"F*ck your morals ... my body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone's honour" is what Amina Tyler, a 19 year old Tunisian woman, wrote in Arabic across her chest before photographing herself and posting it online. After she disappeared, the rumours started that her family had forcibly placed her in a mental institution and that she had been threatened with stoning - something as disturbing as it is un-Islamic.
Femen, the Ukraine-based feminist group who operate from a second-wave Western feminist approach and with whom Amina associated, hurled themselves into the fray by calling for an international Topless Jihad day on 4 April in protest against Amina's supposed mistreatment.
It is admittedly difficult for people who have bought into Western liberalism, with its elevation of individual freedom to the pinnacle of human moral evolution, to regard the Muslim world with anything other than baffled contempt. So it is almost impossible for Westerners to grasp that other Muslim and Arab women, including many women who care passionately about women's rights in these countries, might vehemently disagree with the behaviour of women like Amina - but not because they are cow-towing or wilfully passive victims of the oppressive men in their families or governments, nor because they suffer from some kind of bizarre Stockholm syndrome for their faith or culture. Rather, they believe that gestures like Amina's are foolish, even counterproductive, and lack the cultural currency for any meaningful change.
Fighting sexism can only be powerful while operating coherently in its cultural context. Tunisian women often take to the streets in large numbers to protest against what they see as curtailing of their freedom by the government. In Egypt, the group Tahrir Bodyguards, comprised of men and women, was formed to offer women free self-defence classes against sexual harassment and to patrol the streets in order to help protect women against assault in the face of an indifferent government. There are numerous similar initiatives all over the Muslim world. These are organic initiatives that not only made sense locally - they worked.
This would matter to Femen if they were genuinely interested in helping to improve the situation for women in countries like Tunisia, where female employment is low, laws and norms restrict women's access to employment and mobility, and domestic violence is common. But despite all of Femen's attention-seeking claims, it is abundantly clear that their outrage is not about feminism. It is certainly not about women's advancement in the Middle East. This is prejudice, racism and imperialism, dressed up in the apparently scant clothing of women's rights.
So it is no accident that Femen have brazenly employed staggeringly Islamophobic tactics in their support of Amina. Femen supporters were called to protest all over the world outside venues that had nothing whatsoever to do with Amina's alleged confinement in a mental institution - like Paris and San Francisco mosques - as part of their gleeful "Titslamism" movement. They burned flags with the shahadah (the Islamic declaration of faith) outside these mosques, and took bare-breasted photos of themselves wearing towels on their heads and pretend beards in a mock prayer stance with the kind of staggering Orientalism usually reserved for the far Right. Femen supporters even openly ridiculed Muslim women who argued that such behaviour was problematic, calling them "fearful victims" and "brainwashed" on the official Femen Facebook page. It is hard to take seriously a feminist movement that is openly contemptuous of women who might dare to consider liberation differently.
Moreover, it is apparent that Femen's outrage isn't even about Amina. For all the scrawling of "Free Amina" on their adamantly bared breasts and the fulminating against threats of stoning and incarceration in a psychiatric asylum, little of this is based in reality. Amina's lawyer, herself a Tunisian women's rights activist, has confirmed that Amina was never in a mental institution (she was being kept at home with her family), she was not charged with any offence, and even if Amina were to be charged, the maximum sentence would be six months in jail for public indecency, not stoning. Later, Amina appeared on French television saying she while she didn't regret baring her breasts, she was against the flag burning by Femen and found it unacceptable.
So, if not for Amina, or women in the Middle East, who is this protest for? In truth, it is just a convenient vehicle for organisations like Femen to reveal their true, Islamophobic colours. This was about the arrogant belief that a certain breed of feminism is the ultimate goal and that anyone who disagrees is to be aggressively condemned, dismissed and scorned - including the very Muslim women who work day after day against sexism in countries like Tunisia.
But beyond just being offensive, such actions have serious long-term consequences for challenging sexism in these countries. When women's rights are tied to an insulting, sneering cultural imperialism in the minds of local people, the Muslim and Arab women who engage in the painstaking, important work of fighting sexism in these places are often viewed suspiciously and as cultural and religious traitors before they've even begun. And when that happens, the only losers are women's rights.
Susan Carland is completing her PhD at Monash Univeristy in the School of Political and Social Inquiry, where she is researching the way Muslim women fight sexism.