Hands that Make

Elderflower

Our moments of inspiration are offered to us, should we lend an ear to listen and a heart to accept. What is most useful, is to act through those moments; before time robs it of the essence we so wish to cling to. How could I ignore the whispers offered to me? Recently finishing a reread of The Alchemist, I am reminded…

…every blessing ignored becomes a curse.

Words can’t describe difficult times. When times are hard, they just are. Emotional and physical pain are manifestations of that. I was trying to get some work done mid-day earlier last week, and found my mind in static motion; I felt like one of those old TV sets when the channel goes all grey and fuzzy. There is grace in knowing when to give yourself a break. My Alchemist book on the table was lightly hinting at a read and my…

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Postcolonialism, Capitalism, and Ruby Slippers

Last night around 8:30 p.m. Dad stopped by for tea in the middle of my reading of Arif Dirlik’s “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism.” Naturally, our discussion turned to colonialism, something we don’t often—actually, perhaps never discussed. My dad isn’t too familiar with postcolonial studies, but he said something that I never heard him say before: “The Crusades are still going on, people just don’t realize it.” We talked about Africa and the transatlantic slave trade, and we talked about Syria. And after he left, his words stuck with me for the rest of the evening, and I realized then that my dad is a postcolonial scholar.

“My neighbors in Farmville, Virginia, are no match in power for the highly paid, highly prestigious postcolonial intellectuals at Columbia, Princeton, or Duke; some of them    might even be willing to swap positions and take the anguish that comes with hybridity so long as it brings with it the power and the prestige it seems to command” (Dirlik, 573).

Dirlik was claiming to be slightly facetious when he stated that postcolonial studies actually began “when Third World intellectuals [have] arrived in First World academe” (561). I laughed but stopped to register what he meant by that.

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Arif Dirlik, author of “The Postcolonial Aura.”

Prior to the onset of postcolonial studies, the West’s trajectory of Eurocentrism wasn’t really challenged in a legitimized way. Master narratives of the West and modernization represented the indisputable truth (and for the most part, they still do).

What I like about what Dirlik has to say about this though is that he doesn’t mark Third World intellectuals as innocent or exempt from Western influences in their theory. In addition to repudiating master narratives he regards resisting “spatial homogenization and temporal teleology” (565) as absolutely necessary of postcolonial scholars. In order to be heard as sound intellectuals, we must distinguish what is justified belief over influences from our state of hybridity (this is something I especially need to work on). It kind of bothered me, reading what Dirlik hinted at with regards to the field of postcolonialism—that it “is a discourse that seeks to constitute the world in the self-image of intellectuals who view themselves (or have come to view themselves) as postcolonial intellectuals” (569), that these scholars use the field as a means to reclaim power (what’s with us humans and power?), meanwhile mimicking colonialist epistemology.

That isn’t to say that these scholars don’t play a serious role in counteracting cultural imperialism in academia. Their presence is absolutely vital to the challenging of First World thinkers who couldn’t otherwise tap into their innate ignorance.

Interestingly, Dirlik mentions the validity in the argument that the postcolonial condition has a direct relation to capitalism, as capitalism’s narrative is structured by Eurocentrism. He states that “even as Europe and the United States lose their domination of the capitalist world economy, European and American cultural values retain their domination” (578-579). And as a consequence of this phenomenon, the world kind of gets “jumbled up” as Dirlik puts it. With regards to First and Third Worlds, diasporas “have relocated the Self there and the Other here” (581), and so some people who live in the First World engage with the culture of their ancestors while being geographically alienated, and some from the Third World engage with the culture of the First World more directly than with that of their ancestors.

This made me think of the last time I was in Syria shopping at the Souk as a Mercedes Benz zoomed past me in the streets blasting Usher’s “Yeah” (featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris). Later during my stay, my cousins asking me if I listened to 50 Cent, to which I responded (shaking my head): “If only you knew what his lyrics meant.”

In a way, I’m newly contented with my hybridity after taking this class with Dr. Clemens. In the past I viewed being an in-between as a kind of curse—feeling neither inside the culture of my ancestors, nor the culture I resided in. I never read any Salman Rushdie, and seeing how well he wove my feelings of ambivalence into his stories in “East, West” made me realize that I am not alone (and also that I too apparently have a lot to say about my experience as a postcolonial something). I can be Miss Rehana from “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies,” who goes against the grain, and is untroubled with thoughts of marriage or cultural norms. Or I can be exceptionally anti-capitalist (ask my friends and family—I’m nuts), as in “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers,” even whilst I reside in a country that thrives on and promotes the merits of capitalism.

This class really has changed my perspective on the world and my place in it. And for that I am eternally grateful to my professor for offering to instruct this class (can we make it a pre-requisite for all English students?). I left my last semester at Kutztown thinking that I’d want to approach my thesis on the topic of Marxism (with the help of Shaw), and have decided that I want to delve into this week’s topic further and work it into my thesis as well. There’s so much more here in postcolonial studies that demands to be explored and developed (really trying hard not to sound like a colonist).

Transcend.

A treat, from my favorite Syrian poet Gaith Adhami (because I wanted to share more Middle Eastern awesomeness this semester):

On Tokenized, Politicized (and Stifled) Communities

Before jumping into theory this week I’d like to start this post with a story. I’ve always been a very quiet person. One day, a random man approached me at the gym asking why I was wearing so many layers of clothing (I wear a hoodie and a baseball cap, that means leave me alone), and remarked that I must be roasting (a hijabi woman’s least favorite remark). I began to explain to him that I cover because I am Muslim and choose to do so (I think I also included that I was cold). Unbeknownst to me, this man was a pastor (and a very talkative one at that). Weeks would go by and our conversations at the gym would grow lengthier and lengthier. And although I am not much of a gym social, I felt like I was making progress with this guy. He was listening, and excited to learn new things. But one day, he said something unintentionally irritating—that I wasn’t really a Muslim, that I was like a “Christian-Muslim” because of my leftist-liberal beliefs and mannerisms. He basically said that to be a functioning member of Western society I couldn’t possibly be a full-blown Muslim.

While I was reading “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times” by Jasbir Puar, this particular encounter came to mind. There is something about attempting to be overly inclusive of various subjugated groups that deflates identities and struggles. If being a “Christian-Muslim” was to be a valuable asset to society, then I didn’t want to play a part in that society anymore. Puar writes in his introduction that:

“the cost of being folded into life might be quite steep, both for the subjects who are interpellated by or aspire to the tight inclusiveness of homonormativity offered in this moment, and for those who decline or are declined entry due to the undesirability of their race, ethnicity, religion, class, national origin, age, or bodily ability” (10).

Interestingly, in a lecture I viewed recently with Saleem Haddad on “Reclaiming Queer Arab Stories,” he remarked one of the most agitating questions he had ever received from an interviewer came during his visit to Padua, Italy when he was asked about his thoughts on being exiled from his culture because of his sexuality. It seems that inclusiveness by nature has to be synonymous with abandoning one’s identity, to be a part of a homogenous whole.

Unfortunately, for many who don’t heed Puar’s warning about that “tight inclusiveness” that we often seek as members of society who were historically excluded, abused, and vilified, we only come to find too late that suddenly when we are tokenized and included that we serve a particular neo-political purpose.

My brother is gay. My parents, our family, we all love him to pieces. We didn’t learn to love him from anyone. My dad never threatened to kick him out because of his sexuality. It would be nice for people to understand that Islam has its own merits without a Western sexual-exceptionalist influence. Unfortunately, my brother felt, due to the pressures of society, that to dually exist as a gay-Muslim would be too heavy a burden to bear. So he left Islam. When he moved to Florida and expressed the belongingness he experienced in his community in West Palm Beach, he said that he could never go back to the mosque.

Puar writes about the appeal of white liberalism as “the underpinnings of the ascendancy of whiteness, which is not conservative, racist formation bent on extermination, but rather an insidious liberal one proffering an innocuous inclusion into life” (31), seemingly tying into what Dennis Altman touches on in “Rupture or Continuity: The Internationalization of Gay Identities.” This trend of allowing the First World to dictate what is progressive thinking, what is exceptional, “perpetuate(s) the erosion of custom, of existing kinship and villages/communities” (87).

Random, but I am going to finish off this week’s post, to write on the topic of Israel. This is a very touchy subject for me. Saleem Haddad mentioned in his lecture that Israel is often seen in the Middle East as “cool, fun, progressive, tolerant, and liberal,” not an occupier. Meanwhile, Palestinians and the surrounding Arab nations are seen as “dark, savage, and desperate—where women are stoned, and gays are hanged.” I can’t say that when I talk about Israel with people, that I haven’t heard that opinion before. People justify the “apartheid (can you call it that anymore when Palestinians now live on a 14-mile stretch of land?)” as a conflict between civilization and barbarism. As Haddad puts it, Israel is seen as a “life raft attempting to survive in the Middle East,” even though it is constantly breaking international law. The killing and ousting of Palestinians is seen as a public service to most.

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Sourced from travel-service site “Out of Office” for bookings to Tel Aviv Gay Pride 2017.

Israel’s beguiling campaign to make Tel Aviv the “World’s Best Gay City” is seen by Puar and other Queer theorists as a measure to create a perceived “exceptional homonationalism.” This furthers the notion that Muslims (the antithesis of Israel and the West) are an exceptional threat to the LGBTQ+ community. Through the furthering of this notion, the demand of exceptional utilization of force against Palestinians and Muslims (i.e. terrorists) prevails.

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This is me protesting the 2014 Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Taken August 2nd, 2014 during MusikFest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

On “Osama,” Among Other Things

Phew. Okay, here goes nothing. This week I viewed the 2003 film “Osama,” directed by Siddiq Barmak. I have to start this week’s post with saying that, if you think this film was hard to watch, imagine being Muslim and watching it. Throughout the film I often caught myself grimacing at the screen, or imagining running around with a machete and chopping off the Taliban’s penises. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep after watching “Osama.” It hit home. I purposely avoid such films at all costs because they hit home so strongly, but Dr. Colleen Clemens recommended it, therefore I thought I’d give it a shot.

Despite the emotional burden in watching “Osama,” I know that watching is necessary. This type of work that I saw, is in itself a form of protest, a way of giving a voice to people who have none. If the film is made and no one watches, what is the purpose of its production? To me this film certainly marks the insurgence of feminism in Taliban-run Afghan culture—especially considering its production was the first made in Afghanistan after the ousting of the Taliban. When any work of art comes directly from the colonized under oppressive rule, I believe we have to regard it and respect it as an emergence of a narrative that resists.

Before talking about the cultural state of Afghanistan, its important to regard Afghanistan and its contemporary issues are a direct result of colonialism.

A few weeks back while listening to an episode on one of my favorite podcasts, I was reminded of the Soviet-Afghan War, and the Russian ousting of the Afghan president in the late 70s. Upon Hafizullah Amin’s capture, a new president was put in his place by the Soviets, one that did not win the favor of Afghans, and one that demanded their favor by force. This event sparked the destabilization (and apparent openness for colonization) of Afghanistan.

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When sitting down with friends who lived in Afghanistan as children before the Russian intervention of their country, they would recall women walking the streets freely in flowing skirts and styled hair. They would tell me of a time when music of Ahmad Zahir (the Afghan Elvis) filled the air, and the sun would shine, and towns bustled, and everything Afghan was beautiful.

Without realizing, I caught myself just now remarking the first indication of difference pre-and post-colonialism of Afghanistan as its women. Undoubtedly, when we think of Afghanistan today, we think of its frustrated women under burkas, and patriarchal rule, with hopes and ambitions completely crushed by the proliferation of the Taliban. This image was certainly a primary focus of the film “Osama.” In addition to this, something that caught my attention in this film was the education of Afghan youth in Taliban-run Afghanistan. You can sort of piece together that the Taliban only care for the education of males given the ablution scene, and the scene of the boys rocking back and forth while reading the Qur’an. Women in Taliban-run Afghanistan are objects of control, who should not be educated, work, or function independently. But this gets me wondering, why the common theme of education of oppressed women in colonial states keeps coming up. It is obvious that education is a means for insurgence, a means to eradicate a seemingly indomitable force that keeps peoples and ideas suppressed. Education fosters “dangerous” sentiments. Without it, the Afghan women in “Osama” are confined to their dilapidated homes, always under the surveillance and  rule of men who have no understanding of faith, morality, or respect for human life.

In regarding this phenomenon with what Leila Ahmed touches on in “The Discourse of the Veil,” this male-run system of government seems to be what she deems an anxiety “to preserve the Islamic and national heritage against the onslaughts of the infidel West” (318). But this juxtaposition of East and West had to originate somewhere. Women in Afghan culture weren’t always wearing burkas, and that wasn’t necessarily a construct of Western influence. When we look at history it seems that the Soviet intervention helped render morally unjustifiable actions on the part of the colonized male through the destabilization of the Afghan government and the undermining of Afghan culture.

In “The Discourse of the Veil” it is also mentioned that oftentimes, from the western perspective of the oppression of the Eastern woman, we trap “the struggle for women’s rights with struggles over culture,” somehow inferring that the liberation of the Eastern woman rests on “the innate merits of Islam” (336), or lack thereof, rather than a faulty system reinforced by colonial realism. Without a doubt, this argument fuels Western interests in economic, political, and militaristic exploits of Eastern nations with the guise of liberation. It’s the point in which “feminism (is) turned from being the critic of the system of white male dominance to being its docile servant” (324), as Leila Ahmed puts it. How can we redefine a culture that we concurrently destabilize? How do we help its women without playing savior? Can you be a savior while imposing, killing, and plundering? I don’t think so.

Criticism & Achebe: Basically its All on You

“when we are comfortable and inattentive, we run the risk of committing grave injustices absentmindedly” (“Africa’s Tarnished Image,” Achebe 220).

In delving into criticisms of Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” I was astounded by the varying opinions on the depiction of Umuofia, or Nigerian culture as a whole. In truth, some of the readings I decided to include in this post had the initial impression on me as legitimate, but then after synthesizing Achebe’s own thoughts on Africa and his novel with various other critics, I’ve come to the conclusion that even some pieces of criticism that would otherwise seem sound, were also fraught with personal bias—that really, our own convictions (regardless of cultural/ethnic background), are exceptionally hard (I’d argue, impossible) to eradicate from our readings of literature.

Eustace Palmer’s piece “Character and Society in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart” attempts to

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Author and professor at Georgia College, Eustace Palmer. 

highlight the invalidity in the argument that Okonkwo’s behavior is impertinent to the influence of Umuofian society. Palmer states that the idiosyncracies of Okonkwo such as his impulsiveness and ill-temper are his own, but his virtues and regard for manliness are a result of his constructed identity derived from the Umuofian culture. This piece regards Okonkwo’s values as what ultimately results in Okonkwo’s demise, but also to the destruction of his society to the brutality of colonization. According to this essay, Okonkwo’s impulsiveness, and bad temper are not enough to suggest that Okonkwo is a deviant from the Umuofian tribe. In addition, what may be perceived by many critics as solely Okonkwo’s misogynist tendencies,  Palmer finds to be “no more and no less than his society’s regard” towards women (414). Palmer exemplifies this notion with excerpts taken from “Things Fall Apart” where he touches on how Okonkwo rules his wives and children with a heavy hand because of his Umuofian influence, as the construct of Okonkwo’s identity was conditioned by Umuofian attitudes and beliefs, not his father who was despised by his tribe. To be able to kill Ikemefuna was not necessarily in Okonkwo’s nature, but to please his clan Okonkwo must put aside his instincts and desire to keep Ikemefuna alive, rendering him dehumanized and rigid. Ultimately, after becoming an embodiment of Umuofia, Okonkwo’s suicide represents his inability to change as his society does through colonization.

Interestingly, directly after my reading of Palmer’s essay I was drawn to Rhonda Cobham’s piece titled “Problems of Gender and History in the Teachings of Things Fall Apart,” which I initially thought would address the issue of gender for the majority of its argument. I came to find that Cobham regarded the character of Okonkwo with relation to Umuofian society from a completely differing standpoint to Palmer. The only similarities I could find between Palmer and Cobham’s opinions was that both concluded that Okonkwo’s poor temper and impulsiveness were his own, and that his suicide marked a symbolic separation of Okonkwo from Umuofia.

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Author and professor at Amherst College, Rhonda Cobham-Sander.

Rhonda Cobham’s essay “Problems of Gender and History in the Teachings of Things Fall Apart” argues that to not include the various aspects of Okonkwo’s character that many find abhorrent would be “aesthetically inauthentic” (511), and that oftentimes readers insist on conflating textual and political issues with “Things Fall Apart,” focusing on Okonkwo’s viciousness, rather than the viciousness of colonization. This essay regards the duality of Okonkwo’s existence as a result of his own construction of social context with regards to his identity, rather than simply adopting a system of reference that children usually inherit from their parents during their upbringing. Okonkwo’s relationship to his clan is carved out intentionally on his own, with a deliberate absence of influence from his father. Okonkwo defines his masculinity based on everything his father was not. According to this piece, Okonkwo’s ill-temper, impulsivity, and nervousness are not a construct of Umuofian society, but aspects of his persona. Contrary to other criticisms of gender of “Things Fall Apart” Cobham states that Okonkwo’s misogynistic tendencies are contradictory to Umuofian beliefs, and that Achebe deliberately included excerpts on the punishment for breaking the week of peace, and the inclusion of female deities to touch on the tribe’s viewpoint on gender relations. Cobham argues that when teaching “Things Fall Apart” the values we and our students extract from the text, are actually a reflection of our own values. Cobham problematizes the need to hone in on Okonkwo’s misogynism, rather than focusing on the depiction of colonization in the text.

I have to say that in terms of where I stand in relation to the two pieces, that I most closely relate to Rhonda Cobham’s piece. It seems a much more liberal and sound reading of “Things Fall Apart.” I’m leaving this week treading this post lightly, thinking metacognitively, and about how I could possibly ever teach a book of this notability without somehow imposing the viewpoints I’ve adopted through my lifetime of exposure to Western literature and ideas. Or worse than imposing, being completely unaware of my innate ignorance that I maybe sometimes address.

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Colonists are like Locusts

Truly, the best accounts of African societies are the ones written by Africans themselves. Its the reason I’ve tried my best as an adult to choose what I read very carefully. This isn’t limited to African texts, but texts of all racial and ethnic groups. I don’t want anyone who isn’t in, telling the story of my people either, am I right?

When I took a graduate course on Indigenous Rhetorics, I quickly had my hand slapped by my professor, Amanda Morris after responding to the question, “Write everything you know about contemporary Indigenous people.” If you knew anything about me prior, you’d know that I was obsessed with Native American literature (albeit literature that was mostly written by white people). My response (looking back now) was absolutely cringe-worthy. But at the time I really thought I was honoring the customs, traditions, and identities of these people that I have literally been obsessed with since the Native American pop culture craze of the 1990s.

The rationality of my obsession was rooted in the notion of the noble savage (so embarrassed).

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Chinua Achebe, author of “Things Fall Apart” at home in Annandale-on-Hudson. Photography by Steve Pyke

This week I re-read a story I hadn’t touched since my undergraduate years: Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” Given everything that I’ve learned between my undergraduate years and now, I didn’t want to make the mistake of passing judgment on one of the most honest accounts of Nigerian culture that exists in literature today.

I remembered what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said about her experience coming to the United States—our culture expressing an understanding of Africa as a place of want, rather than prosperity. And I realized then that both she, and Achebe, in regarding their own cultures through their fiction, really seek to do one thing, which is question the monolithic assumptions the world makes about Africa and its societies, contesting the savage/civilized binary.

Through “Things Fall Apart” Achebe sought to highlight the West’s usage of the collective Africa as a means to establish its own superiority over the “uncivilized” world (think about the word ‘darkness’ that Joseph Conrad references all the time in “Heart of Darkness” and then you’ll get it). Besides shattering Conrad’s utilization of the whiteness versus blackness dichotomy, Achebe also sought to shatter the worldview of negritude by conveying a full, rich understanding of African culture— giving a voice to a people who are exploited by the West and rarely (if ever) accurately represented in widely read literature.

Interestingly, Achebe does not choose to write exclusively about the abomination that is the colonizer. In chapter twenty, Achebe writes on his own people who have taken to the customs of the white as being one of the most detrimental forces to his culture: “‘It is already too late,’ said Obierika sadly. ‘Our own men and our sons have joined the ranks of the stranger. They have joined his religion and they help to uphold his government'” (100). On page 104 Achebe continues, touching on the affect colonization has had on Okonkwo, the strongest of Umuofia: “He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women.” The people of Umuofia who were converting inadvertently lead to the destruction of not only the force of Umuofia, but the morale, and willingness to oppose colonization. One-by-one the culture of the colonizer led to the collapse of various tribes through their ethnocentric and racist interactions and policies.

It is mentioned in chapter twenty-two that the successor of Mr. Brown’s (a pacifist preacher), Reverend James Smith “saw things as black and white. And black was evil” (104). He not only approved of the disrespectful unmasking of the egwugwu, but also fueled the clash between colonial and indigenous systems.

In this novel, Reverend Smith, coupled with The District Commissioner very well represent racist colonial white authority over Nigeria. Suitably, Achebe ends the novel with The District Commisioner’s story. He writes about The District Commissioner’s fear of going native when he states on page 117 that “a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting down a hanged man from a tree.” Given that The District Commissioner may be the first to write such a thing as The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, Achebe satirizes the concept of racist colonizers writing and thinking they know all that is to be known about societies in which they are not of— highlighting the ways in which they dehumanize and reduce whole societies to what they deem fitting.

“Things Fall Apart” is drawn to an end with The Commissioner deciding that perhaps he’ll include Okonkwo’s story in his book—maybe a chapter, no a page, actually a paragraph would do just fine. He says you have to be firm about leaving out details, otherwise you’ll never find your way to an ending.

We Don’t Need Protecting

“Revolutionary men with principles were not really different from the rest. They used their cleverness to get, in return for principles, what other men buy with their money. Revolution for them is like sex for us. Something to be abused. Something to be sold” (Woman at Point Zero, Nawal El Saadawi, 119).

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Nawal El Saadawi in Tahrir Square. Photo credit: Al-Jazeera.

Despite having very strong opinions about western feminism with relation to the Middle East, I can’t deny that I actually am quite hesitant putting my thoughts on paper. Its not that I question my opinions on gender or patriarchy, but rather, that my opinions have a way of being misinterpreted or seen as biased considering my ethnic background. Throughout this post, I will be addressing “Woman at Point Zero” by Nawal El Saadawi as well as ideas from a piece I recently published in Cultural Intertexts, titled “Representations of Indigenous Feminism and Social Change.” Both pieces function to undermine patriarchy and colonialism, but one doing so in invoking the present, while the other in invoking the past.

To infer in some way that patriarchy was a natural construct of Islam or Middle Eastern culture is to infer that it historically existed within the geographical region, pre-colonization, which simply is not the case (at least not to the degree in which it exists today). Patriarchy is an acquired social construct, completely devoid of religious affiliation. I cringed while reading Firdaus’ testimonio when she references her father as a man who attends Friday prayers and speaks of sermons, meanwhile depriving his children of emotional, and physical nourishment, and forcing them to work the fields—while physically abusing his wife, as well as his fatherly duties. I know my opinions about religion are idealistic. But if our book reads that one is not permitted to inflict physical harm on any human life, let alone one’s spouse, or children, and that one is to exude kindness and provide emotional and physical nourishment, shouldn’t that unambiguously be the case—especially in “the Muslim world?”

Firdaus also relates a time being married at a young age to Sheikh Mahmoud. A sheikh is the Muslim equivalent of a priest. To beat Firdaus and force himself upon her, given his position as a man of God, was more disturbing to me than I could ever explain. I suppose in expressing this, I am also confessing my naivety in my idealism. I have never heard of a case like this in my entire life. In juxtaposing the piety a sheikh should emanate, with Mahmoud’s obvious abuse of his male position, I am confused and conflicted with this inconsistency:

“But my uncle told me that all husbands beat their wives, and my uncle’s wife added that   her husband often beat her. I said my uncle was a respected Sheikh, well versed in the teachings of religion, and he, therefore, could not possibly be in the habit of beating his wife. She replied that it was precisely men well versed in their religion who beat their wives. The precepts of religion permitted such punishment. A virtuous woman was not supposed to complain about her husband. Her duty was perfect obedience” (59).

In Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí‘s piece “Colonizing Bodies and Minds: Gender and Colonialism,” she recognizes the inconsistency of the colonized mind. She reminds her audience that colonization is not simply a manifestation of Western domination of land or people, but of a process of constructing reality—especially with regards to the dichotomy of male and female. “Modern progressive” always takes precedence over traditional or “savage,” both ideas completely relative to who’s doing the dominating. Racial or ethnic inferiorization coupled with gender subordination becomes the reality of the colonized female, whereas the colonized male only has to deal with the racial/ethnic inferiorizing. If he adopts the colonizer’s institutional format and rituals of power, he can have “much more power over the people than was vested in [him] traditionally” (343).

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Oyeronke Oyewumi, author of “Colonizing Bodies and Minds: Gender and Colonialism.”

The other battle women  have to face is the notion of women’s rights as something newly emerged, as if it could not have possibly existed during the history of mankind. Unbeknownst to many, Aayesha, the wife of the prophet Muhammad was both a highly-educated intellectual scholar and possessed a strong political influence over the history of the Islamic empire in the Middle East. During her lifetime in the 600s she advocated for the education of Muslim women and taught at the schools she founded in ancient Arabia.

But the Western construct of Aayesha tells a different story. To the West, Aayesha was a powerless child sex-slave of the prophet. The story of Aayesha is utilized to reinforce the notion of Islam and the Eastern customs as barbaric and anti-feminist. And unfortunately, I can bet you’ve heard the story of the prophet being a child-rapist over the story of the prophet marrying Aayesha, the feminist who advocated for the education and empowerment of women in the 600s —a time in the West where women couldn’t even dream of being literate, let alone going to school.

I leave you this week with an excellent clip of El Saadawi at the African Women Writers Symposium in Johannesburg (found through my good friend James):