Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women

Just read this interesting article by Nada Elia, called “Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women” (2006). Some of her main points (my thoughts in Italics):

– The impulse to save Muslim women from their male kin pervades various social and political movements in the US. Even in the 21st century, Western feminism retains its highly exploitative approach to other women.

This is true, I think Western feminism, while arguing for equal rights between sexes, is promoting a racist agenda. Just by assuming that Muslim women need to be “saved”, they are saying something about the inability of Muslim women to help themselves.

– The confluence of church and state, with the presidential worldview today of embracing Christianity and Zionism, is a lethal mix for Arabs and Arab Americans, who are perceived as the quintessential enemy. As it predates 9/11, this rejection cannot be attributed to the trauma of the terrorist attacks, and is quite clearly based in religious intolerance, the assumption that Arabs are irrevocably “other” because they are Muslim, aliens in this Judeo-Christian culture.

This is definitely something I see in Holland now. The Muslim being seen as the “other”, and as so different from the Dutch and Dutch culture.

– It must be emphasized that a desire to improve women’s circumstances, here or abroad, has never characterized the Bush administration, Nevertheless, “women’s liberation” proved a convinient excuse to attack countries with which the US was already intent on going to war. At the same time, the centuries-old Western fascination with the veil, now readily visible on American streets, behind the steering wheels of American SUVs, in American malls, and in American college classrooms, was jolted into renewed life.

I still remember that one of the MAIN reasons for going to war with Afghanistan seemed to be “saving the women”. Don’t you remember all the photos of women in burqa’s all over the media, as if that gave some sort of legitimacy to what the government was about to do? All the books that suddenly came out about women escaping, women being freed, and how horrible the men in Afghanistan were. Yes, the Taliban WERE horrible. But don’t use that as an excuse and a cover-up for war.

– The failure to identify racism and religious intolerance as a major social wrong in the US closely parallels mainstream Western feminism’s failure to identify many Arab women’s oppressors in their home countries. Thus many “progressive feminists” fail to acknowledge that Palestinian women’s freedom of movement, their freedom to vote, to obtain an education and access to health care, and the basic right to have a roof over their heads in their own historic homeland, is denied to them not by Arab men, but by the Israeli occupier.

This is a good point. In Iraq – do you think it is more important for women to have security and be able to leave their house without risking getting killed; or to be able to have freedom of speech? Yes they shouldn’t have to choose. But I feel that a lot of women would choose security for them and their families.

– And while the West favours Arab women writers over their male compatriots, even among female authors, those denouncing Islam are favoured over those denouncing the occupation of their country by Israeli and American troops.

Look at any bookshelf anywhere.

– They (Arab American women) find themselves, in the opening decades of the 21st century, following centuries of Arab presence in the US, still explaining the most basic aspects of their culture, still refuting egregious stereotypes, still on the defensive.

Something I’ve experienced here in Holland. I find that while I know about the basics of other religions, many people don’t know or don’t understand the basics of mine – not because the information is not out there, but because it seems to be easier to believe something controversial than something that makes sense.
And I think as a Muslim, you’ve probably experienced being on the defensive at one point or another – not a nice feeling.

Overall I liked the article, although she did make some big claims that she didn’t back up well. This was written during Bush’s reign so I wonder if things have changed under Obama?


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