Public Spaces as White Christian Spaces

I was at a public library this evening when two security guards walked in and disrupted the quiet to speak with a man in a corner. This man was praying and the security guards interrupted his prayer because he was in violation of library rules which say shoes must be worn at all times.

The man said there were no available study rooms where he could be by himself and therefore, not a distraction to others. The security guards, though calm in their speech, told the praying man that shoes must be worn, and that someone had issued a noise complaint against him, meaning they had to act.

This is Islamophobia.

I spoke with a head librarian with  my own complaint, asking her if their policies on shoes are so rigid that it does not account for religious observance. She assured me the library would handle the matter tomorrow and that this was a distressing situation for everyone involved. She said she mentioned to the praying man that as a public library, the establishment cannot have a bias toward one religion or another. As if allowing a man to pray would be favoring Islam. It’s a classic excuse for not being inclusive: to give even a little is to show favoritism. And that just wouldn’t be fair, now would it?

I told her the library is a Christian space because the town is predominantly Christian! You’re showing favor by not taking a stance for inclusivity  It’s the same way spaces are White Spaces unless specifically designated otherwise. The racism and exclusion that took place at this town library is a microcosm for the racism that’s happening at Mizzou, where black students are unwelcome due to verbal threats, as well as millions of verbal and non-verbal micro-aggressions each day. Unless we are purposeful in making all spaces open and inviting to people of all backgrounds, the world we walk through and inhabit will remain under the thumb of white, straight, cis male privilege. It takes effort to change ourselves into anti-racist people, why should it take any less effort to change the places we inhabit?

#Mizzou #ConcernedStudent1950

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Books By Women: The Terrorists of Irustan

The Terrorists of Irustan has literally everything I’m interested in. It’s feminist science fiction. It has Middle Eastern influences. The central conflict questions the difference between terrorism and activism.

It was difficult to accept how this novel disappointed at every turn.Written in 1999, the novel can, at best, be described, as a knock-off version of The Handmaid’s Tale, but set in space. And unfortunately,, the novel simplifies Islamic and Arab culture.

577258On the planet Irustan, due to pervasive religious structures women cover themselves from head to toe and have no power or presence in the public space. Men cannot speak to them and they cannot speak to men. Our hero, Zara, is a doctor (on this planet, the profession of women) who begins to use her medicinal knowledge to poison men who harm women, specifically women she knows and loves. I was expecting nuance and cultural critique from this premise. I was expecting a massive underground uprising of female resistance fighters who pledged their lives to activism (or terrorism) to demand their rights.

Though the novel draws on Islamic culture, the author, Louise Marley, becomes entangled in the singular narrative that women who cover themselves are oppressed, look at how this other culture (read Islam, but in space) oppresses their women! Female characters who claim the veil as a symbol of their power do not have a voice in this story. The singular reading of women who cover themselves for religious reasons alienated me from any feminist message. It did not offer a plurality of voices in the text. Furthermore, I felt the structure of those women over there lifted the blame off Western misogyny and gave Western culture a free pass on our own sexism. If we’re not as sexist as these other guys, then we’re doing alright, no problems here. The one character who’s background offered push back, is a Chinese person working on Irustan, who describes the plight of future women in China, which was a fascinating cultural comparison and pretty well explored.

Yet, I wish this book were stronger and lived up to my expectations because it’s one of the few books I can think of where there are no (or almost no) white characters. Everyone is a person of color and regardless of any issues I have with the narrative, I have to give Marley credit for her diversity in this regard.

It’s a shame that the characters are pretty one–dimensional and the narrative does not grip you emotionally. I appreciate what Marley tried to do with this novel, and I know she’s won awards for her science fiction before, but for me, this novel fell pretty flat. If I decide to give another of her novels a try, I will let you know.

“Are you Muslim?” “Does it matter?”

This past weekend I was at the 2015 Hunger Walk benefiting the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I’m there through my internship, a non-profit that works with the Hizmet Movement (AKA the Gulen movement)–a peaceful civic interpretation of Islam that fosters understanding and dialogue between all faiths, based on the ideas of Turkish scholar Fetullah Gulen.

In such an environment I wasn’t expecting to have the conversation that I did. Before the walk begins, I was speaking with a middle aged woman who, upon learning I’m at the walk through my internship, asked: “Are you Muslim?”

I told her, “No.” I’m not Muslim. I din’t tell her I’m Jewish because I distrusted her.

She attempted to backtrack but didn’t apologize because she didn’t realize she had done something wrong. She then told me, “I know not all Muslim girls wear a headscarf.”

This is true, but it doesn’t justify her question. If she had to ask if I was Muslim it meant she would view me differently based on my answer. She needed to know to satisfy her own curiosity and prove her own goodness and accepting diversity. It’s the same way that by telling me she knew not all Muslim women wear hijabs, she was really telling me was: I’m a good liberal woman, I swear. I’d accept you even if you were Muslim.

And I’m sure she’s a good person, but she didn’t need to prove how liberal she was to me. I talked with her throughout the walk and found out she routinely does walks for Breast Cancer, that she supports gay marriage and that she’s aware of issues of race. These conversations came up naturally and we were having a discussion. I felt more at ease because she wasn’t trying to prove anything.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with one my friends lately about the “good liberal on the street” who thinks that listening to NPR, voting for the democrats and supporting gay marriage or having a gay friend makes them radical and leftist and somehow helping the world. But if this is all a person is doing, if this is all a person sees as making a difference, and if a person is willing to stop there and congratulate themselves on their good liberal lifestyle they’re still part of the problem.

NPR is tame. Gay marriage is the tip of the iceberg.

As long as liberal people feel the need to prove how liberal they are with questions like “Are you Muslim?” then we’re stuck in an unfortunate definition of liberality. We’re stuck with liberals but not activists.  I’m not saying these “good liberals on the street” are bad people, or that being radical somehow makes someone more moral, but we need more than surface level change. We need to arrive at a day where the answer to the question “Are you Muslim?” is “Does it matter?”

Coloring While White

I was at an event at my college, hosted by the South Asian students association, the Black Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association and they had whole tables of pictures to color, most of which were of women of color. There was a brilliant picture of Princess Jasmine, from Disney’s Aladdin, waving a flag that read:

nobody’s free until everyone is free!

And when I went to color her in, I had to stop and think and remember to reach for a brown crayon to color her skin. I had never thought of this micro aggression against people of color before, but it’s so obvious now that I think about it. As a person perceived as white and benefiting daily from white privilege, regardless of how I choose to identify, even things like crayons cater to me. I can reach into a Crayola crayon box and pull out a “flesh” colored crayon, which tells me, even as a child, that this is the natural color of a person’s skin.

flesh

I feel oblivious and ashamed that I never noticed that until last week. But until we notice and address the micro-aggressions against people of color, we’ll never move beyond them to address the blatant issues of racism. Because, nobody’s free until everyone is free and nobody’s free while we ignore white privilege.

Islamophobia: Stop the Racism masked as Homeland Security

My grandfather sends me chain emails he gets from his friends. These emails are sometimes funny, sometimes worthwhile, but more often than not they’re offensive. Yesterday I received a particularly racist gem that I couldn’t just ignore and send to my deleted items folder.

Under the guise of being pro-American and religious, the email spoke about how a leader in Prison Ministry had to undergo diversity training and attend a lecture by representatives of Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Muslim faith. The email begins with a subtle racism, but blatant Islamophobia:

The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States , especially in the minority races!!

As if the exclamation points don’t voice their concern enough, the speaker needs to dirty his language further by referring not just to those who identify as Muslim, but identifying a connection between minorities and Islam. There is a fear and hatred in these words directed at the Muslim religion and those who might be converts- i.e. those who are not white. The speaker fears minority representation taking away from the dominant white vote.

In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President! I think everyone in the U.S. Should be required to read this; but, with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on!

If minorities get the vote, who knows what will happen to our precious country, right? Where will our country be without the strong leaders of white male America to lead it away from the hatred of Islam, right? Everyone in the US should read this, but because it is eye opening about how easy it is to shove our own hatred of others onto them hating us.

The anecdote the email’s author shares is that while attending this lecture series, he asked the Muslim speaker about the holy war and how Muslims are guaranteed a place in heaven if they kill an infidel. He asked the Muslim speaker to define an infidel and the Muslim man said an infidel is a non-believer.

According to the author of this email, the Muslim man “held his head in shame” when his beliefs were brought to light. According to the author of this email, the truth about the Muslim religion was out. What truth? That Americans generalize about the beliefs of others? That Americans hate based on race and religion while preaching tolerance? Those are the only truths I see.

The email ends with a call to action:

This is your chance to make a difference…

FOR SAVING OUR COUNTRY, AS WE KNOW IT,

IN SPITE OF IT’S WARTS AND MOLES, PASS ON THIS MESSAGE. IT IS OUR COUNTRY, WITH LIFE, LIBERTY, AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, THAT WE ARE TRYING TO PRESERVE! THE INACTION IN   EUROPE, MAKES THEIR FUTURE VERY MUCH IN DOUBT. WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR CHILDRENS’ FUTURE? A BETTER LIFE FOR ALL
AMERICANS, AND NOT A RETREAT TO THE HATE, MURDER, AND DARKNESS AS ESPOUSED BY MUSLIM-ISLAM!

I’ll end with a call to action of my own: we need to get the word out that Islamophobia is real and has an active audience. it is our country, but that does not mean it is a white country. The liberty and justice for all will be best preserved when the doctrine is followed through. Good luck preaching justice for all when you espouse hatred. Good luck educating children, when you raise them on a diet of white supremacy. Good luck, because the “hate, murder and darkness” you attribute to those of the Islamic faith are just reflections of your own ignorance and fear.

All minorities and oppressed groups need to take a stand and  act out against this! Hatred against one fuels hatred against all.

Pinky Promise

My college is rather progressive. We are a small liberal arts institution with a  focus on the individual. We specialize in collaborative knowledge through social exchange .  We have a feminist club and a Choice USA branch. We are diverse and, as a whole, more on the liberal end of the spectrum. I love my college and I couldn’t dream of being anywhere else.

But no matter how progressive we seem we have a Pinky Promise branch on campus. This means there is an organization where young girls pledge to be good christian women and in the name of  God  promise their fathers they will remain virgins until marriage.

But that was me paraphrasing. What does Pinky Promise say they are? According to their website:

Pinky Promise is…

A promise to honor God with your body and your life. To refuse to give your body to anyone that hasn’t paid the price for you called marriage. It’s a promise to stay pure before God in EVERY single way. It’s a promise that says, I won’t test the boundaries in my relationship to see how far I can push it sexually–but instead–I want God to have my heart.
 
It’s a promise to God that you will honor your marriage convenant. It’s saying that I promise not to step outside of my marriage, cheat on my spouse and that I’ll work through every issue.
Thanks for joining Pinky Promise. Find a group or start a group in your area, and lets encourage each other and build a bond between sisters in Christ.

On the surface it seems to be teaching good values: value yourself, don’t cheat, love God. Yet, I don’t know where to begin.  The program seems to be teaching abstinence only sex education focused around the purity myth. According to this, you can love and value yourself, but only on the basis of your virginity.  This extends not only to how you view your own self worth, but how your family views you (as you are making a promise to your father-or other male relative) and worst of all how God sees you. Tying this organization into religion is what stuns me. I do not believe religion is an evil and even if I did this would not be the place to insert my own religious views. I bring religion into this dialogue because  in this instance religion is being used as a means of control to oppress women.

The religious aspect of virginity is all part of a power game by the male dominated religious leaders who read and interpret religious texts through an oppressive lens and then let their interpretations trickle down to those of their faith as the word of God.

At its core though, the Pinky Promise movement is just another way to deny women the right to own their sexuality. For a woman, sex is for making babies not for pleasure. For men it is just the opposite. Which brings me to the point that Pinky Promise is not against sex: if they were they would have both men and women pledge to be chaste. Instead this is just for women. Women having sex is apparently a scary thing. It is, according to such abstinence only pledges, the woman’s role to keep both her own desires under control (because she obviously has a lower sex drive than a man-not in fact true) and control the man’s desires as well. From this flawed logic, it is her fault if she has sex, or is raped because it is her worth on the line and her responsibility to keep herself  pure until marriage. Why this purity matters and why virginity is being used as a test of morality is never explained.

In addition, the entire organization only accounts for straight Christian girls. What about bisexuals? lesbians? If the logic is that women must be pure until marriage, what about those who can’t legally get married and where sex is considered to be something different than male-female intercourse? What about asexuals? By these ideas are we just eternally moral or is there a point where we become to old to stay the chaste virgin? What about Jews? Muslims? Buddhists? Hindus? Are we not all women and therefore all under this umbrella of purity?

There are too many unanswered questions. In addition Pinky Promise has a limited scope and is not fostering communication with God as they claim. They are instead communicating with the patriarchy to keep women uninformed about their sexuality and using the principles of Christianity to enforce this control.

I have written to Pinky Promise but they have not gotten back to me. I will write again. I’ll talk to the organization’s leaders on campus and open up a dialogue. I only ask that you speak out as well. Be informed and be proud of your sexuality. Women are not less sexual than men, no matter what lies we are told to keep us quiet and chaste.