Dead Muslim women as opportunities

In April of 2011, 20 year-old Jessica Mokdad was allegedly gunned down by her stepfather Rahim Alfetlawi. The media uproar over the murder was immediate and, unsurprisingly, cloaked under the sensationalized trope of “honor killing.” While Mokdad’s family, including her biological father, stressed that Alfetlawi had issues of control and was not acting out of some religious convictions, the use of “honor killing” continued and served, also, most poignantly as a source for protest against even attempted popular normalization of Muslims a la TLC.
Despite evidence that emerged earlier this year that Jessica, herself, had gone to the police two weeks prior to her murder, claiming that her step-father had raped her as a teen and she now feared for her life (falling in the face of the reductionism of “Islamic honor”), her murder still ignites whispers of an honor-based killing. And these particularly loud “waswasa” have come from—wait for it—the efforts of the ever-lovable trifecta of Pamela Geller-Robert Spencer-Tasteless Opportunism.

Unable to let go of another opportunity to spread vicious hatred, Pamela Geller led the organization of the “Jessica Mokdad Human
Rights Conference on Honor Killings” held on April 29th, the day before the anniversary of Jessica’s murder. The conference was held in Dearborn, home to the greatest concentration of Muslims in the United States, and boasted grandiloquent Islam hateratti such as Robert Spencer, Nonie Darwish, David Wood, James Lafferty, Simon Deng and, of course, Geller herself. (A counter event was held, also in Dearborn, entitled: “Rejecting Islamophobia: A Community Stand Against Hate.” The event was hosted by an array of organizations, coming together to call Geller’s conference what it was: an anti-Islam hatefest.) Yet what has made more headlines than the ridiculous conference itself has been the barring of Muslim women (and some Muslim men) from both registering and attending the conference. Yes – a conference “for” and “about” Muslim women, apparently, barred Muslim women from attending.

Facepalm ad nauseum.

Not only were the women barred from entering the conference, they were escorted out by hotel security and police. Omar Baddar and Omar Tewfik, of the Arab American Institute, chronicled their experience as well as the experiences of several Muslim women (most of whom were veiled) to both register for and attend the conference:

Yeah. In case you’re not able to see the clip (or your time happens to be more precious than mine) – the video is just a conglomerate of awkwardness, as a group of Muslims try to enter the conference and are passive-aggressively (and eventually aggressively) kept out of the conference, without being given good reason.

But here’s something more important than even that: it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that the minds who have brought us fear of #creepingsharia and popularized pejorative use of heavily decontextualized terms such as “taqiyya” and “sharia” would actually not have – wait for it—the best interests of Muslims, even the Muslim women they’re apparently trying to save, at heart. Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and their breed of bigotry thrive on opportunism. The most prominent examples of their opportunism have been the repeated uses of the dead to further their own agenda: from using the 9/11 deaths in a campaign against Park51 to using the deaths of Muslim women across the world to push the “demonic imperialist nature” of Islam into the psyche of their audiences.

And it ends up being a tough choice for those of us trying to keep virulent Islamophobia at bay. There’s a strong desire not to give further exposure to the “fringe” hatred of the Holy Haters. Yet at the same time it is hard to ignore the growing and salient influence of such hatred—especially when you have someone like this guy claiming influence from the “fringe.” When a supposedly marginal hate-filled discourse is having even a minimal impact on the thought formation of a mass murderer thousands of miles away, does it not become incumbent upon us to elaborate on our collective “oof”? It’s as painstaking to write about the hateratti as much as it is to read them. Yet it increasingly seems as though this apparent fringe, the same that brought us the Birther movement and influences the Tea Party, will continue to be a force – however “small” in density – to be reckoned with.

And signal collective groan.
Sana Saeed is a white-washed Kashmiri looking for some culture, based in Canada with roots in the United States. She is currently a Masters student in Islamic Studies, writing a political history relating to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon during the Oslo period. She hopes for her PhD to be a little bit more uplifting. In terms of writing, she knows no bounds – topical or ethical. She is interested in issues relating to western Muslim identity formation, shar’iah in the modern context, civilizational wardrobe wars, everything hip hop, skin-bleaching and state-citizen relations. When she’s not at MMW, she’s blogging at the ever-irreverent She aspires to be paid one day for doing what she does.

This article was originally published on Patheos: Muslimah Media Watch.

(Photo Credit: Facebook)

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