By Ali Abunimah / Electronic Intifada
Muslims in Canada have strongly condemned their country’s defense minister for tweeting hoax photographs purporting to depict enslavement and oppression of women and girls by Muslim men. This comes amid accusations that the government is deliberately stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said the tweets by Minister of National Defense Jason Kenney were “corrosive” and “inflammatory” and provided “another example of our elected leaders, at best, ignorantly conflating Islam and Muslims with extremism and terrorism, and at worst, deliberately attempting to score political points by stoking divisions among Canadians.”
On Monday, International Women’s Day, Kenney, a member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative Party, tweeted the images with a message saying “thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls.”
Canada has deployed warplanes and ground troops that are taking part in airstrikes against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in northern Iraq.
In one image, young girls dressed head to toe in black are being led off in chains. In another, older women appear to be suffering the same fate.
A third image shows a smiling man with his arm around a young girl who is crying. Behind him is the black and white flag used by ISIS.
Kenney did not provide any explanation for these apparently frightening scenes, but theOttawa Citizen, which has been reporting on the matter, has noted that the photos have all been circulating online for some time on anti-Muslim websites and have been debunked:
To the casual viewer, these appear to be compelling photographic evidence of the mistreatment of women in some parts of the Muslim world.
And, read with Kenney’s reference to ISIS, they suggest to the reader that these scenes occurred under the terror group’s watch in Iraq or Syria. But Kenney did not explain that the first image is actually from a ceremonial Shia Ashura procession that celebrates the heroism of the prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Hussein, and his family. The girls and women in the photo Kenney tweeted symbolize Hussein’s sister, who was taken in chains to Damascus after he was beheaded.
That is to say, the girls in the photos are actors in a play that depicts events said to have occurred 1,300 years ago. They are not a depiction of the current enslavement of Muslim women. There are thousands of images of these ceremonies online.
The image of the girls in chain was widely circulated with the false caption “Muslim girls being lead off in chains to meet their new husbands.” It was shared tens of thousands of times on the Facebook page of the anti-immigrant white nationalist organization Britain First.
It has appeared on a host of other anti-Muslim websites with the same false caption, including a number of specifically pro-Israel websites.
The photo has been debunked here and here.
The photo of the man with the young, crying girl has been presented on anti-Muslim hate sites as an ISIS fighter marrying a seven-year old bride.
But it is no such thing. The image is a still taken from a video which shows the girl reciting from the Quran at some kind of public festival. The man is the emcee. At one point, the girl becomes nervous and begins to cry.
The man comforts and reassures her. This is all readily visible in the video and any Arabic speaker can attest to it. Whatever is happening in the video, it is emphatically not a marriage between the older man and the girl.
The still image, circulated widely by anti-Muslim activists last year, has been debunked here.
The hoax is reminiscent of one several years ago targeting Palestinians, where photos of young Palestinian girls acting as bridesmaids at a mass wedding in Gaza were falsely presented as showing child brides.
Finally, the photo of the older women in chains is, as the Ottawa Citizen notes, from a 2014 demonstration by a Kurdish group in London, with participants pretending to be ISIS members.
They are taking part in a role play designed to highlight ISIS’ purported creation of “sex slave markets.” Here’s a video of the action from which the still is taken:
The action appears to have been designed to generate maximum outrage at ISIS, perhaps in order to promote support for military assistance to Kurdish militias fighting the group that has taken over large areas in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
One of the organizers reportedly said that the protesters’ intent was to spark an “aggravated reaction,” highlighting the “crimes ISIS are committing in Iraq and Syria.”
“What we wanted to show is that this could take place in London,” the activist added.
Indeed, while misrepresenting it, Kenney appears to be using the propaganda play in the same way. The minister’s tweet epitomizes how extreme Islamophobes launder their hatred of Muslims and zeal for war through a fake concern for the rights of women.
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