Gender, Orientalism and Religious Fundamentalism International Perspectives on Gender Week 13
Structure of lecture • Introduction and Context • What is religious fundamentalism? • How is it typically gendered? • What is Hindutva and how is it gendered? • What is Islam and what is Islamic fundamentalism? • What is Orientalism? • How does Orientalism link to western perceptions of Islamic women? • Conclusions
What is Religious Fundamentalism? • Gita Sahgal and Nira Yuval-Davis: all fundamentalist religious movements: - claim theirs is the only true version of the religion - are orthodox (maintaining tradition) - or are revivalist (returning to the ‘truth’) - use political means to impose their version on all members of the religion - attempt to merge religion and state - are patriarchal • Islam has no monopoly on fundamentalism - fundamentalist movements in Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism etc.
Gender & Religious Fundamentalism • Fundamentalist movements are patriarchal and seek to: • Emphasise women’s ‘natural’ role as mothers • control women’s sexuality and fertility • maintain the patriarchal family • exclude women from leadership/ public sphere • Women’s bodies become a key site for the articulation of religious fundamentalism • Example from Haredi, ultra-orthodox Jewish sect: • Women must dress modestly, be segregated and not sing in public
Haredi Gender Politics Defaced billboard, Jerusalem Anti-fundamentalism Campaign 2009 cabinet – 2 papers airbrushed women out
Rise of the Hindu Right: Hindutva • Hindu right came to for in late 1980s India • Mobilizing in pursuit of a Hindu state • BJP, the BharatiyaJanataParty - formed government 1998-2004 - lost election to Congress in 2004 - further loss of seats in 2009 election - main opposition to Congress Party
Destruction of Ayodyha Mosque • Muslim mosque at Ayodyha destroyed in 1992 • Hindu belief that Ayodyha was birthplace of Lord Ram (7th incarnation of Vishnu) and that mosque was built on top of temple to Ram • Mobilization in late 1980s by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to build new temple • Culminating in destruction of mosque on 6 Dec 1992 Before After
Mobilization Against the Film Fire • Fire, 1998, directed by Deepa Mehta • Widespread demonstrations • Attacks on cinemas • Explores women’s sexuality within unhappy marriages, featuring two sisters-in-law falling in love
Gujerat Violence • Sparked by fire on a train that killed 58, many Hindu activists • Blamed on Muslims but probably an accident • Ensuing violence saw deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus, many atrocities • Was this communal violence or state terrorism?
Hindutva Discourse • History is 1000 year struggle between indigenous Hindu people and Muslim invaders • Post-independence appease- mentof minority groups by Congress perpetuated oppression of Hindus • A Hindu state (rashtra) must be established in India • But there are 154 million Muslim people in India, 13% of the population
Emergence of Hindutva • After independence Nehruvian nationalism dominated, militant Hindu nationalism went underground • Economic crises of 1980s provided conditions for re-emergence of Hindu nationalism • Defined in opposition to Islam: Muslims represented as the ‘other’ and blamed for all ills in society • Shiv Sena in Mombai claim Muslims hogging jobs/opportunities • Whipping up fear of Muslim population growth
Gender and Hindutva • Patriarchal controls over women • Positive gendered representations of Hinduism vs. negative gendered representations of Islam • Must recognize active participation of many Hindu women in the Hindutva movement • Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharati are prominent female leaders of Hindutva • Participation of Hindu women in violence undermines assumptions that women are ‘natural’ pacifists or refuse to engage in violence as recognise have most to lose (‘social’ pacifists)
Female Leaders Uma Bharati Sadhvi Rithambara
What’s in it for Hindu women? • Offers women a legitimate, if limited, space in the public sphere, an escape from domestic drudgery and hardship • Women re-enact their private roles in the public arena • Is it seen as a way for Hindu women to seek new rights?
Key Questions • The Prophet of Islam is Mohammed, the holy book is the Qur'an • Does Islam oppress women or does it empower them? • Is the hijab (‘veil’) an impingement on women’s freedom or does it protect them? • It’s crucial not to generalise across all Islamic countries. Disaggregation is essential
Islamic Fundamentalism • A revival of the Islamic religion along strict patriarchal lines • Dates from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah • Characterised by conflict between fundamentalists and modernisers about merging of religion and state • Turkey - still secular but in struggle • Afghanistan - fundamentalist Taliban-ruled government, overthrown following western invasion
Perceptions of Gender and Islam • Generally homogeneous and negative • Afshar: ‘imaginative and misleading literature... that in the past century has been presented in the West in lieu of research’ (3) • Afshar criticises representations of Muslim women as ‘backward’, passive, unsuitable for emancipation in some Western feminist writing • Moghissi: gaze of West on Islam been both inferiorizing – women’s subordination taken as symptomatic of the degeneracy of the whole – and imbued with European male sexual fantasies • Lord Cromer: condemned women’s treatment in Egypt but founder member and one-time President of Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage in UK
Orientalism • Edward Said’s (1935-2003) Orientalism (1978) • The West (Occident) produced itself discursively in opposition to the East (Orient) • Orientalist accounts divide the world into two: the civilised, rational, scientific, cultured and moral ‘west’ (Occident), and the uncivilized, irrational, unscientific, culturally inferior and immoral ‘east’ (Orient) • Said’s evidence: mainly 18th and 19th century English and French literature, Eg. Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Orientales’ • Orientalism homogenizes, stereotypes, ‘others’ a vast region and all its people • Scholarly control is linked to political and economic control
The Snake Charmer Jean Léone Gérôme c1870
‘The Snake Charmer focuses on a naked boy handling a python while an old man plays a fipple flute. Watching intently is a group of mercenaries differentiated by the distinctive costumes of their tribes, by ornaments, and by weapons. Such erotic and exotic imagery of Near Eastern subjects was very popular in the late nineteenth century. Despite the nearly photographic realism employed by Gérome, the painting is a pastiche of Egyptian, Turkish, and Indian elements that have no basis in reality.’Source: The Clark Institute
Pool in a Harem Jean Léone Gérôme 1876
Significance of Orientalism • Orientalism has legitimated colonialism and imperial expansion • Forces of ‘right’ and ‘civilization’ construct a duty to ‘civilize’ and ‘bring light’ to the ‘backward’ parts of the world • ‘Western academics had created a history of the Orient which they ‘gave back’ to Orientals’ (Liddle and Rai, 1993, p. 12) • Critique: has Said been over-general? Has he himself homogenized?
Gender and Orientalism • Feminist appropriations of Orientalism concentrated on the way gender relations operate as marker of western ‘civilization’ and eastern ‘barbarity’ • Binary constructed whereby civilized nations identified through their good treatment of women, uncivilized nations through their mistreatment of women • John Stuart Mill in The History of India: ‘The condition of women is one of the most remarkable circumstances in the manner of nations. Among rude people the women are generally degraded, among civilized people they are exalted’. • But not all women in the West were exalted, and exaltation didn’t mean equality • Some western feminist writings peddle Orientalism
Consequences of Feminist Orientalism • Perpetuates discourse that West is superior to East • Puts (white) Western feminists in (powerful) position of ‘knower’ • Puts majority world feminists in very difficult position – discussing patriarchal aspects of their society provides ammunition for orientalist discourse • Recognising differences between women is vital, but how can this be done without undermining prospects for a global women’s movement? • How can we hear majority world women’s own voices as they typically lack access to publishing outlets – those privileged by class often speak for them • Can’t expect western black women to speak for all majority world women
Implications for IPG • How do we look at the lives of women in non-western parts of the world and understand them without reproducing the binary of ‘civilized’ west and ‘uncivilized’ east? • How do we hear women’s own voices and accept their right to look back and ‘know’ us? • How do we recognise that silence about gender inequalities may not mean there are none?
Conclusions • All religions can take fundamentalist forms • RF claims to have true version of religion; attempts to merge religion and state; follows patriarchal gender norms • Hindutva can be seen as a form of RF in India today, led by BJP • Destruction of mosque at Ayodyha was key moment • Hindutva tells a story justifying Hindu state and scapegoating Indian Muslims • Hindutva has attracted many Hindu women – why? • Islam generally is perceived in West as oppressive to women • Are these ideas the latest contributions to Orientalism, the way the ‘West’ produces itself as superior to the ‘East’? • Orientalism is problematic within feminism, and also challenging to avoid