Femen campaign 'Topless Jihad Day' (photo: picture-alliance/abaca)
Women Muslims Outraged by Femen Action

Exposing Misunderstandings

With their "Topless Jihad Day", Femen activists wanted to demonstrate for the rights of Muslim women. The problem is that Muslim women see no need for protest. "Nudity does not free us" was their answer in an online campaign. Femen activists, in turn, diagnose Muslim women as suffering from Stockholm syndrome. By Nadia Pantel

The opposite of good is "best intentions". And to what extent "best intentions" can deviate from their goal is currently demonstrated by the conflict between Femen activists and feminist Muslims. The activists of Femen, so it goes, are understood to be the embodiment of "good", standing for liberalism, freedom, and emancipation.

And so that this is clear to everyone, the women of Femen promote their cause through nudity at every occasion, thereby highlighting their vulnerability. They first managed to achieve great success with their many manifestations against sexism and the trafficking of women during the 2012 Soccer World Cup held in the Ukraine, Femen's country of origin. The activists demonstrated naked, yet were unobtainable. This image functioned well as a form of protest against prostitution.

However, the message of bare breasts does not translate well into every culture. This was made evident during the latest large-scale event by Femen – the "Topless Jihad Day" held on 4 April. Around the world, women exposed themselves in front of mosques and Tunisian embassies with the message "Fuck your morals" emblazoned on their chests. Since then, Femen's web site features two naked Islam-green breasts under the slogan "Titslamism" and the demand "Free Amina".

A Muslim woman in a Turkish mosque in Berlin, Germany (photo: dpa/picture-alliance)
Emancipated by outsiders? "Muslim women are able to defend themselves," say Muslim female activists, advising Femen to "occupy yourselves with fighting against male dominance, but not against Islam"

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The Tunisian Amina Tyler had herself photographed bare-breasted and with the words "Fuck your morals" painted in black on her upper torso. After publicizing the photos on Facebook, the Islamic preacher Adel Almi demanded that Tyler be flogged or stoned to death. The 19-year-old Tyler appeared on Tunisian television in mid-March and said she wanted to demonstrate for the liberation of women.

"We don't need you," say Muslim women

At the same time that Tyler was holding a video interview with the French television station Canal Plus on the weekend, thanking Femen for its support and relating how she has had death threats and warnings of an acid attack on her face via Facebook and telephone, thousands of women Muslims were mobilizing against Femen. Members of the group "Muslim Women Against Femen" issued an open letter making their position clear. "We don't need you," it said.

The case of Amina, which served as the trigger for "Topless Jihad Day", has thereby been shunted to one side. In their open letter, the Muslim women are opposed to being represented by Femen as a helpless group that needs to be emancipated by outsiders. "Muslim women are able to defend themselves," the letter states and advises Femen to "occupy yourselves with fighting against male dominance, but not against Islam."

The Femen activist Inna Shevchenko has not been dissuaded from her course by the public expressions of anger or the thousands of messages via Facebook and Twitter from the "Muslimah Pride" movement. "The entire history of the human race is full of stories of slaves claiming they were not slaves." Shevchenko, a co-founder of Femen, refuses to grant her opponents the same right to define who is a slave or not. In a commentary in the English edition of the Huffington Post, she said, "They write on their posters that they don't need to be freed, but you can see in their eyes that they are crying out for help."

The headscarf as a symbol of bondage

The supposed common commitment to the emancipation of women has been transformed into a conflict about condescension and ignorance. "We don't have to conform to your ways in order to be emancipated," writes one of the supporters of "Muslimah Pride Day", which started as an on-line campaign the day after "Topless Jihad Day". Hundreds of women have uploaded their photos on the corresponding Facebook page under the slogans "Nudity does not liberate me and I do not need saving" or simply "I am free."

Activists of the women's movement Femen demonstrate in front of the Ahmadiyya mosque in Berlin on April 4, 2013 (Photo: dpa/picture-alliance)
"The message of bare breasts does not translate well into every culture." Femen called for a day of international 'topless jihad' on April 4 with Femen groups staging protests in various European cities in support of Amina, a young Tunisian woman who caused a scandal when she published photos of herself bare-chested on the internet in March

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In the eyes of Femen activists, the fact that many of the women in the photos are wearing a headscarf is proof that they are not free. "Stockholm syndrome" comments a Twitter user under #MuslimahPride, following the same vein as Shevchenko with her slave rhetoric. The Stockholm syndrome refers to the phenomenon in which hostages express feelings of sympathy towards their captors.

This is exactly the kind of logic that denies Muslim women the ability to judge with a clear head, and it infuriates the anti-Femen movement. "We are fed up with privileged women constantly propagating the same stereotype of helpless Muslim women needing support from the West," write the Muslim activists in their open letter against Femen. The struggle of "women against their oppressors" proclaimed by Femen has turned into a conflict of the "West against Muslims."

Nadia Pantel

© Qantara.de 2013

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de

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