Muslim women hit hardest by Islamophobia

“Brexit was never about resistance against the overkill of European rules and laws which the British felt restrained their freedom and possibility. It was never about taking control of our own law again which they said very often. It was always about xenophobia, about an irrational hatred for foreigners and immigrants[…]. Blaming their problems on this imaginary threat of immigration and Islam” – Hassnae Bouazza. 

Following a Gender Politics Panel earlier in the day, Hassnae Bouazza returns to address Islamophobia and how women in particular are affected by it. She makes links to xenophobia, racism and worldwide perceptions of immigrants.

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Bouzza’s talk, which Think!Fest convener Anthea Garman describes as “both personal and political”, highlights the depressing realities that many people face, and the need for social change.

Bouazza uses the recent example of Brexit (vote for the British exit from the European Union) to illustrate how Islamophobia is prevalent in modern culture and society. Before that, the 9/11 terrorist attack in the USA was one of the greatest contributors to Islamophobic beliefs.

She states that reports showed incidents of explicit racism after Brexit, with neo-nazis taking to the street to demand the repatriation of immigrants, as well using social media to verbally attacks Muslims. “Brexit unleashed a deep hatred for immigrants and especially Muslims, which had been smoldering for so long and which had been exploited by politicians to their own advantage,” she says.

Violence against women has been a side effect of the war against Islam, Bouzza says, explaining that Muslim women are often the first to be targeted in Islamophobic attacks. She mentions studies which show that in the Netherlands, over 90% of the victims of Islamophobic incidents are female, in France 81.5% of Islamophobic violence was targeted against women and in Britain, 54% of victims of threats and verbal assault are women.

She poses the question; why are women targets of Islamophobic violence? She believes it may partly be explained by the visible religious symbols like headscarves which make Muslim women easily recognisable. She adds that women are often seen as easier targets because they are perceived as the weaker sex, while also being seen as a bigger danger because of their ability to reproduce and add to the Muslim population.

She adds that feminists often do not stand up for Muslim women, claiming that they first need to be liberated from their religion. Muslim women are therefore often seen as not feminist by white feminists.

Bouazza speaks of online racist and sexist abuse that women, particularly Muslim women and women of colour receive when they speak their mind to voice an opinion that differs from the norm. She gives examples of open Islamophobic and racist discussions and ideas being circulated, both on social media and otherwise.”In Holland, it has become acceptable because politicians do it, because people in the media do it… So people feel very safe and they are safe to be very racist,” she says.

An audience member asks, “What do you think are the glimpses of hope? What are the potential strategies that can actually counter that mass of negativity?”

“The glimpses of hope are people […] who despite all the attacks continue,” Bouazza responds. She added that new voices are appearing in mainstream media, as well as those using their online influence to add different perspectives to the debate.

“People are becoming more aware of the world and of their position in it, and that’s a crack”.

Bouazza is a Morrocan-Dutch Journalist, writer and documentary maker. Her critically acclaimed six-part documentary series Seks en de Zonde (Sex and Sin) explores Islam, feminism and Islamophobia in the Netherlands. To know more about her work, watch Seks en de Zonde here:

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