Teaching Notes II: “Muslim woman”

The infamous Foreign Policy "Sex Issue" cover.
The infamous Foreign Policy “Sex Issue” cover. (Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/node/1226781)

When our class arrived to the cluster of assigned readings on Gender and Contemporary Islamic Civilization, as a similar exercise to another that I have described on the blog, I asked my section to write down the first thing they imagine when I say, “Identify a stereotype regarding Muslim women.” This time, I decided to ask directly to identify stereotypes rather than what first comes to mind when I say “Muslim woman.”

Again, I wanted them to be honest so I asked the students to submit their answers anonymously. As I expected, it was a much easier and faster exercise for them than the one about fictional Muslim characters. However erroneous the narratives about Muslim women may be, they are ample and accessible.*

I collected the slips of paper and read them out loud so the class could hear what their colleagues wrote. This is what they wrote, exactly how they wrote it:

First stereotype of Muslim women that comes to mind

  1. Muslim women are oppressed. (6 students)
  2. Submissive (3 students)
  3. Hijab-wearing (2 students)
  4. They are meek. (2 students)
  5. They wear headscarves. (2 students)
  6. Muslim women are made to wear hijab.
  7. Headscarf stigma Continue reading Teaching Notes II: “Muslim woman”

How to Read an Image


My father is an art historian. One of the criticisms I remember him leveling against non-art historians over breakfast was that “x doesn’t know how to read an image.” I had always assumed this was one of those criticisms that don’t really mean anything like: “x totally misrepresents Foucault here” or “x’s discourse is hegemonic.” The past few weeks have given a couple of examples, however, of just how right my father was and how wrong I was. It seems no-one, including myself, really knows how to read an image.

The first is the case of the Swedish Culture Minister and the racist cake. Lena Liljeroth was photographed smiling as she cut into a cake that depicted a racist caricature of a black woman. This has been taken as, at best, a misjudged, ill thought-out stunt and, at worst, a deeply problematic symbol of lingering racism in Swedish society. My first reaction was that it was a provocative post-colonial critique. The head of the cake was replaced by the head of a real person who was screaming with pain throughout the proceedings. My interpretation: Europe has been gleefully cutting up the proverbial African and eating their very flesh oblivious to the human being in pain underneath the surface (vel sim).

Continue reading How to Read an Image

“The End of an Era”: A Genealogical Analysis of “Sectarianism” in Egypt and the Memory of Pope Shenouda III

  pope3_03262012Pope Shenouda III’s passing comes at a moment of political uncertainty for a new Egypt and its Coptic communities. In Western media, fears of “sectarian violence” and potential “religious discrimination” have been expressed in numerous articles focusing on his passing as the next stage of a timeless religious conflict that will erupt between the Muslim and Coptic communities in Egypt. But, is “sectarianism” in Egypt indeed timeless and inevitable?

“Sectarianism” in Egypt and the narrative associated with it has been normalized, naturalized, and constantly reified as something inevitable. This “sectarian” discourse and knowledge is perpetuated through the plethora of mainstream Western media stories addressing the passing of Pope Shenouda III and the “troubled” future of Coptic peoples. Continue reading “The End of an Era”: A Genealogical Analysis of “Sectarianism” in Egypt and the Memory of Pope Shenouda III