Welcome to the Islamophobic Terrordome of Closely Watched Trains and Planes

Faizah Shaheen was detained for reading a book

In late July Faizah Shaheen was returning to England, from her honeymoon, when she was detained and questioned, under terror laws, at Doncaster Airport. Her crime was [a] being a Muslim woman [b] who, two weeks earlier, had been reading a book, Malu Halasa’s award winning collection, Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. This week she announced she now intends to make formal complaints against the police and the airline. Yesterday, in India, Taufiq Ahmed, a Kashmiri man, was pulled off a train at Sagar railway station in Madhya Pradesh, arrested and jailed on charges of sedition. His crime was [a] being a Kashmiri man [b] who had commented on, forwarded and “liked” some “anti-India” posts on Facebook. Welcome to the Terrordome … Can’t wait for the state to decide the fate So this jam I dedicate.

Faizah Shaheen and Taufiq Ahmed join the lists of “Muslim” individuals who have been subjected to humiliation, interrogation, and detention. Here’s a partial, very partial, list from the last twelve months or so. The list is very partial, first because so much of the world, for example Kashmir, goes unreported and, second, because the so-called anti-terror laws created an ever expanding zone of night and fog.

In November 2015, Maher Khalil was kept from boarding a plane because he was speaking with a friend in Arabic.

In December 2015, Mohamed Ahmed Radwan was kicked off a plane, in Charlotte, North Carolina, because he made an air attendant “uncomfortable.”

In March 2016, Mohamad and Eaman Shebley and their three children were removed from a plane in Chicago, after having asked for help with a child’s booster seat.

In April 2016, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a university student and asylee, was removed from a plane, in Los Angeles, because he was speaking Arabic.

At the end of May 2016, Tahera Ahmad, a chaplain at Northwestern University, was on a flight from Chicago to Washington, DC. She asked for an unopened can of soda, and was denied. She was told the can could be used as a weapon. The passenger next to her asked for an unopened can of beer, and was given one. When she protested the disparity in treatment, she was insulted by passengers and crew.

In May, Guido Menzio, “with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent”, was temporarily escorted off a plane when the passenger next to him decided that something was just not right. He was scribbling something in an inscrutable script. Surely he was writing in Arabic. In fact, Menzio, who’s Italian and a world-renowned mathematician, was working out some differential equations.

The list, of names and of forms of discrimination, goes on. As Tahera Ahmad explained, “This isn’t about me and a soda can. It’s about systemic injustice that is perpetuated throughout our community.” Systemic injustice is perpetuated throughout our world; it is the new foundation. The system of that injustice is terror itself, and it does more than touch this individual or delay or detain that one. It swallows what little shreds are left of democracy, and makes democracy into its own image. It intensifies as it expands the sphere of violence and fear.

I’ve been wonderin’ why
People livin’ in fear
Of my shade
(Or my hi top fade)
I’m not the one that’s runnin’
But they got me on the run
Treat me like I have a gun
All I got is genes and chromosomes
Consider me Black to the bone
All I want is peace and love
On this planet
(Ain’t that how God planned it?)

Ain’t that how God planned it?


(Photo Credit: The Guardian)


Considering Masculinity in the Terrorist Stereotype

Recent events in Brussels have brought to the forefront once again the idea of terrorism. As feminists trying to understand acts of violence in our world, we must remember that by classifying these acts as terrorism we are inviting certain implications, just as when we fail to classify other violent acts as terrorism we incur other implications.

International relations scholar Caron Gentry and political scientist Laura Sjoberg describe “the stereotypical (new) ‘terrorist’” as “a hypermasculine man, politically motivated but religiously inspired, aggressive, dominant, and violent without the restraint that would come from civilization”. This stereotype particularly implies a Muslim male identity for terrorists. The emphasis on hypermasculinity in terrorists also suggests that women cannot be terrorists, unless they have lost their feminine identities. Gentry and Sjoberg further assert that “these racialized and gendered conceptions of all people associated with Islam have allowed for problematic international and domestic counterterrorism policies to emerge”. By ascribing to assumptions about the type of person that can be a terrorist, we ignore entire violent groups and acts of terror that fall outside of these stereotypes.

Stereotypes about masculinity are part of a larger issue that contributes greatly to the violence in our world. Defining traits and activities to be masculine or feminine assumes a hegemonic definition of what it means to be male or female. This definition does violence to any male who does not fit the prescribed definition of masculinity or to any female who does not align with the definition of femininity. Additionally, the use of femininity as an insult towards men implies being feminine as a negative, simultaneously criticizing men for having certain feelings or sensitivities that are not masculine and women for having those feelings in the first place.

Masculinity tends to be associated with acts of aggression. According to Cynthia Cockburn, masculinities “are socially constructed through activities such as competitive sports and computer games”. Certain sports, such as football in the United States, are especially violent compared to others. However the governing mentality of all sports is an aggression and testing of bodily abilities that tends to be associated with masculinity. Even though women can participate in most sports today, teams are almost always segregated by gender, leading to the development of a culture of hyper-masculinity on all male teams. Cockburn identifies the way that “domestic violence by men against women surges during significant football events and at the onset of wars”. All those institutions that cultivate masculinity through expressions of aggression tend to have higher rates of violence against women. In regards to battery of women, for example, 1996 study of violence against women among Division I athletes found that “[f]or the combined 3 years, male student-athletes comprised 3.0% of the total male population, yet represented 35% of the reported perpetrators”. In regards to sexual assault the same survey found “[f]or a combined 3 years, male student-athletes were 3.3% of the total male population, but were 19% of the reported perpetrators”.

The trends of violence against women continue in the military, where uncovering the true extent of sexual assault becomes even harder as women are strongly discouraged from reporting. Between one-fourth and one-third of women in the military are estimated to have experienced sexual assault, compared with 1 in 6 women in the civilian population. Because of the military’s hyper-masculine culture that encourages men to be violent and assumes the superiority of masculinity to femininity, sexual assault among members of the armed forces does not come as a surprise: “Cultures that displayed a high level of tolerance for violence, male dominance, and sex segregation had the highest frequency of rape”. These traits characterize hypermasculine cultures including the military, certain sports teams, and fraternities.

All of this contributes to what we, as feminists and as people, mean when we talk about terrorists, terrorist attacks, and acts of terror.


(Image Credit: The Conversation / Shutterstock)