Seen Through the Wrong Scope: Misrepresentation of Arab/Muslim People
The Middle East and its people are known for many things, chief among them the massive oil wealth on which the region sits and the billions of US dollars the oil fetches every year. However, the Middle East is also strongly associated with global terrorism and the Arab community is famed for producing Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, President Ahmedinajad, and hundreds of terrorists whose exploits in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa have led to the deaths of thousands. Suspicion and hostility in the western world towards people of Arabic descent has intensified progressively since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the USA. The deliberate attempts by the Republicans to label then presidential candidate Obama as a Muslim in an attempt to bring him down pointed to the view which Americans hold of Muslims. Although the West is wont to deny accusations of ethnic profiling within their national boundaries, travelers of Arabic descent are regarded with suspicion and are subjected to thorough searches and interrogations while the rest are passed easily (Malti-Douglas, 18). They also face more difficulties in their quests for visas and citizenship in Europe and the USA (Gualtieri, 1). The assumption is that terrorists are most likely to have an Arabic background. Unlike members of other religions and races, Muslims or Arabs are treated as if they all share one perspective (El-Ghobashy, 112). Most Arabic people are not terrorists. Many do not support the activities of the murderous terrorists, and are actually victims. This paper argues that Arab communities, whether living in Asia, Africa or the west, are among the most misunderstood people in the world today.
Nationalism and Identity
The creation of the state of Israel and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestines who formerly occupied the land falling within Israeli’s national boundaries was an assault on the victims, and the Arabic nations in the Middle East. The same would have been expected of any other community which was forcefully displaced of its land of ancestry. Additionally, the rise of the USA to superpower status and her continued support for Israel have rendered the voice of the Arabic people inaudible on global matters. Anything Arabic is portrayed as inherently evil, with little regard of what it means to the Arabic people. For instance, to most people in Israel, Europe and the USA, the Palestinian flag and religious robes are “terrorist symbols” while the hijab represents mistreatment of Muslim women by their men (Abdulhadi, Alsultany & Naber, 4).
In a way, the invasion and occupation of the Iraq and Afghanistan by the pro-US forces have strengthened the belief that Arabo-Muslim people are naturally violent. The frequent terrorist attacks in the occupied territories serve as the evidence. However, these attacks, whether on civilians or on the soldiers, could be a nationalistic reaction to the illegal occupation. The locals suffer greatly at the hands of the occupying forces. When they are lumped together as terrorists and labeled as such, Arabic people, like any other people elsewhere, develop nationalistic tendencies which inform the need to rise “in common and with the closest approach to unanimity to engage in the task of self-defense” (Gualtieri, 3). As such, part of the reason why the Arab communities fight the west and its supporters is because the latter abuse and disrespect the identity of the Arab people, and which the Arabo-Muslims seek to protect. The Arab communities attempt to protect the culture, their religion, and their identity, while the USA and her sympathizers devote time and resources to destroy the same. But because the west dominates global discourses, the world is forced to see the Arab world through the American lens.
Gender and Sexuality
The “Arab world” over the decades been ostracized for its treatment of girls and women. Most critical of the state of affairs among the Arab communities are academics from the USA and Europe who argue that early marriages, veiling, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, arranged marriages and honor killings are characteristic of the Arab people and are the hallmarks of a society which oppresses its women. The common image in the west of Arab or Muslim women is of women whose “genitals [are] mutilated with the help of their mothers, their bodies and souls sexually violated by their fathers and grandfathers, and their dignity negated as they are abandoned and abused by their husbands” (Abdulhadi, 155). It is therefore noble to “save the Muslim women in the Middle East” by criticizing the ill-behavior or even cutting aid to the Muslim countries until women can get equal rights with men (Mir, 1). The same critics overlook the fact that women in the west were granted the right to own property only deep into the nineteenth century, and that the rabbinical law has yet to give women the right to bear witness (Ahmed, 521). The cause of the concern for the Muslim women is not entirely unfounded, as instances have been recorded of Muslim men killing or injuring women, and escaping with lenient or no punishment (Ghannam, 89). Many Arab men also resent being led by women (Hasso, 92). However, it serves to realize that the Muslim and Arab culture is dynamic and the place of women in the community has undergone significant changes.
Women are very important members of the Arab communities and as the French colonizers observed in Algeria, women were the people who held the society together. While not many Muslim women took the front seats in decision-making decades ago, the situation has changed progressively and these women have risen to occupy top posts in politics, leadership, religion and academics, both within and outside their home countries. Many women have taken up weapons against enemies to the Muslim people (Crossette, 32). Some researchers have traced back Arab women’s activism to the early 1920s (Abdulhadi, 649). Women in the Arab community are yet to achieve equality in the west’s view of the word, but they are coming out of the shadow of their men, and their contributions becoming increasingly visible to the world. Many women continue to cover their faces, many for fear of violating their religious beliefs and many others out of choice. These include the thousands of Muslim women who have relocated to the “democratic” west where they have earned important academic, political and professional positions and where they are not at risk of being attacked for dropping the hijab. Arab women have influenced notable political changes in Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan and Turkey.
A prominent issue of debate dwells on the place of women in the Arab society. While Arebi (99-107) explores the many theories advanced to explain the misrepresentation of Muslim women in the west, there is some truth in the argument that women are not sufficiently represented in leadership at most levels. On the one hand are Muslim men who argue that their women are not oppressed, while on the other hand is a west which sees oppression on the face of every Muslim woman, but which overlooks its oppression of the same women in the west-occupied Muslim territories.
Another debate gravitates around Muslims continued hostility and attacks on occupying forces and their interests. The west finds it easy to blame such attacks on terrorist elements. To the Muslims on the other hand, their sovereignty must be respected and occupying forces should and must be expelled from the former’s territory. The occupation is an attack on the Muslims and their identity, and thus attracts the nationalistic reaction that takes the form of attacks.
Arabs and Muslims have been the object of extensive scholarly attention. In a world of commerce, academia and politics dominated by the USA and Europe, Arabo-Muslims have been studied and regarded from the west’s perspective. Unlike Africa and South America which were quick to adopt the cultures, religion, languages, family and leadership structures of their colonizers, Arabs showed reluctance to give up theirs. Seen from the west’s point of view, the Arabo-Muslim communities have come across as backwardly, non-conforming and rebellious. As this paper has argued however, Arabs are just unique and their culture and religion should be respected.
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