Cross posted at MMW and Tales of a Modern Muslimah

American hijabis often have a lot to think about when they step outside their doors. Will we be denied a job because of hijab? Will we be asked to take off our hijabs at work or school? Will our hijabs make us a target for racists and xenophobes? Will we be pulled out of line at the airport because of our hijabs? However, one place we don’t expect hijab to cause us issue is in court. In courtrooms throughout the U.S., Muslim women wear hijab and Muslim men wear kufis if they’re inclined to do so. My mother, who is a social worker, wears hijab when accompanying clients to court.

 

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

Lisa Valentine. Image via AP.

So it must have been completely shocking for Lisa Valentine to be denied entry into a Georgia courtroom because of her headscarf. I’m sure it was one of the most racist incidents in her entire life. Despite the fact that Valentine’s civil rights were violated and this incident was inspired by racism, the media’s coverage of Lisa Valentine’s ordeal has been mixed at best.

One constant issue that I have in the reporting of Valentine’s ordeal is the reporting of her using a swear word. Every article and news clip on this story has mentioned it. “When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.” “Frustrated at being prevented from entering the court, the woman reportedly uttered an expletive and sought to leave the area.

Why is this fact so important to mention in every news story about Lisa Valentine? Wouldn’t a lot of people use an expletive if they were denied access to court? It’s almost as if the mention of Valentine’s use of a swear word is being reported as a cause for her arrest instead of a law that was abused by the bailiff and the judge. I wonder if the mention of Valentine using an expletive is to make her seem at fault or to simply make hijabis look bad. Either way, I found the constant mention of this fact to be really annoying and unnecessary. She cursed. So what? No matter what Valentine said, there’s no reason why she should have been arrested and sentenced to ten days in court.

Additionally, the coverage of Valentine’s ordeal hasn’t focused much on the racial dimensions of the incident. Valentine’s civil rights were violated because she is a Muslim. Even though she was barred from the court because of her “headwear”, her headwear was religious in nature. There’s little mention of the fact that Valentine’s headwear wasn’t ordinary headwear at all but part of her religious attire. In most of the stories I’ve read on Valentine, this distinction isn’t made except by Valentine herself.

Also, I have seen no discussion of how xenophobia and Islamophobia probably influenced what happened. I doubt that a nun would be asked to take off her habit in court because Catholics are not seen as foreign. However, Islam and symbols associated with it (such as hijab) are. Without looking at the issues at these issues, the stories on Valentine seem incomplete.

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Last year, the British program Dispatches went undercover in a Mosque in Britain to expose “radical” Islam functioning in Britain. I’m sure the main point of that program was to scare inform Britons about radical Muslims who lurk in every corner. The masjid in question is funded partly by Saudi (although many masajid around the world are) and at least some of the members subscribe to the Salafi form of Islam (erroneously called Wahhabism in the program). Coming from a city with plenty of Salafis, I wasn’t shocked by anything I saw in the Dispatches programs. I was actually disappointed and disgusted. The message seemed to be although Muslims talk about interfaith dialogue and living in harmony with their non-Muslim neighbors, one can never be sure about that. The Dispatches program is definitely one of the worse in a long line of media programs aimed at increasing Islamophobia among the masses.

This year, Dispatches made a return visit to the mosque. For this visit, they used a female reporter as the undercover agent and had a more explicit focus on women, unlike the last episode. When the episode begins, we’re given the usual images of niqabis that are shown whenever we discusss “radical” Islam. I counted three shots of niqabis before we’re shown actual footage from the reporter (who also donned a niqab). Curiously enough, we’re shown footage, not of men speaking of the “need” to hate the kafir and be segregated at all costs, but of women doing this. Salafi women have propagated this separatist version of Islam for quite some time. You can see some of the remarks in the clip below:

This time, Dispatches reverses our expectations of gender norms for Muslims. Usually men are shown as active advocates for extremist Islam with women being the passive victims of it. However, in this show, women are shown actively advocating for the Salafi vision of Islam as well.

A few messages about Muslim women are conveyed in the Dispatches program. One message, which is common, is that Muslim women are complicit in their oppression and “brainwashed” by Muslim men. Most of the women in the masjid wear niqab, which is associated in the West with oppression. By showing these women in niqab preaching this extreme, separatist view of Islam, a Western audience will probably come to the conclusion that Muslim women are indeed brainwashed.

Another message was that Muslim women are just as dangerous as their male counterparts. This message has been propagated in the MSM a lot recently, with recent news stories on women suicide bombers and now the Dispatches program.

Dispatches promoted more negative images of Muslim women and Muslims as a whole. It will do little to help Britons understand their fellow Muslim citizens, including Muslim women, and only serve to make a wider gap between the Muslim population and non-Muslim population in Britain.

Cross-posted at Muslimah Media Watch


Women suicide bombers have been receiving increasing coverage in the media in recent years. Just this past week, at least three articles have been written about women suicide bombers in Iraq. The coverage of women terrorists in the Western media is often colored by gender expectations and stereotypes of women as well as the usual fear of Muslims.

One of the most problematic aspects of coverage of women suicide bombers is the focus on personal motivations. News stories about women suicide bombers often focus on revenge for the death of a loved one and dishonor from rape or sex outside (thus, forcing them to become suicide bombers). In fact, the Times article that is linked to in the Friday Links for 7/1/08 is titled ” Love, blackmail and rape – how al-Qaeda grooms women as ‘perfect weapons’”. Some women suicide bombers are motivated by personal factors and some are coerced. However, there is hardly ever a look at the ideological and political reasons for why women become suicide bombers. I suspect this is because of gender bias. Women are seen as irrational and emotional and the reasons for why they become terrorists are portrayed as irrational and emotional. This is completely different from how male suicide bombers are portrayed. Coverage of male suicide bombers usually does not focus on personal factors and almost exclusively focuses on religion, ideology and politics. Coverage of male suicide bombers focuses on their causes and usually not the bomber himself. This leads to portraying male suicide bombers as having more rational reasons for becoming suicide bombers.*

There’s also the usual focus on clothes. The three articles linked to in this post as well other, older articles almost always focus on Muslim (usually hijabis) women’s dress . The assumption goes that the “robe” (jilbab) that Muslim women wear allows them to easily conceal bombs and thus makes them very attractive to extremist groups. The picture aboves is part of a slide show that accompanies a BBC News story about women suicide bombers in Iraq. I guess the focus on hijab is to be expected in just about any news story that focuses on Muslim women. However, I find it troubling that hijab is once again tarnished, albeit more covertly than usual. The “robe” explanation usually segues into the idea that women are attractive to extremist groups because they’re less likely to be searched by male soldiers. All of these reasons and motivations for the rise in women suicide bombers totally take the focus off of political circumstances (which Western nations definitely play a hand in) that also influenced the decision of both male and female suicide bombers.

Additionally, there is little focus on how women suicide bombers challenge gender roles. This does not mean that I endorse suicide bombing. However, women suicide bombers do effectively show that Muslim women can have multifaceted gender roles. Women suicide bombers show that women can be effective in military operations. Additionally, women suicide bombers have actually inspired feminist activism in various parts of the Muslim world including Egypt, Palestine and Saudi Arabia. Suicide bombings are controversial and I imagine that it is hard for Western media outlets to put any positive “spin” on this issue. However, isn’t it the job of the media to show all sides of a story? This would include showing how women suicide bombers are affecting gender norms in their societies.

*Terri Toles Patkin’s essay “Explosive Baggage: Female Palestinian Suicide Bombers and the Rhetoric of Emotion” further expands on this idea.

Cross posted at Muslimah Media Watch