religion

Z. (of It’s the Thought that Counts) sent in this image (found at Andrew Sullivan’s blog on The Atlantic magazine’s website):

According to Sullivan, the text says, “You won’t be able to stop them (i.e. guys), but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what’s best for you!”

Neither Z. nor I have been able to track down the origin of this image, which is supposedly a pro-hijab PSA, beyond what Sullivan provides as a source–I can’t find any evidence online of any first-hand accounts of people seeing it displayed anywhere or of what groups might be displaying it (the online references I’ve found make vague statements about it being from Egypt). I was really hesitant to post it, but it is available on the website of a major U.S. magazine, and I’m hoping maybe some of our readers might have information about the image–who put it out, if it’s actually on display anywhere, etc. If it is a real pro-hijab PSA (or even just a proposed one), it’s a great example of the way women are often portrayed as having responsibility for controlling and preventing men’s sexual advances, since men are believed to be incapable of controlling their own sexual desires. Whoever made it clearly uses that discourse about men, women, and sexual attraction; the question is, who created it?

While I was doing some online searching for it, I came upon the site Protect Hijab, a site dedicated to “the protection of every Muslim woman’s right to wear the Hijab in accordance with her beliefs and for the protection of every woman’s right to dress as modestly and as comfortably as she pleases.” Among other things, the site provides links to news stories about laws regarding hijab, including the interesting situations that come up when, say, the city of Antwerp (in Belgium) outlaws employees from wearing hijab (or any other symbol of religious or political affiliation) but then allows them to wear bandannas.

Then I came upon this video, which has the description, “A PSA Parody/Satire intended to protest the use of the veil by women. Ban the veil and ban the berqa. A Hijab is okay, however. Free Arab and Muslim women from male religious oppression.”

I’m always interested in things like this video because there is a tendency for groups with no connection to Islam to protest the hijab as a symbol of women’s oppression. This often occurs while the voices of Muslim women who argue that they don’t find the practice of hijab to be oppressive OR they have many other issues that are higher priorities are ignored or silenced. The statement “Ban the veil and ban the berqa. A Hijab is okay, however” also brings up some of the interesting aspects of attitudes toward hijab–who gets to decide what is oppressive? Why would, say, a veil be immediately and always oppressive but hijab (however the author was defining hijab) is “okay”?

Finally, I ran across this video, called “Top 10 Funniest Things a Muslim Woman Hears,” which presents 10 questions Muslim women often get about hijab/veils/scarves/etc.:

I like some aspects of this video–I’ve had Muslim students tell me they are asked these types of questions, some of which are clearly due to simply curiosity and lack of knowledge and others of which are rude. On the other hand, just like the previous video, this video is also constructing the practice of hijab, and the women who wear it, in a particular way–as something “obligatory” for Muslim women once they hit puberty. Clearly not all Muslims agree with this interpretation.

These could be really useful for a discussion of attitudes (both pro and con) toward the practice of hijab and the way it (or the version different groups portray of it) has become a symbol of Muslim (often defined as the equivalent of Arab) women’s oppression to some and of religious freedom and devout Muslim faith to others.

It could also be useful for a general discussion of whose voices are powerful in cultural conflicts. Who is speaking out against the presumed oppression of “Arab and Muslim women”? What is their interest in the issue–that is, is there a genuine concern about sexism and gender inequality, or is the issue of hijab a convenient avenue to express anti-Islamic sentiments? Which Arab/Muslim women are they claiming to speak for? Similarly, who is behind the pro-hijab activism? Are the voices of actual Muslim women represented? Do they play a role in the content of the message? To what degree do they represent the voices of (some groups of) Muslim women expressing their personal preferences and interests and to what degree is it an effort to pressure women to adopt hijab? Again, which Muslim women are they speaking for/to?

For other posts about hijab and other issues concerning Muslim women’s clothing, see here, here, here, here, and here. Also see these images of advice on modest clothing at Brigham Young University for a comparison.

Thanks, Z.!

Dubi K. sent in these two images (found here) and some commentary. This first image came from an ultra-orthodox Israeli newspaper:

Dubi says,

As you can easily see, it was heavily photoshopped – kids are
duplicated all over the place. Originally, the people who posted this
image on an Israeli forum thought that the publishers of the paper
were trying to make it look more crowded, as it was an event sponsored
by the paper.

But here is the original, non-photoshopped image:

Again, here’s Dubi:

A careful comparison will show that all duplicated children are there to hide girls…It’s commonplace in ultra-orthodox papers that pictures of women are not shown (including Israeli foreign minister Livni and US Secretary of State Rice), to prevent impure thoughts in the minds of the readers. Here they simply took this idea to its logical extreme. It’s the obverse case of the sexualizing of women that you normally discuss in your blog: rather than take women and present them as merely sexual beings, these “traditional” papers assume that women are merely sexual beings in the eyes of men, and so they completely eliminate them from view.

Awesome images and analysis, Dubi! And if you just happen to read Hebrew, you can read Dubi’s original post about this here.

Breck sent in a link to this post about the controversial New Yorker front cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim extremists (I found the full-size image here):

As you may guess, there have been some quite negative reactions to this cartoon. The Obama campaign did not particularly like having him portrayed as an American flag-burning Muslim, oddly enough. And apparently this has gotten wide enough press coverage that even my mom had heard about it and was distressed, and my mom doesn’t follow politics too closely.

I’m kind of fascinated by this entire situation. When I went to Oklahoma last month to visit my family, my uncle informed me that Obama is a Muslim with some secret evil motive for wanting to be president that the rest of us can’t even imagine because we aren’t diabolical enough to think of it. When I pointed out that Obama is not a Muslim, my uncle said he used to be, which is the same thing, and that if Obama really loved America he would change his middle name from Hussein. I gave up on the conversation at that point and returned to pulling ticks off the dog, since that was a lot more pleasant.

What I’m saying is, I have first-hand knowledge of the people out there who honestly believe Obama is some type of Muslim extremist with an evil plot for when he gets into office. Fox News reported on the “fist bump” as a possible terrorist gesture. This distrust of Obama is out there. So this cartoon could spark a really interesting discussion of political humor/satire and the boundaries between “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” I assume–and I’m just assuming here–that this cover was supposed to be a commentary on the fact that some people (and Fox News) are convinced Obama has a connection to Muslims and/or terrorists and, as a result, has evil plans for the future of America. But the cover could also simply reinforce those ideas–I really hope my uncle doesn’t suddenly take up reading and pass by a magazine rack in the near future, because this cover will prove to him that he’s been right all along. So what’s the line between social commentary that points out and/or ridicules issues such as these and just reinforcing the misconceptions or stereotypes that you claim to be undermining?

It could also be used for a discussion of how we read things into images based on our own assumptions. I mean, I have no evidence this cover is supposed to be a commentary (however misguided, dumb, or inappropriate it might be) on misconceptions about Obama; I’m just presuming based on what I know about The New Yorker, its liberal slant, and my recent experience with my uncle. If you showed me the exact same image and told me it came from Fox News, I am certain my reaction would be different because of my assumptions about what Fox News would be trying to say with the image. I can check that tendency to make assumptions about the intention of the creators of an image, and I try to, but I think it’s always good to point out to students that we don’t just passively see an image; our own experiences, assumptions, and so on influence how we interpret them. This is part of the reason that, once an image is put out there, the intention of the creator doesn’t necessarily have much to do with how people interpret or use it.

Thanks, Breck!

On an unrelated note: If you’ve noticed my absence from posting the last few days, I can only say that the first 2 seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” turned out to be way more compelling than I was expecting and watching them can be quite the time sucker.

Since we’ve been on the topic of language (see yesterday’s George Carlin post), I thought I’d add something sent in by Z of It’s the Thought that Counts, who first read about it here. The conservative Christian organization American Family Association has a website called OneNewsNow where they post various news stories. Apparently the website has a filter to automatically replace the word “gay” in any news stories with the word “homosexual.” This became apparent when a news story about an athlete named Tyson Gay was posted with his last name changed to Homosexual in both the title and the text. Here is a screenshot (found here) of the original post from OneNewsNow:

The story has since been corrected. But as FriendlyAtheist points out, they have not corrected “Rudy Homosexual” in this sports story (thanks to Jon for the screenshot):

What is the symbolic power of saying “homosexual” instead of “gay”? What is the cultural difference between those two words? Is it an attempt to keep the focus on sexual activity? For some reason “homosexual” sounds more derogatory to me, but I’m not sure why–probably just because it’s used more by those opposed to gay rights, so I’ve come to associate it with an anti-gay ideology.

This might be interesting for a discussion of discourse and language in political movements generally, as well as conflicts around gay and lesbian issues specifically. Groups always try to frame issues to make their position sound more appealing, and a major way of doing this is through language. Think of debates about abortion–the differences between “pro-abortion” and “pro-choice” as well as “pro-life,” “anti-abortion,” and “anti-choice,” are symbolically meaningful, and different groups choose to use some of these terms rather than others in an effort to make themselves seem appealing and rational and the other side unappealing and radical. I suspect something similar is going on with “homosexual” vs. “gay.”

Thanks, Z!
UPDATE: In the comments to this section, Sanguinity made some great points about the differences between “gay” and “homosexual”:

“Homosexual” is the clinical term, and was used to pathologize gays and lesbians — it’s meant to invoke all that psychiatric-illness stuff. Also, the term focuses on sexual behavior, completely sidestepping romance, relationships, communities, cultures, and other sympathy-generating aspects of pershonhood. Additionally, by focusing on behavior above identity, it allows one to write entire articles with the implicit assumption that being gay is a choice: i.e., one isn’t gay, one chooses to engage in homosexual activities. That last item is especially important — while “gay” and “homosexual” may look like synonyms, they aren’t quite. “Gay” is a noun; “homosexual” is an adjective.

Thanks for the elaboration, Sanguinity!

Brook M. brought our attention to Al Jazeera’s English-language coverage of Arab women athletes training for the 2008 Olympics. They include a Moroccan runner, Israeli Arab boxers, a Qatar race-car driver, and Egyptian soccer players. Among other topics, the segments address opposition the women have faced being female Arab Muslims in sports, especially concerning their clothing. The first segment is about 11 minutes long; the second one is about 12 and a half.

One thing I like about these videos is they show the diversity of Arab Muslim women, a group often depicted as a homogeneous, passive, subordinate group all wearing veils. Some of the women in the clips do not cover their hair while some wear hijab. Among those who wear hijab, some cover every bit of their hair, others do not; some head scarves are lace and fairly transparent, while others are dark and solid. The women talk about how they feel about mixing religion and sports and being female athletes, and again, they differ in their perspectives.

While the sports element is interesting, seeing the diversity among Arab women, as well as Arab women actively discussing religion and resisting gender roles, may be very useful for students who usually encounter portrayals of Arab women as completely oppressed victims of a sexist culture/religion, so I can imagine using it in classes that aren’t about sports.

Thanks, Brook M.!

In case you hadn’t seen it already, this is the ad that is causing all the hullabaloo about Rachel Ray and Dunkin’ Donuts being in bed with Muslim terrorists (via lawgeek):

The incident might be useful in illustrating the social construction of social problems, moral panic, and racial politics after 911.

The trouble is… people will answer them.

Found here thanks to commenter Phili-Chan! From an Australian show featuring Charles Firth.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center just released “iReport: Online Terror + Hate: The First Decade” (pdf) analyzing cyberhate and extremist websites from the last decade. In addition to analysis and pictures of the websites analyzed (I posted some below), the report contains discussions of “cyberhate” and online terrorism, and includes an action plan. See also the NYTimes coverage of the report.

While I would argue that the Internet is no different in terms of composition than the peoples and organizations that make up the Internet (i.e. the Internet reflects and re-creates the racial, ethnic, gender and class divisions found elsewhere), what I think is particularly interesting about this report is how newer Internet technologies (Web 2.0 technologies like social networking sites, collective gaming, blogs, folksonomies) are shaping how these kinds of web content are created and distributed. Just as Web 2.0 technology tailors the information you see about your friends on social networking sites like Facebook, Web 2.0 technology is also making it possible for extremist groups to bring tailored content to targeted groups of interested individuals.

This report has a lot of content that would be perfect for class discussions on the Internet, online activism, how Web 2.0 technology shapes this kind of content, the visibility/invisibility of race, class, gender and other inequalities online, as well as issues of web freedom and monitoring online content. How could this content be regulated and/or censored? Should it be?

Some highlights from the report (p. 3):

• The Internet’s unprecedented global reach and scope combined with the difficulty in monitoring and tracing communications make the Internet a prime tool for extremists and terrorists.

• The Simon Wiesenthal Center has been monitoring these developments for nearly two decades through our Digital Terrorism and Hate Project. Our findings reveal that as the Internet has grown, the escalation of extremist sites has kept pace in number and in technological sophistication.

• In April 1995, the first extremist website went online: Today, the Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terror and Hate 2.0 identifies some 8,000 problematic hate and terrorist websites and other internet postings. This represents a 30% increase over last year.

• Every aspect of the Internet is being used by extremists of every ilk to repackage old hatred, demean the ‘Enemy’, to raise funds, and since 9/11, recruit and train Jihadist terrorists. Of special concern is the use of the Internet used by the Iranian regime to justify terrorism and spread its influence throughout South America.

• Internet-based hate has inspired some of the most violent hate crimes in America. In this election year, the Internet continues to be used to demean and threaten African Americans, Jews, immigrants, gays and virtually every religious denomination.

• Extremists are leveraging 2.0 technologies to dynamically target young people through digital games, Second Life scenarios, blogs, and even Youtube and Facebook style videos depicting racist violence and terrorism.

And some images of sites included in the report (they are described within the report):