Chivvis Moore: Why we need to understand Muslim women better

Chivvis Moore: 'I live my own version of feminism by supporting other women, wherever I encounter them, as they ...

Chivvis Moore: ‘I live my own version of feminism by supporting other women, wherever I encounter them, as they communicate and realise their own choices.’

 

Chivvis Moore: Why we need to understand Muslim women better

STUFF — Life & Style, by Lee Suckling

http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/life/82858331/chivvis-moore-why-we-need-to-understand-muslim-women-better

Last updated 15:37, August 5 2016

 

Chivvis Moore lives by her own version of feminism.

The American author of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God: An American Feminist in the Arab World lived in Middle Eastern countries for 16 years, working as a journalist, carpenter, and teacher, helping Arab women thrive in what Westerners assume to be exclusively misogynist environments.

“[Political scientist] Zillah Eisenstein uses the plural ‘feminisms’ to indicate that feminism in the West might not look like feminism to Muslims or women in other parts of the world,” Moore explains.

“I like her definition: Feminisms belong to anyone who is committed to women’s ability to choose their own destiny; to be the agents of their own life choices so long as they do not colonise another.

“I live my own version of feminism by supporting other women, wherever I encounter them, as they communicate and realise their own choices.”

 

As a young carpenter, Moore, left, was drawn to the Arab world's architecture.

Chivvis and master carpenter Hassan Ali Ibrahim in his shop in Cairo, 1979

 

As a young carpenter, it was a love of architecture that took Moore to the Arab world – first to Cairo in the late 1970s, and later to Syria and the West Bank in the 1990s and 2000s – but her desire to make a societal contribution was deep-seated.

Moore lived in Brazil as a child and the impoverished favelas she walked by in Rio de Janeiro made a big impact on her.

“I was also touched, like many other US citizens of my generation,” she explains, “with the tendency to assume that not only did we over-privileged Americans have a responsibility to try to ‘change the world’ and make it fairer for those without privilege, but also that whatever we chose to do would be useful.”

The Western conception of women in Arab societies is that of powerlessness, but many of Moore’s experiences challenged that.

Upon her arrival in Cairo, “I met a woman named Nahid. In striking contrast to the Western image of the helpless, unthinking, beaten-down Arab woman,” Moore recalls.
Ad Feedback

“Nahid was a natural homegrown feminist, the first of the many women I met during my years in the Arab world whom I respected and admired for the strength, inner fortitude, and self-esteem that I came to see as characteristic of Arab women.”

In fact, Moore found many similarities between Arab and Western women during her 16 years in the Middle East. The Arab women she met in Egypt, Syria, and the West Bank “confronted the whole array of challenges that all women, except the wealthy, have to face – having to work outside the home and yet do all the work inside the home as well,” she says.

Moore never covered her head – as Westerners often think of as mandatory – in her decades living in three Muslim environments.

“Certainly, women in some Arab Muslim countries are required to veil, either by their families or by society, and it’s hard to imagine at least some women not finding the all-enveloping outer garment, the burka, cumbersome and unwelcome,” she says.

“But when I lived in Arab countries, I knew Muslim women who had taken up wearing the veil, although not required to wear it, in order to indicate their difference from Western ways.

“Others said they veiled to shield themselves from unwelcome advances from men on the street. Still, others covered themselves because they believed that God required of both men and women a certain modesty in dress, as set forth in the Koran.

“Most who make judgments about Arab women’s lack of freedom blame it on Islam. But they don’t know anything about the religion. They have neither studied it nor lived in Muslim countries.”

Moore sees the current rhetoric that equates Islam to violence and repression as misguided Western constructs, fed by minority extremist groups such as Isis and the Taliban.

“Most Muslims want as little to do with the values of Isis or the Taliban as you or I,” she says. “Why is Islam held responsible for the injustices in Muslim societies in ways Christianity is not held responsible for the evils in our own?”

Moore did not feel compelled to try and change the culture she was in, moreover, because it went against her personal ideal of feminism.

“I went to the Arab world to learn, not to convert people to any particular way of doing things,” she says. “I felt strongly about this. I felt it would have been disrespectful to walk in and try to influence a culture that was not mine.”

As Westerners, we should care more about all Middle Eastern people, Moore believes, because what is presented in the news – by way of terror, conflict, and wars – represents a skewed view of Arab society whereby average citizens are thought to hold the same beliefs are their leaders.

“I would resist having my values equated with those of my government,” Moore explains, “and the populations that live under repressive kings and dictators in Arab countries feel the same.”

– Stuff

Philadelphia Weekly: An Unlikely Ex-Pat: Chivvis Moore recounts her time in the Middle East

An Unlikely Ex-Pat: Chivvis Moore recounts her time in the Middle East

The United States is viewed with dis­like and sus­pi­cion by people in the Middle East be­cause of the wars we wage there and be­cause the U.S. sup­ports

From the head­lines we of­ten read, be­ing not only a fem­in­ist, but a les­bi­an fem­in­ist in a Muslim coun­try in the Middle East is not ad­vis­able. But for Chiv­vis Moore, an Amer­ic­an who for 17 years lived throughout Egypt, Syr­ia and Is­rael, the ex­per­i­ence was any­thing but re­press­ive. Now Moore, au­thor  of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God, is on a mis­sion to edu­cate Amer­ic­ans on her ex­per­i­ence. She hopes to coun­ter­bal­ance the xeno­phobic rhet­or­ic against Muslims that she feels is only es­cal­ated due to in­cid­ents of vi­ol­ence and the Trump cam­paign. I chat­ted with Moore about her unique ex­per­i­ences abroad and about how she would like to see Muslim/U.S. re­la­tions evolve.

What first made you de­cide to move to the Middle East?
I first went to the Middle East in 1978 be­cause I read a book by an Egyp­tian ar­chi­tect, Has­san Fathy, which de­scribed build­ing houses of mud brick, in tra­di­tion­al Is­lam­ic style, for people with little money. I was work­ing as a car­penter and build­ing con­tract­or at the time, and the book, Ar­chi­tec­ture for the Poor, in­spired me to go to Egypt to vo­lun­teer with the pro­ject. This is how my life began in an Ar­ab coun­try; and the gen­er­os­ity, hu­mor, and in­tel­li­gence and wis­dom that I learned to ap­pre­ci­ate there made me want to re­turn to the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly as I learned more about the U.S. role there. I re­turned to the Ar­ab world in 1992, dur­ing the First Gulf War—first to Syr­ia, then to Egypt again, and fi­nally, for 11 years in Palestine.

Why do you think the United States is viewed with dis­like and sus­pi­cion by people in the Middle East? What can we do to help our im­age?
The United States is viewed with dis­like and sus­pi­cion by people in the Middle East be­cause of the wars we wage there and be­cause the U.S. sup­ports—in fact, makes pos­sible—Is­rael’s mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion of the Palestini­an people. People in Ir­aq, Afgh­anistan, Libya, Syr­ia, the Su­dan, Somalia, Le­ban­on, Ye­men, Pakistan, Ir­an, and the oth­er Muslim coun­tries we have bombed, in­vaded, or oc­cu­pied just since 1980 can hardly be ex­pec­ted to look fa­vor­ably on a coun­try their coun­tries have nev­er at­tacked. In ad­di­tion, the United States is arm­ing and sup­port­ing a coun­try that con­tin­ues to kill, repress and dis­en­fran­chise the en­tire Ar­ab, mostly Muslim ci­vil­ian Palestini­an pop­u­la­tion in con­tra­ven­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law. How could Ar­abs and Muslims feel oth­er­wise than ant­ag­on­ist­ic and sus­pi­cious? To help our im­age, we must stop arm­ing and sup­port­ing dic­tat­ors, kings and oth­er re­press­ive re­gimes throughout the re­gion, ini­ti­ate a policy of fair­ness to­ward Palestini­ans, and stop mak­ing war on Ar­ab and oth­er Muslim coun­tries. When Amer­ic­ans stop think­ing of them­selves as su­per­i­or to Ar­abs and Muslims, mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships can be­gin.

How were you treated as a les­bi­an fem­in­ist? Did people know you were not het­ero­sexu­al? Did you have fears about be­ing a les­bi­an there? 
As a les­bi­an who lived for 16 years in three dif­fer­ent Ar­ab coun­tries with Muslim ma­jor­it­ies, I nev­er en­countered any pre­ju­dice dir­ec­ted at me. But the whole is­sue of sex is far more private than it is in the West; it’s hard to fig­ure out who is gay. Even a het­ero­sexu­al Muslim couple will not hold hands, much less kiss, in pub­lic; and cer­tainly I was nev­er asked about my sexu­al­ity. My iden­tity as a les­bi­an is only one part of who I am, and I felt strongly that I was in the Ar­ab Muslim world to learn, not to show­case a for­eign cul­ture. Also, while I was nev­er afraid, I did worry that those who cared about me would be put off and re­ject me so­cially if they knew I was a les­bi­an. And it was clear that any in­tim­ate re­la­tion­ship I might ini­ti­ate with an Ar­ab wo­man would put that wo­man at risk of ap­prob­a­tion in her own so­ci­ety. There­fore, when at­trac­tions arose, as they did from time to time, I let them go. I told close friends, those who had lived for a time in the U.S. and who I guessed would be ac­cept­ing. It did seem to me that my col­leagues went out of their way, through com­ments they made, to let me know they had no prob­lem with my sexu­al­ity.

In Syr­ia, I was told that a for­eign teach­er had been ex­pelled from the coun­try for be­ing gay. In the West Bank, I heard that a for­eign­er was fired from Birzeit Uni­versity for the same reas­on. But al­though many Muslim coun­tries have laws on their books pun­ish­ing gays (and het­ero­sexu­als for sexu­al activ­ity out­side mar­riage), I nev­er heard of those laws be­ing im­ple­men­ted. A cer­tain town in the West Bank is re­ferred to quite openly as a town with many gay men. And in 2007, Palestini­an les­bi­ans in­side Is­rael held their first pub­lic con­fer­ence, and les­bi­ans from the West Bank at­ten­ded, with no re­tali­ation.

You men­tioned liv­ing un­der mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion, how dif­fer­ent is such a life com­pared to what we Amer­ic­ans are ac­cus­tomed to?
Life un­der mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion is so dif­fer­ent from life in the U.S. as to be al­most im­possible to com­pare. Schools can be closed, com­munit­ies sealed off from one an­oth­er so that it is im­possible to vis­it re­l­at­ives, ac­cess health care, or carry on a busi­ness. Chil­dren can be killed play­ing soc­cer in an open field or play­ground.  Men, wo­men and chil­dren are killed and im­prisoned in­def­in­itely, without charge, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials locked up, polit­ic­al act­iv­ists tor­tured. Walk­ing in­to the cen­ter of Ramal­lah one day I found the man who served pud­ding from a little cart had been shot dead—a mis­take, ap­par­ently—by an Is­raeli sol­dier. Homes can be raided and people ar­res­ted and no reas­ons giv­en. I could go on. The list is end­less, the dif­fer­ences too great to de­scribe, the trauma un­ima­gin­able.

We just con­cluded the RNC and Trump fo­cused his ac­cept­ance speech heav­ily the dangers of refugees and spread of ter­ror­ism from Muslims. What are your thoughts on this rhet­or­ic?
It is a bit­ter day when Amer­ic­an pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ees blame refugees and Muslims for what we ourselves have cre­ated—coun­tries des­troyed, homes made un­in­hab­it­able, the rise of mind­less, hate-filled groups de­mand­ing re­venge and changes we can­not coun­ten­ance or un­der­stand. The rhet­or­ic is dan­ger­ous: it in­flames U.S. cit­izens who do not see the res­ults of our ac­tions across the world to strike out yet again, sup­port more U.S. wars, which will in turn bring more vi­ol­ent re­sponse, more floods of refugees.  These are refugees for whom we are re­spons­ible.

What’s one of the biggest mis­con­cep­tions the av­er­age Amer­ic­an has about the Ar­ab world and what would you like them to know in­stead?
Think­ing Ar­abs are prim­it­ive, bar­bar­ic, fan­at­ic­al be­ings of less­er worth and hu­man­ity than Amer­ic­ans. I would like them to un­der­stand that Ar­abs are hu­man be­ings who want the same things for them­selves and their chil­dren as Amer­ic­ans do, who have the same ca­pa­cit­ies for love and in­tel­li­gence and hu­mor, who de­serve to live in peace and dig­nity—and free from for­eign in­va­sions and mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion.

Chivvis Moore discusses her new memoir, First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust In God: An American Feminist in the Arab World.

KPFA – Women’s Magazine with Kate Rafael

Monday, July 4 2016 at 1:00 pm on KPFA kpfawomensmag.blogspot.com or check the archives kpfa.org/program/womens-magazine

Chivvis Moore discusses her new memoir, First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust In God: An American Feminist in the Arab World.  Moore lived in the Middle East for 17 years, including three in Egypt, two in Syria, and 11 in Palestine.  She talks about what attracted her and what she learned about Muslim and Arab culture, volunteering as a medic in Jenin Refugee Camp immediately after the brutal siege of 2002, the impact of Western funding on the Palestinian women’s movement, and how community helps people make it through intolerable situations. On 94.1 FM in Berkeley and Northern California, online anywhere at www.kpfa.org. After broadcast the segments will be available on our website kpfawomensmag.blogspot.com or check the archives kpfa.org/program/womens-magazine

MSNBC Interview: American Lesbian Feminist Defends Muslim World in New Book

American Lesbian Feminist Defends Muslim World in New Book

In the aftermath of a shooting that killed 49 people at Pulse, a nightclub that catered to a predominately LGBT clientele in Orlando, Florida, authorities and experts have desperately been trying to determine the motives of the killer, Omar Mateen.

Image: Saima Qureshi prays during a special prayer with non-Muslim members
Saima Qureshi prays during a special prayer with non-Muslim members of the community on Monday in Longwood, Florida, after Sunday’s mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub. Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Some have seized on Mateen’s purported claims of loyalty to the terrorist organization ISIS, while others have speculated that he was driven in part by homophobia — either derived from his Muslim faith or inspired by deep-seated anxieties. And as fear-mongering about Islam reaches a fever pitch in some circles, members of the Muslim community and their allies are pleading for solidarity and understanding.

One of those voices belongs to writer Chivvis Moore, an American-born woman who has spent decades living in Egypt, Syria, Israel and the West Bank. She has written about her experiences living as a lesbian feminist in the Middle East in a new memoir entitled “First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God.” The aim of the book in part was to debunk unflattering myths about Muslim perceptions of women and the LGBT community.

“I think the biggest misconception is that there is an attitude. There is no monolithic either Arab or Muslim view,” Moore told NBC News on Wednesday. “I don’t think that the religion is the issue. In the Koran and the Hadith, there are certainly negative statements about gays, saying they should be punished, even put to death … but you find those in the Bible and the Talmud.”

Gay Imam on Trump bigotry4:34

She continued, “I think that people treat it the same way that most people treat it in Christianity and Judaism, they know that those scriptures were written many years ago for conditions at that time. I know many Muslims who are gay and lesbian, and they don’t see any contradiction at all.”

When Moore first relocated to the Middle East in 1978 to pursue a career in carpentry, she did not disclose her sexual preference to her peers. “I didn’t feel comfortable telling people, I was afraid frankly that they would reject me,” she said.

But Moore, who was living in Egypt, refrained from divulging details of her personal life not because she feared for her safety, but because she was worried it would take a toll on her professionally. “I was afraid of the same things I was afraid of in this country growing up — we would lose our jobs,” she said.

Moore became more comfortable being open about her sexuality during a second stint in the region, in Syria. There, and in other Middle Eastern countries, she encountered a world with a very different perception of how much sexual preference defines your identity.

Related: Muslim Organizations Raise Funds for Victims of Orlando Massacre

“Often men would have relationships with other men and be married or go get married … the boy was supposed to carry on the family name, so they might say go get married and just have relationships on the side with other men,” Moore said. “I’d say ‘Gee, you have a large gay community here’ and I’d be told ‘No, we don’t have a gay community. We’re just who we are.'”

During her time abroad, it was not uncommon for Moore to see men kissing or sitting on each’s others laps, or both women and men holding hands with members of the same sex. “There’s so much more physical demonstration of affection between members of the same sexes in the Arab world generally,” she said.

Image: A man holds up a sign saying Arab Muslims condemn the attack as he takes part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando
A man holds up a sign saying Arab Muslims condemn the attack as he takes part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando on Monday. CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

A 2015 Pew Research study found that the Muslim community in the U.S. is more open-minded than some might think, too. Forty-five percent of the American Muslims they surveyed said homosexuality should accepted by society, which put them above evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while Moore did occasionally encounter prejudiced remarks and antiquated thinking about women, gays and lesbians, the overwhelming majority of the people she met and worked with were generous and kind.

Muslim community fears backlash after attack3:45

“I don’t know anybody who resembles ISIS or anybody who wants any part of it or respects it,” Moore said. “Obviously, there are a lot of people who feel extremely strongly, but most people are just like people everywhere. They’re not haters, they’re not bigots. They’re not going to put any energy into hating a part of their own society, and particularly not women.”

Moore believes that many people in the West have a stereotypical vision of the region based on hundreds of years of propaganda and portrayals of the culture as primitive and backwards. She thinks some of the discomfort around the traditional garb some of the women are expected to wear may be the cause, as well as the shift of vague Cold War paranoia onto the Muslim community.

The rhetoric of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arguably is not helping in this regard. In the aftermath of the Mateen shooting, he has not only reiterated his call for a temporary ban on Muslim emigration into the U.S., but he has alleged collusion of the American Muslim community on a massive scale in terrorist attacks, suggesting that even second-generation citizens should be viewed with suspicion.

Photos: Orlando and Beyond: World Honors Victims of Nightclub Attack

“To them, it’s not even worth mentioning, it’s so clear that it’s just an outrageous idea,” Moore says of her Muslim friends’ reactions to the proposed ban. “It’s bigoted and it’s tragic because people then go vote for politics that hurt us and people in other countries.” Still, she doesn’t see the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s calls for expanding air bombing campaigns in the Middle East as much of an improvement.

Image: Pakistani supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) light candles in Karachi
Pakistani supporters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement light candles in Karachi on Tuesday to pay tribute for the victims of the Orlando shooting in Florida. ASIF HASSAN / AFP – Getty Images

“We should not be making war on Muslim and Arab countries, and, if we didn’t, I don’t think the people would be coming and bombing,” she said. “I lived under Apache helicopters, the people that we’re killing with our drones … they are not responsible in anyway for whatever they don’t like.”

Besides divesting from Israel — currently a political non-starter in the U.S. — Moore recommends more outreach and effort to raise awareness about the fact that, despite the perpetuation of wars and violence on their soil, there is a still a lot of good will for the American people, if not their leaders, in the Muslim world.

Related: Orlando Shooting: Afghan-Americans Grapple With Homophobia, Shock

“They have never just blamed the populations of the West or the United States. It was always clear wherever I went that people said ‘Yes, your government, but it’s not you,'” she said. “They look at the United States as a lot of other things. People still want to come [here] and they have a lot of respect for a lot of it.”

And according to Moore, Muslims around the world are aware that anti-Islamic rhetoric is ramping up to a dangerous levels, particularly here in America.

“In small ways and big ways, everybody knows it’s a huge problem,” she said. “We lose when we lose their cultural contribution … and every time we cut out somebody, we lose.”