Converts, representation and responsibility (III)

My thinking about this issue has gone through several different stages over the years.

Today, I’d say that it’s complicated, and my thoughts on this issue are fairly disjointed.

First of all, I don’t want to represent Islam or speak for Muslim women. That is not what this blog is intended to do.

Due to my past experiences, I must admit that I question of the motivations of converts who do wish to do so. It’s easy to get sucked into representing what amounts to a fantasy—whether it’s a conservative Muslim male leaders’ vision of how Good Muslim Women “should” conduct themselves (complete with a few “good examples” of women who act this way), or a liberal Muslim rose-colored view of the world as it “ought to be,” with their own hand-picked examples. It’s not hard to end up serving someone else’s sectarian, organizational or political agenda without really understanding that this is what you are doing.

There’s a remarkable amount of pressure placed on Muslim women to provide representations that focus on the positive and the fairly uncontroversial. There’s little tolerance for Muslim women who are edgy or angry—no matter how much injustice they may have personally suffered. Angry women are often dismissed as unrepresentative, as playing to Islamophobic audiences (with the implication that they are doing so for fame or money), and as alienating potential supporters by their “unreasonable” and unduly “emotional” personas. But the question of who has the right to be angry and be taken seriously is really a question about power. Male Muslim leaders or spokesmen are far less likely to be criticized for expressing anger than any woman is. In these power games, converts (especially white ones) are sometimes led to play—or elect to play—the role of the Reasonable Muslim whose job it is to show up the Angry Woman by comparison.

North American (and western European) convert voices are inescapably politicized, regardless of the intentions of the individual speaker/writer.  I find it very sad and shameful that some converts who hold and publicly advocate misogynistic or other prejudiced views that would marginalise them in most segments of the western societies they were born into are able to use their western privilege in order to become sought-after conference speakers or even community leaders. I also find it revealing that the Muslim feminists and other Muslim post-colonial types don’t seem to critique such converts—perhaps because most of these converts are male, and a number are white.

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