Tag Archives: middle east

Because 1.3 Billion People All Look the Same

by Latoya Peterson

Take a look at this cover:

What is the impression you get from the photo accompanying the headline?


Kabobfest asks
if the cover is racist.

Fatemeh, when she forwarded the Kabobfest link to me, said she thinks it is racist AND islamaphobic.

After checking out the source of the photo, the articles accompanying this issue of the American Interest don’t look too promising either:

What Do Muslims Think? amir taheri
Unprecedented intellectual ferment in the Muslim world is likely to have a happier ending than many Westerners suppose.

The Irrelevance of the Middle East philip e. auerswald
Neither our ‘energy insecurity’ nor the danger of terrorism is all it’s cracked up to be. The Middle East just isn’t that strategically important.

I’m throwing in my bid for racist, islamaphobic, and xenophobic – after all, they are playing up that fear of the scary ethnic “other” from a foreign land.

Thoughts?

Please note: I tend to get tons of static for covering Muslim issues here, many of the issues stemming from the fact that “Muslim” is not a race. And yes, I am well aware that a group of adherents of the same religion are not necessarily of one set race. However, the treatment of Islam in the media (and the subsequent discrimination that manifests against Muslims) is racialized. So, we cover it. Also, the fact that Islam is associated with one set group of people (with one set look) is problematic in itself.

Mocking a Culture, Mocking a Friend

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. Continue reading

Larry Beinhart has Crowned Himself the Prince of Persia…

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. Continue reading

CNN’s Special on Women in Iraq: Painting Iraqi Women With the Victim Brush

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.” Continue reading

En Vogue: Muslim Women in Fashion News

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

A smattering of articles have appeared in newspapers lately, aiming to spread the word about how fashionable Muslim women are. These articles seem to refute the idea that Muslim women are against or unreceptive to fashion: “You can be religious and fashionable! Lots of them are! See?”

Is this supposed to be a compliment? Generalizing an entire religious group into a massive worldwide body of snappy dressers?

I wrote earlier on the popular perception of Muslim/Middle Eastern women as label whores, and many of these articles play up that exact angle. The Independent’s article, written by Sarah Buys, openly states, “This [retail development in the Gulf], in turn, has given rise to one of the most sartorially savvy, high-fashion buying demographs in the world. Middle Eastern Muslim women aren’t just prolific shoppers, now they are discerning, prolific shoppers.”

“Quit your bitching,” you might say. “It’s a compliment to be considered fashionable. What’s your problem?” My problem is that, with this characterization of Muslims as rich and fashionable, we slide right into “label whore” territory, which brings along with it the labels of the “rich Arab teenager” or the “spoiled Persian princess,” both younger cousins to the harmful Jewish-American Princess stereotype. These are class-based stereotypes that attach themselves to specific ethnicities and, now, to Muslims. They are not compliments.

If that’s not offensive enough for you, we can always take a look at the underlying Orientalism surrounding these articles. The title of The Independent’s article is “Muslin women: Beneath the Veil.” And The New York Sun piece, written by Jesse Sposato, is entitled, “Conservative Muslim Women Hide Knack for Fashion Under Their Religious Robes.” All this “beneath the veil” crap is tired. Women who wear more conservative clothes in line with their interpretations of Islamic requirements just wear clothes under those things! But these articles can’t be satisfied with that. What kind of clothes?

Hold on to your fantasies: they wear sexy clothes! Sposato’s article recounts a young woman’s anecdote about what a girl she knew would wear under her abaya: “When I was living in Dubai, there was a girl who wore a closed abaya with a bikini under it! She would just be at university walking around with a bikini under her abaya, and nobody would know. It was great.”

And Buys doesn’t even wait to get into the article to fantasize about what Muslim women are wearing under there. She comes right out and sexualizes us all in the tag line: “…And under that shapeless, monochrome exterior, don’t be surprised to find a daring and imaginative sense of style – not to mention a miniskirt or pink hot pants.”

So, according to these articles, Muslim women walking around in austere black robes are practically naked underneath. Ironic, isn’t it? The majority of these women wear conservative clothes to take focus away from their bodies (in line with cultural practices or certain Islamic schools of thought), and these articles bring it right back to them.

These articles would make more sense to me if these papers were doing some sort of style profile on several different religions; Islam is not the only religion with modesty guidelines. But singling out Muslim women (none of the articles mentioned modesty requirements for men) in order to sexually hint at what’s “underneath the veil” just doesn’t sit well with me.

Oooh, Baby, Put it On: Ripping up Veil Fetish Art

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. Continue reading

Label Makers: the Stereotype of the Middle Eastern Label Whore

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

Thanks to Latoya for the tip!

Jezebel does an interesting review of Rajaa AlSanea’s Girls of Riyadh that focuses on the consumptive angle of the book; i.e., how obsessed with luxury goods upper class Saudi women are.

While the review itself wasn’t a revelation (I think that an obsession with luxury goods is a stereotype or symptom of upper classes in many cultures), the comments were. Aside from the outright Islamophobic comments, there seems to be a general consensus among Jezebel’s readers that most Middle Eastern women are vapid label whores:

“I went to school with a large population of Middle Easterners and I will say I’ve never seen nicer bags or shoes in my life. Many of the girls dressed like they were going out to the club right from class, even in the middle of the winter.”

“I don’t think that they’ve acquired their taste for luxury goods from the West; I think it’s been there since Saudi Arabia has existed.”

“Yeap agreeing with everyone above who said that many middle-eastern women are obsessed with designer items, particularly the very flashy and logo-laden items. My Saudi girlfriend explained that since most women can’t be very creative or showy with their clothese, there is a particular emphasis on status shoes, handbags, and sunglasses. Makes sense. Hanging with her friends, I totally see it– even in the US these girls will still be DECKED OUT with the logos and glitz.”

“Honestly, the men were just as bad. I used to sleep with a Saudi guy who had more clothes than any woman I’ve ever met. He also had two watches that were worth more than everything I own combined. The guys were always in the newest sneakers and tight jeans from brands I’d never even heard of. I guess if you have to wear a dress at home, you’re looking for something nice and fitted when you’re in the US!”

“have to concur that there’s nothing “western” about this obsession and the middle east could put america to shame with their label-whoring and general eurotrashiness.”

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Either we’re all oppressed and can’t have rights we really want, or we don’t give a damn about our rights because we just want pretty handbags and expensive jewelry.

Any time one makes a comment that generalizes about a particular geographical/religious group, s/he falls into stereotype country. Many of those who commented haven’t even read the book; they just wanted to get in on the Middle Eastern women-bashing. But this goes beyond regular old horizontal hostility because these posters are ascribing the negative attribute of “label-whoriness” to a particular ethnic/geographical group. Not to mention the derogatory comments about the dishdasha (or, as the second to last poster put it, “a dress.” Dishdashas are considered professional wear for men in the gulf much like suits in the West, as well as traditional clothing).

Well. This hurts my feelings so much I’m going to put on my nicest pair of stilettos and go buy myself another designer bag.

Scare Tactics: Giuliani’s Newest Campaign

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

Giuliani’s new campaign advertisement has started running in Florida. It’s full of clips of angry brown people pumping fists, wielding guns, and shouting angrily. But these brown people aren’t identified by race, nationality, or history. They’re supposedly defined by Islam and their hatred for America.

But looking at these clips, I find that what most of them have in common is their ambiguity more than Islam. For example, the first clip is of a group of dark-haired men pumping their fists in the air. We don’t know where they are, what religion they are, what nationality they are, or why they’ve gathered and are pumping their fists in the first place. These men could easily be at a political rally in India or even Venezuela. Lumping them in with images of Osama bin Laden plays on Islamophobic and racist assumptions that all brown (hypothetically Muslim) men do when they gather together is make trouble.

Another clip is of a group of women with white headscarves, who look to be chanting. Or singing. Or demonstrating. Again, we’re given no national, racial, or religious context and we have no idea why these women are gathered together. Maybe they’re protesting against a centuries-old vendetta between ethnic groups, and are wearing white for peace. Or maybe they’re at a funeral (in many Asian cultures, white is a sign of mourning). But, since they’re brown and wear headscarves, we’re supposed to assume that they are Muslim women who hate the U.S.! The assumption that they are Muslim is another false one: headscarves are not limited to Muslim women. For example, many non-Muslim Indian women wear scarves over their hair.

Speaking of women in headscarves, there is a clip showing the late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan. She’s been dead less than a month and Giuliani is already using her image for his own gain. Classy.

As if equating brown men and women with terrorism isn’t bad enough, the commercial makes sure we know that brown children are dangerous, too! There is a shot of a group of children in fatigues, with one child cheering while the voiceover reminds us that “the next crisis is a moment away.” So, despite the fact that this child might actually be cheering for a soccer match, the commercial leads us to believe that he’s really cheering for the destruction of America and freedom.

If you think the visuals are bad, listen to the voiceover: the announcer refers to these angry brown people as “A people perverted.” The viewer is supposed to believe either that these people are abnormally bloodthirsty (which implies that they are innately barbaric) or that they are misguided (which implies that they’re not smart enough to make decisions for themselves). Either way, not very flattering.

Besides all this, the commercial is insulting to the viewer, whatever ethnicity or religion. Phrases like “An enemy without borders / hate without boundaries…Democracy attacked” are designed to make the viewer feel unsafe so they will look to Giuliani for guidance. This tries to cajole a vote out of the viewer by fear-mongering and playing on the paranoia of the current political climate. Racism, Islamophobia, and the exploitation of the dead are low enough, but Giuliani takes it one step further by treating the viewers as brainless cattle.