Tag Archives: veiling

The Infamous Minaret Ban Campaign

The psuedo-feminist slant on the Swiss campaign to ban the contruction of minarets represents the worst of so many things, including western portrayal of hijab. 

The commonly-used campaign art shows a truly frightening woman cloaked in harsh black.  She is wearing the naquib, meaning that with the exception of her eyes,  her entire face is covered. 

This is exactly the sort of propaganda that makes western people afraid of and fascinated by the hijab.  So many Muslim women observe hijab without looking dark and scary.  There are also those who are Muslim without observing hijab, or at least not observing it in such a way that we would recognize.  

The poster is misleading in so many ways.  What, precisely, does a woman in hijab have to do with the construction of minarets?  And really, Switzerland, the 5% of your population that is Muslim is really going to inundate your country with minarets?  That’s impresive since last time I checked there were only four minarets in the entire country. 

I am disgusted that feminist ideals were co-opted in order to frighten women into thinking that minarets are giant phallic symbols of Muslim men’s power over (currently) Muslim and (coming soon!) Christian women.  I am also disgusted that people fell for it, and in droves.  There is no logical reason to have a woman in a rather offensive portrayal of hijab on this poster other than to frighten non-Muslims. 

Many articles reacting to the vote have taken an apologetic tone, noting that it’s simply unfortunate that Muslims claim the role of “unknown” for the Swiss to fear.  Switzerland’s voting population is extraordinarily well educated, and I find it disingenuous to excuse their behavior out of ignorance.  Let’s cut the crap, western media.  Europe has shown that it still has a racist side, and that side has a penchant for hating on Arabs and Muslims.  This wasn’t a silly little mistake whereby the Swiss population was confused by glossy photos, this is a demonstration of just how very peachy the Swiss find discrimination. 

Another disturbing aspect of the discourse on the referendum is this idea that minarets will somehow change Switzerland.  This is, at its core, another attempt to frame Muslims as other, regardless of their citizenship.  As one woman is quoted as saying in the Times,

Before you know it, we’ll have sharia law and women being stoned to death in our streets. We won’t be Swiss any more.”

This of course strongly implies that being Swiss and being Muslim are mutually exclusive, and that being a practicing Muslim necessarily includes sharia law and stoning women.  The attempts to tie the religion to an unknown (but thoroughly frightening) political agenda (which allegedly Jews and Christians don’t have?  Since when?) are tenuous at best, and yet still wildly successful at their worst. 

The UNA’s simulation this past weekend of the Council of the EU (which discussed the ascension of Turkey) witnessed similarly disgusting  ideas, with many delegates citing the “cultural” differences between Europe and Turkey as reason alone to slam the door.  Apparently, they forgot the segments of their own population who have genes from outside of Europe, or that the Ottoman Empire was considered a major European player.  While the delegates were all (sadly) rather on-policy, I’m not at all convinced it was because they did their research. 

Rather, I think many of those students, like many Americans, like to think that Italians are Italian, and that there are no black or Asian people in Britain.  It never ceases to amaze me how very many Americans will remark with surprise when they meet a black Brit.  We do not have the market cornered on diversity, and we certainly don’t have it cornered on making the diverse among us feel marginalized, either. 

Thanks for reminding us, Switzerland. 

For a more all-encompassing, scholarly/political take on the Swiss ban, I direct you, of course, to Khalid, the eponymous Moor Next Door.

The F Word

I have a love/hate relationship with feminism.  Not the ideal, but the term, and some of the people who use or abuse it. 

Feminism has become a dirty word.  It was never all that popular to begin with, but the last decade of two have not been kind on feminism.  You may recall when a guy friend reassured a smart, female friend of mine that she wasn’t a feminist, with the same look and tone of pity reserved for telling people that they’re not stupid or fat.  I could have clocked him.  I have always been a feminist, of course, but unlike Janine I rarely use the word.  In certain company I have found that people often write me off and stop listening. 

Certain old acquantainces, and one in particular, soured me on the term.  They were rabid and illogical in their arguments, and focused in on nonsense like the use of gendered pronouns in text books.  This sort of behavior makes me want to yank my hair out and scream.  What about FGM?!  What about girls who can’t go to school?!  What is WRONG with you people?!

Often, though, if you react like this there will be backlash.  Naomi Wolf from the Huffington Post experienced this when she suggested that many Arabs believe western outrage should be focused on honor killings or civil and political rights, instead of just the hijab.  I’ve whined before about how western people fixate on the hijab, giving undue attention to something far less disturbing than rape, , terrible divorce laws and political inequality.  These are just a few of the issues facing modern Arab women. 

So-called feminists like the ones who railed against Wolf should be educating themselves or mobilising the public on topics like FGM and divorced women who aren’t allowed to see their children.  Instead, they only detract from the cause, like a fanatic from any group. 

It’s high time we make feminism, the belief that all people are equal regardless of gender, something to be proud of.  So ignore the use of the term chairman instead of chairperson, and focus on girls who lack access to education, or mothers who lack access to adequate and culturally senstive birthing facilities

‘Feminist’ is not a synonym for ‘bitter, illogical woman’ or ‘raving lunatic.’  So quit acting like it.

Uniform

Some arguments I was told in favor of the hijab:

  • I don’t have to worry what my hair looks like
  • People pay attention to what I have to say, not what I look like
  • I focus more on what’s important, not my looks
  • I respect myself, so others respect me

Notice anything?

It’s the same arguments we use for school uniforms or same-sex education.  This is one of my favorite realizations from Egypt.  I love the idea that even though most Americans are taught to hate the concept of hijab outright as oppression, it is entirely relatable to us in a way that is deemed socially acceptable.

Declaration of Intention

I had a blast writing this blog, and in egypt in general.  Originally, I started this one specifically for the trip, to be grandparent- and Bridgiebear-friendly as well as to calm the collective nerves of my family.  In the meantime though, I had lots to say (shocking) that had nothing to do with the trip, so I started a separate blog. 

At this point, the necessity of separating the two doesn’t really exist.  There’s nothing profane on either blog, and I don’t want this one to die.  Increasingly posts of one type are bleeding into the other, as the Egypt experience invairably colored everything I do.  I like wordpress far better (it shows me stats so I know how I’m doing; the other blog is on blogger) and I’ve already distributed this link to most of the people who matter in my life.  So I’m keeping this one and transferring the best of my other blog to here. 

So what will I write about now?  Well, I plan to continue travelling as well as learning about the Middle East, Arabic language and culture and international politics, so there will be some of that.  I’ve also assigned myself some homework (i’m on coop and miss school cuz i’m a nerd) and i’ll be keeping up with that here.  Basically, I don’t feel done with my research about women’s clothing.  I have started expanding the paper, and that will be reflected in various posts here. 

So I hope you keep reading–there will be plenty of stuff, new and old, coming down the pike!

Ana Sitt, Hear Me Roar!

The last dayof the AWO Arab-Western Youth Dialogue was far more productive.  I’m not sure if it was the added (and forbidden) social aspect that fired up the Americans, or maybe we were just pushed to the limit.  The ladies especially were all in, and it was great.  Nana made a rousing speech that garnered quite the round of applause.

I met a guy who overheard me say something in French.  Many of the Arab youth speak it, and for saudeeqee (my friend) Billel, it’s his first language.  Once he realized I’m decent at it, we hung out and jabbered away in French as fast as I could handle.  The next day, he came over to ask me a question about women’s wages in America.  He asked if I would answer in front of the group during his presentation, and I obliged.  All of this was in French of course, as was the question and answer in front of the entire group.  I answered in English first, but he wanted to know what I said so I explained it in French as well.  Apparently everyone, Arab and American alike, had underestimated my ability with French.  For the rest of the conference the Arabs knew me as the girl who can speak French, and many approached me at random to chat and test me a wee bit.  As for my own group, I guess they thought I was BSing, or that my version of “speaking french” means “I took it in high school and fell asleep a lot in class.”  My roommate Janine said she felt like it was a different person, hearing such foreign (but pretty) things coming out of my mouth.

It was great to practice my French a lot because it pushed me and also validated me.  It’s not quite as disheartening to stumble through Arabic when I have confidence in other languages.

Throughout the weekend we were so incredibly sheltered.  A quick google search of the Arab participants would tell you why–they were all chosen based on experience with America and connection to the government.  We’re already a target as 30 Americans, but when you add 30 affluent Arabs to the mix it means we are swarmed by security and kept in the most gorgeous playpen you could ever imagine.  Unfortunately, this resulted in the cancellation of most of our site visits :(.

PS if you didnt figure it out, the title is arabeezy (3raby and ingleezy)for I am woman, hear me roar

Iskandria

I am writing this from the beach on the Med Sea, a few feet from my hotel room in what used to be a palace.  Yeah.  It’s amazing, and I could also not possibly get more out of touch with real Egyptian society.  The Arab Women’s Organization (AWO) is paying for it, which means the first ladies of the Arab League are paying for it.  All expenses are paid, although the food is not always great.  Tonight an entire fish watched me as I tried to eat it.  I should’ve told them I’m vegetarian.

We’re here to dialogue with students from around the Arab world about women’s issues.  We are in groups based on topic, mine being Social issues, and within that we break the topic down even more, working with Arab counterparts as well as our entire group on the topic of Social as a whole.

There is definietly an interesting exchage of ideas.  I had to bite my tongue while it was explained to me that “according to science,” a woman has enough hormones in one strand of hair to attract a man (it’s beyond his control).  Therefore, to go with hair uncovered would be immodest and an invitation for sexual attention.  Any woman who got any of that attention would deserve whatever she got.  Yeah.

Dating was another interesting topic.  Apparently, women shouldn’t be with more than one man because if their husband doesn’t measure up, they will actually want to be satisfied and might cheat or divorce him.  We then discussed this great plague of the United States: single mothers.  The Arab youth at this conference were foaming at the mouth to talk about it, so I can only assume they recieved some sort of lecture or all read the same article.  They were baffled and saddened by this horror, and couldnt not comprehend what a woman in the US with a child (but no husband) does.  In their culture, if your husband dies or there’s a divorce, there’s a clear chain of command for guardianship, with the male guardian dealing with the woman’s fiscal responsibilities.  The idea that the woman simply works, raises her child and relies on friends and family to help when they can (they referred to this as charity) was thoroughly foreign.

At this point in my annoyed rant, I must explain something.  These people were not chosen by accident.  By and large, they are all very wealthy and have a personal connection to the government that sent them here.  Googling their last names is outrageous.  The level of honesty is not great, but they also live different lives than many of their countrymen.  That being said, we were able to have interesting discussion on many controversial issues.  This was simply my first real encounter with people who so thoroughly disagree with things that I consider a given.

Tomorrow we continue the conference with the stating of opinions and what we’ve learned, followed by q&a.  That means we will either moderate ourselves or face the firing squad, which is why I’m procrastinating about my paper right now.

Our hotel is essentially a compound.  There is an on-site mosque, a giant beach, a pier or two, a swimming pool, several discotheques, a restaurant or two, a bank, a barbershop, a jewelry store and enough room for a wedding.  We take the bus everywhere, even if it’s only a few km away.  We are scheduled every day from 9am to 10pm, with dialogues, tours and food food food!  It’s delicious, and we’re all gaining back the weight we lost in Cairo.  Unfortunately, though, I don’t feel that I’m getting to know Alex.  Sadly, most of our group has fallen in love with the place, the least Egyptian (and most European) city we’ve visited thus far.  Alexander the great (hence the name) made it into a Greek heliopolis, and in the early- to mid-1900s a mass of ex-pats ensured that the architecture, art and culture of the city was thoroughly European.  While the regume change may have caused a mass exodus, the influence remains (as far as I can see.)  I hope to get out and explore the place a bit, especially since we keep driving past amazing murals, sculptures and installation art.

I don’t understand the purpose of bringing us to this city and this hotel if we can’t fully experience either.  Even within the conference, the aims of the AWO seem scattered.  The AWO seeks to…further women?  without obligation, of course, as it is a subsidiary of the Arab League.  It’s too bad the dialogue isn’t honest and personal relationships aren’t encouraged, or else some real cultural exchange might take place.

Trouble in the Suez

We spent Friday at the Red Sea, swimming and hanging out at a resort.  We then went to the suez canal in the evening.  I couldn’t believe how intensely blue the water was, especially in contrast with the dessert and mountains that surrounded it.  The sea was warm and pretty calm, with tons of corral and amazing shells everywhere.

red sea

Of course, we are always students, and today was no exception.  In addition to reading our third book, I did some observation for my research, and stealthily took creeper pictures.  In various stores I had already encountered varied bathing suits, but it was interesting to see it in action.  Some women swim in all of their clothing, and many don’t swim at all.  Some wear suits that cover to their wrists and ankles.  In general, there are far more bathing suits available that are modest and almost all of them have a skirt component, which often comes to the knee.

It was comforting to see that the beach is universal.  Kids playing at the beach are always kids at the beach.  They swim, fight, toss a ball around, collect shells and make sandcastles.   Actually, that’s pretty much what we did.

Abduh came with us, which was awesome.  He played volleyball with the guys against a team of Egyptians.  Team USA wiped the floor with them, but it was no Harlangro game.  Had ladies been allowed to play I would’ve shown our guys up (except for Abduh).  Apparently years of soccer training didn’t teach them that it’s best if you keep the ball in-bounds on a serve.

volleyball

On the whole, this was a phenomenal use of a day off.  I got coated in salt, but after a day at the beach (no sunburn!  woohoo) and a 10 pm bedtime, I felt recharged.  Of course, today’s events wore me out again, but what can you do?  We have less than three weeks left, and it’s time to start cramming everything in!