winter 2015 vol 5 no 2
avicenna the stanford journal on muslim affairs
THE STANFORD JOURNAL ON MUSLIM AFFAIRS
avicenna THE STANFORD JOURNAL ON MUSLIM AFFAIRS
WINTER 2015 VOL 5 NO 2
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Sevde Kaldiroglu ’17 ASSOCIATE EDITORS Abdullah AlSharhan ’18 Ken-Ben Chao ’17 Bradley Wo ’17 Rifath Rashid ‘18 DESIGNERS Anna Zeng ’18 Motasim Zawawi ‘18 FINANCIAL OFFICER Samuel Jacobo ’17
To contact Avicenna Editorial Board or to send text or image submissions, please email at email@example.com. Avicenna—The Stanford Journal on Muslim Affairs would like to thank the ASSU Publications Board for their support. All images in this journal are in the public domain with Creative Commons copyright licenses unless otherwise noted. More information about these licences can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/. Front cover image, “Inside Sakhi Jan”, by Parwana Fayyaz ‘15. Back cover image, “Tiny Minstrel”, by Allison Mickel, PhD ‘16.
CONTENTS Editor’s Note SEVDE KALDIROGLU
A Greek and a Persian: Plato’s Influence on Ayatollah Khomeini ALINA UTRATA American Muslim Groups as “Native Informants” of NeoOrientalism: Essentialism, Reproduction, and Intellectual Manipulation MAHA ELGENAIDI
Redefining Calligraphy MOTASIM ZAWAWI
On “Ethics of Jihad” with Professor Alexander Key Interview by RIFATH RASHID
How to Grow Up Muslim in America Spoken Word by FARHAN KATHAWALA
Sheikh to Suicide Bomber: Understanding the Roots of the Contemporary Arab Stereotype in Hollywood CHRISTINA SCHICIANO To Climb a Wall Creative Nonfiction by MARIUM ABDUR RAHMAN
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Editor’s Note “I am not to make any comments. But I can write. Just as I write my fears, worries, dreams, and falls, I can write this action as well. Because writing is also an action.” In The Act of Writing (1995), Ferit Edgü, a renowned Turkish author, utters these candid words. Edgü highlights an important point: writing is also an action. Not to say that it is at least as powerful and effective as taking “action” by marching on the streets and joining protests. Perhaps the strikes the pen throws on the paper or the fingers hitting on the keys of the keyboard are not as harsh as the heels violently pounding the pavement; but writing walks forward with quieter yet firmer steps. Sometimes the murmurs the pen spits can be heard louder than the calls bouncing off the lips. What the pen produces is virtually a quiet noise; it is able to grate on the ear when necessary. Indeed the movement of the pen means action. The pen dances; writing moves, develops, improves. If writing were not an action, why have thousands of writers kept their noses to the grindstone and written for centuries? While people were motionlessly waiting for Godot, for the Barbarians or for fear, haven’t many Becketts, Coetzees and Atays taken action and written the meaninglessness of the situation? In that case, it is not right to limit the scope of action by the motion of limbs or the scope of impact by a tangible change. Some things must be written, the pen must always give voice to what the mind produces. Perhaps someone will read, perhaps someone will think, perhaps someone will awake: this is the only hope of the writer. Holding on to this “hope”, a group of Stanford students initiated Avicenna – The Stanford Journal on Muslim Affairs in 2011. Since then, through Avicenna, many students and scholars have partaken in this “action”; that is, they have used their pens as a medium through which to shed light on different aspects of the Muslim World and discuss critical issues pertaining to Muslims worldwide. Considering that there is a plethora of misinformed pens and voices out there when it comes to Muslim affairs, Avicenna’s existence is a humble yet crucial one: it fills the need to allow individuals from various backgrounds and beliefs to express different perspectives regarding the Muslim world, at a free, respectful, and academic space. Diversity is essential to the sustenance of the Journal. This can only be considered a humble attempt when one thinks of the extremely broad spectrum of Muslim cultures, lifestyles and perspectives all around the globe; yet, we still tried to emphasize and appreciate a diversity of perspectives in our Winter 2015 issue. For instance, Alina Utrata, in her article, offers an intriguing historical angle on how Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas regarding the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran were in fact influenced by Western philosopher Plato’s Republic. On another note, Maha Elgenaidi elaborates on the role of American Muslim groups in contributing to NeoOrientalism whereas Christina Schiciano delves into the roots of the contemporary Arab stereotype in Hollywood movies. You can also find in our Journal an interview with Professor Alexander Key by Rifath Rashid where Key talks about “The Ethics 4
of Jihad”, a quite popular class he is currently teaching at Stanford University. In the second issue of our fifth volume, we also tried to include a diversity of artistic perspectives in addition to our academic prose pieces. The issue features a spoken word piece by Farhan Kathawala where he addresses some of the struggles of growing up Muslim in America, and a creative nonfiction piece by Marium Abdur Rahman where she gives us a heartwarming account of a Pakistani-American girl’s adventure during the Pakistan Cricket Regionals. The issue also includes several wonderful photographs taken in Afghanistan and Bangladesh by Parwana Fayyaz, and in Egypt and Turkey by Allison Mickel. In addition, a calligraphy portfolio by Motasim Zawawi can be found in the middle four pages where the artist challenges traditional Arabic calligraphy rules and brings in his unique and innovative touch. I would like to thank every single member of my editorial team as well as each of our authors for all of their enthusiastic efforts to put this issue together. Before ending my editorial note, I would like to refer the following quote by Oğuz Atay, an acclaimed Turkish author whom I’ve always admired: “I’m here, dear reader. Where are you, I wonder?” As Avicenna Journal, we’re here; writing, discussing, and exploring matters pertaining to a mass of people constituting almost one fourth of the world population. And we know that you’re here, too; reading, discussing, exploring, and partaking in this meaningful action with us. We hope that you stay here, dear reader, and we hope you find as much pleasure in reading our Journal as we did in putting it together. Always here, Sevde Kaldiroglu ‘17 Editor-in-Chief
Sakhi Jan, Afghanistan (Photo by Parwana Fayyaz ‘15)
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A Greek and a Persian: Plato’s Influence on Ayatollah Khomeini Alina Utrata B.A. History ‘17, Stanford University In 1970, a group of seminary students published a series of lectures on the theory of Islamic government entitled Velayat e faqih or The Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. The author of these lectures was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini—the cleric who, only ten years later, would establish the Islamic Republic of Iran. In Velayat e faqih, Khomeini argued that while waiting for the return of the Madhi, the twelfth successor to the Prophet, a religious leader should be appointed caretaker of the state, “like the appointment of a guardian for a minor.”1 The perfect state, Khomeini preached, should be ruled by an Islamic jurist. This dream was realized in Iran in 1979, after popular protests toppled the secular regime of the Shah and Khomeini established an Islamic state. But shockingly, for a revolutionary who came to power riding the waves of anti-Western rhetoric, Khomeini’s description of the perfect state is almost identical to Plato’s Republic. Some scholars have noted in passing that there is a resemblance between Khomeini and Plato’s ideas. In The Theology of Discontent, Hamid Dabashi briefly mentioned that Khomeini’s conception of Islamic governance was essentially rule by a Platonic “philosopher king.”2 Beatrice Zelder remarked that “the answer to the philosophical context [of Khomeini’s] 1 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, “Velayat-e Faqeeh,” The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works: 34. 2 Hamid Dabashi, “Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran,” New York University Press, 1993: 413.
Islamic State . . . is Plato adapted to Islam.”3 These observations are exactly right. Plato and Khomeini both advocate for a state ruled by guardians based on the belief that humans will succumb to materialism and corruption without proper guidance. Khomeini, however, justifies and alters some aspects of Plato’s Republic with Islamic traditions in an attempt to reconcile the two. Khomeini had certainly read Plato. Time Magazine published an article on Khomeini in 1979 claiming that, in his youth, Khomeini was “fascinated with Aristotle and Plato, whose Republic provided the model for Khomeini’s concept of the Islamic republic.”4 Khomeini’s former students Javad Bahonar and Madhi Ha’iri Yazdi apparently revealed the influence of Plato on Khomeini’s thoughts in an interview with the Time reporter. Khomeini referenced one of Plato’s books, Timeaus, in his own book Kashf al-asrar or The Unveiling of Secrets.5 Although Khomeini never confirmed the exact nature of how he was influenced by Plato, it is clear that he had read the Greek philosopher in some depth. The strikingly similar perfect republics that Khomeini and Plato described are 3 Beatrice Zelder, “The Ayatollah Khomeini and His Concept of an Islamic Republic,” International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 21, Issue 1, 1981. 4 “Iran: The Unknown Ayatullah Khomeini,” Time, July 16, 1979. 5 Vanessa Martin, “Creating an Islamic State: Khomeini and the Making of a New Iran,” I.B. Tarius Publishers, 2000: Bibliography.
based on many shared assumptions about human nature and the role of the state. The two men both claimed that without the guidance of a proper government, people become corrupt. Plato dedicated an entire book in The Republic to bemoaning society without adequate government, calling it an awful state where the “tyrannical man . . . becomes drunken, lustful, passionate.”6 Similarly, Khomeini argued that without the proper authority “everybody would engage in oppressing and harming others for the sake of his own pleasures and interests.”7 To combat humanity’s inherent corruption, the two believed that the central tenant of a perfect state should be justice. Plato asserted in his teachings that “the subject of our inquiry is [justice]”8; in the same vein, Khomeini frequently reminded his readers that the Prophet Mohammad “had in mind a vast community that would undertake the establishment of justice.”9 Plato and Khomeini concurred: “cities will never have rest from their evils [of corruption]”10 until the state was based on justice and ruled by a guardian.
Noble Messenger is the foremost example of the just ruler”12 and that it is natural his successors be the rulers. Rather than deriving legitimacy from the truth, the guardian would be bound by Quranic law. Khomeini said that “Islamic government is . . . constitutional . . . in the sense that the rulers are subject to . . . conditions set forth in the Noble Quran and the Sunnah of the Most Noble Messenger.”13 Both Plato and Khomeini stipulated guardians must possess knowledge and the ability to dispense justice. Plato stated that the guardian would need to possess “the love of learning . . . and spirit and swiftness and strength.”14 Khomeini also named a few necessary qualities of a guardian, citing “knowledge of the law and justice” as the most critical. Khomeini, however, coated this qualification with the rhetoric of Islam. He argued that “these are precisely the subjects that the faqih has studied,”15 so therefore it was natural that an Islamic jurist would be the best guardian for the state.
That perfect guardian, according to Plato, must be a philosopher. A philosopher, he said, is a “true lover of learning” and therefore would “trace the outline of a constitution”11 limited by nothing but truth. The ruler would determine laws and justice, motivated by what would be best for the city. While Khomeini’s guardian resembles Plato’s in most of his characteristics, Khomeini slightly altered Plato’s ideas to comport with Islam. Khomeini took the idea of rule by a guardian, but replaced “philosopher” with “Islamic jurist.” He argued that “the Most
Plato and Khomeini each dictated stringent conditions for how guardians ought to conduct themselves. Plato asserted: “our guardians [ought not] to be given to laughter” and “drunkenness and softness and indolence are utterly unbecoming of the character of our guardians.”16 Khomeini reiterated much of the same, saying that “the fuqaha are the trustees of the prophets, as long as they do not concern themselves with the illicit desires, pleasures, and wealth of the world.”17 Guardians, they said, should not be “materialistic creatures trying to accumulate worldly wealth.”18 Plato
6 Plato, “The Republic,” Dover Publications, 2000. 7 Khomeini, “Velayat-e Faqeeh,” 26. 8 Plato, “The Republic,” 40. 9 Khomeini, 75. 10 Plato, 141. 11 Plato, 166.
12 Khomeini, 53. 13 Khomeini, 29. 14 Plato, 47. 15 Khomeini, 85. 16 Plato, 70. 17 Khomeini, 44. 18 Khomeini, 64.
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believed that to achieve immunity from the corruption of material pleasures guardians should not be able to “have any property of [their] own.”19 Instead, the guardians must rely on the citizens to support them. In Shia Islam, ulema are allowed to own property—however, they are supposed to use this money for charity and not live ostentatiously. Khomeini himself lived a very simple life, and argued that those “who have sold their religion for worldly gain, must be divested of their garb and expelled from the religious institution.”20 The two thinkers were clearly concerned with corruption, and argued that guardians should not concern themselves with material pleasures in order to remain uncorrupted. Khomeini and Plato shared the belief that it is the role of the guardians to interfere in the lives of their subjects in order to protect them from corruption. Plato spent an extensive amount of time discussing various social aspects of the perfect state, including the “sort of community of women and children” and how to “manage the period between birth and education.”21 He stipulated breeding ceremonies, communal wives and children and various other social controls. Khomeini, on the other hand, justified his guardian’s ability to interfere in its citizen’s lives with Islam. He said that the Qur’an is comprehensive in its rulings on proper behavior in life, from “duties . . . while the infant is being suckled . . . how the child should be reared, and how the husband and wife should relate to each other and their children.”22 Since the Qur’an had rulings on all aspects of life, the guardian was therefore justified to interfere in all aspects of life. Khomeini argued for the same right of interference 19 Plato, 88. 20 Khomeini, 85. 21 Plato, 117. 22 Khomeini, 20.
as Plato did, but justified it with Islamic traditions. Protecting the citizens from corrupting influences was always at the foremost of Plato’s and Khomeini’s minds. They both believed that the guardian could mislead the public for the sake of protecting the public. To this end, Plato believed that the guardians of the state should “have the privilege of lying . . . for the public good.”23 Guardians know better than the common man, and therefore are better able to discern what they should and should not know. Indeed, Plato stated that “the first thing [to do in our state] will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction.”24 Plato was worried about the effect that the prevalence of incorrect ideas will have on the youth and their conception of the world. Therefore, they must “put an end to such tales, lest they enter laxity of morals among the young.”25 Khomeini certainly took Plato’s advice about the censorship of books. Censorship on books has been a de facto practice in Iran since the Iran-Iraq War and was formalized in the 1988 Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution Resolution “The Objectives and Policies and Conditions of Publishing Books.” There is today in Iran an extensive mechanism for publication censorship in Iran.26 Khomeini was clearly worried, as Plato was, about the corruption of society if the masses were to read certain books. He again used Islam as a justification for Plato’s point on the necessity of censorship: the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran recognizes freedom of expression “except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles 23 Plato, 60. 24 Plato, 49. 25 Plato, 63. 26 Arash Hejazi, “You Don’t Deserve to be Published: Book Censorship in Iran,”Journal of the World Publishing Community, Vol. 22, Issue 1, 2011.
of Islam or the rights of the public.”27 While Plato said books that engender lax morals ought to be banned, Khomeini said that books against the principles of Islam ought to be banned. Despite the authoritarian and heavyhanded policies they advocated, both men argued that these laws were not malicious in intent. Khomeini and Plato believed that it was important the guardians love their city or state. “A man,” Plato said, “will be most likely to care about that which he loves.”28 Therefore, Plato posited, a guardian will be a better guardian if he loves his city. Khomeini, too, stated the two most important qualities in a believer is that they “should display the utmost love and solicitude whenever they are called for.”29 Both of them acknowledged the need to toe the line between executing justice and compassion. Throughout Velayat e faqih, Khomeini took Plato’s ideas and tweaked them to suit his own purposes. While Khomeini may have used Islam and its traditions to justify an Islamic state, Khomeini’s state looks very similar to Plato’s Republic. Indeed, the only major way Khomeini diverted from Plato was his belief in the universalism of an Islamic state. Khomeini believed that “the universal movement of all alert Muslims can establish Islamic government in place of tyrannical regimes.”30 This type of state is universal: not confined to just one country. Plato, on the other hand, believed that “one is enough.” If there is “one man who has a city obedient to his will,”31 Plato thought that alone will be the perfect state. This is the only major way 27 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chapter 3, Article 24. 28 Plato, 84. 29 Khomeini, 54. 30 Khomeini, 66. 31 Plato, 166.
Plato and Khomeini diverge: the scope of the perfect state. It is clear from a comparison of the two texts that Plato had an influence on Khomeini’s conception of a perfect state. Both men believed that human beings are easily corruptible and that it is necessary to establish rule by guardians to keep humans on the right path. They both emphasize justice and the good of the whole community as the basis of government. Their guardians are learned and wise, self-sacrificing and compassionate, and immune to the corruptions of material pleasures. These guardians have a right to interfere in all aspects of the lives of their subjects in order to protect them from corrupting influences. With the distinct exception of universalism, almost all other aspects of the perfect state pictured by Khomeini and Plato exist in parallel. Khomeini took Plato’s ideas and replaced them or argued for them with Islamic traditions—an Islamic jurist, instead of a philosopher; religious schools, instead of scientific education. What we can glean from this insight is that Iran has not been taken over by “mad mullahs” of Islamic fundamentalism. While the Islamic Republic of Iran claims to reject the West, its founder and its foundation were influenced by one of the West’s most renowned political thinkers. Although many assume that religious states must be inherently dictatorial, the basic structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran was not solely influenced by Islamic or religious thought, but political philosophy. It was Plato, perhaps just as much as the Quran, which inspired the structure of the Islamic Republic. The Greeks have had a hand in forming the state the Persians are living in today.
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American Muslim Groups as “Native Informants” of Neo-Orientalism: Essentialism, Reproduction, and Intellectual Manipulation Maha Elgenaidi M.A. Religious Studies ‘14, Stanford University CEO and Chairman, Islamic Networks Group (ING)* Abstract The paper seeks to show how U.S. Muslim organizations are inadvertently contributing to a new form of Orientalism by reproducing old tropes in their efforts to combat it. The paper will begin by analyzing the discourse underlying two typical events experienced by American Muslims to draw out the nature of Islamophobia in narrative frames and images. It will then trace the roots of Islamophobia to Orientalism and show how American Muslim groups, as “native informants,” unwittingly contribute to neo-Orientalism through static images of Islam, reproduction, or intellectual manipulation, and conclude with implications of this argument for American Muslim representations of Islam.
Introduction Negative images of Islam in America’s media and culture continue to pervade popular thinking, leading not only to bias and discrimination but also, in the worst cases, to hate crimes. This paper seeks to analyze the discourse that underlies these images, starting from statements that emerged in controversies over the construction of Muslim spaces. The construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, sparked massive protest. One protester declared, “Everyone knows they [Muslims] are trying to kill us.” Most telling was a statement made by plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the county for granting a permit to the mosque that alleged that Islam “advocates sexual abuse of children, beating and physical abuse of women, death edicts, honor killings, killing of homosexuals, outright
lies to Kafirs (those who don’t submit to sharia law), Constitution-free zones, and total world dominion.”1 This lays bare the source of the agitation against Muslims: a view of Islam as a world-wide, monolithic, evil entity to which all Muslims living anywhere must subscribe. A Republican Congressional candidate in the area gave voice to precisely this view when she claimed that American Muslims could not “find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts”2—ignoring the easily accessible fact that American Muslims, like the great majority of their “counterparts” in other parts of the world, have long condemned terrorism and terrorists.3 1 “An uncivil action: Islam in Tennessee,” The Economist, November 20, 2010. 2 loc. Cit. 3 For Muslim condemnations of terrorism generally, see http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/
* Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a non-profit organization with affiliates around the country that counters prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history.
The same view of Islam as a monolithic “Other” emerged in the battle over the socalled “Ground Zero mosque”—actually an interfaith center with Muslim prayer rooms--in New York City. Typical of the attacks made against the center were statements by Raymond Ibrahim, a former associate director of the Middle East Forum (a leading Islamophobic organization),4 claiming that mosques were not “Muslim counterparts to Christian churches” but rather “symbols of domination and centers of radicalization.” Opponents claimed that Muslims wanted to erect a mosque to celebrate their “victory” and “conquest” on 9/11.5 The barrage of opposition succeeded to the point that polls showed a majority of Americans opposed to the project, though recognizing that Muslims had a constitutional right to build it.6 The conflation of Islam generally with “radicalism” and “terrorism” and the resulting view of Muslims as a threat to America were clearly driving this controversy. Not only do many Americans view Islam through this “essentializing” lens, seeing Muslims and their faith as a threat,7 but they also see it as a contrast to what they understand or imagine about themselves as Americans and to what they believe America stands for. By this rhetorical construction, they essentialize both Islam muslim_voices_against_extremism_a nd_terrorism_part_i_ fatwas/. For condemnations of ISIS, see https://www.ing. org/community- statements/1336-global-condemnationsisis-isil 4 Center for American Progress, Fear, Inc. (http://www. scribd.com/doc/63489887/Fear-Inc-The- Roots-ofthe-Islamophobia-Network-in-America), 41-44. 5 Raymond Ibrahim, “The Two Faces of the Ground Zero Mosque,” Middle East Forum, June 22, 2010. 6 “Mosque-building and its discontents,” The Economist, August 19, 2010. 7 Gallup/The Coexist Foundation, Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam (http://www.clubmadrid.org/img/secciones/SSP_MWF_WorldReligion_Report_en- US_final.pdf), 10.
and its supposed antitype, setting up a binary opposition between the two that makes impossible an understanding of the variety of cultures that make up both realities. Just as there is no one “Islam,” there is also no one “America” or the “West.” It is this construction of an idealized Self and a demonized Other that is the root misunderstanding of Islamophobia as it is of all other such constructions of bigotry. This Islamophobic vision of the Muslim world is nothing new; it is simply a rehash of long- standing Orientalist tropes about the “East.” Orientalism Edward Said popularized the term “Orientalism” to denote a set of representations about “the Orient” (meaning primarily the predominantly Muslim Near East), depicting the region, its people, and its culture (including its religion) as uncivilized, violent, backward, unenlightened, undemocratic, oppressive to women, and so forth,8 in contrast to the “modern” and “enlightened” West (meaning western Europe primarily). Orientalism thus served—and still does serve in some quarters—as a foil against which to define the “West” and “western values.” It reductively constructs its imagined “Orient” as a monolithic and ahistorical entity; resistance to change is one of the “Orient’s” salient characteristics. Said defines Orientalism as a discourse through which “European culture was able to manage—and even produce— the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the postEnlightenment period.”9According to Said, it must therefore be understood within the context of a relationship of power 8 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York, 1994), 63. 9 Said, Orientalism, 3.
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and domination subordinating the Orient to the Occident, wherein the Orient “submitted to being made oriental.” Underlying this understanding is the notion of knowledge developed by Michel Foucault, who argued that “all claims to knowledge involved an attempt to establish a particular setof power relationships.”10 Said held that Orientalism was born of an imperialist project and served colonialist and neo-colonialist ends. David Ludden refined Said’s concept, pointing out that while Orientalism originated as an assertion of imperial power, its wide acceptance made it available for use by diverse political and social forces, such as liberal elites (including some native elites) who have used it to promote their own programs of “modernization” and “liberalization,” as will be shown below. Islamophobia The report by the Center for American Progress titled Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America defines “Islamophobia” as “an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life.”11 Islamophobia is thus rooted in the essentializing characterization of Islam as a threatening Other, as noted above. Such a characterization has political clout; to cite but one example, “anti- Shariah” legislation, though clearly unconstitutional, has been introduced in 23 states and passed in at 10 Richard King, “Orientalism and the study of religions,” in John Hinnells, ed., The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion (London, 2007), 277. 11 Fear, Inc, 9.
least four of them.12 A worldview founded on a polarity between a “good” Self and an “evil” Other resonates with many who seek sense in a chaotic world. The Islamophobic view of Islam and Muslims has several overarching themes or tropes, the most salient being the following: Islam promotes violence; Islam subordinates women; Muslims hate America and the West; Muslims are intolerant of other religions; and American Muslims are “Islamists” isolated from the rest of America.13 These tropes are precisely those of the “Orientalist” view of the Muslim world.14 Roots of Islamophobia in Orientalism In American mass media, the Orientalist construction of Islam is still very much alive,but it now functions as the lens through which Muslims described variously as “extremists,” “fundamentalists,” or “radicals” are seen, functioning as a foil both to Americans generally and to certain thoroughly “Westernized” Muslims who would, say, abandon Shariah (commonly defined as Islamic law) in favor of the U.S. Constitution, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Such Muslims are generally what is meant by “moderates.” In other words, this discourse reproduces the Orientalist binary opposition between “Islam” and “the West” by letting a certain class of Muslim stand in as part of “the West.” All other Muslims represent the negative Orientalist and Islamophobic tropes, while the “moderates” represent what are considered exclusively “Western” values such as democracy, women’s equality, freedom of religion and expression, etc.15 12 Fear, Inc., 38. 13 See Fear, Inc., especially 27-51. 14 See Said, Orientalism, 63, referenced above. 15 Halil Ibrahim Yenigun, “Muslims and the Media after 9/11: A Muslim Discourse in the American Media?” The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
Native Informants I use the term “native informants” by analogy with those members of colonized society who furnished knowledge of their culture to the colonizers, thus aiding them in the colonial enterprise and contributing to the construction of Orientalism. I contend that some typical American Muslim responses to the charges of Islamophobes participate— quite contrary to the intention of those Muslims who present them--in analogous fashion to the construction of Islamophobia. American Muslims as Native Informants I refer to three types of defensive portrayals of Islam: one that claims the authority to define “true Islam,” thereby essentializing the faith; a second that reproduces Orientalist narratives in its very effort to refute them; and a third that manipulates Orientalist tropes to promote a western Islamic agenda, whose authors represent themselves (whether explicitly or not) as or “reform- minded” Muslims” contrasted with and superior to “illiberal” or “Eastern” Muslims. All of the aforementioned attempts to combat negative stereotypes about Muslims cede to Islamophobes the power of determining the nature of the discourse. I will document this contention below by elaborating on the three aforementioned modes of discourse about Islam that American Muslims should avoid.
emerges particularly in apologetic accounts that present the “authentic” or “true” Islamic position on, say, women, by marshalling Qur’anic quotes supporting women’s equality or individual instances of prominent Muslim women to demonstrate that “true ” Islam does not oppress women. Such a presentation can ultimately do no more than mirror an opposing presentation that marshals Qur’anic and hadith quotes apparently opposing women’sequality or instances of oppression of women in Muslim-majority societies.
The first is what is commonly termed “essentialism.” To essentialize a social group is to attribute to it a set of fixed and unalterable characteristics that supposedly define it; usually these are set in binary opposition to the (likewise) fixed and unalterable characteristics assigned to a contrasting group. Such essentialization
There are several interrelated problems with this apologetic strategy. First, it denies others the authority to define Islam for themselves while claiming that authority for those who employ it (American Muslims). Second, it ignores the reality that what is considered “true Islam” depends on the Muslims living it, who are influenced by a variety of factors other than religion. Third, projecting a static, “idealized” image of Islam promotes the idea that Muslim behavior should only be determined by one’s religion and not also by other cultural, social, and political factors unrelated or only remotely related to religion. This is why, according to a 2010 Gallup Poll, 81% of Americans view Islam as misogynistic,16 where patriarchal attitudes and practices in Muslim- majority regions are attributed in the public mind solely to Islam. An honest and credible presentation on this question must delve into the experience of Muslims as they live out their faith in different times, places, and cultures, revealing a complex reality that resists easy categorization but also points to Islam’s potential for adaptation to changing circumstances. Only such an account can show how Muslims, building
21:3 (2004): 46.
16 Gallup, Religious Perceptions, 10.
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on liberating elements present in their tradition, can move, and (in some places) are moving beyond the patriarchy that has characterized most of their history (as it has the history of every other religious tradition) and thus provide a credible answer to the constantly asked questions about Muslim attitudes toward women. And so too with other issues. Another problematic mode of defensive Muslim discourse, closely related to the “essentializing” discourse, presents Islam in a way that reproduces, and therefore reinforces, the structure of Islamophobic discourse. Such discourses frequently appear following atrocities committed by groups or individuals identifying as Muslim; virtually every such incident is followed by a spate of statements from Muslims disassociating the religion from such actions and quoting Qur’anic verses and other authoritative teachings condemning them. Often the perpetrators are declared not to be “true” Muslims or even Muslim at all. These responses are problematic. First, hearing from Muslims every time violence is committed in the name of Islam binds “Islam” and “violence” together, exactly as the Islamophobes contend, and reinforces the terrorist lens or trope through which many Americans see Muslims and Islam. Second, the constant repetition of such denunciations can be taken to imply that if Muslims do not denounce an act claimed to be committed in the name of Islam, then they must approve it. This reinforces the perception that causes many Americans to claim that Muslims are not condemning terrorism vigorously enough. Ironically enough, the very frequency of such condemnations may play a role in prompting this complaint. One wonders
whether Muslims might be better served by teaching about the background of terrorist or extremist actions instead of rushing to issue repeated—and repetitious— condemnations. Finally, I question whether it is really helpful, or even entirely honest, to claim that the ideology of ISIS (for example) is “anti-Islamic,” thus removing ISIS from Islam altogether. Certainly the ideas and actions of ISIS are as far removed as can be imagined from what most Muslims consider a proper understanding of Islam; but simply trying to write ISIS and similar outfits out of Islam entirely implies that Muslims recognize only an “idealized” version of Islam as the “true” Islam, in other words, that Muslims “essentialize” Islam as the Islamophobes do, only with a “positive” as opposed to a “negative” polarity. Uncomfortable though it may be, Muslims would do better to acknowledge ISIS or its followers as an extremist form of “lived Islam”— calling for condemnation, to be sure, but also for understanding it in its historical and political context, for only by such understanding can we deconstruct (and therefore combat) the appeal it appears to have for a portion of the Muslim population in the region. Here too, a presentation of “lived Islam” in history and in the present is the only convincing way to respond to the question of Islam and violence. A third type of questionable discourse deployed defensively by Muslims asserts that American Muslims or “Western” Muslims generally must take the lead in “reforming” Islam (particularly the Islam found elsewhere, in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia—i.e., the “East”), infusing into it (or restoring to it) the values of individual liberty
and civil rights that have been largely suppressed by authoritarian regimes and authoritarian religious institutions in Muslim- majority regions. This reproduces what Halil Ibrahim Yenigun describes as the “modernist” trope that prescribes that all societies (especially those of the “East”) must go through exactly the sort of modernization that the “West” went through.17 This discourse (in line with Orientalism generally) minimizes or dismisses the agency of those in the East—a thesis that has been dramatically refuted by the Arab Spring, despite all the reversals it has suffered. It also ignores the fact that Muslim-majority societies are modernizing, but not necessarily along the same lines as the West; for instance, a 2013 Pew polls showed majorities in most Muslim-majority regions (except Southern-Eastern Europe and Central Asia) favoring making Shariah the basis of national law.18 American Muslims will rightly want to support the struggle for freedom and human rights in Muslim regions but this Orientalist approach of pitting the East against the West is hardly likely to commend them to their co-religionists there, and it supplies fuel for the Islamophobic narratives here. Again, American Muslims are unwittingly and unintentionally acting as “native informants” for a new Orientalism that may be working against them. Conclusion The Orientalist and Islamophobic narratives are of far more than academic interest; they have political power. They
impact both U.S. foreign policy and the quality of life for American Muslims, as the continuing anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes in this country attest. The Islamophobic establishment produces these narratives for its own political purposes. Ironically, however, as I have shown, American Muslim organizations, in their attempts to respond, often reinforce these narratives by unwittingly reproducing their basic structure; they participate in the very discourse they are seeking to dismantle. As when one responds to a loaded question, it is necessary to deconstruct the assumptions behind a discourse in order to respond to it effectively. This paper aims to move American Muslims (myself included) away from an apologetic mode that rests on an essentialized representation of the religion to a rounded representation of Islam as it is actually lived out by diverse communities in very diverse ways, including those that “Western” Muslims may find problematic or even embarrassing. Only such a presentation can put forth in an honest and convincing fashion the richness of Islam as it has been and is being constructed and lived in the multitude of communities that identify with it. I am not saying that we should abandon our values and indulge in an indiscriminate relativism, only that we cannot honestly essentialize our version of Islam as the only “true” Islam. The first step towards correcting this situation is to recognize it; that has been the task of this paper. How to fully change it must be the subject of another paper.
17 Yenigun, “Muslims,” 46. 18 Pew Research Center, The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society (http://www.pewforum.org/files/2013/04/worlds-muslimsreligion-politics-society-full- report.pdf), 46.
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Avicenna by Motasim Zawawi â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;18 16 avicenna
Redefining Calligraphy b y M otasim zawawi
S tanford universit y â&#x20AC;&#x2DC; 1 8
My pieces are a combination of modern Arabic calligraphy and abstract art. They all tend to go beyond traditional Arabic calligraphy rules in order to add vitality and energy to the words they represent. Before writing new words on canvases, I focus on the design, and the aesthetic element of the word. I tend to create different designs of a single word in order to find the one that is the most aesthetically pleasing. Using a broom and wall paint brushes to draw the words adds more texture to the line, unlike normal calligraphy pens, which often create a smooth line. Texture adds energy to the word. I also incorporate splashes with different colors in the design to achieve the same goal texture achieves. First letter of the Arabic alphabet (Alif)
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Salam (Peace) rotated right
Ain (Eye) the stanford journal on muslim affairs
Khair (Good) by Motasim Zawawi â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;18
On “Ethics of Jihad” with Professor Alexander Key Rifath Rashid B.S. Human Biology ‘18, Stanford University
Alexander Key is an Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. He holds a B.A and M.A from University of St. Andrews and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is currently teaching a class called “Ethics of Jihad”, which aims to discuss the different ways that people view and use the word “jihad”. Rifath Rashid: What is your definition of the word jihad?
different definition of jihad, and that’s the argument that matters.
Prof. Alexander Key: What I’m doing in the course “Ethics of Jihad” is working through different answers to that exact same question. I think that one of the things that I’m trying to teach is whichever way you answer that question, you are taking part in a discourse that lots and lots of other people have been taking part in for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years in lots of different languages. So you have a number of different strategies within. Do you go straight to the Quran? Do you look at the verses that mention jihad? […] That’s what Muslim scholars have been doing for centuries. And then you can bring in lots and lots of other stuff. Stuff you believe about God. Stuff you believe about hadith. Stuff you believe about history. And then you come up with a position from where you’re standing. So, if you’re Aminda Wadud, a Muslim-American feminist, you come up with a definition of jihad that is about Islam and feminism that works for a Muslim in America who lives in Oakland. And if you’re ISIS, you come up with a
Rashid: So, you’re not saying that there’s any right definition, but that you’re struggling to find a definition? Key: I think that if you’re Muslim, then you are in a position to say that you think there is one definition, and all I’m saying is that if you look at history, and if you even look at the present day, and you look at the vast diversity of answers to the questions, that’s interesting. That’s how you have to go about answering the question, “What is jihad?” Rashid: Why did you decide to teach this class, and what do you hope your students will leave with? Key: I decided to teach this class because I am a scholar of Medieval Islamic Theory, and I think that if you end up in a job where you’re a professor that studies Islamic texts and cultures and you can read Arabic, it’s incumbent on you to engage with things that are happening in the real world in the 21st century. I think that courses like this
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are a way that people like me can give students the tools to break down those easy equations [such as:] “I look at this verse in the Quran, [which] Muslims believe in, [and] the verse talks about fighting. Therefore Islam is violent, and therefore we have to combat it, fight against it, and lock up Muslims.” If you break down that first “is”, it’s got to be good for American society. Rashid: For the majority of students who take this class, what perception do they begin the class with, and what perception do they complete it with? Key: I think on the one hand, Islam in America at the moment occupies this space where everybody knows it, and almost everyone who is going to turn up to a class like this knows they don’t know anything [about it], so people are very conscious of their ignorance. And that comes across in questions like “what does jihad even mean?” or “what is the Quran?” or “where is the Quran from?” or “how can the Quran say one thing and Muslims say another?” I don’t have much experience with Stanford undergrads behaving like people do outside the academy. They don’t have some super confident account of what jihad is and [they’re not] very aggressive about it. Stanford undergrads tend to have a lot more of an “I don’t know, please tell me” sort of attitude. Rashid: Many sources of broadcasting media will easily label certain situations as jihad without really thinking about the fact that the word can have so many different meanings. How do you think that the media and popular culture shape the way the average American thinks about the word “jihad”?
Key: I think, to a massive extent. However, I think there’s a risk in saying that the media is doing this to people in the sense that there is some innocent neutral populace of people and then the media has an agenda and does stuff to them. I think it is more productive to say that people tend to get into groups and then we tend to look from inside our group out at some other groups and say stuff about them, and this is just the way communities tend to form. Also, what we do in our groups is that we have media that reflect the kind of discourses that we’re having. So, if you’re in the Middle East, which is just one place Islam happens to exist, the media tend to reflect the kinds of feelings that that community has about being under attack by Western military actions, and vice versa. I think really the central dynamic is the “us and them” dynamic. Rashid: There’s been an extensive campaign to raise awareness about the fact that jihad can have so many different meanings. This has lead to people discussing what their individual struggles are with the hashtag #myjihad, and some of these struggles take on a less serious tone. So is it possible for the word “jihad” to operate as having a simple meaning for the everyday person and having a more radical meaning for groups like ISIS? Key: On the one hand, people have made the argument that when you look back at the Quran or the hadith, it’s a word that’s used when you want to change something for the better. [...] It’s a discourse that you call upon when you want to change stuff for the better. So, it makes total sense. If you think of English words like “game,” you know “game” can mean almost anything, like rock, papers, scissors or the Super Bowl final or war games as military
training. If you were an alien, you would look at that and think that this stuff is totally different, and yet we manage in English to use the word “game” and everyone understands what we mean when we say that these three things are games. Language does kind of work like that. Yet, the question is who gets to say what a word means. Amina Wadud, a Muslim feminist, wrote a book called, Inside the Gender Jihad where she talks about a personal struggle and changing stuff for the better and calling it jihad. Now she says, “to be honest, jihad is not really a word that I would call on if I wrote the book now, because it is a word that is so problematic and charged.” So that’s people outside the discourse altering the word that people inside the discourse want to use. That’s problematic. I mean, who should have control over what this word means?
Rashid: Do you have anything else you would like to add? Key: The thing that this course keeps teaching me is that stuff is constantly happening outside the Stanford bubble that is relevant to this course. I taught it last year, and we talked about lots of things like Amina Wadud, Muslim feminism, and Al-Qaeda. I mean, I was planning the course over the summer, and ISIS was one thing, and then ISIS started executing all these hostages, and then ISIS became a different thing. ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot in week three of the quarter, so stuff is changing. Three Muslim students were killed at UNC, and the federal government opened a hate crime investigation, and nobody actually knows what happened. But still, this is relevant to the course, and relevant to the idea that Islam is something, and from the outside I am trying to give people the tools to problematize.
Swirling (Photo by Allison Mickel, PhD ‘16)
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How to Grow Up Muslim in America Spoken Word Farhan Kathawala B.S. Computer Science ‘17, Stanford University
1 When your kindergarten teacher offers you root beer at the end-of-year class party tell her you don’t drink and that that’s haraam. 2 Learn to respond to a thousand and one permutations of your name. Have at least 3 teachers decide to make a “nickname” for you. They won’t respond well when you decide to do the same for them. 3 Go to the mosque every weekend. Make duwa like you talk to your great-grandmother, all smiles, no words. Look up at the sky, on the car ride home, and see a God up there. 4 Watch all your friends’ names slowly change over time. See, I knew a boy named Usama. He smiled like his mouth was full of paper airplanes, and he loved his mother, his father, and DragonBall Z. Around the 5th grade, people started picking on him. Started calling him an A-Rab piece of shit. Around the 6th grade, they just called him Sam. 24 avicenna
I asked him why he let everyone call him that. He said, “It just sounds nicer.” 5 Write your name in Arabic everywhere. At least this way, no one will read it and mispronounce it. 6 Get used to name-calling. The first time someone calls you “Hajji” it does not sound like an insult. But the laughter afterwards comes from all directions and is made of barbed wire. Decide to stop speaking at school lest you cut your tongue and forget how to say anything at all. 7 Listen to the principal’s speech before Thanksgiving. He will thank “Our Lord and Savior”. This is not the last time you will hear the word “ours” and think it means “theirs”. 8 Read the Qur’an cover to cover for the first time. Ask your mother why she doesn’t wear a hijab. Watch her eyes like a movie reel rewinding back all the times she’s had to have men tell her how to look,
how to dress, how to cook. Think that you are just asking a simple question. Think you are not old enough to understand your mistakes. Know that everyone does not look in the mirror and see a God in there. 9 Visit your grandparents’ home. Ask your father why half of the family goes to one mosque and the other half goes to the other one. He will say they are still arguing over what God’s men meant when they wrote his words down. 10 Stop watching the news. You are sick of seeing bombs and planes next to names like those of your uncle, your cousins, your father. 11 Watch your parents stop going to the mosque. Your mom cooks instead as if there’s any difference. And your father just sleeps in his lab coat like he’d rather work in his dreams where no one asks him what he believes in. One day you go alone. The imam asks you where your parents are. Tell him they are both sick and hold out your palms as if you don’t know what to do with them. But he is not stupid and he knows what you are trying to say and he says “Inshallah, what will be will be.”
12 Start causing trouble in school after you punch the 8th person in your class to call you a terrorist. Start going to school with your fists balled up in your sleeves like boxing gloves and an engine of rageful blood in your chest. Stop going to the mosque. Stop waking up in the mornings. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror. You feel that even if God were real, these days he would have trouble believing in you. 13 In the Qur’an there is a verse which says Your enemies will never stop fighting you until they can pull you away from your religion. When you grow up Muslim in America, it’s like being born behind enemy lines. You don’t know what the war is about, and you try so hard not to fight. But you just end up a casualty of the place you always called home.
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Sheikh to Suicide Bomber: Understanding The Roots of The Contemporary Arab Stereotype in Hollywood Christina Schiciano B.A. Political Science, Minor in Arabic ‘17; Stanford University
Part I: Contemporary Violent Representations of Arabs “People do not understand—the word ‘Arab’ is not synonymous with the word ‘terrorist.’ Islam is a religion of peace.” So proclaims a disembodied voice in the movie The Siege (1998)1, a Hollywood blockbuster that follows a group of FBI agents attempting to track down a terrorist cell hiding in an Arab-American community in Brooklyn, eventually leading to the detainment of all “Arabspeaking” young men in the city. Lines such as this were meant to portray the film as sympathetic toward the Arab-American community, as a film warning of the dangers and cruelty of discrimination against a minority group. Despite this purported intention, however, many believed that the film promoted a demonized, violent image of Arab-Americans. Hussein Ibish, media director of the American-Arab AntiDiscrimination Committee, released the following statement in regard to the film upon its release:
Arab culture and Islamic religious practices and terrorism. This is nothing new. But this movie is different. This movie purports to be a socially responsible, serious intervention […] about how American society responds to a threat.2
This movie participates fully in the linking of
Although portions of the film’s script appear to paint Arab-Americans and Muslims in a positive light, much of the cinematic language of the film, in fact, does the exact opposite, essentially equating Arabs and Muslims with terrorism and violence. Director Edward Zwick begins the movie with clips of real news coverage of terrorist attacks on American embassies, interspersed with clips created for the film discussing a “radical fundamentalist cleric” planning further attacks. The film also includes numerous shots of Muslims praying in their homes and in mosques to foreboding music in the background, preceding acts of extreme violence carried out by the fictitious terrorist organization. With this juxtaposition, the film effectively carries out this linking of Arab culture with terrorism. Furthermore, one of the only humanized, sympathetic Palestinian characters in the film ultimately reveals
1 The Siege. 20th Century Fox, 1998. Film.
2 Sharon Waxman, “Arab Americans Protest Film’s Stereotypes,” Washington Post 8 Nov. 1998.
himself to be a part of the terrorist cell responsible for the attacks, and attempts to detonate a bomb strapped to his body. As a writer for Complex Magazine states, “The Siege’s real message is that the Middle Easterners who you least expect of wanting to kill you definitely have a belt of explosives in their wardrobe.”3 Though The Siege is a more blatant, conspicuous example of violent, villainous representation of Arabs in Hollywood, it is but one instance of the pervasive contemporary habit of perpetuating negative stereotypes about these minority groups in film, particularly in actionadventure dramas and thrillers. The usage of contemporary, in this case, refers to the 1990s and beyond. According to Jack Shaheen, Rules of Engagement (2000) “encourages viewers to hate Arab Muslims.”4 The film, which was number one during its opening weekend and grossed over $15 million, had audiences cheering as American Marines gunned down Yemeni men, women and children protesting outside of an embassy in the capital of Sana’a.5 Just as with The Siege, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee issued a press release condemning the movie, listing the organization’s many (and valid) grievances with the film’s portrayal of the Yemeni people, including but not limited to:
— Everyone in Yemen is complicit in the anti-American violence. Witnesses lie. The police lie. Doctors lie. Everyone in Yemen lies. Meanwhile, the streets are literally strewn with cassette tapes calling, again without any apparent reason, for “all good Muslims” to kill any and all Americans they can find. Yemen, we are assured, is a “breeding ground” for terrorists.6 Countless other films have followed in the footsteps of Rules of Engagement, though some did not draw nearly the degree of criticism that Rules of Engagement received. Air Marshal (2003), Black Hawk Down (2002), The Condemned (2007), Final Destination 3 (2006), Home of the Brave (2006), The Marine (2006), and Rendition (2007), among many others, all portray Arabs as dangerous, antiAmerican villains. Jack Shaheen, who has written four books and numerous articles detailing the subject of Arab and Arab-American stereotypes in film, wrote in his copious reviews of post9/11 films that “[he] found that 22 movies (1 in 4) that otherwise have nothing whatsoever to do with Arabs or the Middle East contain gratuitous slurs and scenes that demean Arabs. Arab villains do dastardly things in 37 films (most gunning down or blowing up innocent people).”7
— The portrayal of Yemeni society as an anti-American mob just waiting to erupt at any second. The images of Arabs in the film are solely stereotypical - veiled women, men in headscarves and all shouting fanatical, angry slogans and firing automatic weapons at a peaceful US embassy.
Modern cinema clearly perpetuates an image of Arabs as violent savages, and it might seem logical to simply condemn current news media and images of Arab and Muslim terrorists that they display as the cause for the paralleled negative/ violent representation of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood. A contemporary
3 “The 50 Most Racist Movies: The Siege,” Complex Magazine 9 May 2012: n. pag. Web. 1 June 2014. 4 Jack Shaheen, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, (Northhampton: Olive Branch, 2008) 404. 5 Ibid 15.
6 Arab Americans Denounce Paramount’s Racist Film “Rules of Engagement.” N.p.: n.p., 11 Apr. 2000. 7 Jack Shaheen, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, (Northhampton: Olive Branch, 2008).
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problem, after all, requires a contemporary cause, and it is true that Hollywood acts as a mirror, producing films that reflect the collective feelings and fears of the American public. Shaheen notes that “news reports selectively and relentlessly focus on a minority of a minority of Arabs, the radical fringe. The seemingly indelible Arab-as-villain image wrongly conveys the message that the vast majority of the 265 million peace-loving Arabs are ‘bad guys.’”8 Shaheen points to two separate events in the 1990s – the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (leading to the Gulf War) and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City – as critical to creating a “misguided mindset, leading some Americans to believe all Arabs are terrorists and that Arabs do not value human life as much as we [Americans] do.”9 Thus, these images of violent Arabs and Muslims seen in modern American cinema would appear to be simply the reflection of the way in which American society has been exposed to these minority groups through the lens of new media.
Part II: Violent Arabs of Hollywood’s Past (Ali-Baba Bound and Beyond)
Despite this intuition, however, the violent stereotype of Arabs in Hollywood is not simply born of post-Gulf War or post-9/11 anxiety. The violent Arab of Hollywood has existed since the beginning of the cinematic institution itself. Furthermore, previous representations of Arabs who were not as violent or as ostensibly “evil” as their modern-day counterparts effectively laid a foundation of equating the Arab with the idea of the ‘other.’ By so radically exoticizing the Arab since the beginning, Hollywood helped to facilitate and ease the transition of the screen Arab from simply a mysterious foreigner to a dangerous, antiAmerican terrorist.
Although more recent literature may focus on the negative imagery relating to terrorism and violence that has so often been the principal representation of Arabs in Hollywood films post-9/11, it is clear that violent representation of Arabs in Hollywood has been a pervasive issue since the creation of film as a medium. “Beginning with Imar the Servitor (1914), up to and through The Mummy Returns (2001),” states Shaheen, “a synergy of images equates Arabs from Syria to the Sudan with quintessential evil.”12 Films throughout the 20th century, from the 1910s up to the 1980s, definitively followed
8 Ibid 28. 9 Ibid 29.
The image of the violent Arab can be traced back to the inception of Hollywood itself. The book Reel Bad Arabs by Jack Shaheen offers brief evaluation of over 900 films produced in Hollywood between 1896 and 2001 that include any representation of Arabs or Arab-Americans. Sharing his conclusions from his extensive research, Shaheen states that Hollywood has been “tutoring movie audiences by repeating over and over, in film after film, insidious images of the Arab people.”10 He argues: I am not saying an Arab should never be portrayed as the villain. What I am saying is that almost all Hollywood depictions of Arabs are bad ones. This is a grave injustice. Repetitious and negative images of the reel Arab literally sustain adverse portraits across generations. The fact is that for more than a century of producers have tarred an entire group of people with the same sinister brush.11
10 Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, (New York: Olive Branch, 2001) 1. 11 Ibid 1. 12 Ibid 14.
the pattern of painting Arabs as dangerous villains. One particularly blatant example of this villainous imagery can be found in the Looney Tunes short film Ali-Baba Bound (1940), in which Porky Pig must protect a desert fort from being overrun by the evil “Ali-Baba.”13 The film begins by reinforcing less overtly negative stereotypes about Arabs and the Middle East in general, with desert images of rolling sand dunes and palm trees and a Vegas-like “Desert Oasis,” complete with a Rent-A-Camel station. Porky Pig travels to the Desert Fort via a pint-sized baby camel, and the music grows louder and more sinister as the camera pans away from Porky Pig to reveal Ali Baba hiding behind a sand dune, with a caption underneath reading, “Ali Baba: The Mad Dog of the Desert.” Ali Baba sports a thin moustache, a bulbous nose, and an evil grin as he watches Porky Pig through a makeshift pair of binoculars formed from two beer bottles.
ram, slamming his head repeatedly into the fort gate in an attempt to open it. The Arab antagonist is portrayed as violent and evil, willing to hurt even his own allies to cause maximum destruction. Reinforcing this image, another one of Ali Baba’s henchmen waits on a bench with what appears to be a bomb strapped to his head. A sign next to him reads, “This bench reserved for suicide squad.” Though the films are separated from one another by over half of a century, the significant similarities between The Siege and Ali-Baba Bound remain. The screen “Arab” of the 1940s is nearly identical to the screen “Arab” of the 1990s—bloodthirsty, evil, and willing to kill himself for the cause. Ali-Baba Bound is an overtly discriminatory film against Arabs; however, like The Siege, it is only one of many films which portray Arabs as murderous barbarians. Without doubt, the issue of Arabs being painted as violent savages in Hollywood is not simply due to the way Arabs were represented in the news beginning in the 1990s, but rather a continuation of a long-established American cinematic custom. Part III: Establishment of the Cinematic Arab as the “Cultural Other”
Screenshot of Ali-Baba in Ali-Baba Bound (1940)
Ali Baba, after seeing Porky Pig alone and vulnerable inside the Desert Fort, calls his minions, whose heads pop out of the sand dunes, and begin their assault on the fort. Ali Baba, among other techniques, uses one of his minions as a human battering 13 Ali-Baba Bound. Dir. Robert Clampett. Leon Schlesinger Studios, 1940. Film.
It is not just the overtly negative images of Arabs of the past (i.e. violent religious fanatics, terrorists) that allow for the recent eruption of Arabs used in films as anti-American threats. Even less overtly negative stereotypes of Arabs prevalent in early American cinema are partially to blame for this contemporary trend. Because there was an increase in demand for movies involving national security and “protect the homeland” mentality and Hollywood had already so firmly the stanford journal on muslim affairs
manifested the idea of the Arab as the “cultural other,” Arabs fit most easily into the role of the external threat in movies involving national security. Karin Wilkins, in her book Home/Land/ Security, asserts that, with the heightened discourse about America needing protection from foreign threats after 9/11, “the fear accentuated in this political narrative resonates with the heightened sense of danger that builds suspense in action-adventure film. Danger becomes positioned as an external force that must be fought.”14 Thus, those groups that had already been perceived as “others” in cinematic history would be used by such films to represent pressing danger to national security. Arabs and Muslims work well to represent this danger because “historically, Hollywood films have presented Arab characters more as villain than as victim or as hero, accentuating their distance from projected normative US society by highlighting foreign accents, traditional clothing, aggressive actions, and hostile attitudes.”15 Thus, the negative imagery of the preceding century is critical to the heightening of discrimination against Arabs in film beginning in the 1990s and ramping up post-9/11. Because Hollywood had already so firmly established Arabs and Muslims as this mysterious “other,” these groups served as the “external force” that must be defeated in contemporary films revolving around national security. So how, exactly, did Hollywood so effectively position Arabs to be viewed as this “cultural other?” Shaheen, in Reel Bad Arabs, at least partially alleges the answer. Hollywood had, for so long, already 14 Wilkins, Karin Gwinn, Home/Land/Security: What We Learn about Arab Communities from Action-Adventure Films, (Lanham: Lexington, 2009). 15 Ibid 27.
been perpetuating less overtly negative stereotypes about the Middle East and Middle Easterners that essentially isolated the region and those who lived there from everything deemed to be “American.” The Middle East and its Arab inhabitants were made to appear to have absolutely nothing in common with America; thus, to the American audience, Arabs as a group would logically be “anti-American” and an external enemy. Shaheen asserts that while the type of stereotypical “reel Arab” has shifted over time, “[h]e is what he has always been—the cultural ‘other.’”16 One such stereotype that Hollywood has maintained is the image of the “Arabas-Sheikh.” In Reel Bad Arabs, Shaheen asks the reader to “pause and visualize the reel Arab. What do you see? Black beard, headdress, dark sunglasses. In the background—a limousine, harem maidens, oil wells, camels.”17 Edward Said notes that “the perverted sheikh can often be seen snarling at the captured Western hero and blonde girl.”18 The “Arab-asSheikh” image, the mysterious, lecherous, greedy oil tycoon dressed in robes, is one strewn throughout the history of Hollywood, even as far back as 1894, in the Kinetoscope short Sheik Hadj Tahar Hadj Cherif. Other early silent films, including The Unfaithful Odalique (1903) and The Fire and the Sword (1914) revolve around this precise stereotype. Though the “Arab-as-Sheikh” image may not seem as obviously negative as the “Arabas-terrorist/religious fanatic” that is so endemic today, it still laid the groundwork for American audiences to view Arabs as a mysterious “cultural other.” Another such stereotype is the “Arab16 Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, (New York: Olive Branch, 2001) 2. 17 Ibid 2. 18 Ibid 19.
as-swindler”: the greedy, untrustworthy market vendor or merchant. The most flagrant example of this particular stereotype can be found in Disney’s animated musical Aladdin (1992).19 The film’s opening number is sung by a character known as “the Peddler,” who kicks off the movie by singing a wildly racist song about how the town in which he lives in the Middle East is “barbaric,” then breaks the fourth wall and attempts to sell some of his merchandise to the audience before starting his narration of the film. The trinkets he has are clearly outdated or damaged, but that does not stop the Peddler from trying to lie and convince the audience of the fine quality of his products. For example, he promises the audience that a “combined hookah and coffeemaker” will not break; he then taps the contraption on the table, and pieces of it fly off or break instantly. Though Aladdin is just one instance of this stereotype, Shaheen confirms that “interspersed throughout the movies are souk swindlers.”20 Once again, though the stereotype of greedy, swindling merchants is not as conspicuously adverse as the violent, murderous stereotype seen so often in more recent films, this “Arabas-swindler” image nonetheless laid the foundation for Americans to view Arabs as the “cultural other.” It can be concluded that the pre-1990s representation of Arabs was not dominated solely by images of gun-wielding religious extremists and suicide bombers; however, a plethora of other, equally demonizing stereotypes existed in American cinema long before.
Part IV: Conclusion Clearly, the issue of Arab representation in American cinema is not new, and it has also yet to be fixed in any substantial way. The screen Arab of the past, who is defined by his violence and savagery, whom we see blow up forts and attempt to kill innocent animals in Ali-Baba Bound, is the same as the screen Arab of the present. We see him in The Siege, when he blows up buses in New York City, in Rules of Engagement, where he attempts to kill Americans abroad, and in countless others. Looking into the past, however, we also see other, less conspicuously damaging stereotypes about Arabs immortalized onscreen. We see the screen Arab as the oily, lecherous Sheikh, whose obscene wealth is only matched by his obscene treatment of his harem maidens. And we encounter the deceitful market seller, willing to do or say anything to convince the innocent Westerner of the quality of his damaged goods. While stereotypes such as these do not appear to be as damaging as stereotypes involving violence or brutality, they are, in fact, equally detrimental. Though they may not seem as dangerous, such “lesser” stereotypes help to bolster even more harmful ones. These less overtly negative images of Arabs in actuality helped to lay the groundwork for American audiences to view Arabs as the cultural other; thus, allowing Arabs to fit neatly into the definition of the anti-American enemy, a role that increasingly needed to be filled in contemporary films.
19 Aladdin. Dir. John Musker. Walt Disney Pictures, 1992. 20 Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, (New York: Olive Branch, 2001) 24.
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A photograph taken by Parwana Fayyaz in a small procession in the Shia Muslim community in Chittagong, Bangladesh during the Day of Ashura, the mourning day of the martyrdom of Husayn Ibn Ali.
To Climb a Wall Creative Nonfiction Marium Abdur Rahman B.A. English Language and Literature ‘12, University of Michigan
My grandmother and I watched the opening toss on the tiny television in her flat as we got ready to visit my aunt’s house for dinner. My mother’s parents live in Karachi, Pakistan, a coastal city with salty, humid air and the biggest (and truthfully, only) cricket stadium I’ve ever seen. It was built in 1955, and can hold over 34,000 people. When we visited them back in March of 2010, after my high school graduation, the Pakistan Regional Cricket matches were going on right across the street from their home. Thirteen of Pakistan’s largest cities each had a team competing in the set of eighteen matches played at the Karachi National Cricket Stadium. Despite the incessant national blackouts of electricity, the fluorescent light panels of the National Stadium floodlit the night. The last regional game was held the Monday before our departure back to Chicago. We were invited out to dinner, so it was never an option for me to go see what a real cricket game was like. The entire tournament was being telecasted live, and we spent the majority of our evenings eating as a family in front of the TV, rather than at the dinner table. As I finished ironing my clothes for the dinner party, I saw Shoaib Malik lose the toss and heard the distant rumble of the crowds across the street as Faisalabad was set to bat first. The English subtitles of the interview with the Wolves’ captain,
Misbah-ul-Haq, flashed across the screen as I thought about how Sialkot’s losing the toss only made Shoaib Malik closer to the stands; he would definitely be fielding on the edge of the pitch. Our family is a cricket fan club in and of itself, spearheaded by my five-foot tall, too-old-to-have-an-age grandmother. She religiously follows Wimbledon tennis, the U.S. Open golf, as well as every cricket match that Pakistan has even the slightest chance in—especially if India is involved. There is no messing with her feminist Pakistani jingoism. As embarrassing as it sounds, even the American-born branch of our generation can get riled up about Twenty20 and the One Day International, or ODI, matches. We considered it an offshoot species of the American pastime. To top it off, our favorite players were in the flesh, just across the street from our house. Shahid Afridi. Misbah ul Haq. Shoaib Malik. I could have swooned. Even though Shoaib Malik is an allrounder player for the national Pakistani cricket team, he only plays as captain in the regionals. I halfheartedly proposed that we could slip out and run to the Stadium for the first few overs or innings. After all, when would I ever have the experience of watching a live game in Pakistan with Shoaib Malik as captain? My grandmother didn’t think twice before pulling the plug of the iron out of the wall, grabbing the keys, and shuffling my extremely eager the stanford journal on muslim affairs
grandfather and equally reluctant mother into her car. Before I even realized what I signed up for, we were in the middle of the biggest mob of people I had ever seen, on our way to the Regionals. My grandfather stayed behind and watched the car as the three of us women trekked across the dusty road to the National Stadium. My grandmother charged through the crowd, her hot-pink shawl fluttering through the dust a few paces before me. In the composition journal I took with me overseas, I wrote that night:
Getting to the Stadium was an entirely separate adventure. There were so many people! And all of them seemed to be guys between 16-25 years. The most accessible entrance was for families only. My grandmother asked a group of boys where the entrance was, and the guy in the front was like, “Auntie jee, this is only for women and their families… can we all come with you then!?” There must have been 20 guys with him! Every few guys tried to claim me as a sister or a wife. Nani was all “chalo!” or “let’s go!” and I kept laughing, but my mom was freaked out—she kept asking my grandmother, “Who are all these men??” People made way for the three of us like the Red Sea for Moses, and the Police were so nice to us, it was phenomenal! All Pakistani men looked the same to me, jostling in the evening warmth—a mob of brown bodies in motion. My mother is not only very claustrophobic, but she also has a fear of crowds, so she didn’t enjoy the event nearly as much as I did. Even though my mother quickly started hyperventilating, not a single man in the crowd gave any of us three a shove or so much as got in our way. It was the strangest feeling when even the Pakistani Police, in their brown berets and uniform handlebar 34 avicenna
mustaches, made way for us to enter the stadium in front of all the men they were coercing into a queue. The game itself is a blur to me, seeing as we were only there for half an hour before rushing to our prearranged dinner party. I remember the big screen with Urdu subtitles that I couldn’t read, and people behind us banging glass bottles on the railings every time the ball was hit. I saw Shoaib Malik out on the corner of the pitch, with his sharp jaw and grey baseball cap projected on the huge screen in front of us. More than the game, though, I remember the Stadium—bright, congested, humid, and loud. Even in my diary, I spent three pages describing the trip to and from the Stadium, with only a paragraph listing all of the famous players I saw from my almost front row seat.
On our way out, people were still trying to get in—all those boys! Guys were fighting with the guards and scaling the walls— some were even scaling the mesh wire to sit on the rafters! It was so hyped! (Ammi, my mom, was still freaked out by the mob of guys. I was still giggling.) I told Ammi, “I wish I was a boy! I’d go climb a wall and sit on the roof!” She became sober and said, “This is a country that gives extreme respect to women. The only reason you got into the Stadium at all is that you’re a girl.” That shut me up. I still wanted to climb a wall. We watched the remainder of the match that night in my Aunt’s house on her big screen TV until the lights blacked out. My two cousins, Bilal and Zaid, were greeneyed to hear that I got into the Stadium. “How could an American girl who can’t even pronounce ‘ball’ properly in Urdu go see the Regionals when we were stuck
at home?” They seethed about how their parents didn’t even allow them near the Stadium. “We could have taken them with us!” I exclaimed to my uncle. “It was so easy for us three to get in.” “It’s different for you, Marium,” my uncle replied over the boys’ accusatory looks. “Because they are boys, there is always the possibility that they could get hurt if they got caught in a rowdy crowd or even arrested if they somehow end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens all the time.” We had the most outlandish conversation in the TV room, interchangeably carping on their impassable world and cheering for Faisalabad. Once the Faisalabad
Wolves lost to the Sialkot Stallions, it didn’t matter anymore to Zaid that I got to see the opening over. I still bragged about how I got to see Misbah-ul-Haq hit a Choka, or home run; Bilal was satisfied that at least I didn’t catch the ball. Later, when I sat in Chicago O’Hare waiting for our domestic connection to Detroit Metro, I ruminated over that night when I went to the National Cricket Stadium with my grandmother:
It was amazing—they say Pakistani women are oppressed or suppressed or whatever… When I go visit Nani in a third world country, I get VIP access to the Stadium even though I don’t even “belong” in their country… Just because I’m a girl? I guess I’ve got enough walls I can climb right here in America.
And All At Once You Feel It / Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (Photo by Allison Mickel, PhD ‘16)
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