For the third episode of We Belong Podcast, we take you to Spain to meet Míriam Hatibi. Míriam is an activist against racism and islamophobia and the author of ‘Look Me in the Eye’ and ‘Leila’.
She also contributes to the opinion sections of several publications, where she promotes a visible media presence for people of diverse origins, particularly women.
Following the August 2017 terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, Míriam vehemently condemned terrorism at a demonstration in Plaça de Catalunya that brought together hundreds of Muslims. Since December 2014, she has been the spokesperson for the Ibn Battuta Foundation (FIB), an entity created to promote socio-cultural exchange.
In our conversation, Miriam recalls her reaction to the terrorist attacks and tells us about her work to deconstruct islamophobia and stereotypes surrounding muslim people. She also talks of her ambition to create new spaces for immigrant daughters to shine in society.
We Belong is the podcast that gives a voice to the New Daughters of Europe. Yasmine Ouirhrane, appointed expert by the European Union and the African Union, will host this series of conversations with young women representing the diversity of Europe. She will travel and meet women who are breaking stereotypes, navigating multiple identities, and challenging the conventional wisdom of what it means to belong.
As an advocate for social and gender justice in Europe, Yasmine Ouirhrane was awarded Young European of the Year 2019 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She was also named EDD Young Leader by the European Commission and is an expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub, mandated by the EU and the AU. She is an award-winning fellow at Women Deliver and a member of the Gender Innovation Agora at UN Women.
Every now and then, a barbaric, senseless tragedy strikes the world. It casts a shadow on our hopes that we, as a species, are progressing. Although such tragedies often seem unexpected, after closer inspection we come to a stark realisation. Evil doesn’t come from nowhere.
In January, such tragedy struck my homeland, Poland.
A liberal politician and Mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, was killed. He was killed on stage, in front of thousands of spectators. He was participating in a charity event raising funds for children’s medical equipment.
The perpetrator was shouting words of hate towards Mr. Adamowicz’s political party. Despite this, the mainstream Polish media proclaimed that this was not a politically motivated or hate-driven murder. Instead, they focused on the fact that the perpetrator was mentally ill and had criminal history.
I disagree. This murder was driven by hateful political speech and committed because of hate.
This was a crime of hate against Mr. Adamowicz’s party, against his liberal ideology, against his support for LGBT movement, women’s rights and refugees, and against his calls for freedom and compassion. Not calling it by its name trivializes the crime itself, and also the deeply rooted causes. These causes are shaking not only Poland, but many other parts of the world, too.
We must face the fact that none of the the tragedies we’ve seen in the world would have taken place if it weren’t for small – and at first sight insignificant – seeds of hate. Seeds that are planted in our everyday lives. Seeds that we ignore and forget, because of comfort, or because we want to get through a day without confrontation.
Yes, this individual might have had predispositions to commit a crime, perhaps even such a violent one. But it’s the seeds of increasingly institutionalized hate and discrimination – as well as the silent approval of aggression and violent speech from the government, media and society – which are the real, terrifying causes.
Seeds have fallen on fertile ground, and bloomed into hate so tangible it can take lives, whether in Gdansk, London or Christchurch.
As a white European woman, I am privileged. I am rarely a victim of hate, racial discrimination or morphed prejudice that turns violent. But it is my duty to stand up to racism, hate and bigotry precisely because of this privilege. It’s a duty that, too often, I forgo. Whether out of tiredness, fear or pure ignorance, the reason is irrelevant. I am guilty nevertheless. But enough is enough.
Seeds of hate are sprouting in our own garden. We must stop them now before they grow into something unstoppable.
Minutes before driving a rented van into a street of pedestrians and killing 10 people, 25-year-old Alek Minassian posted on his Facebook page: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
One week on from the attack, the term ‘incel’ remains all over news sites and social media. Short for ‘involuntarily celibate’, it refers to online groups of men who believe they are unable to experience sexual relationships because women unjustly deny them sex. Within such communities, frustration seems to manifest into a blanket hatred of women (Stacys) and attractive men (Chads).
Elliot Rodger, the “Supreme Gentleman” referenced in Minassian’s post, killed 6 people and injured 14 in an attack in California in 2014. The 22-year-old released a ‘manifesto’ and a ‘retribution’ video shortly before turning his gun on himself. Both the document and the video outline Rodger’s belief that he was a victim of attractive women who refused to have sex with him.
Alongside incels, other online groups making up the wider male supremacist landscape include the ‘men’s rights movement’ and the ‘pick up artist movement’. As Jessica Valenti explains it, men in these spheres share a belief in the idea that women “owe them sexual attention”. They also share a belief in the idea that male desire is an inevitable force that we can – as a society – attempt to manage as best we can, but must ultimately bow down to due to its sheer power and importance.
Misogyny is something we still feel very uncomfortable talking about because to acknowledge a problem of such scale requires us to acknowledge the huge amount of time and energy required to fix it. It’s far easier and quicker to say there are a few awful, disturbed men out there in sad online forums.
In fact, much of the response I’ve seen to recent coverage on ‘incel’ groups is pity. I understand this reaction, because to say you feel sorry for someone strips them of at least some of their power. It’s also easy to mock an easily-recognisable trope from film and television – the ‘eternal virgin’, the loser who can’t get the girl. But one week on from a mass-murder fuelled by sexist ideology, laughing at members of these groups for being pathetic, porn-addled saddos starts to sound empty. It’s well past time to face up to the consequences of these ‘pathetic’ ideologies.
Over the last week, calls for governments to monitor more closely the online corners where extreme violence lurks have grown louder. There have been previous attempts to do so – in 2017, Reddit banned an incel group with 40,000 members because it was advocating for rape as a solution to men’s ‘celibacy problems’. But we need to stop this kind of hateful, violent way of thinking long before it reaches Reddit.
To focus all the attention on internet groups suggests that misogyny is contained in extremism. Perhaps that’s a comforting way to look at it, because it allows us to believe that by tackling the existence of the groups we can tackle the existence of the ideology. But violent misogyny is not contained in extreme corners of internet forums. It’s everywhere.
It’s in the homes of the hundreds of women around the world who are subjected to domestic violence every day and it’s on the university campuses where female students are groped and assaulted by peers. It’s in courtrooms where rape victims’ clothing is examined and it’s in the language we use to talk about female sexuality. It’s in the lyrics of the songs on the radio, it’s in the tweets directed at women in positions of power and it’s in the Whatsapp groups of rugby players. It’s everywhere. We have to stop acting surprised when somebody is beaten, or raped, or killed as a result.
We have to agree that receiving regular death and rape threats on social media is not a condition of any single job in the world. We have to agree that online communities with tens of thousands of members coming up with strategies to rape as many women as possible are more than just gangs of weird losers who can’t get a date. We have to understand that such deep-rooted sexism damages men and boys and prevents them from living life as full human beings. We have to stop treating violence against women in any form, on any scale, as unfortunate and tragic yet ultimately inevitable.
What happened in Toronto last week was fuelled by misogyny. Until we can acknowledge and address the existence of the pervasive hatred of women that underpins this tragedy, it won’t be the last of its kind.
In Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize lecture, he compared the tremendous scientific achievements the world had made by the 1960s to the values we held as a society.
We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
He went on to say, ‘This problem of spiritual and moral lag…expresses itself in three larger problems…Each of these problems, while appearing to be separate and isolated, is inextricably bound to the other. I refer to racial injustice, poverty, and war.’
This year’s International Day of Peace takes place when peace looks impossible to reach. Lately, the news has been discouraging. News of war, famine, violence and disease can be seen daily and for me, and I am sure for others, the news is frightening. Last week, Pope Francis remarked that the world’s many conflicts amount to piecemeal World War Three.
I think Martin Luther King’s words sadly ring true 40 years later.
The recent headlines include some of the most tragic events our history has seen including:
The shooting down of flight MH17, with its links to the unrest in Ukraine.
The beheading of journalist James Foley by ISIS and a few days later, Steven Sotloff, heroes who wanted to bring awareness to injustice.
The kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram.
Overcrowded boats of migrants capsizing trying to escape poverty.
A shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.
Despite the complexity and confusion that surrounds these tragic situations, I think our society can overcome them. Even though we are not the ones in positions of power, we can not forget we have a voice. We live in a time where social media allows us to gain knowledge of global events more quickly and gives us the opportunity to raise our voice. Social media is a tool to understand these issues affect everyone.
Girls’ Globe utilizes social media to track the progress of the Millennium Development Goals as they relate to women and children. The eight goals aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other diseases, ensure environmental stability, and promote global partnership for development. Despite various barriers to achieving the goals, the one thing that would prevent any of them from occurring is the absence of peace. As Martin Luther King alluded to, racial injustice, poverty, and war, are still the major underlying factors preventing peace today.
The founder of Girls’ Globe, Julia Wiklander recently wrote about how women and children are the most vulnerable in times of conflict. Women are raped at higher rates, experience trauma, and newborns and pregnant women lack critical healthcare and nutrition. Education opportunities are minimized, and infectious diseases can spread more quickly in places without healthcare infrastructures.
The overflowing Syrian refugee camps are becoming places where sexual exploitation of displaced women and girls is common place. Women are objectified, bought and sold or kidnapped, and presented as gifts to leaders of some of these terrorists sects.
Despite how angry or scared we might feel about the horrifying events happening in the news, we must not think that perpetuating violence is the answer. Let’s ask our leaders to promote policies for social and racial justice and peace. In this way we will more easily achieve the MDGs and protect those most vulnerable in times of war and conflict.
As Martin Luther King went on, he remarked on the nonviolent progress the US had made for civil rights in the years preceding, and the hope he had for a peaceful future.
Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away, and out of the womb of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.
We must now give an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in our individual societies.
If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. -Martin Luther King Jr.
Want to take action?
Visit the UN’s International Day of Peace website to learn what others are doing to promote peace.
September 21st-26th Girls’ Globe will be in New York for the 2014 UN General Assembly. We are partnering with FHI360, Johnson & Johnson, and Women Deliver in support of Every Woman Every Child to amplify the global conversation on the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda. Follow #MDG456Live, raise your voice and join the conversation to advance women’s and children’s health. Sign up for the Daily Delivery to receive live crowd-sourced coverage of these issues directly to your inbox.
Eighteen-year-old Deborah Sanya went to school to take her final exams before graduation. She never expected what happened next: a mass kidnapping of her and over 200 of her fellow students. Deborah and her three friends are some of the lucky ones; they bravely ran when one of the kidnappers wasn’t looking, found refuge in a local village, and eventually made it home.
Four weeks later, there is no trace of her friends.
Islamic militants known, as Boko Haram, are believed to be behind the kidnapping of the girls from their school in Chibok. The literal translation of this radical, extremist terrorist group means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language.
The group is fueled by the ideology that Western influences have corrupted their society and a pure Islamic state can restore the country of Nigeria. The group wants to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in Africa’s most populous and economically developing country.
Boko Haram is one of the most dangerous manifestations of the global resurgence of radical Islam. It utilizes brutal, violent, inhumane tactics to force a skewed, political ideology upon innocent people.
The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, warned in a video obtained in March that all students should leave universities and girls are to drop out of school to get married.
“In Islam, it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves,” Shekau said. “In due course, we will start taking women away.”
And this is precisely what was done.
Civilian victims targeted by these insurgents are frequently women and girls. The concept of “Western education” being deemed as dangerous is nothing new because the education of women and girls is an affront to the twisted ideologies of these terrorists.
Malala Yousufzai, the poster child for girls’ education globally, was shot on October 9th, 2012 by the Taliban en route to school. She, like her sisters, in Nigeria,‘dared’ to demand an education and to lift herself out of poverty.
For these terrorists, there is nothing more intimidating.
Educated women and girls are the agents of change in their communities and an indicator of progress and enlightenment. As such, they are the first targets for extremist groups.
Reports have indicated some of the abducted girls have been sold as brides to soldiers for $12, and some were forcefully converted to Islam.
It is horrifying to imagine what these innocent girls are undergoing. They have been captured and sold into sexual slavery in a practice reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
The Nigerian people are now on the battleground of two ideologies: one which views their women and girls as seeds of peace and harbingers of a better future; and the other, an extreme ideology of hate and oppression which views women as chattel to be sold and used, abused and discarded at will.
After the girls were taken in Chibok, Nigeria, their school was burned to the ground. The flames consumed their books, papers, and end of year exams. Their actions were clear: education, especially of girls, should be destroyed.
Learn more about the oppression women face in honor-based societies. Watch Honor Diaries, a film featuring Zainab Khan and eight other courageous women’s rights advocates in a dialogue about gender inequality in Muslim majority countries.