Posts Tagged ‘muslims in the media’

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.

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.

Essay Collection: “I Speak for Myself”

February 24, 2011

Just got wind of a book of essays called I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, due to come out this summer. According to the book’s website, the women were born and raised in the U.S., and they’re all under the age of 40.

In addition to having a like perspective, it turns out that I know a couple of the contributors personally. Awesome!

Looking forward to its release (June 1st).