Archive for the 'Hijab/Muslims in the Media' Category

Video: Dawah Addict’s “I’m Jealous of Hijab”

August 4, 2011

A friend posted this video on Facebook a few days ago. The guy is charming enough to watch:

A pleasant reminder of how my grass is greener, at least some of the time.

His predicament reminded me of a paradox that totally struck me when I came across it in college (before then, I was totally ignorant of the idea):

The context was one of those unsavory “who has it worse” conversations regarding microaggressions of homophobia and racism. While people who identify as gay constantly have to tackle (often painfully) others’ incorrect assumptions that they are straight, people of color find that the assumed stereotypes of their perceived race are often imposed (also incorrectly) upon them. Both ways, it’s a considerable discrepancy between how people think of themselves and how other people think of them (based on their appearance). The former struggle to distinguish themselves; the latter couldn’t “pass” if they tried.

Les Femmes du Maroc photography by Lalla Essaydi

April 26, 2011

My class got a stimulating break from the usual routine today for a field trip to the art museum. We were shown two sketches of Matisse’s odalisques (drawn at the time of France’s colonial empire in North Africa) and a large photograph by Lalla Essaydi, a contemporary Moroccan expat artist.

I don’t think this picture is the exact one we looked at (I couldn’t find a copy online), but it’s very similar. Essaydi uses henna (interesting) to write, in Arabic calligraphy (traditionally a male sport—so also interesting), passages from the Qur’an and her own diary (very interesting!) to cover both the background and the subject of her art, as you can see.

To use a nauseatingly liberal arts phrase, there is a ton to unpack here. We talked about it for a long time and I won’t go into it all, but one point in particular was very thought-provoking:

Someone brought up the significance of words—whether they were verses from the Qur’an or the artist’s own—on the shroud itself, as if saddling the woman with their weight. A great observation, I thought! The veil is imbued with meaning [transcribed with language], whether we intend it to be or not.

My introduction didn’t really do Lalla Essaydi justice, but you can check out more of her fascinating work here.

WSJ review of A Quiet Revolution

April 24, 2011

Leila Ahmed* is coming out with a new book called A Quiet Revolution about the resurgence of the veil in the last 30 years. Fascinating!

*For the class I’m auditing we’re reading Women and Gender in Islam the same author. I haven’t gotten through the whole thing, but I liked what I read a lot.

From the Wall Street Journal review:

Even if the veil in America is being disentangled from many of its traditional meanings, it remains a theological symbol, tainted by a long history of religious traditions that fall harder on women than on men.

This is true and it’s very scary.

The good news is that American Muslims—unlike their counterparts in France—have the freedom to decide what the veil means and whether they would like to use it or set it aside.

My reality. Makes it hard, though, to imagine something outside that narrative.

Link: Houria Bouteldja Essay on Decolonial Feminism/Identity Politics

March 14, 2011

The one thing that annoys me about the otherwise fantastic reader-tool Instapaper is that, when you save a page to read for later, you aren’t prompted for a short note about said essay or article or whatever. I’m a compulsive tagger (obvious by now), and I have a pretty poor memory, and I also write in all my books, so it’s important to me to have that space to indulge in my anal-retentive habits.

Bourgeois problems, I know.

The point is, I don’t remember who linked or where I found the following essay, because it’s been sitting sans marginalia in my Instapaper queue for a while now, and I got to reading it only recently.

THAT ALL SAID, take a look if you have 15 minutes: White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity by Houria Bouteldja (with intro). Topics treated: decolonial feminism, privilege of solidarity, universality of feminism (is it or isn’t it?), Islamic feminism, identity politics, cultural relativism, and all SORTS of other fun stuff.

Highlights:

“After a solidarity trip to Palestine, a friend was telling me how the French women had asked the Palestinian women if they used birth control. According to my friend, the Palestinian women couldn’t understand such a question given how important the demographic issue is in Palestine. They were coming from a completely different perspective. For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.”

“For me, [Islamic feminism] legitimizes itself. It doesn’t have to pass a feminist exam. The simple fact that Muslim women have taken it up to demand their rights and their dignity is enough for it to be fully recognized. I know, as result of my intimate knowledge of women from the Maghreb and in the diaspora, that “the-submissive-woman” does not exist. She was invented. I know women that are dominated. Submissive ones are rarer!”

Read more.

What Would Bill Maher Do? Start an Arab Sexual Revolution

March 1, 2011


Thanks to Muslimah Media Watch for the alert about Bill Maher’s latest cause: the plight of Muslim women. Specifically, calling for a sexual revolution in the Middle East because The Men Have Got It All Wrong.

If you have a few minutes, watch this conversation between Maher and Tavis Smiley on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. (I couldn’t embed the video, but isn’t this screen shot a gem?)

In short, this is the argument:

BM: We (American men) treat our women better than they (Middle Eastern men) treat theirs.

TS: Okay. But should we be telling them what to do?

BM: Yup.

It’s easy to get caught up in Bill Maher’s logic, I’ll admit. But he’s simplifying like nobody’s business, and Tavis Smiley impressed me in standing his ground. Sara Yasin blogs about it nicely as well:

“While the Western world has made wide strides for women, acting as though it is a finished project ignores the work that we still have to do as American feminists and treats feminism and equality like a video game.” (Read more: MMW, “Knight in Shining Armor or Idiot in Tinfoil?”)

The Unexplainable Appeal of the NBC Show “Outsourced”

February 27, 2011

Have you ever seen it? It’s still in its first season, and (from what I can tell) it’s doing pretty well via ratings.

The premise: a cute American white guy (totally devoid of personality, though in an endearing way) moves to Mumbai, India in order to to oversee his company’s outsourced call center. The ensuing culture clashes, amplified by an Indian office staff chock full of crazies, make for a reasonably funny sitcom script.

The show is rife—RIFE—with generalizing and often offensive (racist) cultural stereotypes. I won’t go into it here, but watch an episode and you’ll see. It’s impossible not to cringe at least once very three minutes.

Last fall, though, whenever I was around and it happened to be on, I couldn’t help myself. Like being hypnotized, almost. The feeling I got from watching it was (astonishingly) GENUINE ENJOYMENT.

This doesn’t directly have anything to do with Muslims—though a few appear on the show, and some of the actors are Muslim—but rather people who look like they could be. Or, religion totally aside, just people who don’t look white-bread American!

Being of South Asian descent, I don’t generally get to see a lot of people who look like me on TV. And until I stumbled on the show Outsourced, I didn’t realize how important that representation really is. Before its premiere, I’d never seen a show (on prime time television, no less!) displaying such a very high concentration of Desi people; it made for a fantastically pleasant surprise.

I can, of course, take the initiative myself to find appropriate media representations. I can do research and read books written by people like me, listen to music produced by people like me, watch shows and movies portraying people like me. (Another TV show that’s far superior in quality but more of an effort to watch is Little Mosque on the Prairie.) But there’s NOTHING like seeing yourself represented on something so now-antiquated as live television, smack-dab in the hot middle of popular culture.

Sometimes I worry about the potential for Outsourced—and viral YouTube videos like “Club Can’t Handle Me (Indian Style)”—to send the wrong messages about Indian (or any group of) people, especially when accessed by much larger masses of the population. Artists with wider audiences most certainly bear a greater responsibility to represent their identities well… but sometimes the representation alone is enough.

I haven’t seen much of the show since it got moved from the spot directly after The Office. If I’m ever in the same room as that catchy theme song, though, I guarantee you it’ll have me hooked.

Why My Women/Gender/Islam Class Sometimes Makes Me Uncomfortable

February 24, 2011

For the standards of this school, it’s a pretty large discussion class, with over 20 people sitting around a sort-of-pretentious boardroom table. Though I’m only auditing and don’t have to turn in any written assignments (which is GLORIOUS), I’ve been trying my best to keep up with the readings, of which there are a lot!

What makes me uneasy sometimes is that our discussions force me to confront some really, really bad stuff about Muslims. Not about Islam—and the professor is fantastic at pointing out this distinction as well—but about the people all over the world (and the history of the world) who profess to profess Islam.

Today, for example, someone brought up the story of Faleh Hassan Almaleki, the Iraqi man who ran over his daughter with his car, then called it an “honor killing.” Which led predictably to the topic of religiously justified honor killings in general, naturally causing me to SUIMS.*

*Shift Uncomfortably In My Seat. (Duh. A GOOD ONE, RIGHT.)

Something else I can’t forget, probably the worst thing that’s happened so far, is what I overheard a girl say to a classmate before class one day:

“I just don’t see how, based on what we’re learning, you can be a feminist and religious at the same time.”

Yikes!

But I keep reminding myself:

  • The preconceived notions of smart, informed, cultivated liberal arts college kids are SO hardly the worst of what’s out there. Their opinions are a good window into what kinds of misconceptions exist in general, giving me a better idea of how to communicate on the subject.
  • This type of confrontation is EXACTLY what is healthy in the realm of identity study; it’s an excellent thing, even if I don’t speak up every time. The Bad Stuff isn’t going to go away if I just don’t think about it.

There’s also my self-consciousness about being an obvious Muslim female perspective in a “Women & Gender in Islam” class. I’m always worried about representing Muslims poorly or unjustly, but I do think it’s mostly self-consciousness (and that I’m distorting my own authority in my head). Working on it!

Overall—and I’ll tell anyone who has a half-second to listen—I am madly in love with the class. The readings are great, the professor is great, my fellow classmates are great, the discussions are great. The 75 minutes whiz by every time.