Monday, October 1, 2007

CNN's Islamophobia

So I just barely got around to watching CNN’S God’s Warriors. I know it’s old news. In fact, I found some interesting analysis here.

But I still said to myself, “This would be great for my blog!” This might give you an idea of how short on material I’ve been lately.

Anyway, I pulled out a notepad and a pencil (very journalistically) and jotted some notes while watching the program. I know that I shouldn’t expect much from CNN, but I was surprised at how many bones I had to pick!

What surprised me most was Christiane Amanpour’s repeated use of “Mozlem” instead of “Muslim.” Barf.

So they opened with Iran, going for a very provocative “Ahmedinejad thinks that an Islamic messiah is coming” thread. Then they focused on Iranian women. I was thrilled that they showed both Shirin Ebadi (shameless bias: Ebadi beat the Pope for the Nobel Peace Prize! Yeah!) and Shadi Ghadirian (shameless bias: I love her art). They ended the piece with a shot of a young women screaming while being taken in by Iran’s morality police.

Here’s my problem: CNN makes it seem like Ahmedinejad imposed this horribly oppressive morality force (blaming the crackdowns on “Ahmedinejad’s government,” an erroneous statement in itself*), which isn’t true. The morality police have been around ever since Ayatollah Khomeini created an Islamic republic. And though, under President Khatami, the morality police were subject to more restrictions and reforms, women were still arrested for improper hejab. Women have been arrested for improper hejab ever since Iran became and Islamic Republic. That’s almost a good 30 years, ladies and gentlemen! Yes, this summer, they had crackdowns. But guess what? Last summer they had crackdowns. And the summer before that, they had crackdowns. You get the point. So why the shoddy reporting?

When they were interviewing Rehan Seyam, the young American Muslim, Amanpour introduced her as wearing hejab, “the traditional Muslim headscarf.” That irked me. This young lady was ethnically Egyptian, and depending on her family’s background, they might not have worn headscarves “traditionally.” Also, the style in which she wore it (very sleek and close to the head) is a more recent style (yes, hejabs have different styles!), which I’ve noticed that American Muslims are more apt to wear. It seems like whenever anyone uses the word “traditional” when talking about Muslims, they’re using it as codeword for “backward.”

Also, who is this young lady? Her credentials to speak for all Muslims (CNN makes her into a posterwoman for Islam) are that she wears hejab and is Egyptian-American? She says of her decision to wear hejab: “I was making a decision I knew was permanent. You put on hejab, you don’t take it off.” I didn’t like the fact that she presented this as fact, instead of her opinion. Plenty of Muslim women have put on and taken of hejab throughout their lives, but CNN makes it seem like Muslim women practically glue scarves to their heads.

Another thing about this Ms. Seyam’s segment that really bugged me is all of the ubiquitous shots of her praying: with her husband, by herself, with other ladies… mainstream media coverage of Muslims usually revolves around men praying when the story talks about Muslims, terrorism, or anything concerning the Middle East. But why all the shots with our behinds in the air? Also, when talking about Muslim women, the media always show us doing one or all of three specific things: shopping (there were several shots of Ms. Seyam in the mall; my favorite was when they juxtaposed her to half-naked Victoria’s Secret windows…oooooooh, provocative); cooking (because a good Muslim women knows how to cook!); and, of course, praying. Showing us cooking, praying, and shopping contributes to the idea that we’re not more than our religion and/or our “traditional” ways of life (which all seem to revolve around women cooking and rearing children), all while hemming in us back into the idea that since we’re women, we love to shop.

Of course, I was incredibly irritated to see Ayaan Hirsi Ali interviewed. In case you missed it, here’s an earlier post why. I couldn’t figure out any good reason that she was featured in the program, other than to pepper in some Islamophobic remarks (which an interview with a Dutch MP did quite enough of, I thought). At one point, she actually says that Muslim men are beating or killing their sisters/wives/daughters because these women want their own educations/boyfriends/lives and that hurting these women is “part of our religion”. And…loser says what? Amanpour says nothing! She doesn’t press her for statistics or contradict her with facts in the smarty-pants way that she has (and I am sort of a fan of)! She just lets that horrific statement linger, and lets the audience soak up Hirsi Ali’s negative take on a religion she avidly dislikes. BOO!

I only saw the segment on Muslims, but I’d be very interested to see how Amanpour deals with women of the Jewish and Christian faiths versus how she deals with women featured in the Muslim segment. If any of you have seen all the segments, I’d love to hear some critiques. For each religion, what did the segment focus on when talking about women? Also, in the Muslim segment, they called in outside experts to talk about Islam. Did they do that for the Jewish and Christian faiths, or were all of the experts for the Jewish and Christian faiths of those faiths, respectively? I was sort of irked that they talked to Karen Armstrong, an ex-Catholic nun, about Islam rather than an Islamic scholar. There are plenty of Islamic scholars (male and female) she could have talked to. Why ask a non-Muslim about Muslims?

*Civics lesson: The real leader of Iran is not the president. The president is elected and is mostly a figurehead. The Supreme Leader (currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) is the one who really calls the shots.