“Actually, the two things that ex-Muslims let go of—the very last two things that they let go of—are eating pork and anti-Semitism. It’s because both of these things are so ingrained in us from such a young age.”
This is the second part of the conversation between Merion West‘s Erich Prince and Yasmine Mohammed. Part one was published on November 23rd.
Yasmine, I next want to ask you about anti-Semitism, and you describe how prevalent it is in many Muslim-majority countries. You say that it’s almost so pervasive that you can barely even see that it’s there. Anti-Semitism, of course, has been in the news a lot, with Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments, for example. it possible that certain anti-Semitic tropes are almost second-nature, or a type of near-unconscious conditioning? You mentioned, for example, that one of the worst words you can call someone is the word for a Jew, and you describe anti-Semitism all but interwoven into the culture in many of these countries.
It’s a very mild case, but I was speaking to a friend of mine from California, and she said, “You know Yasmine, when I was growing up, we used to hear the term all the time to ‘Jew someone down.’” And she said, “I never thought about what the term meant. I never thought it was anti-Semitic. I just never thought about it. And then one day I said to a friend of mine, ‘Oh, it was such a great deal. And we were able to Jew them down.’” And she stopped, and she said, “Do you realize I’m Jewish?” And then my friend was like, “Okay, but why is that relevant to this conversation?” So she really didn’t understand it. It wasn’t until her friend explained it to her, and then it was this light bulb moment.
Take that and multiply it by a thousand, and then you’ll get an idea of what it’s like in the Muslim world. Anti-Semitism really isn’t even a conversation. It isn’t even a thought. It isn’t even acknowledged. Anti-Semitism is just accepted. That’s just the way it is. So ex-Muslims—they will still hang on to these anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli [sentiments] that they had been brought up with because they didn’t sit down and investigate them; it’s just so ingrained. Actually, the two things that ex-Muslims let go of—the very last two things that they let go of—are eating pork and anti-Semitism. It’s because both of these things are so ingrained in us from such a young age.
So anti-Semitism is much more pronounced than any discrimination against, say, Christians?
Yes. Much more. There’s discrimination against all non-believers in a sort of us-versus-them mentality. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate them; you just want nothing to do with them. You don’t become friends with them.
And, in your book, this when you describe your mother punishing you when you wanted to go to the Secret Santa event with your classmates. And your mother was, in essence, saying, “Why do you want to spend time with them anyway—they’re not going to heaven?”
That’s right. There is a line in the Quran that says: “Do not take the Jews and Christians as your friends. They are never your allies. If you are to be friends with them you will be burned with them.”
“If Muslims sat down with the Quran, translated it into their own language and read it, they would be horrified. They would not want to identify with whatever religion teaches these kinds of atrocious things. But most of them don’t even know what that book says.”
So to all of these people in the West that have this retort that people need to read the Quran more, perhaps these proponents ought to read that line too.
Maybe they should read the whole Quran as well. It would be impossible for anyone with the slightest bit of empathy to read the Quran and—at the end of it—say that: “Islam is a religion of peace.” But people are generally good, and, if Muslims sat down with the Quran, translated it into their own language and read it, they would be horrified. They would not want to identify with whatever religion teaches these kinds of atrocious things. But most of them don’t even know what that book says.
Drawing a connection between this conversation and the Merion West op-ed on “Feminists in the West” that you wrote last October, towards the end of the book, you mentioned this moment when you’re teaching in Qatar and you felt that you were finally able to be a true feminist. Can you describe what you mean by that?
When I was saying that I was a “true feminist,” what I meant was that—as a Muslim—I always wanted to a feminist, but you have to walk this weird line where you have to explain away why a law is instructing men to beat their wives. You have to explain away why a woman’s word in court is worth half of a man’s—and why she receives half the inheritance that her brother does, and why it’s so often said that women are less intelligent than men. And why there are so many fiercely misogynistic, viciously misogynistic things in the Quran and the Hadith.
When you’re growing up as a Muslim woman—and you’re simultaneously trying to be a feminist—you can’t do both, honestly. You can’t. You have to always be apologizing for all of these verses. And so it was really nice for me to when I dropped Islam to just be like, “Oh yeah, now I can just be true feminist, and I don’t have to make excuses for all of this bull—,” for lack of a better word. So that’s what I meant by that.
But I can tell you what’s happening, I think, with feminists, and I think it has parallels with the LGBT community too. It also relates to Generation X. So we, in Generation X, thought we were kind of like our parents, the Baby Boomers. Our parents were fighting these huge social issues; and we came along, there were still a lot of work to be done. The Baby Boomers started the work for us, but we were the second wave feminists who were going to take it further. And same thing was happening with LGBT issues; we, in Generation X, still had a lot of way to go. Ellen’s show was canceled when she kissed a woman on air; Will and Grace was a big deal. If I watch a movie from the 1980’s or the 1990’s with my daughter today, I’m horrified by the sexism, racism, and homophobia. But we have come a very long way in a very short time, and we’ve acquired so many freedoms and equalities that we didn’t have before. So what’s happening now with this third wave of feminists is they’ve come along, and there’s not much work left to be done. And so they’re nitpicking. And it’s the same thing with the LGBT community; they’re now nitpicking and trying to find things. They’re now like, “Ah! Maxi Pads always have a symbol for a female. How dare they if 0.001% of males who transition to females can menstruate too, so how dare they have a female symbol?”
Right, we saw this recent case in Canada with the transgender woman who was filing a lawsuit against salons that did not want to wax her.
Oh my God, yes. That’s in the same area where I live, so I was following that, whether I liked it or not. It’s exactly that. So we’ve come so far that we’re now nitpicking things, and it’s reached the point that we’re losing allies because it’s actually ridiculous. We’ve coming to the point where even allies of transgender people are getting annoyed with this and feeling like they’re now crossing the line. And it’s the same with all of these transgender women that are in sports and are absolutely destroying world records for women. Often they’ll say: “They transitioned very recently.” So their whole life, they’ve had male testosterone, and they built up their male bodies; and now they’re coming to compete, and women don’t stand a chance. So what’s the point of even having women in sports at this point? The transgender women that come in are completely annihilating them. So those are the kinds of issues that we can see happening in the LGBT community. And we can see the same thing happening with feminists. There’s not that much work to happen anymore, so now they’re nitpicking with things like: “Are air conditioners sexist?” “Is mansplaining sexist?”
But why the blind spot when it comes to how women are treated in other parts of the world?
Well, that’s exactly my point. My point is that—if you have all of this fight in you (and that is fantastic)—instead of nitpicking on these silly things, why not look to your neighbors who are actually a hundred or two hundred years behind where you are? We talk about equality in the Western world, such as when I described Ellen’s show being canceled. Meanwhile in fifteen Muslim-majority countries, LGBT people are executed. So there’s a very big difference between the problems that we had here—even if we go back a hundred years; the issues that we had with women here still does not equate with the issues that are going on with women in Muslim-majority countries today.
So, for all of these people that are full of this energy and really want to make the world a better place for women or LGBT people, there are more than enough people that are screaming out for support and would absolutely love to have the help. Quite often when I’m talking to Western feminists, people say to me, “You guys should solve your own problems. You don’t need Western feminists to do it for you.” Number one, I totally agree with that. And, right now, women in Muslim-majority countries are actually being imprisoned and being killed for fighting for themselves currently. So we are already fighting for ourselves.
I think you cited some examples in the book of what happened to some women protesting in Iran.
Yes—and since writing the book—there been even worse ramifications for some of these women that didn’t even make it into the book. One person who fights against these mandatory hijab laws is Iran is Masih Alinejad. She’s living in New York because, of course, she’s not allowed back in Iran because she speaks out against the government, and they started to arrest her family. They are arresting her family members because they can’t get to her, and that is how they want to force her to keep quiet.
The list is very long of women who have been imprisoned for just removing their hijab in Iran. And a human rights lawyer went to prison for 38 years for trying to defend these women. So [Iranian authorities] are not just clamping down on the activists; they’re clamping down on anyone who supports their activism, as well as the family members of activists. So that is the fight that we’re fighting over there. And now that we talked about hijab, this is a perfect time for me to show you why I have such a problem with some women in the West. I’m not saying it’s women in the West’s responsibility to support the women in Muslim-majority countries. Of course, it’s not their responsibility. Those women are fighting for themselves.
But all I’m asking is that you do not stand in their way: that you not do things that are counterproductive and actually support their oppressors. When women in those countries are being imprisoned for removing a hijab, you are now seeing over here that Nike is putting its trademark swoosh on hijabs—and Banana Republic is doing something similar. And Marks and Spencer is selling it, and Sports Illustrated is putting out a hijabi on the cover of its swimsuit edition. When you do that, you support and celebrate and endorse this misogynistic culture; purity culture; rape culture. When you support that, you are actively working against these women that are putting themselves in harm’s way and are suffering just to have the choice to choose what to put on their bodies.
You make a very compelling case, Yasmine. So I thank you for your time and for going forward with this book.
Erich, thank you so much. Yes, it’s difficult to speak out, but it would be impossible for me to do this if it weren’t for people like you that were helping me to get my voice out there. I really do appreciate it.