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          Volume 10 |Issue 28 | July 22, 2011 |


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Writing the Wrong

Headline Headaches and Why I think we are still Pandering to the Man


Rumana Monzur

I am by no means a traditional Muslim woman. I was not raised in a conservative family that practiced the tenets of Islam by the book. There was never any pressure put on me to fast or attend a Mosque. My parents (wisely, knowing my contrarian tendencies) left it up to me. Allah was always there. We just never discussed Him. I am fully aware of how some sections of the Book are used to justify a myriad of misogynistic tendencies by cowardly men who take refuge behind religion. That being said, it still gets my (halal) goat when I read articles by supposed Muslim “feminists” who oversimplify and inject the stereotypical notions of Islam into every single issue. This was the case recently in an article written by a friend of mine–a Muslim-American woman– for the Daily Beast. The headline, which was very misleading read: “Muslim Honour Crimes: Rumana Monzur Allegedly Mauled by Her Husband.”

When I saw that–just the headline alone–my jaw tightened. The word “allegedly” also caused a pain to shoot right through my left temple. I read on and saw the headline was truly a sensational attempt to get people to read the piece, which was well written but riddled with inaccuracies. The author, Asra Nomani, does temporarily veer away from making this simply about religion but not until she establishes the Islamic-ness of it. She sets the stage, describing the victim's activities moments before the attacks: A Muslim, she completed her asr, or late-afternoon prayer, on Sunday, June 5, and returned to the computer in her parents' bedroom, her daughter drawing on the bed nearby.

What, I ask you, does the victim's religion have to do with a clear cut case of domestic violence? I'll tell you what. This is what the Fox News fueled Western demographic wants to read and the writer is providing the fodder. All Nomani is doing is re-fertilising the seeds of intolerance that have already been planted (forgive weak analogy, I am ticked off). It is clever in that she tries to show how expansive the Bangladeshi Muslim community is in defending Monzur and condemning her husband's claims that the victim cheated on him. But it is like Nomani is saying, “You see? Muslims can be nice too.” It is clear that Nomani has no idea what the Bangladeshi Muslim middle class is all about, that it is predominately educated and more rooted in being Bengali than Muslim. Domestic violence is a real problem in Bangladesh and besides the violence itself, the shame surrounding the victims is the most pernicious part of it. To oversimplify it and exploit the fact that those involved are Muslims is shameful.

But I get what's happening here. It's really very simple and Nomani and her ilk are just part of the growing trend of folks who pander to the West because it's lucrative for one and keeps them in the Public eye. It reminds me of the African American idea of the “step and fetch it” kind of character, dancing for the White Man.

Post-colonial hangover? Photo: courtesy

It is sophomoric. As an adolescent I was more concerned with fitting in so I understand this need to be accepted, especially when one is from a seemingly alien place and is classified as an “other.” So, naturally, the one area where my parents and I did battle was more in the cultural realm. I wanted to be American, they wanted me to maintain a close tie to my Bengali- ness. Honestly, for the longest time–and this is still true to a certain extent–I did not know what that meant. How can one be both Bangali and American? Don't worry, this is not now going to become a tiresome treatise on cross cultural confusion. My point is, so many books and movies are dedicated to examining (mostly superficially) this conundrum. Hint, there always appears to be a non-desi boyfriend and unhappy mothers trying to thwart the relationship set against Bhangra music with tons of turmeric laden dishes. Or, as is the latest trend in Bollywood, an acute need to imitate the latest fad in Hollywood style filmmaking, gross male humour, scatological dialogue, with lots of manic jump cuts set against pulsating club music that's heavy on the bass. Being hip is all the rage in India, but what is being largely ignored is that it is not remotely original. It is brown people trying very hard to be white. Yes, I went there! I mentioned this phenomenon before once. I call it post-colonial shock syndrome. I predict we will see more and more low rent simulations of The Hangover (a GREAT movie by the way, with its potty humour and mouth) and Bridesmaids (also hilarious–the female version of the former film) that will kill at the Indian box office. But, I digress.

It is apparent to me that we, as South Asians, still cater to what the West wants of us and imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery. We are still licking colonial boots. Not all of us of course, but the section that is forever stuck in adolescence, trying so hard to fit in. The cool kids–i.e. The West, Hollywood and Western mores, are what we want to embody. The more politically insidious aspect of this is where religion is concerned, specifically Islam. The widely held misconceptions of Islam are not showing material signs of abating and, as long as we have those amongst us who have access to a large section of the Western public and are intent on stepping and fetching, it won't abate any time soon.


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