by Guest Contributor Aaminah Hernández, originally published at Writeous Sister Speaks
I was approached by Latoya Peterson, editor for Racialicious, to write something about this piece at Jezebel. I want to preface this with three disclaimers:
1) I don’t normally read Jezebel. I’m not faulting those who do, it just doesn’t appeal to me and I’ve got more than enough good reading to keep me busy.
2) The following response to this post will not be even-handed. Because reading the piece at Jezebel made me literally physically ill. Do I jest? No… I read it while in the office and had to leave to go to the restroom to puke. That was yesterday. After re-reading it and thinking about it overnight, I am just now sitting down on Friday to write something about it. And I know right now this will not be written in one sitting because I cannot stomach it all in one go.
2a) My response will probably be considered as biased simply because I am a Muslim. Yes, I am. And one who actually wears that face veil on a daily basis that Ms. Sarah has taken on momentarily. I am not, however, an expert of any sort on Yemen. I have never been to Yemen, I do not have friends that are currently living in Yemen, and although I know in-a-round-about-way a SunniPath Shaykh in Yemen, I cannot speak directly to how Islam is practiced by the average Yemeni person.
3) I did not read through all the comments. I just couldn’t. Why subject myself to that? I am sure there were some good comments left as well, but since I didn’t read through them all I will not be addressing in depth the comment section to the post, but replying to the post itself. I will however reference at times information about the post that I did glean from the comments I did read (Example: that the post is actually an IM conversation and that somehow accounts for the irreverent and light-hearted nature of the discussion. Yeah, more on that in a bit.)
The first thing you will, of course, notice is the title of the “article”: Sarah Left Women’s Magazine to Try and Learn “Why They Hate Us”. She Could Use a Drink.
To be fair, you know what you are about to get into with a title like that. As far as journalism goes, it’s even a good title, because it wraps up the lunacy of the interview all in two succinct sentences. It does however put controversy front and center.
So, Sarah Wolff left her Fashion Editor job at Good Housekeeping in NYC to go on a jaunt around the Arab world after 9-11. In fact, many people became interested in learning a bit about Islam and Arabs after 9-11, but also a good number decided that this was a great money making opportunity: play on the fears caused by the 9-11 (and other) attacks, call yourself an expert, and watch the cash roll in. Because those of us who are actually believing Muslims or Arab, Iranian, and otherwise related to the Middle East have no business being asked to talk about what we believe. The world wants to hear it from white Americans with no ties whatsoever to the countries, cultures and religions of the region.
Now, I’m not saying Sarah is money-grubbing per se. At least she took some time to learn some Arabic and went to school to become a bona fide journalist. Currently she lives in Yemen and works for the Yemen Times newspaper. But this is a huge change from being a New York fashion editor, so it would be understandable to ask why. Her answer in this “interview” is not very compelling.
“I worked as a fashion editor in NYC for about 6 years and when 9/11 happened, I started wondering about Islam and why people hated the U.S. so much – I was not into interna’nl politics at ALL at that time…”
And yet now, 5 years later she is put forth by Jezebel as if she is an expert on Islam and international politics. And since living in Yemen since January of this year, she is now also an expert on Yemeni men, culture, and mores.
“Actually, many MANY people think that there will be a civil war here soon. It is kind of terrorism’s last frontier…”
“Well, it’s kind of a black hole. People don’t know a lot about it and it’s poor as all hell.”
“Some of the not so great ways include the BEYOND-limited rights of women here. I am talking about no cell phone talking in the street, okay, no TALKING in the street period for women… no laughing for women. No laughing! Yo(u) have to wear full-body coverage at all times…”
Now, in comments later it was mentioned that this superficial coverage of issues was due to the medium being used for the interview: Instant Messaging.
The thing is, IM isn’t really the best way to conduct an interview for that reason, so I imagine it wasn’t originally intended to be posted in full. If there was intention to post the conversation on-line, some effort could have been made to handle things in a more professional tone, or the interview could have been conducted a different way. The way questions are asked certainly sets the tone for the answers, and it’s safe to assume either this conversation wasn’t supposed to see the light of day, or it was intended to be this offensive.
As it turns out, Sarah herself has come out and said that she had absolutely never expected this conversation to be published. Read the Post Mocking a Culture, Mocking a Friend