Monday, 15 April 2013

Amina Tyler

It's a bit sad, really... one woman goes partly naked on her own Facebook page and the world goes nuts. Mainstream culture - both “east” and “west” - seems not to know how to react when girl reveals she's naked under her clothes. Newspapers have a field day - "look, it's news but with boobs!” Facebook groups against FEMEN spring up, with photos of women holding up signs that read "My hijab is my dignity" and "Nudity doesn't liberate me". There have been accusations of cultural imperialism and racism.

But no one can shout 'imperialist' at the fact that it's been a Tunisian woman - Amina Tyler - who has founded FEMEN's branch in Tunisia, and that the timing of FEMEN's growth into North Africa and the Middle East is pretty unsurprising. The Arab Spring has been deeply inspiring but the movements that have come to the fore are now largely Islamist. What we see in in some countries is similar to the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution: secular forces are being repressed and women - as in Amina's case - are being watched by violently right wing 'morality police'. Her family have been acting in accordance with these principles and few institutions have greater power than the internal morality policing of family structures in these situations.  

In a video released today (  Amina reveals that she was kidnapped, beaten, forced to see a doctor, sedated, and given a kind of exorcism by an imam. When asked if the police did this, she says, chillingly: 'No, not the police... my brothers, my cousins'.

This isn't 'culturally specific' oppression. The misuse of psychiatric drugs to sedate women was rampant in the UK and the US and in the 50s and 60s. Death by exorcism has been the horrible ending of various women's lives at the hands of Christian ministers, including the Pentecostal ministers in San Francisco who beat a woman to death in 1995 (they were trying to drive out her demons, apparently). FEMEN, who claim they will not stop fighting Islam as long as the stoning of women forms part of its teachings, have not singled out Islam as its main enemy and came to notoriety through its protests against the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe.

So let's look at these accusations of 'imperialism'. Many of those on Facebook (mis)using the word 'imperialism' are, it seems, Western-based Muslims who have grown up under liberal laws. They have no idea what it's like to actually live in a country where you might be forcibly silenced for your politics. In my opinion, you do have to be pretty privileged to cry out the word 'imperialism' so often and with such wild abandon. What is really and truly awful is not that some Muslim women feel upset, but how playing the victim can so effectively erase the original victim herself, in this case Amina. There where whole days of outrage and little concern for where Amina was. It turns out she was being tortured by her family, her aunts stripped her naked to force a 'virginity' test on her and she was made to recite passages from the Koran against her will.

We need to be very wary of giving political credence to those who cry wolf, screaming ‘imperialism’ to create a smoke screen every time they don't want to be challenged. You really have to ask the question 'what are you trying to hide?’ Accusations of racism are becoming a way of demolishing the confidence to show or even feel solidarity with those across national and cultural boundaries (boundaries I don't happen to believe in). It's becoming a way of making people feel guilty about caring, of making women feel like they can't say anything about human rights in another country. It's a strategy to force silence on those who have something to fight for, like Amina.

I grew up in a Muslim family in London and I believe that Islam is a religion a lot like its close relatives, Christianity and Judaism. A lot of the culture I grew up with wasn't that Islamic, it was more rural Indian than anything else. 'What the Koran says' was about as important as 'what will other people say?' in my mother's eyes, and often it seemed that what the Koran actually had to say was a bit less repressive than what Mrs Khan from Sevenoaks thought ("My daughter wears high heels and goes to office but she can't even make aloo ghobi" *tutting/ pursed lips all round*).

In the end, I got into other ideas, the way teenagers often do, and decided I was a socialist more than anything - a description of myself that still holds true. But I think there are times when some liberals and lefties (not all of course!)  bend over backwards so hard to not be racist that they end up listening to the same sort of people who'd send their daughters back to the village and confiscate their passports if they declared themselves radical. It's at best a naive misjudgement, and at worst cowardly and unprincipled. Are non-white women to be considered “separate but equal”? I know how that tale ended.
Women in Muslim countries deserve at least the same rights as their western counterparts, and no one in Amina's case - not even FEMEN - thinks Islam is 'bad' without also criticising other belief systems across Europe that repress women.

I think it's important that we don't not lose sight of Amina and her safety. Whether I'd do what she did has nothing to do with it. She's been let down by her country and her family and I'm not about to do the same by turning this into a 'racism' issue. I personally don't find the hijab or nudity all that liberating, but I think Amina's protest pictures were amazingly brave. For me it was the slogans that she wrote across her body, as well as the cigarette and the book and that look of sultry defiance, that elevated ‘that image’ to the level of protest-art. Bloody well good on her!!!



  1. While I respect the passion with which you re-focus the spotlight on Amina Tyler, exposed tits were never the "racist/imperialist" problem.

    The white women running around wearing towels on their heads, stereotypical haha-terrorism-is-so-funny costume beards glued to their faces, and a unibrow drawn on, was the racism.

    The white women picketing a random San Fransisco mosque was the racism.

    That they all just happened to be topless while they were doing it is a side issue.

    1. No, Jamie, picketing a mosque is NOT racism. Because Islam is not a race. Real racism is the moral relativism that allows people like you to look the other way as middle eastern women are brutalized even though that kind of behavior would never be tolerated against western women.

    2. Utter nonsense, Jamie. If you consider a protest in a Western nation to be "imperialism" you are totally unhinged.

      And if these same "white women" were wearing beards and Christian or Jewish religious headwear you would not say a word. I thought it was brilliant the way FEMEN mocks those patriarchal symbols. But PC cowards prefer to shill for Islamic patriarchy lest anyone tar you as a "racist/imperialist".

  2. Great post! Western Muslims, along with the mindless Liberal-wing who seem to possess a libido for supporting anyone presenting/ pretending to be a victim or a minority, have relatively next to no clue of how the vast majority of Muslims in the world live and think. This is coming from an Indian ex-Muslim who is now settled in America.

  3. this was a really ignorant post.
    firstly you have lumped all our countries together and all our islamists together, as well as their ideologies and level of power they have each country and where they emerged from.
    up until 2 years ago ( for many decades) tunisian women were not allowed to wear a hijab to school or work. Those who wore it on the streets often faced, harassment, arrests, detention and in some cases prison and torture. Many were made to sign contracts never to wear the hijab also, whilst tunisian 'feminists' were not only silent on the issue but even petitioned the Ben Ali govt to do something about the 'increased visibility of hijab' in their country. Whilst i disagree and condemn the minority of 'extremists' that have given their unwanted 2 cents on Amina 'Tyler' ( tyler is her alias, an english surname that should scream alarm bells about the imperialist ideology behind femen) they actually posed no actual threat to Amina herself and with all honesty, these men have been silenced and imprisoned also. Religious tunisian men were banned from sporting beards and were discouraged from entering mosques or face, questioning, prison, constant monitoring and in many cases travel bans (not issued passports or visas). These men were not allowed to voice an opinion, specifically any opinions that may have an islamic tone. We are now in a democracy and they should be allowed to express their views no matter how crazy (within reason, ofcourse) given the context.
    Feminists like amina and even traditional feminists, when pushed can not actually say what the government or authorities have changed in relation to their previous freedoms ( the tunisian woman has the most rights in the muslim,arab and african world). Though, they do site that the reemergence of hijab is somehow affecting their own personal liberties despite no one ever forcing them to cover.
    you have also completely ignored the fact that yes, our islamists won the majority of the votes (42% from an election that hosted over 100 parties) but they are in a coalition government with 2 secularist parties ( one is center left and the other is a leftist party)
    which brings me to my final point in relation to your claim that an imperialist message is not at play here because Amina 'tyler' is a Tunisian. If you read anything about my country you would not only know that we were colonised by the french til 1957, but we were also ideologically colonised by them in the 50 years since through both our previous dictators. French values were often relayed to us as being the only progressive values to strive for, whether it was through our dictators, our state sponsored feminists, our teachers or even family members.
    Though i disagree with the action her family has taken, you must realise, this was her family and not the government nor the authorities.
    I urge you to do a little research before writing such inaccurate and misleading posts

    1. Ah, that is such an enlightened response. So if someone like Amina doesn't like Islamism, that means she is in league with "imperialists"? If an Arab women does not toe the line she is not longer genuinely Arab? I suggest you look up the "no true Scotsman fallacy". And by the way, if abuse was inflicted by family members are opposed to the government, how does that make it better?
      As for what governments are doing-it seems that they are making life harder for women than under dictatorships of the past. In Egypt, for example, they are letting gang rapists get away with their crimes such that women will have no voice in the public square.

    2. you're using egypt as an example? i said dont lump us all together. Egypt is supremely conservative, whether islamists came to power or not, the majority of egyptians would react the same way.

    3. You don't need anyone to lump you together with them. You are doing perfectly fine just by yourself. Branding anyone who is different as being under the thumb of colonial powers speaks volumes on how identical you are in your thinking to Islamists in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere.

  4. Kaouther, your post is really useful on the Tunisian context, but what I'm providing in my post is a position looking at the responses to the Amina case from my context here in Britain, including the responses in some of the liberal and left-wing press. I do not at any point say that the government kidnapped Amina, and make it clear it that it was her family who tortured her. I am not a Femen activist, but I do have great concern for Amina and the way she herself has been swept under the carpet in the debate. An interpretation of Islam was key to how she has been treated by her family and by powerful religious forces in Tunisia emboldened by Islamist political representation. The extremist imam and politician Adel Almi, who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, says she deserves to be whipped or even stoned to death. This man should be in prison, but he isn't. That says a lot. Amina Tyler is of course not her real name... but since when did having a western surname make someone an imperialist? Thank you for your detailed is truly helpful for people to read, but my position is not "ignorant" and neither is yours.

    1. her surname is not tyler, this was an alias given to her by FEMEN. also, like i said before the radical that commented is not really known in tunisia, he had no sway in the matter. literally just a 'nutter' voicing an archaic opinion. Believe it or not, in tunisia no one is really talking about amina, they it was literally a footnote in their lives at best as they may not agree with what she did but in the grand scheme of things they really dont care about what she did. They are too busy trying to make this democracy work, focusing on jobs or getting jobs and getting to some kind of stability. Why i said you were ignorant (which i take back) is the realistic (lack of) impact these men pose in Tunisia, this is not egypt. Even her family's reaction was not spurred on by religious extremism (she comes from a fairly modern, 'city' type family)but by ignorance and to be perfectly honest, as liberal as tunisians are there are some red lines most feel shouldnt be crossed. This has nothing to do with the political situation in Tunisia. Anyway, she has yet to say, exactly what she's fighting for within the country, she did mention in an early interview she didnt appreciated the return of hijab in tunisia and that was one of the things that spurred her on. Our history, is very much of a colonised history, with a colonised view of feminism. She is not alia who fought against virginity testing or honour killings. Simply a woman feeling that the path to french enlightenment was not moving fast enough.

    2. Of course there is zero evidence that this had anything with wanting to be "French" either. You are just projecting your own obsession with colonialism onto her mind. Which is exactly the point-"imperialism" has become the rallying cry for those trying to suppress the non-conformists.

  5. Ferjani, I would appreciate some honesty here. If you and your family have links to the present government in Tunisia, then say so. After toppling a dictatorship that restricted freedom of speech you want to ban criticism of the Abrahamic religions. Please stop deceiving the rest of us in this discussion. Your bias is clear.

  6. Good One Farah :) The plight faced by Muslims in regard to Anti Beard/ Hijab laws cannot be used to justify what Aminah went through. Noone can justify violence. In any way