Tag: middle east

April 30, 2008 / / Uncategorized
April 23, 2008 / / Uncategorized

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

April 18, 2008 / / Uncategorized

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

…and he can kiss my Iranian ass.

Last weekend, Larry Beinhart posted a piece for AlterNet entitled, “Report From Iran: Should We Really Bomb These People?”

There’s a whole lot wrong with that question, as many of the article’s commenters pointed out. In fact, I wish I’d waited awhile and just let them write this article for me—but, uppity bee that I am, I started writing as soon a I read the title.

After a title like that, you’d think Beinhart would try to come off a little better. But just the second sentence riled me up: “It’s good to get out of gray, smoggy Tehran, one of the least photogenic cities in the world, where black is the new black, from the hejabs on down.”

I have a hard time believing that Beinhart is really in the Tehran that most Iranians know. Smoggy? Yes! We won’t deny it. But this isn’t just boasty ethnic pride talking: just do a Google search on Tehran and you’ll see some beautiful pictures of the Alborz mountains, the Azadi Monument, Tehran in the spring, Tehran in the winter…An excellent place to check out pictures of Tehran and its denizens is Tehran 24, a blog dedicated to photography of Tehran.

And black everywhere? Once again, my dear readers, I’ll direct you to Google image search: type in “Tehran” and “women,” and you will see for yourself that black is not necessarily de rigueur.

Why can’t he get his stereotype of Iranian women right? Now they’re in black, black, and more black, but then, several paragraphs down, he states, “Because we were in public, the women wore the required headscarves but managed to make them fashion accessories. They constantly adjusted them with graceful gestures that drew attention to their beauty and femininity.” Racism and sexism, all tied up in a pretty little hejab. Ew. How can they be considered fashionable if they’re all in big, black chadors? Fashionable young, urban Iranian women prefer a mix of colors, and color coordination is incredibly important to those interested in fashion (this is my thesis topic—it’s been my life for the last several months, trust).

He then states, “It is worth pointing out that while women in Iran are not as free as in America or Western Europe, they have more freedom and participate more fully in public life than in the rest of the Islamic World.”

I wonder what Beinhart means by freedom. Because if he means the right to marry, divorce, work, and go to school with almost no restrictions, then he has forgotten Turkey. The Turkish are predominately Muslims, and Turkey has the most egalitarian divorce laws in the Islamic world. Women are heads of companies there just like they are in Iran or Syria or the West. And how about Tunisia, which has heavily westernized its civil code? It seems that Beinhart’s definition of the Islamic World includes only Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

He also forgets that women who live in rural areas in most countries (Iran included) have fewer freedoms than women who live in urban areas do. What’s this with the blanket generalities, then?

From this silliness we move on to some more racism. “In the first ten minutes of almost any conversation with an Iranian, he or she will point out that they are not Arabs, they’re Persians. They may even say that they don’t like Arabs, or, more emphatically, ‘I hate f**king Arabs.’”

Whoaaaaaah. Read the Post Larry Beinhart has Crowned Himself the Prince of Persia…

March 18, 2008 / / Uncategorized

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

On Saturday and Sunday, CNN ran a program called On Deadly Ground: The Women of Iraq. Hosted by Arwa Damon, the program briefly profiled several women who live in Iraq; at the beginning, she promises, “You will meet the women of Iraq.”

The program opens on a street somewhere in Baghdad: unpaved, muddy, with trash lying in heaps on the street. Damon’s voiceover introduces us to a young woman who squats in a decrepit building with her children because she has divorced her husband—she won’t live with her family because they will make her return her children to her ex-husband. When speaking about her living conditions, Damon’s tone is that of incredulousness and even disgust: “They’re squatting in an old building,” she says in an attempt to elicit a sympathetic response from the viewer. “What you see her [the young woman] going through…this is normal.” She wants us to realize how badly this woman (whose name is not shared) has it, and the fact that she is not the only one: “They [displaced families] are tragically becoming more and more the norm.”

Damon tells us that “Iraq is a country of contrasts” and makes this the official theme of the program. She contrasts the divorcee living in poverty with Iraq’s remaining elites who can afford to play at private pools. She contrasts these same elites with women who cannot afford to feed their children and thus live two lives: one life with husbands and children, a second life as a prostitute to earn the money that feeds their families. Women without agency to a woman with an agency: Yanar Mohammed, the founder of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Then, Samar, a 25-year-old woman on death row because she is accused of being an accomplice to murders committed by her fiancé. Another contrast, between a young woman who will either be put to death or spend her life in prison, and 14-year-old Wurud, who chats on the internet and whose father is a high-profile Iraqi official. A girl who believes in Iraq’s government vs. the wife of an insurgent who is against the government. Then Dr. Eaman, who disassociates herself from her only son to keep him safe from the insurgents that threaten her own life, but treats Iraqi children. And, finally, Nahla: she still has her child, but she no longer has her husband, who was killed in an attack.

The program does not focus on the overall condition of Iraqi women as the title might imply. This was a missed opportunity: the security of and increased violence against Iraqi women has made headlines, with male gynecologists in Iraq being targeted and increased attacks on women who attend school or don’t wear headscarves.

Instead of focusing on all Iraqi women, the program zeroes in on these women and their particular difficulties. It is the common tragedies of these specific women’s lives that Damon makes into a second theme. All of these women live with fear of raids or bombs, and all of their stories feature tragic events. Even the “positive” stories like Wurud’s or Mohammed’s, stories about women making or wholeheartedly believing in change, are tinged with bitterness and despair. When Damon asks Wurud if she is ever afraid, she brushes this off with teenage bravado: “I am never afraid.” The viewer understands this as boasting: we still feel sorry for her life that is interrupted by bomb blasts and the fact that her beloved father is a target. Even Mohammed and Dr. Eaman, both women who work for positive change, leave behind their sons. Mohammed tells us that she continues to return to Iraq because, “all the people that I love have been crushed.” Read the Post CNN’s Special on Women in Iraq: Painting Iraqi Women With the Victim Brush

March 14, 2008 / / Uncategorized
January 29, 2008 / / Uncategorized

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

The original view of Middle Eastern/Muslim women was that of a lazily sensual harem woman reclining on a couch. Most recently, it has morphed into a cowed housewife bullied by her religion and the men in her life. From these icons arises a newer image of Muslim women: one that combines the two.

I’ll term this genre “veil fetish art,” because every featured woman has most or all of her face and hair covered. Although the woman herself is the main focus, the veil acts as a sexual catalyst: it brands the woman as forbidden, despite the fact that you may be able to see most of her naked body. So even though she’s exposed, the veil reminds you that she’s “forbidden fruit,” and pushes the viewer to want her even more.

So did I find these pictures while uploading porn? Nope. All I did was run a Google search for phrases like “Muslim women,” “burka,” and “veil,” and several not-safe-for-work results came up (FYI: moderate safe-search was on). The majority of these results came up within the first five pages. If you click on the pictures to find where they’re showcased, you’ll usually be taken to websites geared toward Islamophobic and xenophobic world views that fly under the flag of “anti-terrorism.” Or Islamophobic discussion threads. Or porn sites (sorry, no links for those).

Though it’s a possibility, these women are most likely not Middle Eastern or Muslim. It’s more likely that they’re white and/or western models with some spray-tans. The only thing that signifies their cultural or religious affiliation is a veil, which works in two ways: to brand the woman as a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman, and to arouse the viewer.

It’s something like an updated version of the French-Algerian colonialist postcards produced in the mid-nineteenth century. The primary difference is that the Orientalist postcards centered on domesticity, docility, and an exotic locale, aiming to showcase naïve young Algerian girls with their breasts exposed.

But the subjects of veil fetish art are neither girls nor innocent, and it doesn’t matter where they are: these women are hot under that niqab, and they want you to know it. They are positioned in pin-up posture: coy, curvy, and enticing. Or, they’re in a Maxim-style stance: they stare you down while your eyes roam over their partially-obscured form. Read the Post Oooh, Baby, Put it On: Ripping up Veil Fetish Art

January 16, 2008 / / Uncategorized
January 10, 2008 / / Uncategorized