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
Mid-semester, I asked my Contemporary Islamic Civilizations section* to write down the first thing that pops in their mind when I say, “Name a fictional Muslim character.” I gave the students a minute, collected the names and then read them out loud.This is what they wrote (and how they wrote it):
Aladdin: 4 students (one student also wrote: maybe not Muslim?)
Salah al-Din/Saladin: 3 students (one specified Saladin from Kingdom of Heaven)**
Malcolm X: 2 students**
Scheherazade: 2 students
Can’t think of anyone: 2 students
Jafar (Muslim or just Arab?)
Jasmine (Disney princess)
Marji (from the book/movie Persepolis)
Amir Khan in Fanaa (Bollywood film)***
Lead male actor in Kite Runner (not sure if he’s Muslim)
Characters portrayed by the Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri
Changez in TheReluctant Fundamentalist
Abu Nazir in Homeland
*All the students are Ivy League undergrads majoring in various subjects; most of them were raised and educated in the U.S.
**These are not fictional characters. I definitely expected the Aladdin characters, and I was not surprised that the students listed Saladin. I was surprised, however, to read names of 20th century North American historical figures…especially since the Autobiography of Malcolm X was required reading (in addition to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi). Was it a result of mishearing the question (i.e., the student listed the first name s/he could think of rather than consider whether that figure was fictional)? Was it a reflection of their age? Or was it from ignorance of more recent U.S. history (i.e. post-World War II) and that U.S. high school students often receive a cursory treatment of the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Cointelpro, Immigration Act 1965, etc. (if they are able to reach that time period at all)?
***Out of all the Bollywood movies with identifiably Muslim characters, a student who watches Hindi films first thought of Fanaa. It does make depressing sense. The film flattens the local and material context of the Kashmiri struggle with India as a powerful nation-state by crafting a narrative which echoes narratives on U.S. national-security and the War on Terror. In a way, it’s another commercial film giving a Bollywood flavor to a Hollywood story. In this case, violence is de-contexualized and subsequently generalized under the category of “Muslim violence.” Here, Indian nationalism as love of nation (and national security) is made relatable to an American palate which has acquired a taste for the “Islamic terrorist/national-security threat” as a popular character, making Amir Khan’s Kashmiri character as a terrorist easily identifiable (and insidiously memorable) as “Muslim.”
The recording is now available for the public conversation between Prof. Hamid Dabashi and Prof. Ashis Nandy.
The two eminent scholars raised crucial questions revolving around the theme of “state, culture, and human imagination.” Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy brought to this discussion their respective conceptions of these central ideas. Of particular interest was the nature of the modern state and its viability within the context of changing epistemological, discursive, and temporal spaces. Professor Nandy suggests that the advent of the modern state has wreaked devastation upon societies by imposing the necessity of a cultural homogenization project. Building upon this idea, Professor Dabashi questions the viability of the modern state, in the Weberian sense, suggesting that the amorphous state has a greater tolerance for critical thinking than a totalitarian nation-state. The public conversation between Professor Dabashi and Professor Nandy is crucial to Baraza’s own work, which seeks to imagine – and create – a space that not only facilitates engagement within the geographic and disciplinary boundaries of Area Studies. It also encourages the production of new discursive modes around which these engagements can be centered.
This July Morocco celebrated Throne Day, in celebration of King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne thirteen years ago. He seems to have much to celebrate; time and again, the crown asserts itself as secure against threats large and small. What has been the Moroccan monarchy’s secret to maintaining power in a post-Bouazizi world, when other Arab rulers find themselves bewildered and deposed?
So far, the will of Morocco’s people. Though dissent is very real, it often seems that a majority of Moroccans view a majority of the king’s actions, even the most brutal, as valid. They respect the king’s right to reign. Even during the peak of Morocco’s Years of Lead, characterized by the last king’s violent suppression of dissent, the monarchy has enjoyed—and has certainly enforced by all means necessary—a fairly genuine, fairly unwavering popular support. The current king’s grandfather restored self-rule to Morocco by claiming his throne against the French colonial will. The king is not only an enduring symbol of anticolonialsm, but also of a healthy relationship with Western powers, a relationship of equals in the neocolonial era.