On June 10th anti-Muslim demonstrations were held in 28 cities across the United States, including one a few miles down the road from me at the North Carolina Capitol grounds in Raleigh. Organized by ACT for America, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the largest Anti-Muslim hate group in the country, these “anti-Sharia” gatherings were advertised with propagandist messaging like “If you stand for human rights, please join us to march against Sharia” and “Sharia is incompatible with our Constitution and our American values.”
It’s no coincidence that these anti-Muslim demonstrations were organized during LGBTQ Pride month, specifically the weekend before the one year mark of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left forty-nine people dead and fifty-three others wounded, nearly all of whom were young members of the Latinx community. The shooter Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before opening fire at the gay club. Scott Pressler, one of the major organizers of the anti-Muslim gatherings, claims that the Orlando massacre was a wake-up call that led him to do two things: to come out as a gay man, and to join ACT for America “to fight for my community, my country.”
ACT for America operates under the guise of human rights and women’s liberation to justify its anti-Muslim, white Supremacist agenda. The organization’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, cited acts of violence against women including female genital mutilation and honor killings as the basis of organizing these anti-sharia demonstrations. She criticized U.S. feminists, claiming (falsely) that they have we have been silent on these issues. In an interview Scott Pressler also tried to appeal to feminists in joining his anti-Muslim crusade when he said, “ We [the LGBTQ community] are under attack simply because of our sexuality. Just like women, just for being born a female you are already under attack, and I think that’s demonstrative of how extreme radical Islam really is.”
As a white heterosexual Christian feminist I cannot stand idly by as these anti-Muslim extremists distort our movement for gender justice to fuel their campaign of hate. While I condemn any and all acts of violence perpetrated against women and girls–or anyone for that matter–this anti-Muslim hate group is perpetuating the deeply misogynistic premise that brown women need white men to save them, a concept Gayatri Spivak named in her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
Of course ACT for America is not working to lift up the voices of Muslim women activists who are working to end violence against women. Instead they are citing incidents of gender-based violence to condemn an entire religion and to call for discriminatory policies against those who practice the faith in the United States.
Preying upon the fears of white women is a political tactic used by white supremacist, homophobic, and transphobic hate groups to push forward a legislative agenda that further marginalizes communities already at greatest risk for harassment and violence. It’s been incredibly effective. In my state of North Carolina this tactic has been used to justify the 2013 passage of an anti-Sharia law and in 2016 to justify the anti-worker “bathroom bill” HB2. And I would be remiss not to mention the arduous regulations required for abortion providers that were passed during the same period. In fact, many of the states with anti-sharia laws also have some of the strictest abortion laws on the books.
To my community of feminists, especially those who are white and/or Christian, I implore us to be vigilant in our public condemnation of those who co-opt our agenda for the furthering of these hate-filled practices and policies that will protect no one and that will lead to increased discrimination and violence against marginalized communities. As we seek to protect reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, we must also stand with our Muslim neighbors and work together for our collective liberation.
Katey Zeh, M.Div is a strategist, writer, and educator who inspires communities to create a more just, compassionate world. She has written for outlets including Huffington Post, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, Response magazine, the Good Mother Project, the Journal for Feminist Studies in Religion, and the United Methodist News Service. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press in March of 2018. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.