This talk was given by Nakita Valerio at the University of Alberta for a panel discussion on Islamophobia: Intersections & Cross Currents in honour of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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Peace be upon all of you

First of all, a huge thank you to Professor Janice Williamson for making the time and necessary efforts to create space for this kind of dialogue here at the University. I am honoured to speak among so many talented colleagues and recognize that there are many brilliant thinkers who could be up here instead of myself, so I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on Islamophobia and its intersections based on my community work and personal experiences.

We have to be brief so I want only to touch on a few points about Islamophobia as it relates to feminism. Before I do that though, since we primarily have well-intentioned allies in the room and since the theme for today is the intersectionality of Islamophobia, I need scarcely point out that literally anyone on earth can be a Muslim – regardless of gender, orientation, origin, race, ability, economic status or any other social variable. Islamophobia is therefore related to and can permeate all other forms of discrimination. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find a Muslim that didn’t have some kind of compounded discrimination by virtue of their intersectionality. Even a rich, white, heterosexual cis-male convert to Islam, experiences marginality from the greater non-Muslim global community due to Islamophobia, and also endures the hardship of being a largely ignored or even resented minority within a minority of the Muslim community, not to mention being highly socially isolated. While the discrimination he faces is (undeniably) significantly different than, say a veiled indigenous female convert to Islam or African, African-Canadian and Afro-Caribbean Muslims, it still holds that intersectionality and Islamophobia have to be understood as always going hand-in-hand. And that these will take different forms for different people.

We have to remember that human beings are complex and particular in their social groupings, and that they must not be rigidly compartmentalized according to one discriminatory signifier over another, nor does one necessarily have primacy over the other (particularly visible ones). We know that both oppression and privilege compound through race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability and economy, and that if people are to be understood in their entirety, we have to actually take the time to know them. There is too much shoot-from-the-hip activism these days based on a rigid understanding of an oppressed/privileged dichotomy and, the disturbing part to me, is that even with the best of intentions, people are regularly  being dehumanized in the process.  So some subtlety and patience is in order when dealing with these delicate intersections.

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So that’s the first thing to note. The second thing, following from this, is that Islamophobia is therefore a feminist issue. What do I mean by this?

At the superficial level, Muslim women are disproportionately targeted by Islamophobic words, actions and rhetoric. Part of the reason for this can be our visibility and this is, in large part, due to the veil if it is worn. Veiled Muslim women are verbally and physically harassed and assaulted with increasing regularity and are also the targets of racial hatred, and I want to stress, regardless of their ethnicity. Even for “white” converts, the veil acts as a second skin which automatically signifies “colour” to prejudiced people uninterested in the nuances of what constitutes complex Muslim identities. And this is important to note this because within the Muslim discourse and within groups speaking about racial justice there is a tendency to dismiss the racialization that the veil automatically entails, whatever intra-community privilege we hold.

But Muslim women are not only disproportionately targeted by Islamophobia because they might veil. No, non-veiled Muslim women are also the excessive subject of xenophobic words, actions and rhetoric for a much deeper reason.

The Muslim woman represents the vehicle by which the people who hate us, call for the eradication of Islam. The Muslim woman who is pious and stubborn in her piety is declared subconsciously oppressed regardless of how loud she declares her piety to be her choice. The Muslim woman is seen as indoctrinated in Islam, a barbaric way of life that exists only to exact patriarchy in its highest form.

Muslim women, who practice the Deen, are regularly accused by those outside of Islam, of being in need of liberation not recognizing that we view Islam as our liberator. That the antidote to patriarchy for us, is a deeper understanding of Islamic philosophy and law, and not anything less than that. In fact, these accusations are not even limited to non-Muslims. There are countless “scholars” within the Muslim purview who reiterate these bunk theories that the more a woman practices Islam, the less liberated she is.

At this very university, I met with a prominent scholar of Islamic law and was shocked when he stated to other unveiled women in the room that I might be oppressed or duped because I choose to cover my hair for the sake of God, or I say Insha Allah, or I unapologetically leave the room to pray on time. And this stuff was said right in front of me, as though I was not even in the room. Muslims can be as colonized by Islamophobia as anyone and we have to view that, at least in part, as the trace of a colonial project that has spanned centuries.

The declared solution to the issue of Islam for both Islamophobic non-Muslims and Muslims with internalized hatred of Islam is to either eliminate it from the face of the earth or to temper it and secularize it so it is palatable enough to so-called Western sensibilities, as though Islam does not and cannot have similar desires, goals and expressions as other cultural systems around the world, particularly in Western Europe and North America where we have a rich shared history.

If a pious Muslim woman seeks to resist through submission, her intelligence is insulted and her agency is called into question. Islamophobia, in this sense, is merely one strong arm of patriarchy (even its synonym) crushing the right of a woman to choose how she lives her life. And going forward, that needs to change.

Thank you.


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Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

 

In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Thank you so much for having me today. And thank you everyone for being here. I would like to reiterate that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory and that these are the traditional lands of Indigenous people who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. They are still here and it is on you to insure that that is forever the case.

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I also want to acknowledge that I am a white, cis woman, the child of Italian immigrants to this land, and the mother of a beautiful, Arab girl, a convert to Islam and all those things are combined, I am afforded certain privileges and I pray that I am using these to the advantage of every person, people of every gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability and anything else we use to identify ourselves.

I came here today to inform you that the day you were born was not the day you came out of your mother’s womb. The day you were born was the first time you witnessed injustice and you decided to take a stand. Deep down inside you, alarms bells started ringing and a call resounded through the center of your being. A call to take action, a call to stand up and use your voice to say, “No, hatred will not live here, Oppression will not be tolerated, injustice will not be served today.”

The day you heard that call may have been November 8th, when the one who shall remain unnamed was legitimized in his hatred and misogyny, and propelled to the highest institution of the most powerful nation in the world. And we will oppose him. And all echoes of him at home.

That day might have been before. It might have been after. The day you hear that call might be today, right now.

For it is a call I am issuing. This is not a call to silent prayer but a call to submission of the ego in the service of others, even if those others are a future self in need of your present compassion. It is a call of recognizing that any of us could be oppressor or oppressed and that many of us are both, and we’re standing on a fine line and you are choosing dignity, respect and compassion that every single one of us has earned by virtue of our existence.

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It is a call to make space for one another, to take space when it is not yielded, to recognize that we create the worlds we live in, and that hatred and love take effort of an equal measure. The day you were born was the first time you saw hatred in action and you chose Love.

Fierce love. Love that dismantles and is disobedient. Enraged love. Disappointed love. Grieving Love. Love that refuses to accept anything less than solidarity, anything less than taking care of one another.

Taking care of one another does not only mean fixing dinners and giving shoulders to cry on – though those things are important. No, taking care means a commitment to the idea that, even if I have never met you, I love you and I respect your right to a life of dignity and hope, a life of self-actualized growth and I will fight for you.

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I do not accept that black, brown, Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish people with varying orientations and degrees of ability are made the collateral damage in the bulldozing path of a historical lie spun incessantly about racial and social superiority, while those who spin it hold our planet, our children, our wealth, our future, our collective soul hostage. I do not accept how they divide us. I do not accept that our trauma and violence are painted as intrinsic to who we are, while they cover their colonization in the fog of words, in a war of semantics, in imperial programming. I refuse to normalize their hatred.

The day you were born was the first moment you witnessed power in action and you said no to it. Where you traced its institutions, its circulatory system, feeding life into those who designed it and relegating the rest of us to despondency and despair. You deserve better than a life of despair.

Answering the call is a commitment to replacing despair with kindness, even when kindness means blocking roads and lobbying governments. Especially when it means that.

So I want to ask all of you and please let me hear a beautiful Yes:

Do you hear the call?

Do you hear the call today?

We are not here to feel good about ourselves. We celebrate who we are and we resist in our joy but we are not here to joke around about what is happening south of the border, around the world, in our own backyard, in our families. We are here to make a public declaration to do better and to stop those who won’t.

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The work does not end here, it starts right now.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, put your hand over your heart, look them straight in the eye and face their humanity. Thank them for being here today. Thank them for taking a stand and answering the call of Justice.

Repeat after me:

I am here for you.

I will always be here for you.

I will defend you.

I will use my voice

In the face of your oppression.

I will work for justice.

I hear the call.

And I answer it.

Very good.

Hear this call today, everyone, I am holding you accountable Let it echo every day in every action you take.

It is history calling, wondering what side you will be on.

It is our duty to memory, wondering how selective you will be.

And it is the scales of justice calling, wondering what your balance look like.

All our lives hang in the fold.

Thank you.


Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

Photography: Lindsey Catherine Photos & Media

Video: Radical Citizen Media

In this episode, Emily explores her evolution in understanding about why Muslim women wear the hijab – what it means, how they feel when they wear it and how it stands in opposition to consumer capitalist culture. She also talks about her own personal expression of womanhood in light of these realizations and how these have changed from caring about the male-gaze to feeling confident and body-positive with herself, irrespective of what everyone else is thinking or doing.

I was originally scheduled to start a new column, Freestyling Feminism, on topics related to intersectional feminism this week. My second blog for this column was going to be a light, introductory primer on “what is intersectional feminism?” However, it would be inappropriate to bypass for a later time as the outcomes of last night’s American election, and exit poll results suggest that the topic of intersectionality is more urgently relevant now.


58% of female voters voted for a candidate other than Trump. 47% of male voters voted for Clinton or a third party candidate. Only 37% of white voters voted for Clinton, plus 5% who voted third party.

53% of white women voters voted for Trump. 49% of college educated white voters voted for Trump, compared to 45% who vote for Clinton. White feminism did not bring about a female president and education did not stop white voters from electing Trump.

This election is obviously complex and it is impossible to find a definitive reason why America elected Trump. It is pretty clear, though, that racism was a strong driving factor. I certainly suspect that misogyny played a role, but more passively – it probably biased and intensified the way some people saw Hillary Clinton, and it allowed many people, including women, to overlook Trump’s misogynistic statements and history of sexual assault – but I don’t think that on the whole people voted for Trump in order to vote against a woman president. They voted for Trump because they were voting for racism and white supremacy. Perhaps we can charitably agree that this may have been unconscious in some cases, but at some point unconsciously responding to dog-whistle racism turned into intentional denial and self-delusion. The man has been openly and enthusiastically supported by the KKK, after all.

Liberals and progressives, especially white liberals and progressives, who are looking at this verdict[1] in horror, wondering what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what can be done now, need to look at the magnitude and depth of the racism and xenophobia in their society and culture. Many of us still had faith that enough of America would be sensible that Trump’s seemingly insane rhetoric couldn’t win, and this has been an eye opener.

 [1] A weird slip into judicial language reflecting the feeling that America has been handed a sentence, not a government.

The next thing to do is to look at the movements already at work fighting these bigoted attitudes and systemic problems. Black Lives Matter, the land defenders at Standing Rock, the LGBTQ communities who fought for decades to win marriage equality, Planned Parenthood and activists who have been struggling to maintain basic reproductive rights. Groups like these are fighting for a better future every day, not just in the presidential race. There is turbulence but they are making change that matters and they know how.

It is time for white progressives to get in line and stand behind people of colour, queer people, Muslims, and other marginalized activists. White people don’t have the solutions for this, but we do have numbers and influence. Intersectionality now (always, but very critically right now) means white activists and allies putting POC’s voices, ideas, and solutions to the forefront. Listen and follow. Remember that your experiences of misogyny matter, but they don’t discount your white privilege and security; your experiences of homophobia matter, but don’t discount your white privilege; your class struggle and economic inequality matter but they do not discount white privilege.

Now is not the time for white people to search for new solutions or to lead movements. Now is the time for white people to throw their weight behind existing solutions and movements.

This is not just a Canadian scolding from across the border. Canadians should not be watching this election with smugness or relief. Canadian culture absorbs much of the influences and trends that American culture generates. More seriously, we need to recognize that white supremacy is equally as native to Canadian settler culture as it is to American settler culture built on slave ownership. The monster is under our bed too. The same xenophobic fears and attitudes that Trump exploited with his suggested ban on Muslim immigration, Harper grasped at when he introduced the idea of a niqab ban in the last election. Thankfully Canadians largely rejected that attempt – this time. The idea was there and it resonated, though. Similarly, the same rage and hostility we see in Trump’s core supporters is present in sections of Alberta politics. Most fundamentally though, the colonial white supremacy that the American nation was built on, is just a particular variety of the same colonial white supremacy that the Canadian nation was built on. We’re seeing the legacy of the former playing out dramatically in the United States right now, but we cannot ignore that there are similar things present in the foundation of our own society. We must not lapse into complacency in Canada just because the United Sates is more explosive in its dysfunction.

And finally, since I imagine many people woke up feeling shocked, helpless, and isolated after election day, wondering who their country really was – remember that Clinton won the popular vote. You are not alone.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.

In case you missed it, France’s recent ban of the Burkini or modest Islamic swimwear for women has caused massive outrage online from those opposed to secular extremism and anti-feminism. Critics, rightfully, argue that social homogeneity always leads to oppression (particularly of vulnerable minority groups) and that the policing of womens’ bodies (whether it be in how much or how little they are wearing) has deep roots in oppressive patriarchy.

The Burkini ban has sparked economic backlash, with sales for the item soaring online among Muslims and non-Muslims alike – because frankly, who doesn’t love SPF 50 fabric that prevents skin cancers, helps you avoid slathering on chemical-laden sunscreens all while dressing as modestly as you feel because people can do whatever they want with their bodies?

Now plenty of rich businesspeople have kindly stepped up and said that they will pay the fines of whichever women decide to wear the Burkini and get caught by the French police officers who are now being sent to the beach to literally check and make sure women are wearing as little clothing as the law now dictates. That’s great but the laws which treat Muslim women as second class citizens remain unaddressed. Maybe France should have thought about how much they don’t like seeing the hijab while they were busy fetishizing it at the height of colonialism. And don’t be telling me #notallFrenchpeople because I don’t see anyone shouting #jesuisMuslimah in the streets at this atrocious affront to civil liberties.

I feel like this entire blog should be in italics or caps lock because I just.cannot.control.my.rage.today.

Not only is it horrific that the reasons cited for the Burkini ban are concerns around the womens’ “hygiene”, but the fact that this is being celebrated by French secular so-called feminists is atrocious. This is not a win for oppression against women because: IT IS OPPRESSION AGAINST WOMEN.

I know this because I see some sexist men online celebrating the ban because they claim that the Burkini isn’t modest enough anyway. And even more insanely, when a Muslim woman was forced to disrobe under the threat of being pepper-sprayed by armed police officers in public on a beach in Nice, these extremist fools had the audacity to question why that woman was even on the beach, asking sarcastically if swimming is obligatory in Islam.

Are you people kidding me?

As my dear friend and colleague, Liz, pointed out, we also need to look at whom these laws serve. Do these laws serve the minority of women who may be forced to veil, or worse, women who are kept at home (banned from the beach) by abusive husbands or male relatives who are then free to go where they like? Do they allow women freedom of movement or restrict it? The answers are clear.

Why is it that extremists obsessively unite around women’s bodies to either clothe or disrobe them?

Muslim women are at the apex of extremism on all sides: the anti-religionists, the Wahhabists, the anti-Feminists and unsympathetic Muslim women who fail to realize that violent assault is the next step in this program.

Secular and religious extremists share the target of the female body, maiming her together by tearing at her clothes, one stretching them to make them longer, the other ripping them to take them off. And these misogynists are cheered on by women who believe themselves to be both liberated and liberators. The same women who bare their breasts (which they are free to do but #notinmyname) and claim that veiled Muslim feminists might think they are free but they don’t know just how oppressed they are. God forbid that a Muslim woman should also be a person of colour and have white supremacists on her back too.

Seriously, people.

Back off.

And what is it with other Muslim women shaming the woman forced to disrobe? This woman was assaulted by armed police officers with the force of the law behind them in broad daylight on a crowded public beach. She was forced to undress under duress. We don’t even know if she was given the option to leave. Would it be different if she was wearing a bikini to begin with and they made her remove it entirely? Why the sudden lack of empathy and strong judgment for your coreligionist?

Empathetic, feminist women (you know who you are): this is a trying time for all of us.

Stay strong and know that whatever happens, as long as you get home safe in the face of assault from all sides, you did the right the thing. And if you don’t, you do not have yourself to blame. It is not in your head and it will only get worse as long as this behaviour is permitted to continue.

I believe you are a victim of many perpetrators.

I believe it is getting increasingly difficult for you.

I believe that you feel suffocated and overwhelmed sometimes

and that those times are multiplying in number.

I know just how angry you are.

I will say this as long as I can,

even if my voice quivers from fear or from rage.

I will stand with you,

even if my covered knees shake.

I believe you.

We will fight for justice together, insha Allah.