The Feminist Wire Forum on Muslim Feminisms

The hunger and thirst we endure from sunrise to sunset during this holy month is not only for food and water – the food and water too many of our sisters and brothers all over the globe lack. It is also a hunger and thirst for knowledge, for piety, for humility, for social justice, and for equality. At its most basic, Ramadan is about love. It is a period of reflection and engagement, a path for developing what feminist activist Cathy Cohen calls “radical empathy.”

Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb, Muslim Feminisms Forum: An Introduction

This month, The Feminist Wire hosted a forum on Muslim feminisms featuring a diverse collection of writing reflecting on critical topics such as colonial violence, imperial feminism, human rights, the politics of the hijab, gender violence, and liberatory practices.  Below we’ve shared the list of articles from the forum and the concluding remarks from the editors, Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb.  Reprinted with permission.

The Feminist Wire Forum on Muslim Feminisms:

Muslim Feminisms Forum: An Introduction
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/muslim-feminisms-forum-an-introduction/

Defining Muslim Feminist Politics Through Indigenous Solidarity Activism
by Shaista Patel
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/defining-muslim-feminist-politics-through-indigenous-solidarity-activism/

Seeing Muslim Women With Western Eyes
by Josh Ceretti
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/seeing-muslim-women-with-western-eyes/

Striving for Muslim Women’s Human Rights
by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/striving-for-muslim-womens-human-rights/

The Hijab and the Pitch
by Laurent Dubois
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/the-hijab-on-the-pitch/

Salam in the City
by Sinat Giwa
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/salam-in-the-city/

In honour of the leadership of US-born African-American/African-Caribbean/African-Latin@ Muslim women in responding to HIV/AIDS
by Prof Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/in-honour-of-the-leadership-of-us-born-african-americanafrican-caribbeanafrican-latin-muslim-women-in-responding-to-hivaids/

Pot Roast and Imperial Justifications
by Amal Rana
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/pot-roast-and-imperial-justifications/

Reframing the Discussion: Concluding Thoughts on the Forum on Muslim Feminisms
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/reframing-the-discussion-concluding-thoughts-on-the-forum-on-muslim-feminisms/

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Reframing the Discussion: Concluding Thoughts on the Forum on Muslim Feminisms
by Dana Olwan and Sophia Azeb

For too long, Muslim feminists have endured the question of whether Islam and feminism can coexist. This seemingly innocent question, asked on the part of concerned feminists and others, presumes (and sometimes even enshrines) the claim of Islam’s incongruity with feminism. The underlying assumptions that frame this tired debate are often articulated in this way: Can religious practice, which often hinges on patriarchal authority and interpretation, be amenable to feminist thought, action, and praxis? Can feminist ideals be sought and attained within a religious (thus patriarchal), as opposed to a secular (and therefore egalitarian), framework? And, more specifically, can Islam, as a religious identity, doctrine, and practice, work in tandem with the principles and ideals of democratic feminism?

Overwhelmingly, the responses from Muslim feminists have highlighted Islam’s inherent egalitarian nature and the Quran’s gender progressive teachings and edicts.[1] They have argued that Muslim teachings enshrine a politics and practice of gender equity. They shore up important examples of the gains historically made by Muslim women all over the world. Muslim feminists, a diverse group that includes scholars, activists, and practicing men and women, eschew and challenge patriarchal readings and interpretations of both the Quran and the hadith (that is, the body of works that reference and document the prophet’s sayings, actions, and doings) in order to support their belief in the mutually reinforcing relationship between feminism and Islam.

Such work, while profound, often cedes too much ground to the charged and often predetermined frames of reference on which the political question of whether Islam and feminism can coexist often hinge. In other words, while Muslim feminists have confronted these questions in real, determined, and sustainable ways, their confrontations leave unturned the terms that shape this debate in the first place. Why, for example, do Muslims feel compelled to answer the question of whether Islam is compatible with feminism by repeatedly defining and defending Islam and showcasing its gender equal principles to non-Muslims? Why don’t we alter the frames of the question, asking, instead, what feminism actually means and whether feminism, as a both a political movement and analytical tool, is amenable to Islam and religious identity and practice? How does our constant re-engagement with this question of the ostensibly contradictory, uneasy, or nonexistent relationship of Islam and feminism obscure predetermined relationships of power and reinforce hegemonic discourses?

As Muslim women, anti-racist feminists, teachers, and scholars from two different backgrounds and positionalities, we have found ourselves reflecting on these questions and repeatedly grappling with the troubling narratives that shape discourses about Muslim women and Islam in Western and non-Western contexts. So, rather than responding to the question of Islam’s compatibility with feminism from a defensive standpoint, we have utilized this forum to refocus our energies on understanding our varied but interconnected religious and political experiences and struggles and to think through both our alliances and complicities. In short, we want to reflect on how our critiques can be imagined and mobilized in the service of revolutionary causes in a period of intense social, political, and economic local and global change.

For her part, Sophia’s faith has served as her political, spiritual, and social anchor. Both her scholarly and activist work engage her own particular experience as an Afro-Arab anarcha-feminist Muslimah missing the whimsy and traditions of her neighbourhood in Alexandria, Egypt, and a homestead in Beir Nabala, Palestine — a home(land) that she has never set foot upon. Sophia’s Muslim politics are shaped by a Third Worldist devotion to disrupting the imperialist binary of Arab vs. African that many of our sisters and brothers in Islam, the West, and SWANA (Southwest Asia and North Africa) replicate. But, as Sinat Giwa articulated in a loving narrative of finding the peace in “Salam’ing to strangers” (only a little pun intended), Sophia’s Islam remains her own. It is a self-aware, anti-racist, and feminist Islam devoted to building solidarity by owning and respecting the complexities of her intersectional identities and those of her peers and allies.

As a Palestinian feminist scholar based in the settler colonial state of Canada (who will soon be moving to the United States), Dana has often struggled to find her own faith amidst pressures to conceal religious practice, to sever ties with religious communities, and disavow violent acts perpetrated in Islam’s name. Dana’s faith is driven by her desire to understand Muslim women’s acts of resistance against interpersonal and state-sanctioned acts of violence. Like Shaista Patel, Dana seeks to enact “feminist theories and practices that recognize the critical and urgent need of intervening in the interlocking workings of state power and gender violences, and that engage with histories of the land we are on.”

Both of our Muslim feminist politics are informed by our commitment to confronting patriarchal acts of violence committed by the state andinstitutionalized forms of patriarchy and imperialism perpetrated by individuals, both Muslim and non-Muslim, without fueling Islamophobia, settler nationalism, or racism. Our Muslim feminist politics are about forming connections between Muslim and non-Muslim justice-seeking men, women, and children and supporting their struggles against colonial and gendered oppressions and sexual violence. Like Josh Cerretti, our feminist politics necessitate that we think about Islam in a way that does not obfuscate the longer histories of Muslim women’s resistance. And, above all else, our Muslim feminist politics are characterized by a refusal to be haunted by pre-scripted narratives that misrepresent the voices of Muslim women and men and overlook their complex lives, multiple interests, and varied experiences.

It is our belief that a singular focus on addressing the question of whether Islam and feminism can co-exist risks missing how Muslim women from all around the world engage questions of gender equalityfight gender oppressions, and secure women’s rights on a day to day basis. The articles we have chosen for this forum offer a sampling of such radical practices and provide insights into the plurality of our religious beliefs and political commitments. We do not wish to romanticize our relationships to our faith. Rather, we aim to ask deeper, more thoughtful, and more urgent questions about the role of faith in these troubled and troubling times. This is why, instead of asking whether we can reconcile Islam and feminism, we choose to think about how the tenets of Islam, its principles of justice, and gender equity inform Muslim women’s struggles on a day to day basis. We ask how Muslim women, individually and collectively, invoke Islam’s authority in their lives and what their actions as Muslim women reveal about Islam’s gender politics. The answers to these questions  are complex, contradictory, and manifold. We believe that asking questions that center Muslim women’s lives can highlight their rich and multifaceted encounters with patriarchal, gendered, colonial, imperialist, and local state oppressions. These questions may yield more interesting and honest conversations about the status of Muslim feminism, its practice, and its influence. It is our hope that our forum has contributed in some small way to these conversations which are already unfolding all around the world in creative and significant ways.

*Update: We are deeply saddened and horrified by the senseless killings of innocents at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin today. We are equally distressed that Sikh spokespersons have been asked to defend and define their faith on national television during such a time. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, as well as with our Sikh relatives whose communities have suffered greatly from the ignorance and hatred of their fellow citizens since September 11, 2001.


[1] See, for example: Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence (Oxford: One World, 2006). Margot Badran’s Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. (Oxford: One World, 2009) and Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences (Oxford: One World, 2009). Amina Wadud’s Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999) and Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (Oxford: One World, 2006).

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Dana Olwan is the 2011-2012 Ruth Woodward Junior Chair in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. In Fall 2012, she starts her position as Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on gendered and sexual violence and the politics of naming honour killings.
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Sophia Azeb is an Egyptian-Palestinian anarcha-feminist teacher, writer, and organizer pursuing her PhD in American Studies & Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She organizes with a number of anti-racist and feminist initiatives, namely the Palestinian American Women’s Association of Southern California. Sophia is also a writer for the popular media blog collective, Africa Is A Country (http://africasacountry.com/).  You can follow her on twitter @brownisthecolor.

Imperial Feminism, Islamophobia, and the Egyptian Revolution

Imperial Feminism, Islamophobia, and the Egyptian Revolution
by Nadine Naber

Originally published at www.jadaliyya.com, republished with permission.

“. . . I’m making this video to give you one simply message: We want to go down to Tahrir Square on January 25. If we still have honor and want to live with dignity on this land, we have to go down on January 25. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights…The entire government is corrupt—a corrupt president and a corrupt security force…If you stay home, you deserve what will happen to you…and you’ll be guilty, before your nation and your people…Go down to the street, send SMS’s, post it post it on the ‘net. Make people aware…you know your own social circle, your building, your family, your friends, tell them to come with us. Bring 5 people, or 10 people; if each of us manages to bring 5 or 10 people to Tahrir Square…talk to people and tell them, this is enough! It will make a difference, a big difference…never say there’s no hope…so long you come down with us, there will be hope…don’t think you can be safe any more! None of us are! Come down with us and demand your rights my rights, you family’ rights. I am going down on January 25th and I will say ‘no’ to corruption, ‘no’ to this regime.”


These are the words of Asmaa Mahfouz, a 26 year old woman whose Jan. 18 vlog is said to have helped mobilize the million that turned up in Cairo and the thousands in other cities on Jan 25. Asmaa’s vlog, like the stories of many Egyptian women of this revolution offer up a challenge to two key questions framing U.S. discourse on the Jan. 25 Egyptian revolution:

1) Where are the women?

2) and…”but what if Islamic extremists take over?”

Often ignored in U.S. discussions on Egypt is how protests led by labor unions—many women-based labor unions in the manufacturing cities of Egypt—have catalyzed the Egyptian revolution (Paul Amar, 02-05-11).[ii] The women now holding down Tahrir Square as we speak—are of all ages and social groups and their struggle cannot be explained through Orientalist tropes that reduce Arab women to passive victims of culture or religion or Islam. They are active participants in a grassroots people-based struggle against poverty and state corruption, rigged elections, repression, torture, and police brutality. They are leading marches; attending the wounded, and participating in identity checks of state supported thugs. They have helped create human shields to protect Egyptian Antiquities Museum, the Arab League Headquarters, and one another. They have helped organize neighborhood watch groups and committees nationwide in order to protect private and public property. They are fighting against dictatorship among millions of people-not guided by any one sect or political party—united under one slogan: we want and end to this regime. Master Mimz—protest rapper in the UK best represents my point in the lyrics to her song: Back Down Mubarak…where she states:

“First give me a job—then lets talk about my hijab[iii]

For anyone wondering about the oppression of Arab women, the women of this revolution have indeed suffered—Professor Noha Radwan was attacked by beaten half to death by Mubarak thugs who ripped her shirt open and had stitches in her head.[iv] Several women—and men are now martyrs (they are now over 300).  Amira -killed by a police officer; Liza Mohamed Hasan, hit by a police car; Sally Zahran—hit by a Mubarak thug in the back of the head with a bat, went home to sleep and never woke up.[v]

Since the demonstrations pushed the police out of the center of Cairo, several women have made statements such as this: “It’s the first time that I have never been harassed in Cairo”—Egyptian police are notorious for sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Some Egyptian women are also on the frontlines of the war over ideas—fighting the Egyptian state TV and exposing the contradictions between U.S. discourses on democracy and U.S. practices. As Mubarak’s regime pays thugs to run over peaceful demonstrators, stab them and kill them, many women have expressed outraged over Obama and Clinton’s advice that: “both sides need to refrain from violence.”

Aida Seif Al Dawla is a leading human rights activist with Nadeem Center for psychological rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture. By extention, her work, like the work of many Egyptian feminists and human rights activists fighting against state violence, involves confronting U.S. imperial relations with the Mubarak regime.[vi] Today, the people of the revolution are outraged over the U.S.’ unanswered loyalty to Mubarak as well as Obama’s backing of vice president Omar Suleiman and the lack of discussion about Suleiman’s role in Egyptian torture and his important role in the US rendition-to-torture program. U.S. leaders have called Suleiman a distinguished and respected man. They use these words to describe the coordinator of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, an extrajudicial procedure in which suspected terrorists are transferred illegally to countries like Egypt that are known to use torture during interrogation. Consider, for instance, the case of the Pakistani man Habib—in which the CIA passed Habib to Omar Suleiman in Egypt. Habib was then repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks. After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where his testimony became the basis of his eventual imprisonment at Guantanamo.U.S. policy helps sustain the structures of torture and violence in Egypt. As Egyptian American media pundit Mona Tehawy puts it: U.S.’ “stability” comes at the expense of freedom and dignity of the people of my or any country.”

Of course a democratic Egypt would benefit women. The government recently passed a law restricting the work of civil society organizations, many of them led by women. The current regime is responsible for widespread human rights violations, including intense forms of harassment and violence against women, which many organizations such as Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, have well-documented.[vii]

So rather than asking, “where are the women,” we might ask:

Why does much of U.S. public discourse frame the revolution through Islamophobia logics and why has the corporate media focused mostly on images of Egyptian men?

Islamophobia fuels popular U.S. discourses on Egypt and drives the question: what if Islamic fundamentalists take over Egypt? And it this very discourse that legitimizes the U.S. administration’s complicity in Mubarak’s violent efforts to quell the revolution. This explains why my public expressions of hope for the success of the revolution and for democratization in Egypt are often been met with a sense of grave concern: “but what if Islamic fundamentalists take over?” These questions must be understood in terms of an imperial psyche, a state of consciousness that is driven by panic over Islamic fundamentalism and that works as a blocking operation, or a rationale against supporting the Egyptian revolution. These questions must be located in the historical trajectory of the post-Cold War era in which particular strands of U.S. liberal feminism and U.S. imperialism have worked in tandem. Both rely upon a humanitarian logic that justifies military intervention, occupation, and bloodshed as strategies for promoting “democracy and women’s rights.” This humanitarian logic disavows U.S.-state violence against people of the Arab and Muslim regions rendering it acceptable and even, liberatory, particularly for women. Islamophobic panic over the future of Egypt similarly de-centers the U.S.-backed Mubarak regime’s past and present repression. It denies historical conditions such as the demographic realities in Egypt, the complex, multidimensional place of the Muslim Brotherhood in the revolution,[viii] and the predominance of secular visions for the future of Egypt. Islamophobia thus legitimizes complicity with dictatorship and U.S. empire, producing this message for the Egyptian people: “Its best that you continue to live under tyranny.” Gender fuels Islamophobia, requiring “the Arab woman” to be nothing more than an abject being, an invisible sisters, wife, or mother of “the real revolutionaries.” Islamophobia legitimizes itself through the disappearance of Egyptian women as active agents in the revolution.

I do not intend to be overly celebratory. We have learned from history that following the revolution, women are often pushed back to the sidelines, away from center stage.

We might also then ask, if Egypt enters a democratization period, will the voices of the women of Tahrir remain center stage? And what are the possibilities for a democratization of rights in Egypt– all civic rights—in which women’s participation, the rights of women, family law, and the right to organize, protest, and express freedom of speech remain central? And what are the possibilities for international solidarity with Egyptian women and Egyptian people—amidst a war of ideas that often obstructs the possibility to see Arab or Muslim women and as human– and as rightful agents of their own discourses, governments, and destinies? It has become increasingly clear that this revolution is much greater than a conflict between Egyptian state and non-state actors. Egyptian women’s rights, like the rights of all Egyptians are entangled in the global, imperial relation between the U.S., Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and other repressive regimes of the region and beyond. Only when we can take these local and imperial forces seriously can we begin to understand the oppression millions of Egyptian people are determined to end. The people of Tahrir and all the demonstrators of Egypt have spoken and said, we will not betray the blood of our martyrs–we will not give up until Mubarak steps down. It remains to be seen what the transitional period will look like but one thing is clear: it must be led by the people of Egypt. And as the Egyptian movement for freedom and democracy continues, will U.S. social movements—whether feminist, anti-war, or beyond—forget the imperial past and the blood of the Egyptian martyrs or commit to holding the U.S. and Israel accountable for complicity with dictatorship and thirty-plus years of repression in Egypt?


[viii] See Paul Amar, here at Jadaliyya

Nadine Naber is an Assistant Professor in the Program in American Culture, Arab American Studies, and the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is co-editor of Race and Arab Americans (Syracuse, 2007); Arab and Arab American Feminist Perspectives (Syracuse, 2011); and The Color of Violence (South End Press, 2007). She is author of Articulating Arabness: Gender and Cultural Politics in the Diaspora (NYU, 2011).  Nadine is also a former member of the INCITE! National Collective and a co-founder of Arab Movement for Women Arising for Justice.  She prepared this piece as a public speech for a public event at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Feb. 7, 2011.

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‘Women’s Rights’ in Canada in the Age of Border Control, Imperialism, and Colonialism

No One Is Illegal Radio:  ‘Women‘s Rights’ in Canada in the Age of Border Control, Imperialism, and Colonialism
by Robyn Maynard

LINKED HERE:  http://www.rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/no-one-illegal/2010/10/no-one-illegal-radio-womens-rights-canada-age-border-control-i

The October 2010 edition of No One Is Illegal Radio focuses on ‘Women’s Rights’ in Canada in the Age of Border Control, Imperialism, and Colonialism. It examines the way that the Canadian state affects the lives and self-determination of migrant women, indigenous women, and women in Afghanistan.

Featured interviews:

Bridget Tolley, an indigenous women living in Kitigan Zibi who’s mother was killed by the Quebec police, leading her to co-found the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil commemorating missing and murdered indigenous women. She is discusses her ongoing struggle to find the truth regarding the death of her mother, and she also addresses more broadly the lack of attention or justice for indigenous women in Canada.

Gillian Balfour, the author of: Criminalizing Women: Gender and (In)justice in Neoliberal Times . She will address the massive over-representation of indigenous women in Canadian prisons, and the way that this relates to the on-going Canadian theft of indigenous territories, the legacies of residential schools, and the massive incarceration of indigenous women in Canadian prisons.

Mubeenah Mughal, a Muslim woman and feminist organizer based in Montreal, discussing the “burqua ban” in Quebec, Islamophobia and the way that immigrant women, or women perceived to be immigrants are treated in Canada.

Shazia from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). RAWA is a women’s rights organization in Afghanistan trying to fight for women’s freedom, oppose the rule of the Taliban, and survive amidst a nearly ten-year military occupation. Shazia demonstrates the way that Canadian imperialism imperils Afghan women’s ability to fight for liberation.

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Muslim Women Respond to Proposed “Niqab Ban” in Quebec

NO to Quebec Provincial Bill 94

Naema Ahmed, a 29-year-old immigrant in Canada, filed a human rights complaint after she was taken out of a French class for not removing her face veil, or niqab.  She was expelled from school and Quebec Premier Jean Charest and his cabinet proposed legislation Bill 94, which would ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab. The ban polices women who wear the niqab by denying them essential services, such as receiving health care, getting a driver’s license, going to school, voting, or finding employment from the public sector.

Sheema Khan, writing for The Daily Beast, reflects on the high support the ban receives from Canadian women:

The most vehement reactions against face-veiling have come from women, who have projected their own fears, assumptions, and judgments onto attire worn by a minority within a minority. They think of the bad old days when the Catholic Church controlled women’s lives in Quebec. They pity the present-day lives of women in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. “We will save you from your own foolishness and your own delusional beliefs, for your own good,” they seem to say. “We will bring you to liberation by force. You Muslim women really aren’t independent until you embrace our lifestyle choices.”

In the meantime, they would deny us access to language lessons, hospitals, courts, schools, and public transportation—all services that help immigrants assimilate.  But at the same time, they condemn the Saudi religious police for hounding women who don’t dress according to that government’s dictates.

Shahina Siddiqui, president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, writes in the Montreal Gazette,

What people are ignoring  is that Muslim women are human and deserve to be treated with dignity regardless of whether we agree with their choices or not.

This outrage is not about a piece of cloth on my face or head, it is about what I believe and the lifestyle I have chosen. It is about my refusal to be exploited for my physiology, my refusal to fit in a frame that society imposes on me, and my courage to demand my right as a Canadian.

For this we are being punished, deprived of our basic human right to choose.

Unfortunately it is becoming socially acceptable to belittle Muslim women, treat them as sub-human, and to make political gains at their expense, but this is not something to be proud of or to celebrate.

Although touted as a step toward gender equality, Bill 94, if approved, will perpetuate gender inequality by legislating control over women’s bodies and sanctioning discrimination against Muslim women who wear the niqab. Instead of singling out a minuscule percentage of the population, government resources would be better spent implementing poverty reduction and education programs to address real gender inequality in meaningful ways. Barring any woman from social services, employment, health, and education, as well as creating a climate of shame and fear around her is not an effective means to her empowerment. If Premier Charest’s government is truly committed to gender equality it should foster a safe and inclusive society that respects a woman’s right to make decisions for herself. Standing up for women’s rights is admirable. “Rescuing” women is paternalistic and insulting. Further marginalizing Muslim women who wear niqab and denying them access to social services, economic opportunities and civic participation is unacceptable.

Visit their call for action.

There are more discussions on the ban at Racialicious, Bitch Media, and Muslimah Media Watch where writer, Krista, reflects on the numbers of women who the ban would target, and draws a connection between the niqab ban and ableism.

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