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Contested Voices: Secular women activists in the age of Isis

Elhinnawy, Hind (2020) Contested Voices: Secular women activists in the age of Isis. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:82264)


At the heart of this thesis are two organizations; Inspire in Britain and Brigade de Mères in France, battling Islamic fundamentalism and gender inequality; and five life stories of 'secular' Muslim women working alongside them. While these women are widely recognized and celebrated among 'elite' circles in the west, they have been largely dismissed by postcolonial feminist scholarship as uncritical mouthpieces for their respective states 'anti-ISIS' agenda. Despite the controversy surrounding these women, this thesis is an attempt to fully engage with such voices rather than avoiding or dismissing them. Its main aim is to examine the challenges and complexities of their engagement in activism, the ways in which discourses of race, gender, religion and ideology have shaped the terms of this engagement and their efforts to make their narratives intelligible to themselves and to others. Data was collected through ethnographic involvement; narratively-informed life story interviews, semi-structured qualitative interviews and documents, and reflexively interpreted using narrative methods. The first section examines the work undertaken by the latter two organizations. The second draws on narrative analysis to explore life stories and journeys to activism. The third explores the ways these women position themselves, their politics and their work within the wider socio-political and historical contexts they are embedded in. The final section investigates the narratives these women draw on when talking about their activism and the circumstances under which these narratives were constructed. In light of the geopolitical factors at play since the early 2000s; 9/11 and the subsequent 'War on Terror,' the emergence of ISIS, the crisis of national identity and the rise of right-wing politics, the narratives of these women reveal contradictory pressures. Islamic fundamentalists see the activism of these women as a western imperialist project that does not engage with the reality of Muslim women. Postcolonial feminists valorise 'religious' agency as an indigenous alternative to western secularism and therefore dismiss their efforts. Neo-orientalists continue to position them as the 'other.' And in the name of respect and tolerance of 'other' cultures, sections of the left see them as Islamophobes. In reality, it seems that these ideological poles instrumentalize Muslim women's emancipation for the sake of attacking each other while allowing little discursive space for women themselves to articulate their positions. Intrinsically, this thesis aspires to map a 'complex' image of Muslim women's activism that encourages alternatives and bridges the current binary constructions of Muslim women as either victimized or fully liberated.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cottee, Simon
Thesis advisor: Chatwin, Caroline
Uncontrolled keywords: Gender Activism Dissent Resilience Social Change Islam Secularism War on Terror Britain France
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2020 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 13 May 2022 10:05 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Elhinnawy, Hind.

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