Since launching its "topless jihad" protests across Europe and elsewhere on April 4, Femen has stirred up a media maelstrom, with commentators, mostly Muslim men and women living in the West, taking to the airwaves or the Internet on CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera English, and the Huffington Post (and elsewhere) to call the group racist, classist, imperialist, colonialist, Eurocentric, Islamophobic, orientalist, neo-orientalist, cowardly, or, at best, naïve, and foolish. At least one of those opining veered into infelicitous nonsense: According to Ilana Alazzah, a Muslim activist, Femen's protest recalled "blackface," with its version of feminism "excluding women of all formats," even those women who "don't have vaginas." Another detractor, the Arab-American blogger Laila Alawa, contended (falsely) that the group told "Muslim women to sit down and shut up." The Canadian writer Murtaza Hussain, after noting, with apparent portent, that Femen activists are "mostly white Europeans," considered that their approach "reeks of arrogance." Even the usually balanced blogger Hind Makki availed herself of hyperbole, in announcing, on Al Jazeera English, that Femen "really criminalizes every single Muslim man out there." A "Muslim Women Against Femen" page appeared on Facebook, and a "Muslimah Pride Day" was proclaimed.
The overall message to Femen has been, in fact, nothing less than "Sit down and shut up." Your skin color and European provenance disqualify you from expressing views on Islam and how Muslim women are treated in the Islamic world.
Yet abuse perpetrated against women in Islam's name lies at the heart of the problem. Only occasionally did the critics note that Femen carried out its most recent mass protest in defense of 19-year-old Amina Tyler, a Tunisian aspirant to Femen who posted, on Femen's Facebook Tunisia page topless photos of herself, with the words, in Arabic, scrawled across her chest, "My Body Belongs to Me and Is Not the Source of Anyone's Honor." Among democratically minded folk, this would not be a radical proposition, if the method of delivery -- Femen's trademark method, involving slogans painted on bare breasts -- certainly is. In any case, Amina suffered mightily for her gesture. A Tunisian Muslim official called for her to be "stoned to death." Her family kidnapped her, beat her, and held her in captivity for three weeks, during which time they drugged her, subjected her to an amateur virginity test, forced her to read the Quran, and took her on involuntary visits to imams. Amina's aunt posted a video online in which she called her niece "mentally ill," "unbalanced," and "psychopathic" for her "shameful act," which had injured her father's "pride as a man." On account of such wounded pride, there was good reason to fear for Amina's life. She was in captivity when Femen activists staged their topless jihad; a key slogan, whether chanted or painted on their bodies, was Free Amina!