I’ve recently had my first article published that was translated into Turkish. Titled, “İslamofobinin Kolay Hedefleri”, the piece was published in the German periodical Perspektif and is available in both print and online versions. To read the online version, click here.
For those of you who don’t read Turkish, an English version is pasted below (the published version may however be slightly different):
Easy Goals of Islamophobia
A few weeks ago, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that two Muslim women – one in Belgium, the other in France – who were dismissed by their employers for wearing headscarves did not suffer direct discrimination. The decision was made on the basis that employers are within their rights to ban visible political or religious clothing and symbols in the workplace as long as it is part of a requirement for all staff to dress ‘neutrally’. Contrary to an earlier ruling by the European Court of Human Rights upholding the rights of employees to display religious symbols at work, the ECJ ruling has been interpreted by some as Islamophobic given it will likely impact Muslim women employees the most due to their Islamic clothing in particular being seen to be more objectionable and therefore less neutral than other religious traditions. In some ways, the decision is unsurprising.
For many years, European Muslim women – especially ‘visible’ Muslim women – have been increasingly un-noticeable not least because their mere presence and recognition goes some way towards disrupting the order of normality within Western societies. The evidence for this is most obvious in the banning of certain aspects of Muslim women’s appearance and attire in such countries as Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Italy and Switzerland. Without doubt, Muslim women are seen as being problematic. As my research has repeatedly shown, this is because the outward and visible manifestations of Muslim women have not only come to symbolise their identity but so too have they come to symbolise many of the things that are perceived to be wrong, problematic and threatening about Islam and Muslims in the West.
Given their visibility, it is difficult for visible Muslim women to be mistaken, denied or concealed and this has consequences. As my research has shown, one of the most concerning is that because they are increasingly un-noticeable, so they become easy targets for those wishing to perpetrate bigotry and hate. In essence, they are easy targets for Islamophobia. However, this is far from new. As my research into Islamophobia in Europe in the aftermath of 9/11 showed, visible Muslim women were the most likely to be targeted for verbal and physical abuse as also violence. Since then, a number of reports and inquiries have suggested similar including the Open Society Institute report in 2005, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in 2006, and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in 2009. From a brief analysis of these, it would seem that approximately 70% of all Islamophobic incidents involving threat, intimidation and violence are directed at Muslim women. According to the FRA, not only are women more likely to be victims of Islamophobia but so too were they likely to have experienced some discriminatory incident an average of eight times each in the preceding twelve months. In other words, once every six weeks.
There is however an even more concerning aspect to all of this: the impact Islamophobia has on the everyday lives its victims. Having undertaken research into the experience of those Muslim women to have experienced steer-level Islamophobia in Britain over the past five years, most express many of the same emotions that other victims of hate do, namely anger, annoyance, shock, fear, vulnerability and anxiety among others. While so, others also speak about feelings of humiliation, isolation, embarrassment, disgust and sadness. Combined, these have a very serious impact on their individual wellbeing. But it was the resultant fear more than anything else that had the greatest detrimental impact on them. This was evident in how many of them changed the way they lived their lives, speaking about being too scared to take go shopping, leave their homes and even be out alone. For some, their fear was extended to their families with victims speaking about not wanting to send their children to school or even let them play in their gardens. As one of the female victims put it:
“It made me feel very scared…I was scared to go out on the street or into the area on my own. It made me think continuously that I need some sort of self-defence class so I know how to defend myself and protect my children…you start to think that something is going to happen. It kind of makes you feel like somebody is ready to attack you in the street…it kind of makes you think people hate you because of the way you dress. And then you start linking everything as being anti-Muslim and that may well not be the case. For example, some people give you a look which may be nothing…but”
For me, the “but” at the end was maybe most telling in that it highlighted that while she was aware that the vast majority of people were not going to be Islamophobic towards her, her experience had planted the seed of doubt in her mind that in turn affected her interactions and engagement with everyone around her.
Becoming a victim of Islamophobia also resulted in some of the women changing how they felt about who they were and whether they truly belonged in the society where they were living. Around half of those I interviewed expressed such concerns albeit in the longer term, after they had had time to process and think through their experience. As one of the women put it, “it makes you think about integrating…you just put your boundaries up”. For another, her response highlighted the depth of the detrimental impact caused by Islamophobia:
“I know my background is Bangladeshi but I would not know how to live there. I do not feel that I belong to Bangladesh. But when things happen to you then the identity crisis comes in and you feel that you do not belong to anywhere. You start to question your identity: am I a British Muslim or a Bangladeshi Muslim?”
For her, experiencing Islamophobia challenged the very core of her identity: whether she could ever truly be British (or European) while also being Muslim. In the current climate where Muslim women are also being targeted and vilified by national and municipal governments and politicians, one can only presume that the detrimental impact can only be greater.
Despite the fact that the number of Islamophobic attacks perpetrated against Muslim women has been increasing over the past decade and a half, there has been very few pan-European or nationally focused responses to this. Given the increasingly un-noticeable presence of Muslim women, one might expect at least something in this respect. But as was evident last summer when Muslim women were forcibly told to remove their ‘burkinis’ in response to locally imposed bans on a number of French beaches, there remains a distinct lack of vociferous protest when it comes to Muslim women. Instead of there being an outcry when Muslim women are publicly having their human rights infringed, the ensuing debates focused on why too much clothing on a beach could be seen to be a threat to ‘us’ and who ‘we’ are: in other words, why Muslim women were a ‘problem’. The same could be said of the recent ruling by the ECJ when the socio-political response failed to even constitute a whimper.
What is most concerning is that as we have seen over the past decade and a half, the more Muslim women are seen to be a ‘problem’ the more they are likely to become targets for Islamophobia. Given the hugely detrimental impact this has on their everyday lives, the result can only be more isolation, less integration and less cohesion. While Muslim women continue to be increasingly un-noticeable, so too must the harm they experience as victims of bigotry and hate also be un-noticeable too.