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Norwegian Muslim Feminist who opposed Islamic fundamentalists, dies in mysterious circumstances

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, Many Muslim women who oppose the Islamist agenda of dominating the Muslim narrative in the West, face constant threats and dangers to their personal
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2006
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      Friends,

      Many Muslim women who oppose the Islamist agenda of dominating the Muslim
      narrative in the West, face constant threats and dangers to their personal
      safety.

      Here in Canada, the women who lead the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) and
      the Canadian Council of Muslim Woken (CCMW), have played a central role in
      ensuring Shariah was not introduced in this country. Now they are facing the
      move to legalise polygamy in Canada.

      Luckily, no one has so far been attacked other than in words, but the news
      that comes from Europe is scary. After honour killings in Germany, here is
      the story of a Norwegian-Pakistani politician, Samira Munir, who has died in
      mysterious circumstances, after she supported the ban of head scarves in
      Norwegian schools.

      Her call for a ban on the Hijab may have questionable merits, but her death
      raises some serious questions. American academic Rafia Zakaria, writing in
      the Indian magazine, Frontline, explores the Norwegian Pakistani community
      and its social conservative leadership who labelled Samira Munir as "an
      enemy of Islam."

      Zakaria writes:
      "The death of Samira Munir lies at the epicentre of a gaping tension between
      the religiously conservative Pakistani-Norwegian community opposed to any
      restraints on cultural practices and the Norwegian state accustomed to
      treating all things cultural as innately sacred and unworthy of state
      intervention. In the middle of this chasm lie the women whose interests
      Samira Munir was attempting to represent, the young Pakistani-Norwegian
      girls alienated from their parents' culture and prevented from identifying
      with Norwegian culture. In supporting a ban on the hijab in Norway's public
      schools, Samira Munir sought to establish for these girls the choice that
      many Muslim women who support the hijab tout as their reasons for adopting
      it. In securing for them a state-sponsored space that would allow them to
      develop as women unencumbered with cultural and parentally imposed
      restraints, Samira Munir sought to procure for them the ability to make a
      choice based on their own beliefs rather than those of their parents.
      It is in welcoming state intervention in developing such a space that she
      was labelled as an enemy of Islam and a threat to the image of solidarity
      that Norwegian Muslims sought to project to the Norwegian majority. "

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah
      ------------------------
      January 28, 2006

      Veil and a warning

      The mysterious death of Samira Munir, a Norwegian politician, in Oslo comes
      as a chilling deterrent to Muslim women who speak out about the violence
      against women in their communities in the West.

      By RAFIA ZAKARIA
      FrontLine, India
      http://www.flonnet.com/fl2302/stories/20060210000605800.htm

      THE battle over headscarves in Europe appears to have claimed its first
      human casualty. Samira Munir, a Norwegian politician of Pakistani origin and
      the first Muslim woman to support a ban on headscarves in Norwegian schools,
      died mysteriously after falling on train tracks in suburban Oslo.

      On November 14, 2005, a Norwegian human rights group, Human Rights Service,
      reported the news of her death, yet another catastrophe in the blood-smeared
      landscape of European Islam.

      Samira Munir's death is a chilling deterrent to Muslim women who choose to
      speak out about the violence in their communities and aggressively seek
      reform instead of conforming to the religiously "acceptable" forms of rights
      discourse that are tolerated by Muslim communities in the West. Samira Munir
      was unapologetic about her position and unwilling to buy into the rhetoric
      of the liberated hijab (headscarf) increasingly bandied about by many
      Muslims.

      For this outspokenness, this political divergence from the much-lauded camp
      of liberated Muslim women that celebrates the hijab as a voluntary act of
      faith, Samira Munir was condemned to die under mysterious circumstances. The
      terror of her last moments is amplified by the ominous statements that she
      made prior to her death. She received threatening phone calls on a daily
      basis and was being harassed by Muslim men who accosted her on the streets
      and threatened to kill her.

      The intimidation did not stop there: in interviews to Norwegian newspapers
      Samira Munir spoke about feeling pressured by the Pakistani Ambassador to
      Oslo, Shahbaz Shahbaz, who twice summoned her to the Pakistan Embassy. The
      embassy visits were purportedly arranged to "discuss her political views".
      Samira Munir also said that the Ambassador had repeatedly mentioned the fact
      that "she still had her family in Pakistan". The message implicit in the
      Ambassador's reminder of this vulnerability has apparently become clear now.


      Her voice was too loud and her commitment to women's rights simply too
      threatening to be tolerated, and she was obliterated in the isolation of a
      suburban Oslo train station. Here was a woman who had lived in Norway for 20
      years, a Norwegian citizen and a member of the Oslo City Council. Only
      Norwegian newspapers reported her death. The Pakistan Ambassador, so
      concerned about her political views in life, did not make any public
      statement about her death. The Pakistani community, otherwise so vocal in
      all matters affecting Pakistani-Norwegians, maintained a macabre silence.

      Rumours are afloat that her death may have been a case of suicide, but
      despite the existence of surveillance cameras in the train station no
      definitive account of the cause of her death is available. Unwilling to
      grapple with the complex political issues surrounding her death, most people
      seem to welcome the assumption that she simply took her own life.

      The death of Samira Munir lies at the epicentre of a gaping tension between
      the religiously conservative Pakistani-Norwegian community opposed to any
      restraints on cultural practices and the Norwegian state accustomed to
      treating all things cultural as innately sacred and unworthy of state
      intervention. In the middle of this chasm lie the women whose interests
      Samira Munir was attempting to represent, the young Pakistani-Norwegian
      girls alienated from their parents' culture and prevented from identifying
      with Norwegian culture. In supporting a ban on the hijab in Norway's public
      schools, Samira Munir sought to establish for these girls the choice that
      many Muslim women who support the hijab tout as their reasons for adopting
      it. In securing for them a state-sponsored space that would allow them to
      develop as women unencumbered with cultural and parentally imposed
      restraints, Samira Munir sought to procure for them the ability to make a
      choice based on their own beliefs rather than those of their parents.

      It is in welcoming state intervention in developing such a space that she
      was labelled as an enemy of Islam and a threat to the image of solidarity
      that Norwegian Muslims sought to project to the Norwegian majority.

      In the wake of the controversy over headscarves in France, scores of Muslim
      women have spoken out in defence of the hijab. Indeed, hundreds of Norwegian
      Muslim women demonstrated in Oslo against implementing the ban. Their
      remonstrations on behalf of the hijab focus predominantly on two crucial
      aspects; first the notion that the hijab is a required tenet of Muslim
      religious practice and second that they chose to wear the hijab of their own
      volition.

      However, the two prongs of the argument represent a problematic logic. Even
      if the divergence of views on the hijab as a requirement of faith is
      ignored, can such a requirement be constructed simultaneously as an
      essential obligation of a practising Muslim and an act of free will? The
      philosophical underpinnings of this complex inquiry provide only one
      conclusion, the fact that school-age girls stand vulnerable to becoming
      pawns in the hands of parents trying desperately to cling to the traditional
      practices of their past and retain a cultural identity free of Western
      influence.

      Even a cursory analysis of the Norwegian Muslim community presents
      significant evidence of pervasive anti-integration sentiments typical of
      European Muslim communities.

      The unwelcome communal burden of post-9/11 scrutiny in the guise of
      anti-terrorism measures has promoted a victimised and beleaguered
      self-image, deeply suspicious of the Norwegian culture that surrounds it.
      Religious conservatives within the community frown on assimilation and
      integration and often paint it as an abandonment of Islam and as the
      adoption of the wayward ways of the West. In the summer of 2005, an Urdu
      publication entitled Iblis ki Aulad (Children of Satan) was released within
      the community by the All Pakistan Muslim Association. The author of the
      book, allegedly a Pakistani mullah, not only attacks Norwegian ethics and
      morality but describes all Norwegian children as illegitimate and conceived
      "here and there".

      Expectedly, the anti-assimilation sentiment manifests itself in the
      community by the oppressive pressure placed on those that can be most easily
      controlled, girls and women. The hijab thus becomes an effective instrument
      of this control, a convenient means of extending the control exerted by
      fathers, husbands and brothers in the private sphere into the public sphere
      of school life. The tension between those that consider the hijab a
      requirement of faith and those that do not is also increasingly obvious
      within the Muslim community. Norwegian school officials such as Anne Bech
      Skogen, the principal of a girls' school in Oslo, report not only an
      increase in headscarves in girls schools but also fights among Muslim girls
      in which girls not wearing the hijab are called prostitutes. The tussles in
      the schoolyard represent an extension of the battles against integration to
      an arena that should be devoted solely to educational pursuits.

      Also caught in this tumultuous current are hundreds of Norwegian-Pakistani
      girls fleeing forced marriages who have been contacting relief centres
      pleading for state protection against their families. Like their
      counterparts in other West European countries, these girls fear for their
      lives for flouting tradition. According to newspaper reports, the girls,
      most of them under 18, are often brought to the centres by their teachers in
      whom they confide. Despite being given new legal identities, new addresses
      and portable alarms, many report feeling threatened by their parents.

      There is good reason for their fear. Months before the mysterious death of
      Samira Munir, a 20-year-old Pakistani girl named Rahila Iqbal was killed
      during a trip to Pakistan. In a gruesome set of events, Rahila was lured to
      Pakistan under the guise of a conciliatory family vacation. There, in rural
      Punjab, the unwitting Rahila was surreptitiously drugged, then raped and
      drowned in a staged car accident at the behest of her own family. The
      murderers included Rahila's mother, who conspired against her to erase the
      shame brought upon the family by Rahila's love marriage. The family members
      have since been indicted in Norwegian courts and are facing criminal trial.

      Rahila's killing was a crime of honour, fuelled by a desire to erase the
      existence of a daughter who had chosen to reiterate her own will against
      that of her family. Against the backdrop of such unabashed commodification
      of women as emblems of family honour, the issue of hijab becomes problematic
      and the question of state intervention in "cultural matters" even more
      imperative. Should Western liberal states reconsider their non-intervention
      policies towards Muslim minorities at the risk of being accused of adopting
      imperialist and paternalistic attitudes towards them or should the potential
      for the abuse of the rights of Muslim women like Rahila endorse a proactive
      attitude towards integration that justifies a ban on headscarves in public
      schools?

      Some avenues to investigating these questions can be found in the
      articulations of the European Court of Human Rights on the issue of the
      headscarf ban in Turkish educational institutions. In 2005, a court decided
      that Istanbul University's refusal to allow a female student, Leyla Hasin,
      to wear an Islamic headscarf during an examination was not a violation of
      her human rights. The court quoted a decision from the Supreme
      Administrative Court in Turkey saying: "Beyond being a mere innocent
      practice, wearing the headscarf is in the process of becoming the symbol of
      a vision that is contrary to the freedoms of women." Within hours of the
      release of the Hasin decision, Muslim groups in Europe issued statements
      condemning the Islamophobia of the European court. Among them was the
      extremist Muslim group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which issued a statement that the
      verdict "had served to convince Muslim women further that only the
      unification of Turkey and all Muslim countries under an Islamic Caliphate
      state would guarantee the protection of the rights and honour of women in
      the Muslim world". Other European Muslim publications condemned the ban,
      accusing the court of "implementing tyranny" and "being unable to deliver
      justice".

      Such was the vitriol against which Samira Munir raised her voice. She was
      not alone in being condemned for speaking out against practices she saw as
      holding women back. Many women championing other causes related to Muslim
      women have been singled out for intimidation and even assassination. In
      Iraq, Zeena Al Qushtaini, the owner of Baghdad's best known pharmacy, was
      killed for "working with women's activists and wearing Western clothes". Her
      death followed those of Aquila Al Hashimia, Nisreen Mustafa Al-Burawati and
      Amal al-Ma'amalachi, all murdered for supporting women's rights. Yanar
      Mohammad, the head of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq who
      opposed the replacement of the existing Personal Status Code by Sharia law,
      has been threatened by the Army of Sahaba (Jaysh Al-Sahaba).

      In Afghanistan, five women have been killed in the past year for working for
      aid organisations that support women's issues. In Pakistan, Zubeida Begum, a
      worker for the women's rights group Aurat Foundation and an active
      campaigner for women's right to participate in local elections, was murdered
      by an unknown person as she slept in her house. In a recent interview,
      women's rights activist Amna Buttar of the Asian American Network Against
      Abuse (AANAA) reported being told by a top Pakistani government official
      that "it is extremely easy for us to get someone knocked off even on the
      streets of New York", clearly implying that living in the United States was
      no guarantee for her safety if she continued to speak out against rape and
      sexual abuse of Pakistani women.

      On January 8, a delegation led by Asma Jehangir, the renowned women's rights
      activist in Pakistan, was fired on by unknown gunmen, under the watchful
      eyes of Pakistani paramilitary troops who refused to come to the aid of the
      activists.

      These threats and tragic deaths are indelible marks on the conscience of
      Muslims everywhere. When Muslim women in the West raise their voices in
      support of the hijab and proclaim their right to wear it, they must also
      acknowledge the reality of the oppression faced by those Muslim women who
      refuse to wear it. The fact that many Muslim women choose to wear the hijab
      as an independent act of faith does not erase the subjugation perpetrated on
      other women whose suffering is just as real if not as vocal.

      The real causes for Samira Munir's death remain shrouded in mystery, but the
      fact that she was singled out for threats and intimidation for acknowledging
      both of these realities is exceedingly and unarguably clear. It is only in
      unequivocally endorsing the freedom to oppose the hijab that European
      Muslims can claim the right to support it.

      Rafia Zakaria is a lawyer and member of Asian-American Network Against Abuse
      of Women.
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