Those who use feminism and secularism to attack Islam by co-opting the screen version of The Handmaid’s Tale, fall on their own sword.
Margaret Atwood’s seminal novel The Handmaid’s Tale explores a dystopian nightmare where women are imprisoned by men. These men brainwash women — through the cult-like use of religious texts — to become breeding slaves for an oppressive nation. The book serves as a metaphor for oppressive regimes throughout the ages and their treatment of women.
Enter the online streaming service Hulu, which adapted the book to form a popular series currently being watched worldwide. The adaptation takes the premise of Atwood’s book, and adds to it scenes and themes that evoke violence-soaked myths about Islam, the most common being the disputed arena of women’s dress. The handmaid’s uniform is a monochrome robe that leaves no traces of her shape. In some scenes the women are wearing a face veil. Both costumes are forced, and represent both oppression and lack of agency.
But the show goes further than the usual tired bashing of the burqa; it takes common violent Islamophobic myths and blends them, then uses them as plot drivers for shock effect. The results are a series of sickening visual malapropisms. In one scene, a woman is punished for lesbianism by genital mutilation (a horrible conflation of myths that evoke Islam), while in another, a character who confesses to being sexually assaulted as a girl is told that it’s “her fault” (evoking un-Islamic events that have been associated with Islam through repetition). The Red Centre, where the handmaids are trained, invokes the notion of “grooming gangs” pumped out by the right-wing.
On cue, a number of secular feminists have claimed that the Hulu adaptation has Islam and Islamic Law in mind. However, Atwood herself claimed the anti-women cult in her book symbolized the rise of the Christian right in the US.
Nonetheless, the anti-Islamic undertones of adaptive interpretations such as Hulu’s has allowed these commentators an opportunity for Islam bashing, but they have also put themselves in a duplicitous position.
A closer look at this position allows us to understand the hypocritical nature of feminism and secularism, as well as the employment of both these faltering theories to further a system that will lead us nowhere but into more of the same.
A Brief Word on Hollywood and Islam
A Handmaid’s Tale is being reinterpreted for the screen by the subscription entertainment service Hulu, part of Walt Disney Corp. It is worth taking a closer look at Hulu’s road of travel up to this point.
Hulu was once part-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, a key cog in the pro-Republican, neocon, right-wing media machine. The criminals behind the thwarted plans to commit one of the greatest terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11 on the Muslim community of upstate New York even cited Newscorp content as their chief inspiration.
Earlier this year, Disney and Comcast announced that the former would assume full operational control of Hulu. However, Comcast’s NBCUniversal will continue to license content to Hulu until late 2024. Comcast is a major financier of US candidates, and their CEO is Brian Roberts, a Republican “known for his affinity for Israel.”
Comcast promoted Republican lobbyist Mitch Rose to head its 50-person multimillion dollar “legislative” (lobbying) office in Washington. Rose will serve as “Senior Vice President of Congressional and Federal Government Affairs” – a title that most in the world of showbiz do not consider suspicious, apparently.
Rose will report to David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President at Comcast. Cohen is part of the Israeli Lobby, the former vice chair of the Jewish Federations in Philadelphia, a pro-Israel group, and he has also thrown fundraisers for the Israeli army. As the owner of NBC, Cohen sits at the right hand of his old friend Brian Roberts.
Let’s not forget that Disney’s engagement with the Islamic world reached its dubious apex with a boy and his monkey on a flying carpet with a magic lamp. The 90s animated film Aladdin reinforced colonialist characterizations of Muslims perpetuated by neocons and Zionists to this day.
The subtle injection of Islam-bashing is not just limited to Disney’s cartoons. Marvel was acquired by Disney in 2009. Fast-forward ten years and you have the much-acclaimed Black Panther movie regurgitating tired African Muslim stereotypes, including Boko Haram-type characters saying “Wallahi” while kidnapping women in hijabs, who upon their “liberation,” remove their veils — the epitome of European colonialist notions of “freedom.”
These themes are not surprising given the extensive involvement of the US Military in the development of major films. Intelligence documents reveal the influence of US military in Hollywood to the extent that scripts are rewritten at their behest.
Under this managerial umbrella, Hulu operates with the purpose of pumping out entertainment that will garner subscriptions. This means hooking into prevailing emotions, common fears and prejudice, and, of course, adding good doses of highly sexualized violence.
These goals can be deftly hidden under the guise of “intellectualism,” “social justice,” “feminism,” and of course, the ever-malleable notion of “critique.”
A Dystopian Spectacle that Lacks Self-Reflection, Pushes Secularism
Understanding the dystopian story of The Handmaid’s Tale requires awareness of context, innuendo, and an anthropological understanding of the story’s historical setting.
A screen adaptation, however, puts powerful immediacy on the visual while reducing the reader’s dependence on the multidimensionality of context. The viewer is not afforded the same time as the reader to reflect, as violent frame follows violent frame in a visual barrage of brutal proportions.
The gratuitous violence against women in the series has even affected critics. One critic, for example, noted, “The second season’s obsession with violence makes it a little exhausting for anyone to watch.”
The viewer is exposed to that powerful and addictive combination of fascination and disgust, as modestly-covered women are horrifically abused. Some of these women even wear a niqab-like face cover (a detail that never featured in the original work).
What purpose could this gratuitous violence serve? While producers claim it is meant to stimulate change, critics say it only reinforces “a longstanding tradition of seeing the female experience as inherently painful.”
The message is that, despite their best efforts and prayers, these women are hopeless. God has, we are led to believe, forgotten them, while monstrous men who “own” them twist outdated scripture to justify their abuse.
By now, we should know where this is going.
Even though the book references Christianity, the visuals in the show mimic Islamic clothing and dynamics, and the resulting show smacks of an attempt to defame Islam in the guise of an “intellectual” assault on Christian nationalism.
This project is bolstered by our contemporary global paradigm, where secularist humanists must continually justify their idolization of human will as the ultimate arbiter of good and evil. These secularizing efforts face their greatest threat with the rapid spread of Islam.
As a result, bitter anti-Islamic networks have arisen, their ranks swollen with atheists who are not averse to pandering to the Judeo-Christian civilization myth if it serves their agenda.
These atheist humanist “rights” campaigners — in their blind faith in the “popular will” as a substitute for morality — have effectively created a hate industry with the air of “intellectualism.”
The Women at the Forefront of a Deceptive Form of Hatred
In today’s age, social media and the internet create noise and distraction which, in a way, censors facts and reality whilte fomenting argumentation and division. This static also has the useful side effect of planting ideas into the minds of an emotionally primed audience.
Particularly destructive are seeds that appeal to prevailing fears and hatreds, such as the abuse of women. These seeds are then watered by social media commentators who draw out the anti-Islamic message of the Hulu series and co-opt it for their own political projects. Most of these commentators are women connected to male handlers of a hard-line secularist lobby.
This includes Yasmin Mohammed, who has been fawned over and utilised by the leader of America’s “New Atheism,” namely Sam Harris, as well as “friends” like Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Shireen Qudosi (who, whilst writing for the pro-Israeli, anti-Muslim Clarion Project, says she is a better person than the Prophet ﷺ), and 2018’s “secularist of the year,” Amina Lone. The latter is intent to undress Muslim women with secularist appeals to “freedom of choice,” etc.
But the most egregious example of using Handmaid’s Tale to stoke anti-Islamic animus comes from Allison Pearson in The Spectator. Pearson wrote, in an outrageously condescending manner, that Muslim women were, “Useful idiots for […] fundamentalist brutes.”
She also stated that Muslim women cover themselves “from head to toe in case men get ideas.” In other words, Muslim women are controlled by Muslim men in much the same way that the women in The Handmaid’s Tale are controlled by their men. This plays into all the usual stereotypes and orientalist themes on the veil. Please note (for the trillionth time): We Muslim women do not cover by fiat from men; we cover in order to obey Allah’s commands.
Sadly, though, such stereotypes and orientalist themes are hard to avoid for secularist women like Pearson, who are so intellectually and spiritually stunted that they reflexively interpret everything according to a male-female, oppressor-oppressed dynamic. This is the fundamentally reductive view of materialism and utilitarianism, where carnal pleasure is understood as the highest arbiter of behavior.
Such utilitarians are unable to fathom the capacity of a woman to live outside a system of sexual objectification of her. Every day, we are subjected to advertising and media images, where women’s body parts are plastered on billboards, buses, and shop windows in various sexual poses of half-gasping ecstasy. Curiously, Pearson, et al., don’t see the suffocating control of men in any of that, however. To them, it is only Muslim women who are powerless, stupid victims.
So threatened are these utilitarians that they will go so far as demanding that women in niqab do not appear on television and are not given a voice at all. They want the Muslim woman silenced because what she expresses in her act of covering makes them livid. They don’t understand it, so they fear it and revile it.
These women should be careful as the life they call to is, in reality, a sub-human one. The heart darkens with every stone hurled at Islam, and in this will be a terrible loss.
Pearson, in her article, even encourages police – we presume mostly men – to “scan flights” from “countries with prevalence” of “abuse, female genital mutilation and breast-ironing.”.
Just how do you “scan a flight” to monitor the state of young girls’ private parts? The very suggestion is sickening – a dog-whistle to militarized masculinity and intrusions upon Muslims and their children, based purely on tired Islam-bashing tropes.
This battle cry against Muslim girls stems from a deep hatred and desire to dehumanize Muslims at their weakest point: childhood. But even the concern for children is Eurocentric. Pearson has called for mass internment of “suspected terrorists,” i.e., Muslims, “to protect our children.” Muslim children, meanwhile, are getting their bodies scanned by police in Pearson’s vision of the future.
The Secular Noose Linking Womb to State and Woman to State
The idea that a female’s womb should be utilized in the service of a system/nation whose root philosophies include a kind of deification of white civilization is the core warning of the original Handmaid’s Tale.
The fatal relationship in Atwood’s story, like in our current disastrous humanist secular experiment, is the line that is drawn between womb and state, and woman and state.
In this story, a woman is imprisoned. The “god” she has been brainwashed into believing is merciless. This god is, in essence, a nation, tribe, or state – entities driven by the folly and greed that are characteristic of a society that adheres to the “will of the majority,” (itself a concept that is not real but is manufactured to win votes through fear and populism).
The wardens of this god are men (and women who profess to care for women’s well-being while, in reality, preserving and enforcing their own power). So, to live, the handmaids of this system must worship the laws of men. This is, in a nutshell, humanist secularism.
It is the exact same creed that drove the murder of male newborns in order to prevent the deranged Pharoah’s inevitable conquest by Moses. The female midwives who reported that a male child was born were, of course, employed by Pharaoh himself.1
Utility in the System vs. Islamic Notions of Worth
The history of mistreatment suffered by women should provide ample proof that, without Divine Law, women will suffer.
In contending with this reality, feminism has had to go through three “phases” or “waves” in order to remain relevant. Now it is on the verge of becoming wholly irrelevant despite the best efforts of secular gurus to resuscitate it within different “critical” and “rights-based” and, even, “Islamic” frames.
The problem of feminism is a problem of economics. Not only has the theory been used to boost the labor force (which in turn boosts the banking sector), but at its core, it ignores the ongoing abuse of women within nihilistic systems that lack a Divine authority to regulate concepts of worth and value. In place of this Beautiful Authority, there is only the base, the material, the utilitarian.
Let’s contrast the “value” of women in this secular system versus how value is conceived in Islam. In the Islamic sense, the worth of a human being directly connects with حرمة, loosely translated as “sanctity.” This sanctity has an insistent, persistent value that, for Allah, not only exceeds the material world and all that it contains but, per the Prophet ﷺ, the sanctity of the Holy Ka`bah itself.2
This worth is intrinsic and transcendent, granted by Allah and no other entity, especially not a secular system that uses us like commodities. Rather, Islam demands an understanding of our worth as women, according to the Source of our worth, which is Divine, not humanist.
In tapping into our talents and skills for the sole purpose of gaining Allah’s pleasure, the Muslim woman is at peace with herself, for she is living in the manner Her Creator intended her to live. In this drive to serve Allah first, she naturally serves humanity as well.
The womb — that is either demonized or co-opted for material purposes in secularism — has a completely different position in Islam. The Arabic term for womb is rahim, and its root letters raa-haa-meem are also the root letters for Allah’s two Names/Attributes: al-Rahim and al-Rahman (All Merciful and Most Compassionate).
It is for this reason that a pregnant woman is treated with the utmost mercy and compassion. Birth itself is still protected in some African Muslim communities by practices like dictating specified terms of special seclusion for mother and child.
The Prophet ﷺ said, “The word al-rahim (womb) derives its name from al-Rahman (i.e., one of the names of Allah) and Allah said: ‘I will keep good relation with the one who will keep good relations with you, (i.e., the womb, i.e., family) and sever the relation with him who will sever the relations with you [Sahih Bukhari].”
The status of the womb and, therefore, women as bearers of life and bearers of the family, is not drawn towards vacuous materialism and its unending, suffocating expectations. Rather, the status of the womb is honored in Islam and carries higher meaning and metaphysical significance.
When this meaning and significance are cemented in the mind of the woman herself, then all other concerns fall away. Muslim women are happy to guard their bodies and their souls from the onslaught of competing ideologies and their false gods. Muslim women will thus feel that He Knows and Loves them best — and others do neither.
And when the Muslim woman’s position is undented by secular notions like feminism, the result is, quite simply, tranquillity and confidence. Hence, most of us, in the face of such attacks, simply roll our eyes and float on our blissful way.
This drives the feminist secularists to even greater heights of rage.
Feminists Are Tools for the Secular System
However, we must remind our secular and feminist sisters of a few things.
In the secularist “rights-based” society, the female body, her features, her precious mind have become targets of a predatory system. In education, the workplace, and the secular home, women are “valued” only for their materialistic utility. Women’s worth is found in the materialistic desires and needs of other human beings, whether the corporate employer or the lustful boyfriend. This worth is measured in money, material possessions, fame – all things which women have been programmed to cherish above all else. But deep down, she has an uncomfortable feeling that these rewards do not fulfill her. And, indeed, how could they?
In this paradigm, she is eminently disposable. To secure herself, she must develop all sorts of strange and warped personality traits to hold onto her position as a “modern, successful woman.” Sometimes this is encouraged by women themselves. All the time it is coerced by education and media, from television dramas to “intellectual” documentaries.
This warped “modern woman” is most deranged when she embarks on a career as feminist commentator, activist, or academic, handled by grinning men pushing an anti-Islam, anti-God agenda. These women are the handmaids of oppression.
Feminism and secularist humanism have officially become weapons in this oppression, since both theories scoff at Divine Law and even the idea of worshipping one’s Creator (may He protect us from such delusional thinking, always).
But, due to the instinctual need of humans for authority, the oppressors must direct humanity to other forms of worship. That “other” is none other than the authority of the secular state and its materialist system.
Try as she might, a woman cannot free herself from oppression by using theories that only facilitate oppression. This is like a lioness crashing against the walls of her cage, a cage which only becomes stronger with each blow. Meanwhile, the grinning zookeeper rakes in the profits from those who want to see her and admire her tortured beauty.
As we have seen, these secular feminist theories will morph and change, absorb different communities and “critiques” to update themselves and remain relevant, all the while contributing to the illusion that secularism is a “diverse” system offering “freedom” and “equality.”
But the effect on the well-being of the world’s women will be the same: destruction.
Feminist women, especially, need to wake up to their true worth and take the most empowering step of all which is to step out of the feminist system completely. They must understand that what the system says is freedom is actually a prison. By the same token, what the system conditions them to believe is oppression is their salvation.
To get to this elevated point, the “modern women” in their cages must shrug off their psychological damage, generational anger, and academic conditioning, and then study Islam with an attitude of humility.
Created as they were by a Beautiful God, in order to worship and submit to Him and not men, it is only in deeply acknowledging this simple Truth and acting upon it in goodness and honor, that they will eventually find their real power – and their peace.
1. “Musa was born in a year when the boys were being killed. Fir`awn had people who were entrusted with this task. There were midwives who would go around and check on the women, and if they noticed that any woman was pregnant, they would write her name down … If the woman gave birth to a girl, they would leave her alone and go away, but if she gave birth to a boy, the killers would come in with their sharp knives and kill the child.” – Ibn Kathir, Surah Qasas, verse 4. ↩
2. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The killing of a believer is worse in the sight of Allah than the disappearance of this world”. (Bayhaqi) Abdullah ibn Umar reported: I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, circling the Ka`bah and saying, “How pure you are and how pure is your fragrance! How great you are and how great is your sanctity! By the one in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater to Allah than your sanctity, in his wealth, his life, and to assume nothing of him but good.” (Ibn Majah) ↩