March 20; 7:45 am, B Nimri Aziz begins a new radio commentary on events around the globe and in the USA. Listen in at 99.5 fm, or online www.wbai.org where we are livestreamed.
March 8, Women's Day Radio Specials 10-11 am on WJFF Radio, 90.5 fm, and 11:am on WBAI, 99.5 New York: B. Nimri Aziz interviews director Amber Fares about her new film "Speed Sisters" --a profile of 5 Palestinian car racers. Orther segments are from 2009-2010 interviews with professional women in Damascus Syria, Nadia Khost and Nidaa Al-Islam.
As a Black writer, I was expected to accept the role of victim. That made it difficult in the beginning to be a writer. James Baldwin
I often feel that there must have been something that I should’ve done that I didn’t do. But I can’t identify what it is that I didn’t do. That’s the first difficulty. And the second is, what makes you think you’re it?
Harry Belafonte, activist and singer at 89
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble; It's what you know for sure that just ainst so.
You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.
Mary Tyler Moore
You can’t defend Christianity by being against refugees and other religions
"I don't have to be what you want me to be". Muhammad Ali
"The Secret of Living Well and Longer: eat half, walk double, laugh triple, and love without measure" attributed to Tibetan sources
Recent audio posts include interviews with Rumi interpreter Shahram Shiva, London-based author Aamer Hussein, South African Muslim scholar, professor Farid Esack, and Iraqi journalist Nermeen Al-Mufti's brief account of Kirkuk City history. Your comments on our blogs are always welcome.
- Move Over
- by Barbara Nimri Aziz
We are the spreaders of payer rugsMohja Kahf
in highway gas stations at dawn.
We are the fasters at company banquets
before sunset in Ramadan.
We wear veils and demin,
prayer caps and T-shirts.
We don't know what to do at weddings:
wear white and cut the cake,
or red and receive garlands,
sing rap songs or rap tambourines.
It doesn't matter.
We will intermarry
Oh, how we'll multiply
the number of Mohammed-loving Muslims
in the motley miscellany of the land.
"Move Over" is the title of a poem by Mohja Kahf. And for me it is a statement that Western feminists need to hear. It is time for Western feminists to step aside and let women from other parts of the world speak. Why is it that feminists who serve as book editors and conference organizers urge me to talk about my victimization at the hands of my brother, husband, or another Arab man? Why won’t they hear me explain the injustices of Western actions, for example, in the Gulf War? These women, perhaps more than my Arab brother, are an obstacle to my true liberation.
Do you remember the opening passages of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, or Nawal el-Saadawi’s The Hidden Face of Eve? I cannot forget them, and you, too, may remember how each opens with a powerful scene of a woman being abused. Either she is raped, or driven to suicide, or violated in some other way. A coincidence? "Abused Third World Women." Is such a portrayal a fair reflection of reality, or a pre-judgment? By selecting these themes, can publishers of our work influence our voice?
The books I note, and many more like them, were celebrated in the West, especially by feminists. As a result, they appear in many world literature courses and are a must on any women’s studies college reading list. Even high school teachers assign these books. Think about receptive young readers eager to learn about the wider world. Often these stories are the first image young people have of Asians, Africans, or Arabs.
Why do so many stories about third world women portray us as victims? I only began to ask myself this question very late in the game because it took me years to break through the conditioning and to say, "Wait a minute. Is this really what I am?" Finally, when I did speak out, Western feminists responded that, "The world must understand what hardships you face." Moreover, they maintain, "These sufferings bond women worldwide. These stories arouse interest where, before, there was none at all. We take pity on you."
Why do we need bonds of suffering to unite us? And why do stories of our suffering seem to dominate what is published, and thereby what is known about us? I am speaking not only about Asian, African, and Arab women but also about those of us identified as Hindu, Muslim, African-American, Nicaraguan, or Bosnian—all so-called third world women.
In the United States, the power centers are the Congress, the judiciary, corporate boards, the clergy—Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish—the military, and the press. All these remain entrenched male domains. Before the Western feminist movement began in the 1970s, scholars, journalists, and activists gave little thought to the power of our patriarchy here. Then feminists began to expose social inequities and call for a balance. There were some changes, and some women entered places where they had once been excluded. Yet gains were limited.
So I can’t help wondering: is it possible that, because of their frustration over limited success at home, feminists have shifted their attention to women worldwide? Are these women distorting the third world situation to create a winning argument for themselves at home—to make it appear they are really better off, after all? And why the focus on the abuse of third world women at the hands of their patriarchal systems? What about the exploitation of third world women by international corporations, by arms suppliers from the industrial world?
The Arab or Muslim woman is a prime example of the edgy relationship that third world women have with Western women. Recall Taslima Nisrine, the lately celebrated writer in Bangladesh. She was publicly denounced in some circles within Bangladesh because she had criticized some interpretations of the Qur’an. Newspapers worldwide rushed to report how rampaging hoards of Muslim men were out to kill her. What a boon for Western feminists! They could expose the excesses of Islam, and its abuse of women, especially those who aspire to be freethinkers. In the end, Western women offered Nisrine and other Muslim women little real assistance. (Nisrine herself, I was told, was aware that she might be exploited by Western women if she called for their help.) Before this, Nisrine’s writing hadn’t interested American readers, and her work was not translated into English. But once she Wt the stereotype promoted by feminists—sure enough, a collection of her work is being translated for publication by a major house in the United States. Meanwhile, the American public was left with the impression of another ugly incident from the "undeveloped, extremist" third world.
Let’s come back to the roles of American women. Where are American women effective today? Few women, regrettably, have risen to positions of power in the Senate or in corporate America. One place they seem to be more influential is the local media and publishing. Feminists have a major impact on what is published about women in the world and thereby on what is taught about other societies in schools and colleges.
The Arab or Muslim woman finds herself defined by experts in women’s studies. Repeatedly we find the same simplistic presentations. First, we are perceived as weak. Second, we are seen as victim. Third, our oppressor is typically a male relative. Fourth, we appear uneducated and incapable of managing without outside help—namely support, publicity, and ministering from those already educated and liberated, the capable Western women. Fifth, the Arab or Muslim woman is caged and needs to be released. Everything is set up for the arrival of a fairy godmother.
The pattern I speak about is very real, and I believe that it is by design. It is not a conspiracy in itself. It is rather a natural spin-off of arrogance. These women often exhibit the same patronizing attitude for which they fault the men of their own society. Remember their complaints of how they were criticized by men for their oversensitivity and weakness? Aren’t they making the same accusation toward Arab and Muslim women? Western women assume that they are somehow historically better placed to take global leadership of women’s issues—that they evolved ahead of others to an advanced stage of social and sexual enlightenment.
The assumptions of Western women are unfounded. There is also a racist element in their attitude. We have repeatedly tried to correct this. But the many objections voiced by women worldwide are unrecorded in the West. Americans and Europeans simply fail to hear third world women when we call out to them, "Wait a minute! We do not all feel the way such and such an author reports we feel. What about my brother? What about my father? What about the strong among us?"
Meanwhile, to verify these Western claims, a select group of third world authors are trotted from one TV round table to another, from one feminist conference to the next, and featured in magazine stories on a regular basis. Take the example of Arab women and the Egyptian writer, Nawal el-Saadawi. Careful research by Amal Amireh, presented at the 1995 Middle East Studies Association conference, pointed out that current editions of el-Saadawi’s work in English have been altered to overemphasize violence to women and demonstrate apparent intolerance in Islam. Perhaps against her own wishes, el-Saadawi has found her work used by others to try to illustrate the general oppression of Islam toward women.
The best known books about Arab and Muslim women are, in any case, not by Arab authors, but by American women. Anne Mahmoody’s book Not Without My Daughter has been made into a successful film. More recently, in the wake of the Gulf War, we have Price of Honor, by Jan Goodwin, and Nine Parts of Desire, by Geraldine Brooks. Goodwin and Brooks (both journalists) draw on the research of Arab women scholars, and therefore bring an "insider" authority to their claims.
As third world women, we must not be intimidated. We must ask: Why this fascination, this curiosity, this obsession with the lives of Arab and Muslim women, almost to the exclusion of other subjects? And what happens to our male writers?
We have many male novelists of the caliber of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Yet few are published abroad and most remain unknown outside the Arab world. Many find themselves overlooked in favor of Arab women writers who are, perhaps, less accomplished. And, when Arab male writers are sought out, it is less for their humanistic creative work and more for their analyses of Middle East political events. But that’s another story.
In the end, let us recognize that Western feminism, including its academic dimension, has its cultural context and its political agenda. The women who embrace us and pander to us as victims must step back. Then they must learn to take our strength with our weakness.
Kahf's poem "Move Over" appeared in the 1990 # 36 issue of The Exquisite Corpse, Journal of Books and Ideas, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- (The copyright on this essay is held by the author. For permission to duplicate: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to mention –women who are not in the cruel world but suffer behind bars –cages, if you will. Some of us are political –here because the Government has criminalized our actions or framed us –I call out to you to Remember and Cherish Marie Mason, a “green warrior”, Afra Siddique ” a heroine in her own Pakistan for her brave resistance”, and also Me–Still fighting, Still Struggling
Civil Rights Attorney Lynne Stewart,from prison
- a poem.. a song..
- "Nations Against Nations"; Arabic
poem by Elias AbuSaba Flash
- Allahu Ya Allah
Praises to the Prophet, by women of As-Siddiq Institute and Mosque
- Book review
- Rafia Zakaria's
The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan
reviewed by BN Aziz.
- Tahrir Team
- Read about Tamara Issak in the team page.
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