy league grad, and I can only imagine how it must have grated on her when random people on the street would give her pitying looks, and some restaurant staff would act as though she had an IQ of about 70. By all means, most people still treated her with due respect, and the ones who didn’t realized that they should by the time she had spoken three sentences, but there were enough exceptions to that to make me realize that people find it hard to swallow the idea of an empowered, intelligent, urbane woman in Hijab. And sure, that has to be incredibly annoying.

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        • Pretty much this. I’m friends with a couple of Muslim women (one doesn’t don the hijab, the other has just done so recently). The one ho chose to do so, gave an interesting reasons as to why she chose to do so. Not a lot of people are aware of the fact that there are many Muslim women who actually cover for political reasons and not religious ones. She’s also very educated (getting her PhD) and people treat her like she’s oppressed and helpless. This is the fundamental issue Muslim women have with Western feminists in general.

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        • It’s not just the hijab, pretty much any brown woman is up for a presumption of oppression in many Western Countries.
          It is annoying, no doubt- but the perception is coming (IMHO) from a valid place- and the oppression of women in many parts of the non-western world is undeniable.
          Any annoyance felt, then, is a “first world problem” at best. I say this as someone who was also assumed to be “oppressed” by a colleague (thankfully just one). My annoyance is justified, but in the larger scheme of things,it’s hardly something worth dwelling on.

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        • Yup, this!

          Also, I think comparing Rosa Parks decision to sit in front of the bus to Femen’s Topless Day is comparing apples to oranges. The only individual here who can remotely be compared to Parks is Amina Tyler. Not individuals who are sitting in the safe bubble of a Western country, trying to make a point by being as ‘shocking’ as they can. The very people that they’re trying to ‘liberate’ would not take them seriously because of their tactic–it’s a counterproductive method.

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        • It’s not just the hijab, pretty much any brown woman is up for a presumption of oppression in many Western Countries.

          I don’t think the level of presumption is comparable for women (especially non-Muslim women) who do not wear clothing that is considered oppressive in the West.

          I’m fairly certain that my wife (also brown) never received a fraction of the same kind of treatment as the aforementioned professor did. Certainly, there were people who made unfounded assumptions initially, but with her being fairly Westernized, such people were quite rare (AFAIK, of course), and tended to have other issues of their own.

          My annoyance is justified, but in the larger scheme of things,it’s hardly something worth dwelling on.

          I somehow instinctively dislike the phrase ‘first world problem’ – it is little more than a veiled, sugarcoated ‘genocide in Darfur’ argument. In any case, I don’t feel that the phrase can be applied to this situation; I certainly don’t find it a trivial issue.

          As far as your own experience is concerned, I submit that it is very possibly not the same as that faced by someone who actually wore the Hijab (or some other form of patently Islamic dress).

          Remember, I am not talking merely about people saying certain annoying things. I am referring to active condescension and dismissal, a sort of benevolent exclusion from the mainstream, so to speak. Such treatment is deeply damaging to individual happiness, and for that reason, and many others, is very much worth protesting against.

          Finally, blanket presumptions are never valid, especially when one refuses to change these presumptions in response to assertions to the contrary.

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        • Well, I accept that anybody is free to feel as offended or hurt as they want to, in response to various situations that they may have faced. Also, I’m prepared to accept that women in Hijab are subjected to a level of prejudice that would entitle them to feel more than just annoyance, far more than what I have/will experience.
          Yet, however offensive/pointless the Femen protest was to other Muslim women, the fact remains that it put the spotlight on dangers faced by women like Amina Tyler, who face death for actions deemed to be blasphemous. Amina’s safety was the very reason for the protest.
          Bringing up the ‘choice’ to follow Islamic rules- when the protest, all along, sought to highlight the consequences of disobeying the rules seemed a tad defensive to me. I’m sure they have their grievances, and I’m sure they must be extremely valid, but the timing of this outpouring seemed inappropriate to me, given that there was a 19 year old was in real, active danger. It’s just my opinion. It is almost wholly due to this inappropriate timing that I used the phrase “first world problem”- (btw, I actually like this phrase, for it seems to sum up many of my life’s problems)
          Finally, I think the use of a picture of toddler in hijab, holding a ‘Shame on Femen placard’ , by the Muslim feminists seemed not only inappropriate, but self-defeating to the argument of “choice”.

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        • Yet, however offensive/pointless the Femen protest was to other Muslim women, the fact remains that it put the spotlight on dangers faced by women like Amina Tyler, who face death for actions deemed to be blasphemous. Amina’s safety was the very reason for the protest.

          Maybe. I cannot tell what the specific distal cause for the protest was, except in very vague terms, and I am not venturing an opinion here.

          But let us admit your contention, and state that the protest did indeed put the spotlight on the dangers faced by women in Middle-Eastern cultures. This is admirable, to be sure.

          Unfortunately, though, protests are a bit like antibiotics, in that they do not always have only the intended consequences, but sometimes also have a few side effects. Muslim feminists assert that this kind of stunt is counter-productive to their cause and damaging to their identity – surely, their arguments are at least worth listening to?

          A key issue here is that given the culture surrounding Amina’s protest, her actions were brave, but also very likely rather ineffective, simply because there is just no public political space for such a protest to be accommodated in. The dominant reaction within Tunisia seems to have been to regard her as a bit of a freak, and even mentally unstable. How this helps women anywhere is a mystery to me. As I stated elsewhere, all it really ends up achieving is drawing Western gaze to the issue, even as grassroots level change – the only kind of change that actually lasts – is actively stymied and damaged.

          I’m sure they have their grievances, and I’m sure they must be extremely valid, but the timing of this outpouring seemed inappropriate to me, given that there was a 19 year old was in real, active danger.

          She was indeed in danger, but I don’t see how that makes the timing inappropriate. She would have been in danger whether or not they made a statement, simply as a result of her own actions. Certainly, the danger did not stop FEMEN itself from making highly public and potentially incendiary statements.

          In any case, I am not debating timing. Even if it is true that the timing was inappropriate, I am far more interested in analyzing the actual arguments, rather than trying to attach ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ to any particular party. Such judgment can serve a purpose, but that part of the discourse is simply not that relevant or interesting from my point of view.

          Finally, I think the use of a picture of toddler in hijab, holding a ‘Shame on Femen placard’ , by the Muslim feminists seemed not only inappropriate, but self-defeating to the argument of “choice”.

          I agree with you. Over-the-top reactions seem to have been the flavor of the week on both sides, and this is certainly to be regretted.

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        • Praveen, if they chose to wear it after they turned into adults (say 21), then I can see it as a true choice. And this is indeed the case for some women I’ve known. What I really have a problem with is when little girls are made to wear it. They are too young to even make a choice, in the adult sense.

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        • What do these women (who choose to wear hijab or Islamic headgear) do when they go for swim, rock-climbing, run a marathon or participate in any other sports activity? Do they really feel comfortable in 100+ degrees without AC, when they go out and enjoy a day out in nature?
          I just do not see how I can perform so many activities of my life in hijab. I remember watching a documentary on Afghanistan women, and one woman told abut the incident when she almost walked infront of a bus while crossing the road, because the hijab she has to wear has just a mesh around eyes and it restricts her peripheral vision. These are the real challenges with the restrictive clothing and that is why it symbolizes repression.
          I think these women when they say they “choose” to wear a hijab, they are doing a great disservice to millions of women who are forced to cover themselves all their life.

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    • I agree with Kay, Praveen and RenKiss here. What made this issue blow up was the history of Western feminists supporting causes in the Other world and seeing themselves as liberating the Other. While at the start, I thought there might be some value to Femen’s protest because baring of breasts is taboo in the Western world too, the remarks made by some of their leaders smacked of the kind of patronizing feminism that is exactly what Muslim feminists (yes, they exist) are reacting to. Such as “”They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me’. ” Read mroe here: http://www.shakesville.com/2013/04/oh-femen.html

      @Carvaka ” actually don’t understand their annoyance at all.” How can one not be annoyed if one is constantly told that one is oppressed when one is not oppressed? To say one is not oppressed is not to assert that there are others who are. But if one is forced to make choices in solidarity each and every time, then the solidarity becomes a tyranny of sorts too. Wouldn’t you be annoyed if you had to run around playing just because other women around India are not allowed to play? How ironic would that be. I too have problems with the flippant, “my choice” argument and I don’t beieve “my choice” justifies everything but we mustn’t lose sight of the idea that feminism is supposed to increase choices not close them off.

      I think it’s good to fight for the rights of people who do have a choice, but given the history of the way that fight has been conducted in the past, with a total priviledging of West as Best, one might adress people who raise concerns more thoughtfully.

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      • On the subject of Femen- I’ve read that their protests, overwhelmingly,are against various Christian institutions. Some of them are pro-choice rallies as well. Also, the group is Ukranian in origin- hardly the bastion of western/ white privilege that is being attributed to them.
        The protests against oppression of Muslim women , or what has come to be known as “topless jihad day” were stated to be held in support of one of their members- a young Arab Muslim woman called Amina- who began receiving death threats(for being a Femen member) and disappeared from public life. She resurfaced sometime yesterday, after running away from her family.
        I believe the protests were to highlight stories like Amina’s-” the toe the line , or else ” sorts. Their stance does have their shortcomings, but I’d like to reiterate that had their member NOT faced death and acid attack threats, THIS particular (anti Muslim women’s oppression) protest would have not even occurred- cause and effect.

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        • I went back and read the open letter by Inna Shevchenko and I found the opening terribly patronising, riddled with stereotypes and initially thought she was joking. While Amina probably needed the support, lumping all Muslim women under one banner and then saying we are here to liberate you (which is what came across from the opening of the letter) is not the way to go about it. It’s sad that when fighting one stereotype, they chose to indulge in another.

          Oh well, their protest had some effect because we’re talking about it, though I sense we’re talking about it because the Muslim women responded and that provoked conversation.

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      • I feel like this counter ‘muslims pride’ and ‘hijab is my choice’ movement has sort of hijacked the actual issue that Amina raised. This is not about them or me, this is about those that stand to be stoned to death if they don’t toe the line. The original tunisian protester is possibly facing an awful fate and I think it is good that that some awareness was raised about it.

        Those who feel they are already free are not being asked to act in solidarity. If people annoy them by asking personal questions, it’s a mater of boundaries and general privacy. I might make snap judgements on lots of people I see but I don’t go up to them to ask them about it! There is no pressure on them to be topless themselves, Femen is not an official body, they are free to carry on wearing whatever they like. So they are not being told to be the equivalent of me being forced to play around in your example. Apart from France’s ban of the hijab which is controversial everywhere, that ‘tyranny’ does not exist. Femen should not lump all muslim women together either. This is simply not about the liberated with access to choice, so I don’t see why their annoyance is a valid counter-argument.

        The UK is moving to criminalise forced arranged marriages, mostly happening within south asian communities and leading to some serious violence. Should I then object to it and raise a counter ‘arranged marriage is my choice’ movement if I had chosen an arranged marriage myself? For me it is as desidaru says: “Any annoyance felt, then, is a “first world problem” at best.”.

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        • I really had to go back and think about what was the original issue Amina raised. I suppose it was freedom to wear what one wants? In which case, that is what the Muslim pride brigade is also saying. They are just pointing out that it works both ways, and that Femen doesn’t want to see or acknowledge that. That Femen’s strategy of presenting freedom of choice is baring of the body, but that it can also lie in the opposite and that this does exist as a free choice too (and Femen’s response statement to the Muslim campaign seemed to indicate that they do need reminding because they regurgitated a lot of stereotypes like “harem with five wifes”).

          I agree that Femen is not an official body, but we don’t only feel pressure from official bodies. The moral police in India is not always an official body also. Moreoever, Femen is a feminist organisation and therefore their activities can be evaluated and responded to by people from different perspectives. If they claim to be liberating women, how are they going about it? Is their method uni-dimensional and in the end, as tyranical as the one they propose to remove?

          “Femen should not lump all muslim women together either.” That’s pretty much what I am saying, and what a large part of the counter-reaction to Femen is about.

          “Should I then object to it and raise a counter ‘arranged marriage is my choice’ movement ” Well, you could. I don’t see why they need to specifically ban forced “arranged” marriage. They could just ban forced marriages or any kind. Feminists in India, for example, have rethought bans on even the use of the term
          female foeticide because they realise that at the end of the day, if you want abortion to be a choice, how can you argue that only abortion that doesn’t abort females is a choice. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot. Similarly people should be allowed to marry any way they please, but not be forced to do so.

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        • “That Femen’s strategy of presenting freedom of choice is baring of the body, but that it can also lie in the opposite and that this does exist as a free choice too”

          The important distinction is that the choice of baring the body does not exist here and the choice of covering it already fully does. This is not about them. This was a massive defence for choices that are under no threat in response to the demand for those that are fiercely locked away.

          “They could just ban forced marriages or any kind”

          They are. I specified because forced marriages in asian communities usually are arranged but obviously not all arranged marriages are forced. An example of something that can be an oppression or a choice. I think it would be bizarre to protest this move just because my marriage wasn’t forced. I am irrelevant to the original cause of this move. That is my point.

          It comes back to this for me:

          “And you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day but don’t deny millions of your sisters who have fear behind their scarves… ”

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        • The important distinction is that the choice of baring the body does not exist here and the choice of covering it already fully does.”
          Thank you.
          It all boils down to the non-equivalence of choices.
          One choice is the ‘default’- the socially acceptable, religiously mandated one.
          The other choice is perceived to be unacceptable, radical or blasphemous.
          Proponents of freedom of choice state that it must be possible to safely make the ‘other choice’ and that it is wrong to force the ‘default’ one onto anyone.This ‘lets not force the default choice’ gets interpreted as a criticism of the default choice, instead of a criticism of ‘forcing’.

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        • Should I then object to it and raise a counter ‘arranged marriage is my choice’ movement if I had chosen an arranged marriage myself?

          You should, if you feel that the so-called anti-arranged marriage movement is fostering social attitudes that make it difficult for you to lead your life with respect and dignity, and subject you to exclusionary attitudes from the general public.

          Since this is not the case, the analogy fails.

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        • “You should, if you feel that the so-called anti-arranged marriage movement is fostering social attitudes that make it difficult for you to lead your life with respect and dignity”

          My whole point is that the government’s move is not anti-arranged-marriage, it is anti forced-arranged-marriage. Just like Amina’s protest (and Femen’s support for it) was not anti-hijab, it was anti compulsion-of-wearing-hijab. There is a difference. That is precisely what I meant to demonstrate with the analogy.

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        • My whole point is that the government’s move is not anti-arranged-marriage, it is anti forced-arranged-marriage. Just like Amina’s protest (and Femen’s support for it) was not anti-hijab, it was anti compulsion-of-wearing-hijab. There is a difference. That is precisely what I meant to demonstrate with the analogy.

          I got that point, but perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about mine.

          What the governments, or activists WANT to achieve with a certain action is not the same as what actually happens on the street level. One must consider possible side effects, as well as possible harm to people other than intended beneficiaries as well. If such harm is likely to be minimal, great. If not, extreme caution needs to be exercised.

          The exclusion that Muslim women face is very real issue, and cannot be brushed aside as a triviality, or a ‘first-world problem’ that supposedly pales in comparison to greater problems at stake. These people are entitled to defend themselves against actions that they see as harmful to their well-being, regardless of how well-intentioned the actions themselves were.

          In any case, FEMEN’s support for voluntary Hijab seems questionable at best. Certainly, their tone is stridently anti-religion, even voluntary religion, so I am not sure at all that they are in face advocating what you assert they are advocating.

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        • What exactly is a ‘forced arranged marriage’? Is it when a bride and/or a groom is tied up or forcefully confined to get married? Then shouldn’t it be a case of illegal confinement against a person’s will?

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        • @ Sanjay,

          It often involves physical confinement but the UK is also considering emotional and financial abuse (confiscating wages to keep someone dependant) as contributing factors https://www.gov.uk/forced-marriage, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18356117.

          This is a serious problem in certain communities here. It’s usually a more realistic version of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaenge or Namaste London. People might take their children out of the country to rural India/ Pakistan etc under the ruse of something like a ‘holiday’ and then marry them off and leave them there. It often leads to honour based violence. There have been cases of such deaths in the UK where the victim resisted the marriage.

          “a case of illegal confinement against a person’s will”
          This has been done to children as well, in which case the parents (who do the forcing) are the legal guardians. I don’t know if it classifies as illegal confinement? Also, who would complain to authorities here.. won’t the victim or their family itself be responsible to raise an alarm about illegal confinement? With the new law, the police will have authority to act on tip offs by school authorities etc. I think part of it is to make a stand on this to victims, their families and the police as well (who might not recognise what exactly is happening).

          Here is an excerpt from a survivor’s story:
          “Given the atrocities related to forced marriages, one can question why it has not received as much attention as it rightly should. The problem lies within the fact that many Government officials regard forced marriages as a ‘cultural’ issue, thus it becomes ignored. This attitude is then replicated across the rest of society. Police officers, the people who many victims turn to when they are seriously at risk, turn young women away because “parents know best” or this is a case which just requires some mediation with the family. ” http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/priya-shah/the-battle-against-forced-marriage_b_2641414.html

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  3. Absolutely love this letter. Brilliantly written and brilliantly conveys the frustrations that I (and possibly others) feel with choice feminism. While everyone should have their choice and I support choices different to mine, not every choice is a feminist choice. That is to be expected and is fine. I wish we could simply accept this without shame, blame or finger-pointing. Instead, we fall into over-defending our own un-feminist choices. In the process we turn a blind eye to all the other women who need access to the feminist choices, even if we don’t. Saying that a certain fight is unnecessary because it’s unnecessary for me is very selfish, as far as I’m concerned.

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    • you clearly didn’t understand the article for it was the most misogynist bull i’ve ever read. kunwar basically snotted all over muslim women’s heads and told us all to put up or shut up about femen’s campaign. the guy is a fundamentalist nutter who compulsively spouts zealous pamela-gellar-isms at every chance. his satire is sad, tired and flaccid having been trundled out and beaten into EVERY SINGLE ARTICLE HE HAS EVER WRITTEN IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE. seriously, i’ve followed this guy’s career – pulitzer winning it is not! Also, choice feminism? seriously? are we debating the validity of women’s choices and also calling ourselves libbers in the process? WHAT A JOKE

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  4. Identifying & Admitting that you’re being wronged, whats happening is wrong is the first baby step to remedy any situation. It takes a while to get an abused child to admit that his/her parents are wrong (I rem counseling this child who adamantly defended his father who beat him constantly though he did want to escape). Same reason why we cant throw off patriarchy. Same reason why we bred rape culture! Of course no Muslim woman is going to accept that hijab & abaya is forced on them…
    This is one person’s way of protesting. Did she ask others to mimick her? Amazing no, how people conveniently missed the point & turn attention from the real issue?

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  5. //”And you can put as many scarves as you want if you are free tomorrow to take it off and to put it back the next day but don’t deny millions of your sisters who have fear behind their scarves..”//
    That says it so well.

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  6. Everyone should be free to dress the way they choose to. If a woman chooses to wear a hijab then she should be free to do so. But having a law that forces women to wear something is wrong. The countries following such a law (like saudi arabia) are the ones which are actually oppressive.

    But this shouldn’t apply to countries where it is not against the law to walk around without a hijab. Like in India, its completely a woman’s choice to not wear a hijab. If she doesn’t, she wouldn’t be jailed for it. If she wears one, its her choice. Though she may have been coerced into wearing it, but it comes down to her choice in the end. A hijab should be considered a sign of oppression in a country which forces wearing it. Not in other countries.

    You cannot have a law which bans wearing a hijab just like the one which forces wearing a hijab. That is why it is equally wrong of france to ban hijabs and turbans. We cannot have laws based on morals or those based on the opposition of morals either.

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    • I agree, but I just want to point out that France bans all overt symbols of religion -not just burkha or turbans, but even crosses and stars of david-in public life.
      French secularism emphasises on keeping one’s religion private, and they go to extreme ends to ensure that citizens do so. There are historical reasons for such vehement separation of church and state, but I personally feel banning is a step too far.

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      • I personally do not feel that banning is a step too far. When a person wears a hijab, turbans, large crosses, he/she is performing a religious show and tell. In a professional, non-religious environment, now I am asked to accommodate a religious display and in the back of my mind acknowledge the religion of my colleague. I really do not want to know what religion my colleague belongs to.

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        • @ RA
          Everyone should be free to wear what they choose to. A person is keeping religion his personal matter by wearing something as long as he is not forcing others to wear those or at least asking others to acknowledge it when they see him. Not just religions, but different races and different countries have their own attire. Would you demand for those attires to be banned as well? Not everyone dresses up to “show and tell”. If you do not want to know anyone’s religion, you simply ignore the thought that associates a religion with a person’s attire. Asking for a particular attire to be banned because it reminds you of a religion is something utterly preposterous.

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      • did you also know that france is in a recession because of this ban? yeah. females from saudi and the emirates refuse to step foot in that country so they come and summer in england spending up a frenzy and injecting a few cool billion into our economy. pretty sweet huh?

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    • I agree that it should be left up to the person to wear what they want. Regarding France though anything that covers the face is banned, even a balaclava – so if someone wants to cover their hair with scarves or their body that’s completely fine. I think the French don’t encourage conspicuous displays of religion in general, so that’s probably one reason why, and also it is a security risk if someone’s face is not visible for identification. I personally think it is dehumanizing to have someone cover their face so I fully support the French ban on face coverings.

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      • bbdlite, I don’t see an attire as a conspicuous display of religion. What if a Christian woman wants to wear a hijab? She wouldn’t turn into a Muslim just by changing her attire. It is basically wrong to associate a person’s attire to his or her religion. And I think that is where everyone makes a mistake (even the radicals).

        To ‘have’ someone cover ‘someone else’s face’ should be dehumanizing. If a person wants to cover their own face how can they be blamed of dehumanizing themselves? As for security issues, they can be taken care of at points of relevance or as deemed necessary by the security agencies. Like at airports at the time of check-in or while entering a public event.

        No country should have the law to decide and tell its people how to or not to dress let alone what sort of dress is dehumanizing.

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        • Atul, do you know any Christian women who wants to wear a hijab? I am not talking about Christian women who have converted to Islam and then, they want to wear a hijab.
          The reason people associate person’s attire to his/her religion is because there are no contradictions (at least I am not aware of any).

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        • Well, I think a lot of people would agree that the followers of certain religions can be identified by their attire/jewellry etc. like a Buddhist monk’s robes or Christian wearing a chain with a cross on it.There are a lot of people who say that Islam doesn’t specifically say what attire women should wear; but like it or not hijab/niqab/burka have come to be associated solely with Islam, although of course we have things like ghunghat which are similar. For whatever reason (greater integration? equality?) France has decided that religious displays like those are not tolerated in public.I don’t see the point of this but I don’t care either way.

          I didn’t like the ban either when I first heard about it because it does definitely encroach on personal freedoms. But the more I thought about it the more I agreed with it for a whole bunch of reasons. The face is the most expressive part of the body, and by covering it up social interactions are less rich. Security and identification are not things only needed in airports, but in all public spaces. Sometimes I think we try to be too politically correct and not judge cultural practices, but some things (like sati or child marriage) are just wrong. The ban in France was approved by an overwhelming majority, and if I were in their position I would do the same.

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  7. The sarcasm in the letter is biting indeed , but to be entirely honest, I have lingering doubts. I did not find the letter as brilliant as some seem to have done.

    For one, I was mildly put-off by the unnecessarily judgmental tone, particularly this sentence:

    [thank you] for not being a source of strength for your sisters and daughters

    Not only does this seem to imply that being a ‘source of strength’ is an unwritten obligation for all women (a claim as damaging to women as any misogynistic rant), but it also fails to acknowledge that there are many, many ways to be such a source of strength, not all of them involving participation in a fight for gender equality
    To claim that someone is not being a source of strength for their daughter, because they wrote a dissenting piece on a women’s rights issue, seems a completely over-the-top response to me, and even, to an extent, fundamentalist. I cannot imagine what useful purpose such alienating language serves to the feminist cause. And this brings me to a second, more serious objection.

    At some point, we really have to start looking at what such protests actually achieve. It may not be politically correct to say this in certain circles, but the fact is, all protests have to be tempered with a bit (even if only a bit) of cultural sensitivity if they are to produce any kind of mass support. I am not, for a moment, suggesting that one must constantly pander to the status quo (those who are regular commentators on this blog could vouch for my views on that). Such an approach would defeat the very idea of protesting against misogyny and oppression. What I am suggesting is that it is important to protest and lobby in a manner that actually has a good chance of resulting in positive outcomes for the supposed beneficiaries of such protest and lobbying.

    While Amina’s protest did indeed draw attention to oppression, I cannot imagine that it had, or is likely to have any kind of positive impact on women’s rights in Tunisia. FEMEN’s style of protest (by their own admission) is tailored towards defeating Western-style misogyny, which is, in practice and form, very different from the way patriarchy manifests itself in Middle-Eastern/Islamic cultures. At the very best, her act draws the Western gaze towards the oppression that women from her society face on a daily basis, and while there was much pooh-poohing about her subsequent treatment by her compatriots in international circles, I severely doubt if this will result in anything concrete either.
    Meanwhile, the courageous woman herself suffers tremendously, and while one may argue that this is the price of freedom, I find myself asking, to what end? What’s the benefit? Will this result in fewer women donning the hijab? It may or may not. All I’m suggesting is that there are bound to be better, more effective ways to bring about grassroots-level change, and completely ignoring local sensibilities in tailoring one’s style of protest is likely to be counter-productive.

    Shock and awe has its place, but very often, a more reasoned approach is far more effective, and far safer for the people it is meant to benefit.

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    • Praveen, agree with you that a more reasoned approach is more effective than shock and awe. However about the “[thank you] for not being a source of strength for your sisters and daughters” – yes you can be a source of strength in other ways. The problem I see is that many unfair rules for women are enforced either subtly or obviously by women themselves. I’ve seen young girls at my son’s school unhappy with wearing the hijab, wanting to participate in sports, etc. If they protest, they are made to feel immoral. The social price of not conforming to this practice is very high. It is hard for a 12 or 13 year old girl to stand up for her rights. By the time, she’s 16, she’s so used to the concept, so bought into it. Is this really a choice? And are these women really a source of strength to their daughters? How else are they being a source of strength – by comforting them when they are hurt but not giving them a chance to experience simple joys?

      About ‘every woman is not obligated to (fight for gender equality)’ – I feel if we are educated and privileged, we do have an obligation. Women who are uneducated, financially dependent, or underprivileged can’t be blamed. But if privileged women don’t fight for gender equality, then who will? When women like us conform, we are making the fight much harder for other women. When we ‘choose’ to live more restricted lives, we are shutting the door on any possible change for women who don’t have any choices. So, yes, I think, some of us do have an obligation.

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      • How else are they being a source of strength – by comforting them when they are hurt but not giving them a chance to experience simple joys?

        Actually, yes. That is indeed how they are being a source of strength. And there are an infinite number of ways that a parent can support their child, many of which have nothing to do with women’s rights.

        I am not saying it is a great thing that many women do not speak up for their own rights. However, I do find it extremely presumptuous to suppose that a parent could not possibly be a source of strength unless they support certain predefined causes (and that is what the letter writer seems to be implying).

        This is a much more nuanced issue than it is being made out to be, and disregarding those nuances (issues of religion, cultural identity, personal identity and so for th) does not help anyone. Yet that is what seems to have been done here.

        When we ‘choose’ to live more restricted lives, we are shutting the door on any possible change for women who don’t have any choices. So, yes, I think, some of us do have an obligation.

        I disagree with this in principle for multiple reasons, but let me, for a moment, admit this assertion. Even if such an obligation does indeed exist, surely, it is overriden by concerns regarding individual rights. From the point of view of a religious Muslim woman, what is the value in leaving behind oppressive religious and social customs, only to move to an equally oppressive system where every personal choice must be weighed with regard to egalitarianist ideals?

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    • “Not only does this seem to imply that being a ‘source of strength’ is an unwritten obligation for all women”

      I personally read it differently. To me, he was speaking of the fact that women saying ‘xyz is my choice’ in response to protests by those who do not have that choice actively weakens the stand of those who protested. So they are not a source of strength because they are actually diluting the issue that Amina raised. I saw this argument and the rest of the letter being specifically addressed women who raised the counter choice movement.

      Besides that, I find that this is not so black and white because it’s rather difficult to get women to break ranks with misogyny. A lot of oppressive traditions are in fact passed on and policed by women. So while an individual certainly has no obligation of fighting someone else’s fight, I do find myself more angry with MILs who want to burn brides for dowry than say FILs who want the same. Both are just as wrong, but I personally feel an extra note of betrayal at the woman.

      Within patriarchy, it serves women better as individuals to follow the rules and score points by supporting patriarchy. So the ‘source of strength’ expectation from the women who are liberated and can make choices is not quite so offensive to me, although it certainly cannot be an obligation.

      Also, surely a more reasoned approach would be more effective but perhaps Amina doesn’t care if other women stop wearing the hijab due to her protest. Perhaps she just cares about expressing her own individual freedom without facing death or violence for it. To me, that’s what this is about. The other women with their choice of wearing hijab and Femen with their lumping of all muslim women to some extent are hijacking the original issue: the availability of personal choice without dire consequences.

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      • I saw this argument and the rest of the letter being specifically addressed women who raised the counter choice movement.

        If that is true, then the letter is more justified, but I am not entirely convinced that this is indeed the case. I still feel that there was a snarky, sanctimonious tinge to the letter that is somewhat disconcerting.

        So while an individual certainly has no obligation of fighting someone else’s fight, I do find myself more angry with MILs who want to burn brides for dowry than say FILs who want the same. Both are just as wrong, but I personally feel an extra note of betrayal at the woman.

        There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way (and even if there was, there’s not much one can do about it), but in the end, I feel that this eventually just boils down to the cliched, tired, women-are-their-own-worst-enemies meme. It cannot be denied that women are often just as misogynistic as men, in the usual sense of the word, blaming them more than men for that is something I cannot come to terms with. After all, most people base their acts far more on the relative risks and benefits to themselves, as opposed to any group that they belong to.

        One could accuse misogynistic women of not demonstrating sufficient empathy towards other women who may have faced similar oppression, but such an accusation is a bit like accusing a cat of having hair on its back. Such behavior is bog-standard for both men and women, and has been since the beginning of time. It’s not a particularly nice thing to do, but such is the world we live in. Everyone who does it deserves equal condemnation, regardless of sex or other physical attributes.

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    • Amina’s protest did indeed draw attention to oppression, I cannot imagine that it had, or is likely to have any kind of positive impact on women’s rights in Tunisia.

      This is so very true, and speaks volumes about FEMEN’s campaign. At the end of the day, apart from gaining a whole load of western attention, FEMEN hasn’t revolutionised women’s liberties in tunisia or indeed anywhere in the muslim world because muslims take one look at these women and think: loons. If you want HELP MUSLIM WOMEN, you need to approach the issue with dignity and treat the people you are trying to educate with RESPECT.

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  8. May God’s curse be on these men, how they get offended on seeing anatomical parts of women that were responsible for nursing many of them when they were helpless creatures. Ingratitude of highest order.Call me a Mama’s boy, but this issue is so close to my heart. Hatred of breasts is something which I find extremely cruel and disrespectful as a son of a woman.

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  9. Loved the sarcastic rebuttal!

    I have 3 problems with the hijab, the ghunghat, and other forms of restrictive dressing:

    One, they are by definition, restrictive. A young girl of 12 or 13, wearing the above clothing can’t bike at a park, can’t swim at the school or local club, can’t do gymnastics, can’t jog, can’t play tennis, and can’t ever aspire to be an athlete at the local, state, national, or Olympic level. This means we’re cutting off opportunities for a substantial part of the girl population.

    Two, if a culture chooses to me more modest, there is nothing wrong with that. As long as the modestly is APPLIED EQUALLY TO MEN AND WOMEN. If the men cover themselves from head to toe, and so do the women, we can say such a culture has a different view of modesty. If boys can bike, swim, wear Western clothes, and participate in sports, but girls can’t, if men can wear pants and suits and modern clothes but require women to wear hijabs, ghunghats, salwar kameezes, and sarees, this is not ‘modesty’, this is called DOUBLE STANDARDS. Let’s get as modern looking as we want while the women uphold our traditions.

    Three, if wearing these forms of clothing is indeed a ‘choice’, why is religion telling them to do so? Religion is spirituality, love, self awareness, and acceptance. When religion starts telling people how to dress, what to eat, and how to brush your teeth, and starts punishing people for not dressing, for eating the ‘wrong’ food, (or brushing their teeth in a certain manner – sheesh!) that’s when we go down the drain. If religion is telling us to do something, it’s no longer “our choice”.

    This is not a choice, it’s brainwashing. The oppressed sooner or later start believing it’s a choice. My m-i-l shoos my f-i-l out of the kitchen “by choice”. Women gossip about divorced women because they stay in their unhappy marriages “by choice”.
    The word ‘choice’ has such an independent connotation. A choice has to be liberating, meaningful, positive. Choosing to be oppressed, beaten, abused, imprisoned, and sacrificed is not a choice, no matter how much we want to believe it, or need to believe it to stay sane.

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    • Any act is a choice as long as he/she is not physically forced to do so. If a woman’s husband asks her to wear a burqa, she has the choice to refuse it. But if she accepts to wear it for any reason as long as her husband doesn’t use physical force on her, its her choice. Its not her choice if she is beaten, physically abused or imprisoned. But other than that, mature adults are expected to make their own choices.

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      • I think we discussed physical versus emotional coercion in depth on this forum in one of the posts. The non-physical punishments that are imposed on those who don’t conform are (in increasing degree) intense disapproval by peer group, derogatory labeling, social isolation, and the extreme – ostracization. History has time and again established that these emotional deterrents can be just as effective as physical punishments. Many psychologists argue that emotional manipulation can sometimes be more effective that physical punishment because it is often difficult to prove, has social sanctioning, and therefore people can engage in it with impunity.

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        • Exactly! Very well said. This comment needs to be read out to those who do not understand the implications of emotional violence. Most of the oppression of not just women but humans over the world is mostly due to emotional/non-physical violence rather than just pure physical harm.

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  10. To be quite honest I can’t FEMEN seriously. Their protests are coming off as junk feminism. If they’re really all that concerned about the plight of oppressed Muslim women then why aren’t protesting the abuses like honor killings, FGM, forced marriage, etc? To me it goes further than being forced to wear the burkha. Another issue I have is it seems they’re treating Muslim women as some kind of monolithic group who are incapable of speaking for themselves, believe it or not there are Muslim women who are speaking out against and fighting oppression that Muslim women face. Finally, I’m turned off by their indignation that Muslim women aren’t grateful for their protests, I mean really? Why should they be grateful? You don’t help people by being condescending towards them.

    I get what FEMEN is trying to do, but it’s counterproductive.

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    • Ren i completely 100% agree but let me ask the readers of this blog, how do you know muslim women AREN’T protesting against all those above? Just because we don’t daub our naked bodies in paint, doesn’t mean we aren’t actively trying to right those wrongs!! I agree it goes beyond the burkha, I don’t know whether you have ever been to most of these muslim countries but let me tell you as a muslim woman I myself can attest that women’s rights have not been upheld in the way that they should be. Yes we have problems with FGM (completely unislamic by the way, these are cultural issues), yes we have problems with honor killings, with forced marriage and also with EDUCATION, so how comes immediately the west jumps on the hijaab? THATS THE LEAST OF OUR PROBLEMS!! It would be laughable if it wasn’t so damn tragic! Kunwar and his ilk should focus their energies on being productive about these issues rather than just spouting a load of vitriolic twaddle — because if thats not counterproductive I don’t know what is!

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  11. How revolutionary of this man, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid to tell women what they can and can’t do.
    The hypocrisy is astounding.
    How arrogant of him to assume that the Muslim feminists who protested against this don’t care about the oppressed.
    He has some valid points but the blatant, internalized imperialism and the misogynistic, shaming undertones completely undermines the smattering of valid points he does have.

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  12. Brilliant letter! I read responses to that letter and as expected, many of them condemned KKS’s views. You see the problem with most of us is that we like to be in denial, rather than do a reality check of what is happening around us. Citing faith and religion as the reasons to be in denial sounds justified to many. So if anyone breaks rules, questions age-old traditions and rebels at beliefs that no longer apply, the person is bound to be put down by the guardians of faith and religion to which that person belongs. According to me hijab, ghunghat etc have always been a way of telling women “dress modestly, respectfully”. When asked these women will tell you that they dress as per their religious beliefs. So, religion tells us what to wear, how to behave etc.

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  13. I’m sorry but i refuse point blank to be told by a MAN what my rights and my freedoms are. Inna shevchenko I can handle, she’s a woman and she knows what that feels like — this MAN is not a woman will never be a woman and so will never EVER be able to dictate to me my rights. I swear I’ve been all but put-off men by this nasty piece of work.

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    • Why put off by all men because you disagree with one man’s article? Then do you also think men are solely responsible for crimes that Patriarchy, religion, culture, custom an tradition commit against women and children (girls and boys) and younger men? And against any man who is seen as ‘not manly enough’ or in some way, less powerful or impressive or strong than every other man?

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      • against any man who is seen as ‘not manly enough’ or in some way, less powerful or impressive or strong than every other man?
        No you’ve misunderstood me completely, kunwar is exactly that! A controlling “manly” man, telling me what i should think, when i should think it, how to dress and how to act. the guy is a fundamentalist in the more accurate sense of the word, he is an extremist, he is completely unbalanced in his reasonings. Kunwar, and men in general, SHOULD be in touch with their feminine side in order to be a little more sympathetic to women. Maybe I should suggest to kunwar some oestrogen shots.

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        • Kunwar has given his opinion but he has not suggested violence against those who do not agree with him.

          He pointed out that some women make it all about themselves, as in, “I choose to wear/not wear this so I can’t see what’s all this noise about.” But these protests are about women who can or have been killed for making certain choices – meaning they did/don’t have the freedom to choose. I think it’s a good thing to acknowledge that there are women, even if we believe the number is very small, who do not have the choices many other women have.

          Why do you think he is radical or controlling? Why do you think is he fundamentalist in ‘more accurate sense of the word’? Which of his reasoning did you find ‘unbalanced’?

          What is ‘feminine’ side? Is the natural state of man ‘manliness’? Would you say manly men are not liked by women unless they have some amount of ‘feminine-side’ to them? Who do you think defines feminine and manliness?

          Do take a look at this post: https://indianhomemaker.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/bikini-vs-burka-the-debauchery-of-women/

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  14. Pingback: So long as we are not that woman? | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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