THE BLOG

I Am Not Oppressed

04/10/2013 10:01 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2013
  • Laila Alawa Social entrepreneur, cultural pundit and digital strategist

I am a proud Muslim-American woman, and I am tired. I am tired of being told that I am oppressed. That I have no voice. That I need to be liberated.

I am tired, and I am speaking out for the rights of my and other fellow Muslim sisters to be able to dress and be how they wish to be.

When I first heard about the 'titslamism' campaign that the radical feminist organization FEMEN was undertaking, I regarded it with apathy. Their original mission seemed to be intended to raise awareness around the Tunisian activist Amina Tyler, a woman who posted a photo of her bare breasts to the FEMEN Tunisia Facebook page and received backlash from the Tunisian government for doing so. As a result, FEMEN opted to begin protesting in front of Islamic centers around the world, baring their breasts in an effort to deal with Islamism.

Or so they purported.

In actuality, however, their campaign is not aligned with what they supposedly intended. FEMEN and its supporters have banked on what they feel is 'politically correct' these days to tap into: a healthy dose of Islamophobia with a heavy dash of sex appeal. Inna Shevchenko, the leader of FEMEN, backs up these allegations in a response she wrote addressing the very Muslim women who protested the efforts of her campaign to 'free' them:

So, sisters, (I prefer to talk to women anyway, even knowing that behind them are bearded men with knives). You say to us that you are against Femen, but we are here for you and for all of us, as women are the modern slaves and it's never a question of colour of skin. ... 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, don't deny that there are million of your sisters who have been raped and killed because they are not following the wish of Allah!"

Wow.

As the very woman who is supposedly being 'freed' by these protests, I am offended and disgusted. As a covered Muslim woman, I am greeted on a daily basis with passersby who tell me that I no longer need to wear the headscarf because I am in America. In this exact statement supposedly freeing Muslim women from the clothes they seem 'forced' to don, there is a level of oppression being expressed, as though there is only one way to be 'free.' The same beliefs are employed in FEMEN's offensive and ultimately pointless protests.

I anticipate there being a number of comments posted to this article notifying me that my father will stone me once he hears that I've spoken out (he will not, he is a sweet, supportive man, as most men are in the Islamic faith), that if I were 'back home' where I 'came from', I would be forced into a hut with four other women and raped on a daily basis under the guise of Islam (I come from Syria and Denmark, neither of which engage in those supposed practices, practices that are not condoned in Islam, although unjust instances of domestic violence still occur under the guise of the faith). So, for any readers who quickly scan through this piece and begin complaining about my so-called oppression, recognize that I am fully free and require no sort of help on your part.

FEMEN protests display a blatant expression of orientalism and colonialism in their belief that there is only one way to be free: through the utter disrobing of all garments covering the body. 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. Rather than being revolutionary, FEMEN utilizes the same rhetoric used in colonial history to simplify women to just their attire as a representation of their ultimate freedom. Amusingly, topless protests are not even legally permitted in the free nations in which the FEMEN protests take place -- effectively contradicting the freedom that FEMEN attempts to express to Muslim women as being the only way to live. I have not heard a single Muslim woman speak out about how she now feels freed due to the FEMEN protests.

Why is that the case? Is it because all of the -- as Inna so condescendingly put it -- "bearded men with knives" are holding Muslim women back from speaking out? No.

It is because we have no need to be freed by a group of condescending protesters, all skinny, white and fitting squarely into the acceptable media paradigm of 'true beauty.' It's like a random stranger telling you how to eat 'better,' even though they have no information on who you are or how you manage your daily nutritional intake.

Just as many past colonialist movements have only served to hurt, rather than help, the very people they pretend to care about, so too does FEMEN with its movement to 'free' Muslim women from the imaginary oppressors. n its attempts to bring attention towards the movement, FEMEN blatantly shut off any attempts for a dialogue, telling Muslim women that we have no right to speak out on the very issues that we are supposedly being hurt by.

I speak out not because a bearded man told me to, not because I am nothing but, as Inna stated, a puppet for "dictatorial countries to promote the official position of the government... ." I speak out because the FEMEN protests offend and infuriate me, as a Muslim woman, as a covered woman, as a feminist, and as an equal human being in this world. I am tired, and I am speaking out for my own and fellow Muslim sisters' right to be able to dress as we like and be who we wish to be in this world.

My choice to cover is my own, and FEMEN's very protest to uncover is oppression in itself.