Tag Archives: war

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

Funny Business: Muslims in Comedy

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Unfortunately, the first image that comes to mind when anyone mentions Islam isn’t a room full of people laughing. But if Maz Jobrani, Shazia Mirza, and Preacher Moss have their way, that will change.

Jobrani, Mirza, and Moss are Muslim comedians; Jobrani and Moss are part of the Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours, respectively. Mirza is a British Muslim comedian who has toured in the U.S. and across Europe.

Muslim comedy tours like the Axis of Evil (pictured here) and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours are gaining momentum, both in the Muslim world and out. The Axis of Evil comedy tour has a special on Comedy Central, a DVD, has already finished a U.S. tour and is currently gearing up for a tour of the Middle East. Allah Made Me Funny has also finished a U.S. tour and is currently on a European tour, and has a DVD available on their website.

In interviews with altmuslim.com, both the members of Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny stress that their comedy is a way to break down stereotypes and problems within their communities. Aron Kader, a member of the Axis of Evil tour, says, “We want to represent our culture in a positive way. Through comedy, we can be accepted and be seen for who we really are – regular Americans.” Dean Obeidallah, another member of the Axis, agrees: “So often we sit and complain how we are demonized and portrayed horribly, [but] the only ones who will ever clear our name is us. The burden is on us. No one is going to do us a favor.”

Tissa Hami, a female Muslim comedian, agrees with this aim. Hami (pictured here) describes her comedy as her way of helping combat stereotypes against Muslims. “‘Why aren’t we speaking out for ourselves?’ she said she would ask herself. ‘Why aren’t we doing something? To me this is something I could do. I know it’s comedy. I know it’s this much. But, if we all do this much, it’s something.’”

Female Muslim comedians are few and far between, but slowly, they’re becoming more visible. Tissa Hami, an Iranian-American, is gaining in popularity in the U.S with her comedy appearances. Hami’s comedy is meant to encourage viewers to look beyond appearances. She dresses in all black, from her shoes to her hejab, and then comes out with lines like: “I’ll be honest with you. I should have worn a long coat, but I was feeling kind of slutty tonight.”

Hami’s comedy reminds me of Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani-British Muslim woman who has gained a fair amount of popularity ever since she appeared at a comedy club dressed in hejab and said, “My name is Shazia Mirza. At least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s license.” Since then, Mirza has been on tours in both Britain and the U.S., and won several awards for her comedy.

Neither Mirza nor Hami wear a headscarf outside of their performances; in fact, Mirza has stopped using hejab in her performances because she felt it unnecessary. Many people disagree with the use of hejab in a comedy show, viewing it as a prop. But the point is to break stereotypes: how can you disrupt the image of a covered woman as oppressed and submissive when there are no veiled sisters doing comedy?

Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of people who disagree with this comedy, many of them Muslims. Preacher Moss, in the altmuslim.com interview, admits, “Yeah, the fiercest critics of our product have been Muslims.” Many Muslims who have not seen the comedy tours view them as haraam (or forbidden) because they assume the comedy’s purpose is to make fun of Islam.

However, in my view, laughter is a good way to break boundaries. Obviously, it can’t be the only thing; we run the risk of becoming the stereotypes we poke fun at. But laughter is a great place to start. If you haven’t seen them, both comedy tours should both be available on your NetFlix: queue ‘em up already!

Fearing the “Other” Is Politically Profitable: Iran, Islamo-Fascism and the Pursuit of Truth

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

The whispers about Iran are starting to become more numerous to ignore. The same whispers continue in hushed tones about Islamo-Fascism, hatred of freedom, and the need to do something.

Do what, I wonder? Bomb more people?

But the whispers grow in volume every day. So, to try to make sense of it all, I began to read.

I read an interesting Q & A on Pop & Politics about Islamo-Fascism.

(Fabulous moment of semi-irony: David Horowitz defending Ann Coulter by saying “Why should anybody in America, whose democratic culture is based on the pluralism of ideas, be offended by a religious belief?” Yes, David, why should they be offended by a religious belief? And why would they decide to be actively offensive toward those who hold other beliefs?)

This appeared the same day I read a Washington Post hosted chat about a PBS program I missed on the whole Iran situation.

Pop and Politics has also been covering some of the issues surrounding some of this othering and the issues surrounding the Bush Administration’s newest target – Iran:

In the Path to Iran, Chris Nelson briefly summarizes Seymour M. Hirsch’s article on the Bush Administration and the next target:

In sum, the war in Iraq is now being redefined— years too late and for ulterior motives— as in fact a strategic conflict with Iran. But blaming Iran for the humiliating U.S. failure in Iraq is merely the latest rhetorical approach to persuade Americans of the need to bomb Tehran, according to Hirsch.

In another post, P & P discussed one of Ann Coulter’s recent speaking engagements in honor of Islamo-Fascism Awareness week:

Ann Coulter descended on USC campus to promote her new book last week as part of the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Islamo-Facism Awareness Week.” While speaking to a crowd of about 230 fans at the Annenberg School, she offered equal doses of anti-liberal tirade and inflammatory discourse on the world beyond these amber waves of grain.

“Eschewing debate, I would turn to inflicting horrible physical pain. That seems to change people’s minds,” Coulter said when asked during the Q&A if she believed that “very vigorous intellectual debate could perhaps change [Islamo-Fascist’s] views against using violence to spread religion?”

“Who would have thought the Japanese were governable? A few well-placed nuclear bombs and they’ve been gentle little lambs ever since,” was how she followed-up the “horrible physical pain” plan for Islamo-Fascists. Continue reading

Propaganda week

newsweek pakistan yellow peril xenophobia

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

This scare story was loaded with terrorism hype. By the time I finished the story, it seemed like jihadis were on the verge of overrunning not only Islamabad but India too. And yet with all the advantages of Musharraf’s rigging, Islamist parties crested at a tiny minority of votes in the last election.

Check out the photos in the print edition, all foreboding black and white like a cheesy re-enactment by a TV crime show:

  • Cover: Scary, screaming, bearded man
  • First photo: Bleeding man lying on road, pierced with shrapnel from the Bhutto attack, looking directly at the camera. This is the kind of gruesome verité the American media refuse to show about Americans at home or American soldiers in Iraq, but think it perfectly acceptable to show about those not like us. I’m in favor of showing it all, not this disgusting double standard.
  • Second: Osama bin Laden t-shirt vendor
  • Third: Bullet-pocked walls
  • Fourth: Street scene with signs in Urdu / Arabic script
  • Fifth: Bearded mullah and a Koran

Here’s the thing — it’s a milestone that the media are beginning to drop the artificial he-says-she-says between India and Pakistan. They’re beginning to report the ISI and Pakistani military’s continued support of terrorism, and the fact that Islamists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are far more dangerous than was the tinpot dictator of Iraq. Some of the content of the story is excellent.

But its packaging and tone are yellow journalism at its worst, ignoring everyday life in Pakistan and puffing up a tiny circle of jihadists using the trashiest techniques of propaganda.

Rendition humanizes Arabs

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

The new movie Rendition is more interesting for what it is than how it runs. It’s the first fictional film about the U.S. kidnapping-and-torture program, which began under Clinton but was expanded massively under Bush. It’s the first mainstream movie I’ve seen which gives Arabs and Arabic large amounts of humanizing screen time (the protagonist is an Egyptian-American who went to college in the States). And it’s the latest in this year’s wave of whistleblower movies against Dubya’s assault on American liberty.

Mired in noble savage stereotypes, the movie is more earnest than subtle. Moa Khouas, the Arab Romeo, looks like a brown James Franco, but most of the Arab characters are more archetypes than people.

The plot’s central Capulets and Montagues romantic coincidence is Rushdie-esque, a synthetic conceit for the sake of a more interesting story. It’s not a bad movie, just a slow and obvious one, never more so than in a scene where the magnetic Peter Sarsgaard needles CIA muckamuck Meryl Streep with the Constitution, and she responds with 9/11.

The movie is A Mighty Heart in reverse, where the kidnappers are the U.S. government rather than Al Qaeda terrorists. You’ve got the same pretty, pregnant wife embedded in a labyrinthine search for her handsome, intelligent husband. Reese Witherspoon isn’t given much screen direction beyond playing a grieving wife. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character may be suffering from post-traumatic stress sufferer, but the actor sleepwalks through the movie.

This movie was directed by Gavin Hood, the South African who did Tsotsi. The plotting uses the now-familiar Rashomon device of connecting subplots via a single climactic event. One of the subplots is unexpectedly time-shifted, which is great fun.

But the real-life issue is far more significant than the film: the president claims he can legally kidnap anyone around the world, jail him forever without trial, witness or evidence, and have him tortured. It shocks the conscience. Here’s an actual Dubya quote. I can’t figure out whether it’s duplicitous or just feeble-minded:

Q: What’s your definition of the word ‘torture’?

Dubya: That’s defined in U.S. law, and we don’t torture.

Q: Can you give me your version of it, sir?

Dubya: Whatever the law says. [Link]

With no sunlight and no trial, mistakes are inevitable:

  • We had Maher Arar wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to take him off the no-fly list.
  • We had Khaled al-Masri wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to pay him compensation.
  • We threatened to have the innocent Abdallah Higazy’s family tortured in Egypt:

… [The FBI agent] told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” … [The agent] knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country… probably about torture, sure…” [Higazy said:] “Saddam’s security force–as they later on were called his henchmen–a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; torture, rape…” [Link]

And to think America was founded precisely because of this kind of limp-dickery.