Friday, December 02, 2011

"Instant Activist Just Remove Clothing!"

Mirage A' Trois
December 2, 2001.

Much has been said about Aliaa Magda Elmahdy the 20 year old, Egyptian that stripped for nude photos and then blogged them. According to her the photo: "screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy".

A self-proclaimed 'feminist' and 'activist' like Elmahdy should know that there are more authentic and involved ways to be an activist for women’s rights that don’t include stripping for photos that look like cheap porn. Undressing to be liberated feeds into the western idea that to be unclothed translates into being free - I am certain that the over 8 million women and girls trafficked for sex globally will probably have another view-.

She is doing this for art and free expression in response to the terribly repressive Muslim country in which she lives. I find the entire action inciteful and opportunistic she has made herself a western darling and will probably get entrance into the American art school of her choice and an easy, unlimited visa unlike the millions of other Egyptian students trying to reach hallowed American ground for further education.

Of course her controversial facebook group in which she began calling for men to wear the hijab goes back to the old idea which requires men to act and speak on behalf of women. It's as if the millions of women who wear hijab as resistance globally need men to do the same in order to make their actions meaningful.

With almost 3 million hits which include praise, insults and death threats her bold move cannot be entirely ignored even if it does smack of gaining entry into the 'Islam Industry in the West' where anyone (preferably Muslim and female) that can show how oppressive and repressive Islam is to women is a hero.

Surely activism and resistance come in ways more than stripping of your kit? The photo is a black and white full frontal with her wearing only stockings, red shoes, a red bow in her hair and it feeds entirely into the western concept of beauty and sexiness. Now if there was even an ounce of activism to her nude scene maybe I could attempt to understand her action. I was thinking maybe if the background was Tahrir

So the question remains who speaks for the Muslim woman and how? And my answer is… PLEASE LET IT NOT BE HER.

Comment:  I think DD has provided an excellent argument above.  Her action is gonna p*ss a whole grip of people off for real.  It already has.  Especially Muslims.

I wrote a comment at DD's excellent blog.  Here it is:
DD you make a compelling argument.

I think you are right that her celebrity is more about poking the eye of Muslim women who are generalized to be oppressed.

And yes she is likely to become the darling of those in the west who think this is about choice and individual identity politics.

I needed to think your argument through and then realized that it was a lot (in structure) like my misgivings about naked bike rides western lefties like to throw.

I think that those naked bike rides are prank politics at best and devoid of substance.

And I think you are right by pointing this out here (mostly).

I am not sure though that she seeks to speak for Muslim women; she is however contesting freedom, or notions of freedom. (she is an atheist)

Inside of Islam this is not acceptable. No short cuts.

That is a position of religion but Egypt is a non-Islamic/ non-democratic state and she should also be judged in those terms.

Inside of a repressive society the matter of choice is an important stand.

This also means that naked bike rides are also about freedom of expression.

The same for her.

So, she should not be repressed for her daring, or for her idiocy, where such behavior does not infringe on anyone's safety/rights.

Moreover, her act does open (again) the need to talk about the status of women in general (and inside statist Islam in particular).

Is naked freedom? Is nikab freedom?

And what about patriarchy?

How much of the offense that is taken by her act is a matter of defending men?  (particularly conservative Muslim men and their control of women?)

Nonetheless, I think your argument is tight and very convincing.
You can see Aliaa Magda Elmahdy's blog here.

I would repost her naked pictures but moms does not approve and I have pissed enough Muslim women off for 2011.  :0)

Will start afresh next year though.

What you think?



Kweli said...

I still can't figure this one out. Take away the corrupted-Islam that some of these rulers rely on and you still end up with authoritarian or even totalitarian states (these words might be too laden, so "undemocratic" might be the word, but even "democracy" now stands for a stunt double of itself, a kind of formalistic, desubstantialized thing).

Anyway, my point is: seeing this mainly as a protest against the position of women in Islam might take away from the need for activism(?) against the position of women in all places---just as Ridwan points out.

Sometimes we in the West get too busy pointing feminist fingers too generally at Islam and we forget that we aren't exactly the yard stick for feminism either. Saying this, of course, always leads to a kind of "we might not be perfect, but at least we are not like them, we don't treat women like that."

I don't know if I'm making sense. I'm saying: take away the corruption of Islam that infringes on the rights of women and you'll still end up with a corporatist state that infringes on the rights of women. So the struggle needs not only be focused on religion, but also on the state and the economy because those two also infringe on women's rights.

Ridwan said...

Excellent points Kweli. And the state is a male construction made to perpetuate patriarchy.

A lot of venom has been directed at Elmahdy from Muslims who see this as an affront to the call for modesty in Islam.

Truth is she is not Muslim - she is even contesting religion and its sway over her politics.

And she should have that space and freedom to do so.

As I read it, there are at least two levels of entry into this debate.

Both are linked by the conditions that women suffer under male domination.

But either side must be reflective of what DD says is the west's use of this incident to paint broadly on the bodies of all women in Islam and women in the so called middle east.

It matters little in that context that she is not Muslim - she is still made to represent Islam and "its women", and perhaps even to represent the desired reaction of turning her back on the religion.

There is a definite Orientalizing of her stance as Edward Said may have said (and she is an agent too).

The other side is still about patriarchy. But it also requires Muslims to speak to the conditions of female subjugation inside Islamic communities.

To say that Muslim women are free from male domination is to lie, frankly.

(Please read on below)

Ridwan said...


Beyond the issues of Hijab/Nikab there are a host of issues that weigh heavy on Muslim women and all of it has to do with the manner in which Muslim men dominate Muslim women.

This domination is rooted in cultural interpretation and not necessarily in keeping with the only verifiable instructions in Islam, those found in the Qur'an.

Muslims should embrace all opportunities to interrogate the conditions of Muslim women.

There is a need for an interrogation of the role/place of women in Muslim communities - one that is as urgent now as it was in the time of the origins of Islam.

Still, I agree with DD that the actions of Elmahdy is not the best way to raise the nuances that is needed in this debate.

The same with the prank politics of naked bike rides.

There are class dimensions at play here that must also be taken into consideration.

Elmahdy is not every woman in the middle east. She is not a poor woman locked up in Afghanistan for being raped by a relative and falling pregnant, only to be locked because the pregnancy is out of wedlock. She is raising that child in prison now and can get out if she agrees to marry the rapist (who is married to her sister). She worries about it but is considering marrying the rapist though she also faces being stoned to death for adultery. So she lives in prison for being raped by a Muslim man. A true story.

This is not Islamic but it is done in the name of Islam. Where is the protest and where is it aimed?

Is it aimed at poor voiceless women or celebrity types who live their "activism" in the realm of art or the internet?

The same with the naked bike folks. How many poor brothers and sistas are along on those rides?

And what are the middle class hangups that are being represented when white people get naked or "occupy" meaningless positions and sell it as revolution.

I think these questions should be asked about the Tahrir uprising too.

Those well meaning folks represent urban dwellers at best. The class dimensions are hidden and repressed even by those with cell phones and web access at hand.

I find it amusing that Elmahdy had stockings on in her nude picture. I see DD's point that she was selling a western version of "sexy" as an ideal of freedom.

Is it freedom? And is a hijabi or nikabi then immediately repressed?

Or is hijab/nikab, or even modesty for that matter, not a politics of freedom too?

Again, is this about pandering to class interests too?

There are so many strands in this issue and I am aware that "I can't speak for" any except my own corner of patriarchy and class privilege.

I too live in abstraction. The closest I came to being present in this issue is when I showed the nude blog pictures to my mother and she recoiled and said: "That is not right in any circumstance."

The I asked if it was OK to repost the nude pictures and she said "no".

I protested, "but she is not Muslim."

The answer, "all women should be respected, Muslim or not."

I hope "Occupy" Suzy and Brittany can see the nuances; like DD says, Elmahdy does not speak for Muslim women.

Peace brother,

Kweli said...

Word. Spoken well, Ridwan. Thanks for the insight.

Tony said...

So....I'm not really known for my political intellectualism (if there is such a word), so in keeping with tradition, the most that I can offer is an observational thought: As far as the western "liberated women" goes (I even like like the slightly pissed "liverated women", easier to get into bed, you see); I'm willing to bet that a man invented the bikini!

Ridwan said...

Tony I have always thought you to be more than just astute in politics.

That said I agree that a man invented the bikini and I would put my penis on a guillotine if a man was not behind the invention of the veil, nikab, and hijab too.

And I bet that most of these garments are now made in sweatshops in China, Vietnam, Thailand, an so on, where the workers can't afford to buy what they are making.

I always thought that many of the liberated western-style feminists were in fact equal to men.

In fact, most of them have become no more than men - they are just versions of men with all the usual bigotry quite intact.

Erasing the domination of men should no be about making women men too.

Oh, if a man could conceive I bet abortion would be a human right fully subsidized by anonymous drive thru clinics.

What say you boet? :0)

Of course now you know both of us are in a whole lot of trouble, again.

Yo, I am gonna be single forever - thanks Tony ;0)

Peace boet,

Tony said...

Yes....I would put your penis on a guillotine on that bet too.....

Jokes aside, I totally agree with "Erasing the domination of men should no be about making women men too."
From a business perspective; looking at the actions of women in middle/upper management today, I would say that a lot of the manwomen (yes, it's a new word) is the fault of women themselves. Many seem think that they should act like men in order to get the respect/get the job done. Whereas, they don't realise how powerful a female management style is. I think that women are more effective managers and more powerful motivators compared to men; as long as they don't think that they have to act like men. That being said, most women also tend have a better working relationship with men, rather than with other women.
What the heck? Apologies; have taken your topic on a slight tangent.


Ridwan said...

Hey Tony is Killary Clinton an example of a "manwoman"?

Margaret Thatcher?

No apologies needed my brother. This blog is one big mess anyway :0)

Now go ride for me too, please.