Monday, November 17, 2014

Amazonas, Guardians Of Life...


Saturday, November 8, 2014

What It Feels Like For a Girl in Iraq...

A 17-year-old Iraqi girl writes that in her culture, women and girls face constant degradation and humiliations, large and small, even at the hands of their own families. She certainly has. And they don’t even know – yet – that she’s gay.
As a person in Iraq, you learn from an early age how to become “lifeless” – absolutely numb with no feelings whatsoever. Everyone here has seen a dead body. Not a normal dead body, but a dead body that is missing some limbs due to some explosion, or one with half a skull because of a shooting. Or just seeing missing limbs scattered on the street.
That’s not the worst of it. It’s what we think when we see these things that are disturbing because no one thinks, “Oh my God, poor soul!” No, we think, “Ugh, now who is gonna clean all the blood from the street!”
As a teenager, you are not only numb to what is going on around you, but you’re also numb to what is going on inside of you. No one cares about you and you don’t even care about yourself. You are made to feel worthless. You are afraid to voice your problems or your ideas. Everyone calls you stupid for having a problem, because for them, in such a state of numbness, what is a problem? I can tell you that most people here are messed up in the head. So, we are numb and worthless. It is even worse if you are a female. You are numb, worthless and nothing but a “piece of meat.”
When I was just a kid I spent most of my time with my brother and my grandmother, who was living with us because my parents spent their days working. All I can remember from that time is how my grandmother used to encourage my brother, who is six years older than me, to curse me and call me bad names because I was a girl. As you can imagine, I hated myself and I hated being a girl. I wanted to die and I did everything I could to be a boy. I dressed like a boy, and I acted like a boy. I was made to believe that being a girl was such a disgrace and I was something really awful. Although my parents weren’t approving of what was going on between the three of us, they couldn’t do anything. Years later, my brother still believes that being a girl is a disgrace, just like most of the local boys think nowadays. 
I don’t remember much from elementary school and middle school but I do remember the time I got out of a taxi scared out of my mind. I was sitting in the front seat. I was just a kid and I loved sitting there. My mother was sitting in the backseat but that did not stop the driver from trying to touch me. When we got off I told my mom, who laughed and asked, “Why would he want to do that? You are just an ugly kid!” See, she was surprised because he wanted to do it even though I’m a kid and an ugly one. I hated being a girl even more then, and I still don’t take a taxi home. If I do, I sit in the backseat and stay alert for whatever the driver does.
It didn’t stop there. The stares and sexual remarks begin the moment you start to look like a girl, sometimes as young as nine years old, and it never stops afterwards. I have a half shaved head, I wear boyish clothes and mostly act like a boy. Whenever I go out, there is always someone who shouts, “Are you a girl or a boy?” In a way, I’m glad. Hearing that is a lot easier than hearing something else, but it is not less, well, humiliating and scary, I guess. I get a lot of people telling me that I’m not girly enough, calling me names sometimes. I can’t imagine how much worse it is gonna be if one day I come out as gay to these people!
My brother might have stopped calling me names because of my gender, but it is not because he stopped believing that girls are a disgrace. It is because he doesn’t really see me as a girl. Sometimes, I feel like wearing a skirt, but I can’t because of him. He doesn't want me to look like a girl, because if I looked like a girl, then I will turn into a slut and go sleep with boys, right? That’s what he thinks. Somehow, everything in the world has to revolve around men here, men and their parts. It is a male-dominated community. 
What’s our role in this community? Oh, we are just here for sex and babies! The moment you try to do something other than that, bam! You are a “slut!” You can’t work, you can’t study and you can’t do anything. Well, you can, but then you will have to live your whole life with everyone around you thinking you are a “slut.”
When I was in U.S. recently [for four weeks on an exchange program], my brother used to call and say, “Don't talk to boys!” He thinks that if I talk to a boy then I'm going to sleep with him or something, because that's what he does with girls. He sweet talks them into doing what he wants, and if denied then he gets mad. For him it's like, how can you deny a man? He thinks that boys who don't do this are not men, just failures. That being a gentleman and respecting women is a sign of being a failure. Men are sex crazed in Iraq, for some unknown reason. Almost all Arab men are like that, except for the “failures,” as my brother would say.
Laws and rules? What laws and rules! Last time I heard they were trying to enforce a law that allows men to marry nine years old girls without her consent – just her father’s consent.
In high school, a guy as old as my dad tried to rape me. He used to drive me to school everyday and then he started to make me do stuff. When I would say no, he would be honestly surprised that I would say no! Because how can I say no? Isn’t this what all girls want and what they are here for? I quote him: “Why don’t you wanna see my dick? Other girls would be dying to see it!”
Some people would disagree with me, saying that I’m talking in a really negative way and that it is not that bad. But they would only think this because everyone has grown to accept it as the “normal” way of living. There are some people who actually believe that this is the right way to live, that men are everything and we are just sex objects! I don’t know why. Bad education? Bad parenting? I don’t know, but it is pretty disturbing.
Noor, 17, lives in Baghdad.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Today is Ashura!

                                                                       Photo by AFP

May all these Yazids, literal and metaphorical, be upended on this and every Ashura, so that we can realize the daily relevance of the teachings of a beautiful and meaningful Islam.   May we do more than merely shed tears. May we rise, majestically, to embody the spirit of revolution, in countering tyranny and oppression. - Omid Safi 


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ah, love is...

Ah, love is a voyage with water and a star,
in drowning air and squalls of precipitate bran;
love is a war of lights in the lightning flashes,
two bodies blasted in a single burst of honey.

- Pablo Neruda, Morning XII

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

From Gaga to Malala: Muslim Women as Stereotypes and Exceptions

Editor’s note: Malala Yousafzai has been extensively covered in media lately, and several MMW writers wanted to weigh in on the way she is being portrayed.  Today’s post is by Amina; stay tuned for reflections from Nicole and Eren later this week.

Lady Gaga’s pink burqa. [Source].
Just a couple of months ago, Lady Gaga wore a ridiculous, sheer pink burqa. While I didn’t buy her reasons for it, she allegedly did it as some vague, old attempt at empowering Muslim women by trashing a form of hijab.(Read Eren’s take on “Pink Burqas, Gagas and Madonnas” here.) Mariam Elbaprovided a great analysis of Gaga’s “Bura/Aura”  lyrics for PolicyMic; the lyrics include “I’m not a wandering slave, I’m a woman of choice … My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face.” All of that, as Elba, points out, sounds okay, maybe even promising. And then, the chorus dives into stereotyping and  hypersexualizing with  “Do you want to see me naked, lover? Do you want to peek underneath the cover? Do you want to see the girl who lives behind the aura? … Do you wanna touch me? Let’s make love.”
As Elba writes:
“The heavily erotic images ultimately dehumanize and degrade burqa-wearing women and turn them into animalistic beings. In a society that automatically associates the burqa with Muslim women and Middle Eastern culture, a song like this only adds onto the monolithic image of the Muslim woman being quiet, sheltered, and owned by a man.”
With her recent American tour, internet campaign to award her the Nobel Peace Prize, and alright media bonanza, stories about Malala embed a similar rhetoric. The mainstream media has largely personified her an exception, rather than the rule; as if with her courage, bluntness, and conviction, she is unlike most Muslim women. Omid Safi’s post, “How to Keep Malala from Being Appropriated” makes a great case for the need to avoid an “exceptionalizing narrative.”
Don’t get me wrong. Malala is indeed incredible. But the media discourse about Malala often insinuates that her commitments to women’s education are derived from Western influences and values juxtaposed, again, against the backdrop of stereotypes that characterize Muslim women as downtrodden and dreaming to be saved by the white knight in shining armour.
Her boldness seems acceptable largely because of that narrative. The reactions to other “brazen” Muslim women aren’t nearly as warm. When the Boston bombing suspects were named, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the mother of the suspects, came immediately and fiercely to their defence.  Zubeidat was rarely grieving, somber or apologetic in the media glare. Instead, she remained consistently defiant and insistent of her sons’ innocence. The media reactions to Zubeidat were almost instantly vicious, labelling her a terrorist and questioning the “extreme” nature of her religious views. If she were less outspoken, more apologetic, and weakly sobbing behind a microphone, Zubeidat would have better fit social expectations of a grieving mother and of Muslim women, in general.
Then, there are the stories that rarely make a ripple on the Western media circuit – like the “Speed Sisters,” a group of female Palestinian street racers that draw crowds along the roads of Ramallah. And the Saudi women who embrace regular acts of civil disobedience and challenge their social status quo by driving. And the Sudanese women who recently staged a silent protest demanding female detainees be released. I’m grateful for Anneke’s weekly Friday Links because her posts generally host links to healthy counternarratives of Muslim women, in contrast to the typical stuff we read about in the mainstream media.

There’s something immensely telling about the stories mainstream Western media decides to promote and those that get swept under the rug. The stories that are told and ways in which they are told say as much about the storytellers as those that are the actual subjects of discussion. Mainstream media actively homogenizes Muslim women into meek, weak beings who lack the audacity and know-how to challenge patriarchal systems. That narrative – one that denies a Muslimah’s autonomy – makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to engage with Muslim women on the basis of solidarity. Instead, the West just sells itself as the ultimate saviour, bound by a superficial chivalrous oath to protect Muslim women from those evil, evil Muslim men who must ALL be pledged to the Taliban.
As I establish my professional career, I’m cognizant that I stand on the shoulders of giants, that my values, passions, and drives come from brilliant, fierce Muslim women: my unapologetic Nani, my strong-as-steel mother, countless activists, and brilliant academics. Yes, I am a Canadian woman. But my opinions on education, independence, empowerment, and self-sufficiency are heavily borne from my cultural and religious influences as a Muslim woman and the two aren’t mutually exclusive. While the Muslimahs I know are exceptional, they are by no means the exception. If the mainstream, Western media ever intends to genuinely engage with Muslim women, then it’s seriously time to acknowledge the depth and breadth inherent to Muslimahs.