Dec 30, 2015

a very different sort of solidarity head scarf wearing

Let me start with a correction. In my last post I used the word hijab when I meant head scarf. I know better, and have been corrected on this in years past by feminist Muslims, but somehow following the media attention around that incident I slipped and used the term hijab that the mainstream media uses. As a translator I loved this explanation of why this is a dangerous slip that supports conservative and anti-woman interpretations of the Koran, as do, the Muslim feminists authors argue, naive empathy experiments to 'walk in her hijab'.

But last week there was a very different, and inspiring, moment of wearing a head scarf in solidarity. Al-Shabab militants, who regularly single out Christians and kill them, pulled over a bus in Kenya. The Mulsims on the bus risked their life by quickly handing head scarfs to the women and helping them to wear them properly so that they could not be singled out. THAT is some brave and powerful head scarf solidarity.

Dec 17, 2015

Hijab wearing as "embodied solidarity"

Dr. Larycia Alaine Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, was placed on leave on December 10th for wearing a hijab for advent, or "from now until Christmas" in as she puts it "embodied solidarity" with Muslim women. She is calling on other women to join her.

I have posted repeatedly here about campaigns that in different ways play that I am you to show that I am with you. In general my concern is that though they may be well meaning, they run the risk of appropriation. They can give participants a false sense of knowing what other people's experience is like, and can actually close rather than open space for the experiences of people they are trying to be in solidarity with.

As Farah Azadi put it in her powerful critique of this action:

"In the case of the Wheaton College professor, I wonder if instead of wearing the headscarf, which will inevitably provoke conversations about Islam and gender, what if she made space in her classes to have Muslim women (hijab wearing or not) to speak about their personal experiences? Or making the commitment to developing a course on gender and Muslim-Christian dialogue? Or even finding her local Muslim community or Muslim women’s group and inquiring with them ways they feel Islamophobia could best be addressed on campus?

Instead, I fear her action will place her in the position of speaking to the experience of being a Muslim woman or about gender in Islam even where she is clearly misplaced to do so. In this way she has robbed a Muslim woman from speaking for herself, and that isn’t solidarity – it is, in actuality, colonialism.

Muslim women, religious or not (hijab wearing or not!) need allies to organise alongside them–to make more room for their voices, not rob them of opportunities, or speak -for- them. Though it may take extra effort and more time, and though some might have to risk starting some uncomfortable conversations, it is more likely to lead towards a fuller and ultimately more meaningful understanding of what it means to be a Muslim woman. Those acts may not make headlines, or twitter tags, but they are the necessary ingredients of moving from charity to solidarity."

I couldn't agree more.

I was also disturbed this morning when listening to the news to hear that in Hawkins' statement to the press she said that solidarity required "bodily sacrifice". Though I understand that her job is on the line, it seems problematic to me to frame wearing a hijab as a 'sacrifice'. It sets her up as a martyr, as a savior rather than a sister. 

I think and write about international accompaniers, who show solidarity by putting their body in the line of fire, walking next to peace and justice activists under threat in conflict zones. I am interested particularly in whether and how it works to use the fact that in our current global systems of inequality some lives count more, to work for a world where everyone's life counts, where every life is respected.

It is problematic to frame as a bodily sacrifice even this sort of solidarity action, which puts accompaniers at much more risk than wearing a hijab does. Accompaniers seem to sense this as I have very rarely found them using this language. Indeed more than a sacrifice it could be seen as a privilege and honor to walk alongside and learn from some of the bravest peace and justice organizers in the world.

Likewise, women who choose to continue to wear the hijab even when this makes them subject to Islamophobic attacks are brave, righteous, and important to listen to and learn from. Empathy experiments like Hawkins' (or like the many wear a hijab for a day exercises) do not amplify those voices, or even seem to learn much from them - but get a good deal of media coverage that can instead actually drown them out.

Dec 1, 2015

Syrian solidarity socks?!

The socks in the picture here are marketed as "Syrian refugee crisis socks" by stand4socks. Your purchase of the socks funds one week of education in a refugee camp. Another model will fund the clearing of two square meters of land from landmines. 

I am generally dubious about showing solidarity through consumption. Our planet needs dramatically less consumption, not excuses to justify more.  You probably already have way more socks than you need (I sure do). Why not donate a pair of winter socks to your local group organizing to set up house for one of your local Syrian refugee families? Not connected to one of those groups yet? Look for one, there are plenty. Quaker Meetings and Unitarian churches are a good place to start if you don't know where to look.

Let's stand in solidarity with Syrians in more transformative ways than through buying, or even donating, socks.  What will do more to change the situation for Syrians is asking the hard questions about why the war is raging there, and working to end the bombing of civilians in Syria that is making things worse and only serving to recruit more and more fighters for ISIS.

Nonviolent organizing for peace and justice continues in Syria, under incredibly difficult conditions. We can stand in more meaningful solidarity with those brave activists by following and sharing the stories posted on facebook by the Syrian Nonviolence Movement. Another resource is the site Syria Untold. I would love suggestions of other sites and ways to support this organizing.

Update: Another site recommended to me by Ebru Ustundag is the Syria Solidarity movement, but note that they support the Syrian government and the Syrian Army, so not exactly nonviolent grassroots organizing. Still, it's a perspective on the conflict that is not widely available in English.

I was quite moved this morning that the whole front page of the Toronto Star is a large and warm welcome to Canada for Syrian refugees, the first full official planeload of whom are arriving today. 
One of the issues here in Canada is how this will affect First Nations here. Ebru also recommended this podcast by native activists. As they describe it, "Trudeau announces nation to nation relationship and then proceeds to invite 25,000 Syrian refugees to come live in this land without consulting any Indigenous nations. We tackle this contentious topic on a late night ramble in the truck."