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Femen's Islam-Bashing Disregards Muslim Feminism

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The April 4 agitations of the breast-baring iconoclasts serve few Muslim feminists. Many of us are pro-women and pro-Islam and we insist on that fusion.

The April 4 agitations of the breast-baring iconoclasts serve few Muslim feminists. Many of us are pro-women and pro-Islam and we insist on that fusion.

Femen bust

Credit: Person Behind the Scenes/Sergey Kukota on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0).

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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)-- "International Topless Jihad Day"--organized in several European capitals on April 4 by the feminist group Femen--was a setback for women in the Muslim world.

All it did was give religious extremists a good reason to denounce feminism as an importation of the West that insults cultures and religions.

But Femen's leader, Inna Schevchenko, seems intent on ignoring that message. In an April 8 retort to her Muslim female critics in the , Schevchenko only intensifies a culturally tone-deaf narrative that says Islam is oppressive, Muslim men are violent and Muslim women are voiceless.

Here's a sample of what Schevchenko writes in the piece: "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 color of skin . . .You say you live the way you want. Being fifth wife in harem the maximum you can be is the favorite wife . . . Right? You say we talk about you because we are irritated only by bearded men who pray five times per day."

She goes on to say: "Sisters, we don't care how many times your men are praying, but we care a lot what they do in between. We care a lot about violence and aggression, we care a lot when your fathers, brothers and husbands are raping and killing, when they call to stone your sisters, we care a lot when they burn embassies etc, and all that for Allah!"

Femen, based in Kiev, Ukraine, and founded in 2008, disserves feminism if it chooses to ignore what many Muslim women say. That in itself is a form of silencing. Many Muslim female social activists don't question Islam. Instead, we say a proper interpretation of Islam respects women's rights.

Islamophobic Protests

It's also legitimate to denounce the group as Islamophobic based on what happened on April 4, when activists in Paris, Berlin, Kiev and as far away as Sao Paulo in Brazil demonstrated in solidarity with the Tunisian Femen activist Amina Tyler, who has been in hiding since March 8, the day she posted pictures of herself topless on

In an April 3 demonstration in Paris, on the eve of International Topless Jihad Day, three Femen activists--two French and one Tunisian--burned the Islamic flag in front of the Grand Mosque. That flag contains the declaration of the belief in the oneness of God and acceptance of Muhammad as the prophet of God. Burning it is blasphemous for Muslims.

Femen chose April 4 because it's Tyler's birthday, but the embattled young activist did not embrace the gesture. In a TV interview with a crew of French journalists from the station Canal+, Tyler denounced the protests. "They burned the Islamic flag in front of a mosque in Paris. I am against it."

Tyler is not disavowing her connection with Femen though. "I will be one of them until I am 80," she told the TV reporters. But she fears that Femen has only intensified the backlash against her. "Everyone is now going to think that I encouraged them. It's inacceptable," she said in an interview aired by the TV French program "L'Effet Papillon."

Tyler's photos of herself had the words "my body is mine, nobody's honor" written in Arabic across her breasts and stomach. The words express an understandable feeling of defiance against the rise of fundamentalism in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab region. Extremists called for her to be stoned to death, which is condemnable.

But the pictures also shocked more moderate and even progressive