Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women

Just read this interesting article by Nada Elia, called "Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women" (2006). Some of her main points (my thoughts in Italics):

- The impulse to save Muslim women from their male kin pervades various social and political movements in the US. Even in the 21st century, Western feminism retains its highly exploitative approach to other women.

This is true, I think Western feminism, while arguing for equal rights between sexes, is promoting a racist agenda. Just by assuming that Muslim women need to be "saved", they are saying something about the inability of Muslim women to help themselves.

- The confluence of church and state, with the presidential worldview today of embracing Christianity and Zionism, is a lethal mix for Arabs and Arab Americans, who are perceived as the quintessential enemy. As it predates 9/11, this rejection cannot be attributed to the trauma of the terrorist attacks, and is quite clearly based in religious intolerance, the assumption that Arabs are irrevocably "other" because they are Muslim, aliens in this Judeo-Christian culture.

This is definitely something I see in Holland now. The Muslim being seen as the "other", and as so different from the Dutch and Dutch culture.

- It must be emphasized that a desire to improve women's circumstances, here or abroad, has never characterized the Bush administration, Nevertheless, "women's liberation" proved a convinient excuse to attack countries with which the US was already intent on going to war. At the same time, the centuries-old Western fascination with the veil, now readily visible on American streets, behind the steering wheels of American SUVs, in American malls, and in American college classrooms, was jolted into renewed life.

I still remember that one of the MAIN reasons for going to war with Afghanistan seemed to be "saving the women". Don't you remember all the photos of women in burqa's all over the media, as if that gave some sort of legitimacy to what the government was about to do? All the books that suddenly came out about women escaping, women being freed, and how horrible the men in Afghanistan were. Yes, the Taliban WERE horrible. But don't use that as an excuse and a cover-up for war.

- The failure to identify racism and religious intolerance as a major social wrong in the US closely parallels mainstream Western feminism's failure to identify many Arab women's oppressors in their home countries. Thus many "progressive feminists" fail to acknowledge that Palestinian women's freedom of movement, their freedom to vote, to obtain an education and access to health care, and the basic right to have a roof over their heads in their own historic homeland, is denied to them not by Arab men, but by the Israeli occupier.

This is a good point. In Iraq - do you think it is more important for women to have security and be able to leave their house without risking getting killed; or to be able to have freedom of speech? Yes they shouldn't have to choose. But I feel that a lot of women would choose security for them and their families.

- And while the West favours Arab women writers over their male compatriots, even among female authors, those denouncing Islam are favoured over those denouncing the occupation of their country by Israeli and American troops.

Look at any bookshelf anywhere.

- They (Arab American women) find themselves, in the opening decades of the 21st century, following centuries of Arab presence in the US, still explaining the most basic aspects of their culture, still refuting egregious stereotypes, still on the defensive.

Something I've experienced here in Holland. I find that while I know about the basics of other religions, many people don't know or don't understand the basics of mine - not because the information is not out there, but because it seems to be easier to believe something controversial than something that makes sense.
And I think as a Muslim, you've probably experienced being on the defensive at one point or another - not a nice feeling.

Overall I liked the article, although she did make some big claims that she didn't back up well. This was written during Bush's reign so I wonder if things have changed under Obama?


Sarah Alaoui said...

"They (Arab American women) find themselves, in the opening decades of the 21st century, following centuries of Arab presence in the US, still explaining the most basic aspects of their culture, still refuting egregious stereotypes, still on the defensive."


Mrs. S said...

I agree with Nadia regarding Western feminism. It is very narrow in its interpretation of what women’s “liberation” means. I’ve always felt that they fail to recognize that I can be “liberated” and still exist in both my culture and religion. My rights as a woman should allow me to fully participate in society as I see fit and not as is dictated to me by men or women.
Americans definitely love a good sensational story of breaking free of oppression at the hands of Islam. There is an article on CNN World today about a Muslim girl in the U.S. who converted to Christianity and told everyone she ran away to a church because her father would kill her. I’m not exactly sure how this is national news worthy, but it’s definitely front page.
On the final point of Arab women still explaining themselves, I’ve always thought it was interesting that for the most part it is generally assumed that I will know the basics of American culture, Christianity and Judaism, and even participate in certain things. When it comes to minimal knowledge of Islam or even basic geography of the Arab world forget it. I’ve reached the point where I just make vague statements about having a commitment or visiting “overseas”.

Shahrazad said...

"Just by assuming that Muslim women need to be "saved", they are saying something about the inability of Muslim women to help themselves"

Exactly.."if" (we) genuinly need to be saved, that is!

"The Muslim being seen as the "other", and as so different from the Dutch and Dutch culture"

What about native Dutch Muslims? How are they perceived?

Great points. Enlightening.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I've only been here for 2 months, and in that time haven't met any native Dutch Muslims, so I wouldn't know how they are perceived. I saw a documentary about Dutch women who had converted, and most of their families were shocked and upset, especially if they decided to veil.

NoortheNinjabi said...

"This was written during Bush's reign so I wonder if things have changed under Obama?"

Not so much. There was a junior ROTC girl who was suspended for telling a Muslim classmate "take that thing off your head and act like you're proud to be an American." The girl lied to the media and said she saw the Muslim girl stay seated during the pledge. There was a huge outcry of islamophobia in the name of patriotism, even after the news revealed the young woman lied. The Muslim girl, who was extremely upset by the events, was not commended for walking away.

As for the girl Mrs. S is talking about, she was also a cheerleader and, well, a teenager. May Allah guide both these girls to the Straight Path.

Does anyone else ever go into bookstores and change around their displays so that the islamophobes aren't in the front?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wow that's crazy. I can't believe that girl made that up.

And lol @ the bookstore thing! It's actually a brilliant idea! I have a photo I took once of a bookshelf at Virgin in Cairo showing all the "women abused by Muslims" memoirs. I'll post it soon insh'Allah.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Lol, isn't amazing that they sell them in Cairo? And that people actually buy it? oH! Have you heard of Nonie Darwish?

BTW, I'm not trying to be a creepy silent stalker. There's just really nothing to do here!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Yeah if they sell so many in Cairo I can't imagine what it's like in the West!

No, who is that?

Stalk my blog as much as you like lol! I like blog stalkers :D:D

NoortheNinjabi said...

Ridiculous. Friends of the family keep passing them to my (Jewish) mommy to pass on to me to "bring her back." *shaking fist*

Ok, so the link I'm about to post. Read the whole description, pause to scream in frustration, then watch/read the Muslim Madness Scare Tactics box. It's right underneath the crazy.

Yay! I will continue stalking then :-P

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Okay I just read the first sentence and already want to scream! Will finish and let you know what I think :D

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Wow. I can't believe people even buy stuff like that!
And she's a LECTURER?? WHERE?!

Sigh. People like this make me sad. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, this woman. It's so annoying. At least they got the other woman (Fatemeh) to explain every thing. Then again people who don't want to understand Islam won't.

NoortheNinjabi said...

She's a circuit lecturer...I think the same circuit, ironically, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Daniel Pipes, Walid Shoebat, Robert Spencer, etc. They have a good scam going, apparently. For islamophobia week, they go all over college campuses, spreading their hate. It's mostly done through the David Horowitz foundation for something or other.
(I've had the opportunity to meet Robert Spencer. He lost his cool and yelled at me during the Q&A for his lecture. I felt very proud of that moment.)
Anyways, they charge thousands of dollars and usually a few student orgs pony up the cash to spread the hate. Gah.

I feel bad for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in a weird way. She had a lot of bad things happen to her in the name of Islam and I could understand how it could sour her view. However, the moment she started working against Muslims, she erred.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

LOL @ the Robert Spencer thing. What did you say?!

I feel bad about the things that happened to Hirsi too, esp. since they happen to millions of women in the name of Islam. But at the same time, Islam already has a negative image without her adding to it. She's saying exactly what the Western media wants to hear, which isn't helping the women who are in the same situation she was in. Going up to a Muslim woman who's being abused and telling her "hey God doesn't exist and Islam is fake" isn't necessarily going to help that woman, especially if the woman believes in God!

NoortheNinjabi said...

*snicker* Ok, so he has this whole manifesto about what Muslims need to do to be accepted by him. Because, you know, we care so much about his opinion that we'll go against our faith... Astaghfirullah. Anyways, one of the bullet points is that madrasas should be forced to teach only secular knowledge. As in sunday school madrasas too, not day schools. So I got up and pointed out that in the community I was raised in, we were taught (and as a teacher, I was later told to teach) that Arabs were savages who stole our land and that Israel was in fact always the Jews' land. We even had a screwed up map in all of the classrooms. So I asked why he thought that Muslims should be the only ones to change how they were teaching. He told me he didn't think my words were true and I responded that he could walk into almost any temple and find the same sentiments. I asked why he was pointing out the bad in Islam when he as a Christian should be examining his own faith instead. At that point, I walked away from the mike and he screamed "That's not true. YOU"RE A LIAR!" and had a little mini-rant about how I was a liar and a fraud. After the QA, people came up and were like "we don't like Muslims, but you didn't lie" and we gave them Qur'ans, lol.

I don't understand why people just can't work within the frame of our religion. Working with "tribal leaders" or within a scope of a culture has almost always worked in foreign affairs, why not apply it in daily life? I mean, even the Saudi sheikhs are like "well, you can hit her with your toothbrush, but you can't beat her down..."

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Haha go girl! "You're a liar" isn't exactly an intelligent response or rebuttal!
And LOL @ you giving them Qur'ans!

For some reason I found it funny in the video when he said "there's no need to hold conferences about women who beat men". I laughed for a while about that! I think it's bed time :/ :D

Interesting video though. Although I agree more with the quote on your blog - I think the point is that men should not be beating women at all, even with a toothbrush!

NoortheNinjabi said...

Well, when you have lemons...A brother in our community generously donated a box of Qur'ans and we ran out of them so quickly, subhanaAllah!

I thought the part where the sheikh said "WOMAN! That's it! Khalaas, I can't take it anymore!" really oddly amusing. And it's a good example of explaining things within one's culture, even if they still went with the toothbrush argument. (Yvonne Ridley's words were totally better though :-P)

Sleep tight!!!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I found the guy pretty funny actually, in a good way. I'm gonna try look for other videos by him :D


hala said...

I thought of just mentioning something to ease the conflict, the debate between Western and Eastern (Islamic) Culture is not new, as a Saudi I have heard a lot of anti-Western speeches all my life, sometimes because of a just reason and sometimes out of ignorance, to a certain level, So yes, there is a misconception and ignorance but from both sides, and this move to liberate Muslim women is going to be useful, as it would force the Islamic societies to reflect on ancient practices and to allow more for women just to prove that they are not sexist, sometimes, the right causes are driven by the wrong people...Keep blogging!!!