For twenty-four long days, and with no end in sight, the Israeli government has been committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza with explicit and unconditional support from the US government.
On October 7, in response to a terror attack by Hamas that killed some 1,400 people in Israel, its forces unleashed hell on Gaza. The Israeli military started indiscriminately bombing homes, mosques, churches, hospitals and schools in the overpopulated Palestinian enclave, killing Palestinian civilians in their thousands. Israel has also put the Strip under a total siege, preventing the entry of water, food, fuel, electricity or medical supplies, and leaving more than two million people faced with death by starvation, dehydration and disease.
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For such war crimes to be committed in plain sight, and with no meaningful contestation from the international community, the Palestinians at the receiving end of Israel’s bombs had to be dehumanised, and their allies around the world discredited as anti-Semitic and violent.
Such othering occurs through a relatively straightforward mechanism. First, Palestinians as a group are presented as barbaric, violent and over all less than human, so people around the world do not object to them being indiscriminately killed and starved. Then those who do not buy this racist narrative and insist on protesting against the oppression of the Palestinian people are smeared, censored, doxed and criminalised.
At the forefront of numerous grassroots, intellectual, and political movements opposing Israel’s ongoing war crimes, in the United States and elsewhere in the staunchly pro-Israel West, are Muslim women. Courageous Palestinian, Arab, South Asian, and Black women are leading mass protests, political action campaigns, teach-ins at universities, fundraisers for humanitarian aid, and writing letters to university presidents, demanding they protect their Palestinian and Muslim students from doxing, harassment, and intimidation by Zionist organisations on and off campus.
These Muslim women’s civic and political engagement is almost always met with attacks on their own safety, defamation of their character, and threats to their employment – all aimed at silencing their voices.
If these threats on their lives and livelihoods do not work, Muslim women who speak up for the Palestinians – especially those holding positions in higher education – are dismissed as “too emotional”, “ignorant”, “bigoted”, or “professionally incompetent” by their pro-Israel peers.
Marginalised simultaneously for their religion, race and gender, Muslim women have long been forced to manoeuvre a triple bind to avoid discrimination, harassment and stigmatisation. They are required to be “good Muslims”, “good women”, and “good racial minorities” all at once and at all times to avoid being targeted within the coercive assimilationist paradigm that constantly polices their behaviour.
Being a “good Muslim woman of colour” entails a daily emotional and psychological tax of trying to fit into myriad clashing identity performance pressures imposed by Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian cultural normativity.
A “good Muslim woman of colour” cannot show emotions such as anger, frustration, or passion lest she be deemed irrational, hysterical, or weak.
A “good Muslim woman of colour” must be unconditionally loyal to the US. She must frequently pepper her speech with comments and statements underlining how grateful she is to be in the US. How lucky she is to live in a country ruled by white men and women who uphold liberal values of democracy, equality, and freedom; irrespective of whether she benefits from these proclaimed values or not.
A “good Muslim woman of colour” must never criticise the policies and practices of Western countries that violate international law, indiscriminately kill Muslims, collectively punish Palestinian civilians, or systematically discriminate against Muslim and Arab diasporas in purportedly liberal societies. She must prove that she does not support terrorism in any form, which requires repeated condemnation of any acts of violence by Muslims anywhere in the world.
A “good Muslim woman of colour” can never be a feminist and advocate for Muslim women’s rights in the West. White women accept her as a feminist only if she directs her writings and advocacy at Muslim, Arab, and South Asian societies. But when Muslim women in the West speak out about the discrimination they face where they are, or call out white women for their support of wars that kill and maim Muslim women abroad, they quickly transition from “fellow feminists” to “traitors”.
Thus, a “good Muslim woman” is simultaneously infantilised and patronised, vilified and censored, and depoliticised in a society that is incapable of seeing her as a smart, independent, strong female leader. As soon as her coworkers, neighbours, employers and political representatives discover that she is in fact her own feminist – not their feminist – they defame, exclude, discredit and ignore her as they search for another Muslim woman whom they can point to in their media and political campaigns as the “good Muslim woman of colour”.
This triple bind is carried today by the Black, Arab, and South Asian Muslim women at the forefront of advocating for the human rights of Palestinians in the media, politics, grassroots organising, the courts, and academia in the US and beyond.
As they fend off attacks against them, these courageous women must simultaneously protect their own Muslim children from harassment, bullying, and intimidation by Zionists in their towns and schools who have monopolised the conversation about Palestine to declare that only Israelis are human, while Palestinians, in the words of the Israeli defence minister, are merely “human animals”.
This triple bind leaves Muslim women in the West asking: “Why aren’t the white feminists coming to our defence?”
Why are so many white feminists now Zionists first, and busy smearing our reputations by calling us anti-Semitic simply on account of our defence of Palestinian human rights?
Why can’t the white feminists see our struggle to end the dehumanisation of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim women as a feminist issue?
Why do white women only want to save Muslim women from the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Arab governments, but not from the US government, the Israeli government, Zionist groups, or white men?
Will white feminists ever look in the mirror to recognise their own anti-feminism as they rebuke strong, smart, confident, and fearless Muslim feminists within their workplaces, their neighbourhoods, and on their faculties for speaking up in support of their sisters in Gaza?
The answer to this question is likely a resounding “no” for too many white women too invested in protecting the status quo and their privileged place in society.
Yet, Muslim women in the West are not in need of white feminist support anyway.
We have learned from our African American sisters. We do not need any approval or permission from anyone to fight for what we know is right. We just need white feminists to get out of our way so that we can do the work of real feminism in solidarity with our Palestinian sisters.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.