Friday, October 22, 2010

Overcoming Prejudices Against Muslims?

Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker, really gets on my nerves. The first time she did, she accused Obama of not being 'manly' enough.

This time, she's arguing that we are overreacting to prejudices against Muslims, rather than trying to talk through it and overcome our prejudices. She's speaking specifically regarding comments made by (former) NPR analyst Juan Williams about how he gets nervous sitting next to presumed Muslims on airplanes, and about Bill O'Reilly's recent comments on The View that "Muslims killed us on 9/11."

I do agree with her in the sense that yes, we should be able to talk about our prejudices. I really do think that's the only way we can get over them. Most of the time we don't even recognize the prejudices we have, or why it is we have them. These are things that need to be addressed.

But were these overreactions? No. What Kathleen Parker doesn't understand is the effect that these comments and beliefs have on the people they are directed towards. It's as simple as trying to step in someone else's shoes for the day. How would you feel if someone you were sitting next to on an airplane didn't feel comfortable next to you because you "looked" like a potential terrorist? And this may not necessarily even be what you are wearing, but it could be the color of your skin, or what your name is. So no, it's not an overreaction, because it is placing the blame on people who aren't responsible for your prejudices.

Also, the language that she uses throughout her piece shows her lack of understanding of Islam and the difference between culture and religion. She otherizes Muslims by using phrases like "Muslim attire," and using the word "Allah" rather than God.

First of all, what is "Muslim attire?" Is it shalwar kameez, as common in Pakistan? Is it the thobe seen in Saudi Arabia? Is it all clothing that we seen worn in Muslim-majority countries? What about the religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries that wear the same clothes as Muslims in their country? Is it still considered "Muslim attire" then? What about Muslims in the West that wear western clothing? And of course, the hijab. That is likely a giveaway, isn't it? But what about in countries wear the hijab is mandatory (ex: Iran), and is not necessarily a sign of piety, or of adhering to Islam at all? Clothing in these examples is more about culture, not religion. The point is, she (although she is explaining Williams' comments, she still uses this in her own words) is making assumptions about how to identify a Muslim based on clothing, when they may not necessarily be an indicator.

Next, she uses "Allah" instead of God. Most people (including Parker, apparently) don't realize that "Allah" is merely the Arabic word for God. Arab Christians (gasps! yes, they exist), pray to Allah as well. According to Islam, God is the same in all three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), but this idea has not been so readily accepted by Christians. So, when we hear Christians (or even non-Christians, but perhaps just Westerners in general) continually referring to "Allah," when referring to the "Muslim God," it only reflects either a lack of understanding of both the word itself and the concept of God in Abrahamic traditions, or an unwillingness to accept the similarities between Islam and Christianity. (I am only referring to Christianity because this is where it has been the biggest issue, at least to my knowledge).

The point is, Parker's choice of language reflects an 'us vs. them' attitude and demonstrates either her lack of understanding of Islam, or her unwillingness to dismantle the religious hierarchy that she is perpetuating.

So yes, I agree that we do need to engage in dialogue if we ever want to overcome our prejudices. But at the same time, that doesn't mean we can dismiss these incidents as "overreactions." Doing so only permits the idea that it is ok that these prejudices exist, and as long as we keep doing that, it will be difficult to overcome them.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gender and Politics

A recent Washington Post article details several incidents lately in which congressional and gubernatorial candidates have accused their opponents of not being ‘manly’ enough.

Then-Republican senatorial primary candidate Christine O’Donnell told her opponent Representative Mike Castle that “this is not a bake-off - get your man-pants on.” Similarly, Jane Norton, Republican senatorial primary candidate, accused her opponent of “not being man enough” to do his own bidding. This has also been true among men, such as when Carl Paladino accused his opponent of not having “cojones” to face him in a debate.

All these comments demonstrate not only how there is a certain ideal of masculinity that men need to live up to, but also it is necessary to have in politics. By accusing other men of not being “manly” enough, it is a direct attempt in emasculating a man. This way, politicians are reinforcing the idea of the necessity of a specific form of masculinity—strength and bravery—and subsequently discouraging voters from supporting them by shaming them for “failing” to live up to this ideal.

Masculinity is something that is constantly changing and taking new forms. Where it was once only acceptable for men to be the main breadwinner and let women maintain the household and the family, there is now increasing support for men to take more responsibilities within the family, that this is the new masculine ideal.

With this in mind, we can see how masculinity is shaped and reshaped in order to put pressure on men. Whereas there are more varied forms of acceptable femininity (although women also face criticism for stepping outside of typical gender roles, outside of the home), this is not as true for men. If a man is unable to prove himself as “manly,” he will be ridiculed as weak and feminine.

As the public sphere is generally a man’s world, especially in politics, anyone that is not masculine enough—strong, unemotional, rational, and brave—will not be accepted. This is seen with the above accusations, in attempt to get rid of anybody that does not fit.

As we can see, women perpetuate cycle. Women in politics often have more to prove than men do, since they are stepping out of the private sphere and into the public sphere, where they have not always belonged and so still struggle to fit in to. By accusing men of not being “manly” enough, women are able to not only show that they can play the same games in a man’s world, but also they also reinforce the idea that there is one certain masculinity that men must live up to, or else they will not be suited for the world of politics.

This just goes to show how deeply embedded gender is in our society, and until we are able to live in a gender-free world, it will continue to be the case that one’s assumed capability for being in public office is not based on actual credentials or leadership skills, but rather on meaningless gender stereotypes that maintain the superiority of masculine over feminine. While gender neutrality is ideal, it is nevertheless difficult to resist, and when we do resist, we are punished. Men are punished for not being “manly” enough, and women for not being “feminine” enough. Gender resistance may vary in how they affect political candidates, but if nothing else it is used as a weapon in attacking one’s character and potential as a politician.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New form of dating violence: text messaging

Wrote this a few months ago and it's shorter than it would be ordinarily, since I was going to send it into a blog but never did...

A recent Washington Post article ( describes how text messaging is being used as a form of harassment among dating couples. Jealous partners will text their significant others at all times of day and night to find out what they are doing, who they are with, or simply to demand attention. They do so repeatedly; in one case in the article, a woman would receive up to 30 messages at a time from her boyfriend. Similar stories have surfaced, and have resulted in death.

As the article suggests, because texts are easier to hide, it makes it more difficult to know about the problem and help the victim. This is only more reason to find programs that prevent these situations in the first place. There are two basic approaches to reaching young people directly: addressing the potential perpetrator, or addressing the potential victim.

While the mainstream media tends to blame the victim in gender-based violence—i.e. a woman walking alone at night is at fault for taking such a “risk”—feminists fight to ensure that perpetrators receive the blame they deserve. Going along with this, it is important to understand how victims (most often women) end up in abusive relationships to begin with. Although a relationship may not be physically abusive, constant harassment and threats is also a form of abuse.

Women and girls grow up surrounded by a society that essentially persuades them to seek male approval. In other words, we are taught that we are only beautiful if we are able to get a boyfriend. This is at least partially to blame for how women and girls get into abusive relationships—because they want to fit in, no matter the cost. To make matters worse, it is even more difficult to leave an abusive relationship.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Coming Soon!

Blog is soon to be resurrected!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mixed Race and Out of Place

What is it like to be of mixed race? (And I don't mean way-back-in-my-family-history sort of mixed race, but mixed race as in one parent of one race, the other parent of another). No, it's not always easy. No, I am constantly "confused" about my identity (I know exactly what I am, it's how other people perceive it that is the problem). And yes, I do enjoy it despite everything.

There are two levels to my personal experiences: race as related to culture and lifestyle, and race as related to outward appearance.

Regarding race as related to culture and lifestyle, I feel out of place because each of my sides live their lives differently, neither of which exactly fit me. A lot of people don't understand when I say I feel like I don't fit in anywhere. I guess it is hard to understand unless you personally experience it or witness someone else experiencing it. It's kind of like straddling two worlds and wishing someone else had the same combination. In this sense, it's similar to immigrants coming to the United States, and having children growing up surrounded by the American way of life but also surrounded by a family that lives in a different way and has different beliefs. It's not unlike Anzaldua's "mestiza consciousness," where she straddles two worlds and so creates a third identity to reconcile them. If you hang out with one side, they're kind of like you in some sense, but not fully, and same with the other side. In my case, I can hang out with other Muslims because they also don't drink (which is something you don't always get on the other side), but I still don't quite fit in because I didn't grow up going to the mosque for Sunday school (only for a couple years) so sometimes people will talk about things that I have absolutely no clue about. And my lifestyle choices are not always the same because while the traditional thing to do is have an arranged marriage (though this isn't always the case anymore), it's something I definitely would never do. But on the other side, it's the same thing: in some ways you fit in, but in some ways you don't. But, this isn't always to do with race, it's just the culture that comes along with the race, so as I said earlier, this is something that is experienced by children of immigrants living in the US, and people of a certain religion that aren't as "religious" as others in the same religion. So, this point isn't necessarily about race exclusively.

But regarding race specifically, there are some challenges as well. It's frustrating when people label me as "white" just because I'm light-skinned. I mean I guess it's a fair assumption to make, especially from afar, but if you compare me to a true "white girl" there are significant differences, so it's not fair to label me as a person that I don't always have much in common with. People who do that have no idea who I really am, how I've been raised, and how I live my life. It's happened to me so much growing up that I internalized it. In my Race, Class, and Gender course 2 years ago, we had to write a Racial Identity Development paper in which we discussed our experiences of racialization throughout our lives. We first had to pick whether we identified ourselves as white or as a person of color. I immediately decided I was white (based on the white privileges I've had), but then thought twice after speaking with the professor and realizing I had experiences as a person of color also (since my name and facial features are often non-white indicators). So, after discussing this, I argued in my paper that I am sometimes white and sometimes a person of color, depending on the circumstance. This is not how I feel about myself (I just like to think I am ME), but rather how others have perceived me. Since the world doesn't do so well with these fuzzy in-between categories (we like to place people into categories, hence the black/white racial dichotomy) I am put to one category or another, but you can never be BOTH at once. (I mean hey, that's just asking for a little too much). It gets a little tiring when people try to tell you who you are. I remember when I was younger, some friends and I were all deciding which Disney princess we were most like. I thought that I was Belle from Beauty and the Beast (brown hair, light skin), but another girl told me I was Jasmine from Aladdin. Though she didn't state it blatantly, the underlying (subconscious) message she was sending was, "you're not white, you're brown." Um thank you, for explaining my identity to me.

When I was younger I always considered myself to be white. I don't know why, I felt more drawn to that side I suppose. It may possibly have something to do with internalizing how people perceived me, but I haven't explored that possibility fully just yet. But as I've gotten older I've tried (and struggled) to embrace both sides. As of now, I just consider myself to be ME (and my particular mix), rather than trying to say I identify with one side over the other (I really can't stand getting that question, it happens way too often).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Niqab/Burqa/Hijab in Islam

Al Jazeera English - Europe - French report calls for veil ban

The debate continues about banning the niqab in France, but there are many things about veiling that most people, including Muslims, don't understand. First of all, the issue of modesty as described in the Qur'an is vague. It encourages both women and men to dress modestly. The Qur'an states that:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty:
That will make for greater purity for them:
And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty;
That they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof;
That they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty..." (24:30-31) (

Here, both women and men are encouraged to dress and act modestly. Women are told to "draw their veils over their bosoms," but women at the time that Islam emerged wore veils and did not cover their breasts, so this verse was speaking specifically to that. It is not necessarily meant to be taken literally, but to be applied broadly for all places and all times to mean that we should dress modestly according to our time period. Nowhere does it say that women must cover their heads and faces. However, some women feel more comfortable wearing looser clothing (such as robes or looser-fitted western clothing) and covering their heads and faces. Is this a matter of internalized patriarchy or should women be allowed to choose to express their modesty in their own way?

Regarding Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet, pbuh), there is a Hadith that states that women should only show their face and hands. But the Hadith literature has often been found to be inauthentic because it relies on a long line of transmission. Many times the transmission is faulty because one person may have 'told' another person who was not even living at the same time, or they were passed along by misogynists who were simply stating their personal views. Therefore, it is difficult to rely on all Hadiths 100% of the time.

With regards to modesty in men, I have heard conflicting views as to a 'dress code.' I have heard that they are required to be covered from the navel to the knee, but I have never heard this from a reliable source and it could be fabricated at some point in history for all I know. I would be surprised if they are permitted to have their shirts off, though because we live in a patriarchal world, men are able to get away with so much more than women. Not that it is ever just one person's fault--patriarchy is a system that is perpetrated and sustained by both and men and women. Also, many men cover their heads while praying, but I have not been able to figure out why--presumably for the same purposes women are supposed to cover their heads while praying. Many men however, do not do so. This is an interesting issue to look into, one that probably stems back to the issue of modesty in men and how patriarchal cultures permit men to have more flexible rules.

In sum, the issue in France is much more complicated than most people realize. As Islam continues to progress socially, full coverings may eventually become regarded as unnecessary (though it may take several generations). However, changes will only come from within the religion, and imposing Western views on Islam will only continue to anger Muslims and will probably not amount to much. It will be interesting to see how this issue continues to play out in France and other non-Muslim majority countries.