Orientalism and its Orientalist way of thinking and doing things penetrates into everyday life, it varies in individual experience and change how a person sees himself in this world. Edward Said described his concept as Western being privileged and Eastern being subjugated which was proved effective in determining Muslim women’s struggles in Western diasporic communities.
Middle Eastern culture is presented as different, extreme, and irrational when compared to that of western ideology. This ideology is prevalent throughout Western society, further examining this biased thinking, it was revealed that this thinking was preserved prominently within mass media outlets within the West. It started with the extravagant coverage of 9/11, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist attack, suicide bombers in Middle East and the banning of the veil in Europe. Western societies as well as other countries have been listening and taking into accounts of their lives, eventually developing their attitudes, ideas and perception about the Muslim world.
Huntington’s “Clash of Civilization” notion revealed that Islam has a contradictory action and view to the Western ideology, democracy and ideas of liberty. This phenomenon caught attention of the western perception and its relationships towards the world of the Middle East, Islam and the Muslims. The word “Arabs” portrays a person from the Middle East, also as a terrorist, ignorant, and a person that contradicts with the western ideology. Although the reality of these persons are from different origin, with different cultures, beliefs, attitudes, they are still called “Arabs” (Cheney, 1986).
It’s obvious that TV shows are the biggest influence of Western people attitudes and perception towards various issues, especially related to the Middle East and Arabs. Most of the Misperceptions towards Arab women are caused by the flow of information through TV Station (Kaufer & Al Malki 2009).
The media is very interested with the portrayal Arab women and the way they dress. When Muslim women are being portrayed, the media in the West seems to be attentive and obsessed by the way they dress which is the Hijab in particular, that is perceived as a sign of cultural difference in the Western World, as it marks the point where people can differentiate Arab women from the Western ones (Ahmed, 2000). It’s not the fault of normal western people but it’s the fault of the western media, where they portray Muslim Arab Women as shapeless and ghost in their Burqa. In Edward Said’s “Theory of Orientalism” it’s clearly reflected that negative stereotyping and reactionary reporting have historically symbolized coverage of Islam and Muslims, it’s states that East and Its population are considered backward, barbaric and outsiders to western society. As a result, the media is boosting this concept of Muslim women as oppressed other, which leads to imprecise conclusions, stereotypes, and misperceptions of these women (Macdonald,2006).
Terms such as the veil, the harem, female circumcision were the reasons that formed such misconceptions and gave the impression of oppressed Muslim women. The problem is that these perceptions have been generalized incorrectly with no differentiation (Gwinn, 1997).
This problem has caused a lot of difficulties for the Hijabi Muslim women living in the West, as they have to suffer from the intolerance of the way they dress, also they are hardly accepted in the Western communities (Mohanty, 2005).
Clothing of Muslim women are seen as a symbol of their threatening, alien status (Posetty,2008). Images of burqa are being used in the media to show dangerous extremism, Muslim in Europe are being asked to remove burqa being of such association. The act of veil is often associated with the lack of traditionalism and backwardness that does not fit into the modern society and among Western women who do not need to veil (Ahmed, 1992). Western people are fascinated with how the Muslim world has a big difference and they are different from their culture, the otherness will still continue.
Major issue here is Islamophobia, it’s the lack of knowledge of foreign cultures and religions. Many western Journalists, unfamiliar with Islam religion, have a bias view on the Islam faith as cruel, backward, and the contradictory of tolerance (Ayish, 2010).
The veil has become a symbol of women’s oppression in Islam, and is antagonism to Westerns. Western media has ignored, that veiling practice was there before Islam was introduced. Especially in Syria and Arabia. It was a custom In Romans, Greeks, Jews and Assyrians, not only to Islam. At that time, Arab women who wore Burqa was perceived as protected and respectable (Ahmed, 1992).
With these increasing and continuous prejudice against Muslim women, it shows a huge gap, a barrier that prevents approval, sense, and understanding toward the Muslim women, “oppressed”, “Tradition bound”, “poor”, etc.
The danger that is represented of veiled women creates a separation between Western women “Modern and Liberated” and Eastern women “Backward and Oppressed”, not considering the diversity of practices, experiences and views of these women. Right now the most important things are how to communicate with the other who is culturally and traditionally different from you, within North-South/West-East relations and interactions.
Why Muslim Women choose to wear the hijab? Indeed, it’s a personal decision rather than a sign of oppression, the significance of wearing the hijab for religious purposes, as a mean of fulfilling God’s wishes. It’s an exclusive decision that has the ability to liberate women from negative social expectations and standards of sexualisation. Wearing the Hijab is a clear representation of Muslim Identity, and thus Stacey (2009) claims that women who wear hijab insist that the advantages outweigh disadvantages caused by media bias or ignorance (Stacey, 2009). This brings up one question? Why belief and perceptions surrounding the Arab Other have not changed despite this form of enlightenment.
As a result, individual are presented with opposing binaries in which to view the Eastern side of the World. One side they are extremist, oppressive and intolerant Arab world which delimits and dehumanises. Then on the other side there is the East which promotes free expression of religious identity, female liberation, promotes feminism. Western women are always considered as superior to Arab Muslim women especially, the veiled ones. In fact, Arab Muslim women are being oppressed by the negative representations created by the Western media. In addition, these representations may impact on these women psychologically as Western populations perceive the veil as a barrier between them and the veiled women.
In my Online Visual Essay, I thought of creating a video my project because in video I could do 3 in 1, add music, add pictures and add wordings. I have started off with the topic “Misconception of the Female Orient” and then added Creative Common pictures related to the topic. Most of the pictures were of Muslim girls and Muslim Women, who are wearing Hijab and are fully covered. Single words like “Terrorist”, “Extremists”, “Intolerant”, etc were in the video, so that the audience could think and reflect immediately, and get the emotions of it with the pictures which comes along with every 2 words. Moreover, I have explained what is Orientalism “The exaggeration of difference, the presumption of western superiority, the source of inaccurate cultural representations”. Which means that West has empowered the world and is more privileged than the Eastern other, who is subjugated and is stigmatised.
Later part of the video, I have explained what is Hijab “Veil, Screen, Cover”, it was stated in Quran, for the women of Islam to wear it and behave modestly. In this part of the video I have added quotes like “It’s not a burden, it’s a right”. Also I have added colour to words which are important and to must read and focus on. At the last second of the video I have added a picture with a quote from Prophet Muhammad “A white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action”. This quote was added, just to pass out a message that Muslim women or Muslims in general shouldn’t be less privileged than any other people, just because they are different.
Khan Sultana Nazish
Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32bg61
Ayish, M. (2010). Dynamic of Development in Arab Broadcasting. [ebook] Available at: http://www.arabmediasociety.com/UserFiles/13_WS-Description.pdf [Accessed 26 Nov. 2017].
David, D. and Al-malki, A. (2009). Article The War on Terror through Arab-American Eyes: The Arab-American Press as a Rhetorical Counterpublic. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233012616_The_War_on_Terror_through_Arab-American_Eyes_The_Arab-American_Press_as_a_Rhetorical_Counterpublic [Accessed 26 Nov. 2017].
Essays, UK. (November 2013). Portrayal Of Muslim Women In Western Media Cultural Studies Essay. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/cultural-studies/portrayal-of-muslim-women-in-western-media-cultural-studies-essay.php?cref=1
Pham, T. (2015). Samuel P Huntington The Clash Of Civiliz : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive. [online] Internet Archive. Available at: https://archive.org/details/SamuelPHuntingtonTheClashOfCiviliz [Accessed 26 Nov. 2017].
Stacey, A., 2009, ‘Why Muslim Women Wear the Veil’, The Religion of Islam, viewed 19 May 2015, <http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/2770/>
All the pictures are from flickr and pixabay (Creative Common)