Revealing the Intricacies of Gendered Islamophobia and Populism through the Lens of Transnational Feminist Endeavors

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As transnational feminist scholars and activists, it becomes imperative for us to intervene in feminist epistemologies by carefully discerning the nuances among the concepts of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, and Islamophobia. An essential focus lies in understanding the ongoing transformation of the new transnational anti-Islamic movement from ethnic-based nationalism and oppressive authoritarianism towards a liberal standpoint that advocates equality, justice, and democratic values. This involves active participation in knowledge production through the experiences and agency of the complex subjects central to debates: Muslim immigrant women.

By Hafza Girdap

Societal perceptions in the Global North often oversimplify and stereotype immigrant women from the Global South, particularly focusing on Muslim immigrant women. This tendency is magnified within transnational feminist studies and civil society works, where categorization frequently portrays these women as a homogeneous group, primarily depicting them as victimized bodies.

The exclusive emphasis on rights, coupled with the need to consider global governance frameworks linked to class privilege and education, impedes a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue. A significant challenge faced by transnational feminist work is its struggle to transcend established affiliations such as nationality, ethnicity, race, and religion.

Recent research and activism on racism and Islamophobia, while valuable, fall short without a nuanced gender analysis. Existing approaches either overly prioritize gender or disproportionately underscore race and religion, neglecting the intricate and intersectional impact of these factors on the everyday experiences of Muslim women and women from the Global South. Addressing this gap necessitates treating these women as ‘complex subjects’ and meticulously examining their identity formation within diverse circumstances, thereby accentuating their diversities across multiple temporal and spatial signifiers.

Clarification of Some Crucial Terms

In this particular context, it becomes essential to elucidate terms like Islamophobia, anti-Islam, and anti-Muslim, given the influential role of framing and mobilization in identity politics. Islamophobia is defined as an irrational, emotional fear, while anti-Islam signifies a theoretical shift from reaction to action, aligning with the prevalent agency-oriented perspective in social movement analysis (Berntzen, 2019).

The incorporation of liberal viewpoints that depict Islam as a threat to Western civilization and as an ideology incompatible with democratic and progressive values provides justification and legitimacy for the transnational mobilization of far-right groups. Central to the discourses of this liberal far-right are discussions surrounding women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and their alignment with Islamic traditions. Termed an “ideological duality” (Berntzen, 2019), the anti-Islamic far-right espouses a semi-liberal worldview and approach towards Islam, portraying it as incongruent with modernity, human rights, and liberal principles. 

Identity Formation and Intersectionality

Stuart Hall’s (1990) concept of identity as an ongoing process significantly shapes the (de)construction of identity. As a Muslim immigrant woman scholar and activist, I consistently underscore the impact of various elements within the identity process, focusing on the experiences of exploring (Muslim) immigrant women as they navigate self-discovery and re-identification within the realms of interaction, adaptation, and religion.

The concept of "cultural identity" and its intersection with politics, gender, ethnicity, and race gains particular significance in this context. Understanding identity formation necessitates the consideration of both origin and resettlement spaces, along with the influence of temporal and spatial factors.

Extending racialization theories, particularly focusing on the experiences of Muslim women, becomes imperative. This involves scrutinizing the impact of contextual factors on the reidentification experiences of Muslim immigrant women, intending to challenge prevailing paradigms such as whiteness and populism, evident in far-right, far-left, and even liberal politics.

This analysis explores the nuanced ways in which Muslim and non-Western women grapple with otherness and double-marginalization at the intersections of gender, race, class, and religion, both as migrants in Western contexts and as local women in their homelands.

Transnational Feminism and Analytical Tools

Scholarly work, grassroots activities, and political mobilization must meticulously consider the push factors for migration and subsequent reidentification experiences of these women. Addressing hegemonic masculinity in their homelands and its impact on citizenship discourse, with a focus on heteronormative requirements, adds depth to the understanding of challenges faced by Muslim women.

Transnational feminism emerges as a pivotal analytical tool in comprehending the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of identities among immigrant women. It is imperative to critically examine terms like "Third World Women" and "women of the Global South" to highlight the complexities and pitfalls of homogenizing diverse groups. An intersectional analysis becomes necessary, considering historical, regional, ethnic, racial, and religious factors.

Knowledge Production and Counter-Hegemonic Discourse

In light of these considerations, knowledge production becomes a critical practice aimed at dismantling prevailing knowledge frameworks dominated by Western perspectives. This strategic approach is essential to challenge Islamophobic populist discourses impacting particularly Muslim immigrant women.

As the term ‘Global South’ transcends a metaphor, encompassing narratives of colonialism, neo-imperialism, and ongoing disparities, scholars and activists must continue developing concepts and practices of solidarity drawn from experiences in the Global South. Emphasizing the importance of recognizing diverse experiences, challenging binary constructions of identities, and engaging in transnational alliances is crucial. Grewal and Kaplan’s (1994) idea of a “politics of location,” delving into the tension between temporal and spatial theories of subjectivity, provides a valuable framework. Discourses and language use, aligned with Bell Hooks’ (1989) concept of a “dialectical space,” prove instrumental in dismantling binaries and discriminations.

Resistance and Counter-Hegemonic Discourse

Such an understanding underscores the potential of resistance through the creation of spaces that facilitate the transformation of the current reality. It also highlights the importance of challenging enduring colonial and discursive homogenization through counter-hegemonic discourse. Research and civil society engagements contribute to the generation of diverse perspectives and epistemologies, particularly through the experiences and agency of Muslim immigrant women.

In conclusion, attention to the emotional impact of activism on immigrant women and the potential for reduced emotional distress when actively advocating for equality is essential. The ability to reconceive culture and religion as spaces that allow reasoned, autonomous, and democratic participation, aligning with the approach of exploring reidentification experiences "on them, by them,” becomes pivotal in transnational feminist work challenging any forms of (gendered) populism. This includes far-right, far-left in Western contexts, as well as authoritarian, Islamist populism in the Global South. Contextual factors in origin and resettlement spaces play a crucial role in adaptation and integration processes, influencing the manifestation of identities.

Highlighting the transnational impact of the growth of the far-right and an anti-Islamic twist in Western Europe and North America, an anti-Islamic activism of pioneering movements and political parties in Europe is conducted through hypocritical discourses and acts by far-right politicians and activists who portray themselves as liberals. This is done to avoid stigmatization by using certain discourses of human rights as proxies to exploit anti-Islamic agendas. Women’s and gender-based rights are conveniently claimed by these politicians and other social actors, for instance, to “denigrate Muslimness.” 

Thus, a significant shift is observed within the approach of populist rhetoric, particularly of the far-right, towards Islam and Muslims. This is actually a shift from authoritarian and ethnocentric to a modern, liberal, and transnational anti-Islamic activism. In other words, the far-right takes on a liberal attitude and appearance through a “transformation as a partial decoupling between authoritarianism and the radical right through an adoption of liberal positions on many issues” such as free speech, democracy, gender equality, animal rights, and the preservation of Christian and Jewish heritage (Berntzen, 2019).

By framing Islam as a homogenous, totalitarian ideology posing a threat to Western civilization, the far-right appears to shift from its traditional, radical, and authoritarian stance to a more liberal, modern, and rights-based strategy. This strategy places a greater emphasis on the ideology (Islam) rather than the individuals (identities). 

Consequently, as transnational feminist scholars and activists, it becomes imperative for us to intervene in feminist epistemologies by carefully discerning the nuances among the concepts of anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, and Islamophobia. An essential focus lies in understanding the ongoing transformation of the new transnational anti-Islamic movement from ethnic-based nationalism and oppressive authoritarianism towards a liberal standpoint that advocates equality, justice, and democratic values. This involves active participation in knowledge production through the experiences and agency of the complex subjects central to debates: Muslim immigrant women.


References

Berntzen, L. (2019). Liberal Roots of Far-Right Activism – The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. Routledge.

Hall, S. (1990). “Cultural identity and diaspora.” In: J. Rutherford (Ed.) Identity: Community, culture, difference (pp. 222-237). Lawrence & Wishart.

Hooks, Bell. (1989). “Choosing the margin as a space of radical openness.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media36, 15–23.

Grewal, I. and Kaplan, C. (Eds.) (1994). Scattered hegemonies: Postmodernity and transnational feminist practices. University of Minnesota Press.

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