Thursday, November 1, 2007

Putting Words in Our Mouths

Buthayna Nasser, a Saudi TV broadcaster, debates excellently about her rights and equality to man under Islam. She kicks ass and takes names, in fact. So what’s the problem?

How her views are interpreted. The title for the clip (played during the clip) is: “Debate on Women Appearing on Saudi TV.” But Ritter1001, the poster of this clip, has re-titled the piece: Islam: "We are Being Brainwashed on a Daily Basis." Looking at Ritter1001’s video “arsenal,” you can see plenty of anti-Islamic videos, including some from Wafa Sultan and one video entitled, “How to Beat Your Islamic* Wife Into Submission – the Rules”. Ugh.

But hold on a minute! When does Nasser talk about Islam brainwashing anybody? In the clip, she describes the problem as learning Islam by memorization rather than dialogue. Nasser claims that brainwashing happens when children are taught not to question anything about Islam and only to accept what their teachers tell them; she is not arguing that Islam itself brainwashes anybody. Yet the caption of the movie is: Islam: “We are Being Brainwashed on a Daily Basis.” You see the discrepancy?

Earlier in the clip, Nasser stands up for the rights Islam accords us, but the poster appropriates her arguments against misinterpretations as an argument against Islam. This is why Muslims are reluctant to discuss problems they see in the Muslim community. We’re afraid that our arguments will be taken as evidence against Islam, rather than as evidence of patriarchal misinterpretation of Islam. This is a problem particularly for Muslim women: for example, if a Muslim woman speaks out when she is the victim of domestic abuse, those in the West blame her religion instead of her crappy husband, despite the fact that there are plenty of crappy non-Muslim husbands who twist religion to conform to their despicable treatment of their wives.

This doesn’t mean we should refrain from speaking out, however. We need to be sure we contextualize our dialogue and remember that we’re doing our best to fight against misunderstanding and bigotry. No matter how hard we try to keep the discussion respectful, there will always be someone who will use our discussion for their own ends. Despite the misnaming of Nasser’s clip, I’m glad it’s out there. Just because one man can’t see the truth doesn’t mean other people won’t.

*Grammar lesson: I hate it when people use “Islamic” when they should be using “Muslim.” According to Associated Press guidelines, “Note that a follower of Islam is a Muslim… Use the word ‘Islamic’ as an adjective for things, as in ‘Islamic architecture.’” Things, not people.