My project is about Muslim women; the problem with the representation of Muslims and in particular Muslim women is not that they are not represented but how they are represented. In a post 9/11 world the coverage of Muslim and Islamic cultures has erupted. The media internationally but primarily in the United States and Europe have latched on to chance circumstances that are unjust and cruel and painted that as a reality for the Muslim world. It has labeled Islam as a backwards and fundamentalist religion; as oppressive and cruel to women. Within this narrative all Muslims are clumped together as have one experience, one opinion, and one way of practicing Islam. It homogenizes women who wear the veil or women who identify as Muslim, regardless of national, racial, ethnic, academic, or any other characterizing feature. Although this issue is present in every day media, there are a few specific examples that demonstrate the media distortion of the Issue.
Main stream media
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhe8uafs5IE ; “she ought to be imprisoned for wearing a hijab” “we should not let Muslim students in the country” “1.5 million people who are Muslims want to kill us”
While this is FoxNews and, perhaps not something that the majority of us listen to, the commentary made here is just a sample of the everyday commentary that has been visible post 9/11. FoxNews is perhaps more dramatic than other news outlets, less covert, yet these sentiments are those that run throughout news organizations. These organizations categorize Muslims, whether blatantly or overtly, into a category of the “other”; one who should be feared. The idea of the turban, the veil, the terrorist and the other is already engrained in our head. Technological advancements make it possible for the images of the veil as “bad”, “evil” and “danger” to be thrown at us all the time. On TV, in the news, on the internet, wherever one looks this singular description of people that look different is prescribed. The logic embedded is deeply racialized and cannot be changed. The image of the turban and the veil (or the “other”) is already everywhere; those who veil and wear turbans are not always Muslim, in many ways the whole of the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia have been homogenized and mixed to form a singular perception. The media depiction translates into the everyday; the misconceptions result in abuse and incorrect beliefs on the religion of Islam.
“If you go to the corner of a busy Canadian street and ask ‘what is your image of a Muslim woman?’ I know the answer will be: ‘covered up, unthinking, oppressed’. It is a constant barrier that you have to fight through, to come to an understanding of the person.”
“I asked a resident from Parramatta, who wished to be kept anonymous if “the September 11th bombings altered their mind about Islam and Muslim women?” He said “I never knew Islam and the Qur’an preached terrorism. It has made me aware of Islam and the teachings. It increased my awareness of the complexities of Islam and politics in the Middle East including the veiling of Muslim women””
Characterization of Women:
“veil as a costume” ; makes them “invisible to others”
The everyday discourse of banning the veil, calling it a costume, banning it etc, is systematically creating the veil as an object that signifies the other. The disregard for not only the religious significance, but also the different significances that the veil can have, homogenizes a very complex and personal issue.
“War on Terror”
This mentality of the United States or “white men” saving Muslim or “brown women” in the countries that we invade are prevalent. These issues (three examples out of many) point to ways the western media typically characterizes Muslim women for a few reasons. There is a tendency to make it seem as if they are oppressed and face continual violence, although violent incidents happen, they happen everywhere, the fixation on the particularly brutal episodes within countries that the United States currently occupies helps frame the issue around violence against those countries as something that is saving women. For example, First Lady Laura Bush in a radio address on November 17, 2001 stated: “The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women”. By making it seem like we are “saving the women” by overthrowing their governments or “de-veiling: them, it helps justify the “war on terror”. Simlarly the way the media reacts to (the way that they have constructed) Malala Yousafzai versus the way the react to another young Muslim girl, is very different; as the articles below discuss. Additionally, the famous TIME magazine cover of Aisha with the subtitle what happens if we leave Afghanistan clearly links a veiled, abused girl, with Afghanistan. Muslim women have been constantly used as a tool to manipulate the American public into thinking that war is for saving women. Besides the fact that the “war” was not about that at all; who are we to judge who needs to be saved? What information are we not receiving, how many women and children have been killed or harmed by drone strikes and accidental Incidents?
Examples of social media change campaigns.
All of the campaigns below attempt to complicate and diversify the issue of the Muslim women and the way she is perceived in society. The two larger aggregate blogs are long term informative projects that take and turn around reporting and information of Muslims in the world, and provide a platform for Muslims and in particular Muslim women to have a voice in the larger media context. The other campaigns are more personal and reflective, in an attempt to get any other story out there; some (such as the cartoon) are short commentaries perhaps, on the hypocrisies that exist within the traditional western framing of Muslim women.