An anthology of international voices, exploring provocative images of Muslim women from around the globe in literature, visual arts, journalism, and other media.
Representing diverse cultural viewpoints, Muslim Women in War and Crisis collects an array of original essays that highlight the experiences and perspectives of Muslim women—their dreams and nightmares and their daily struggles—in times of tremendous social upheaval. Analyzing both how Muslim women have been represented and how they represent themselves, the authors draw on primary sources ranging from poetry and diaries to news reports and visual media. Topics include:
- Peacebrokers in Indonesia
- Exploitation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Chechen women rebels
- Fundamentalism in Afghanistan, from refugee camps to Kabul
- Memoirs of Bengali Muslim women
- The 7/7 London bombings, British Muslim women, and the media
Also exploring such images in the United States, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Iraq, this collection offers a chorus of multidimensional voices that counter Islamophobia and destructive clichés. Encompassing the symbolic national and religious identities of Muslim women, this study goes beyond those facets to examine the realities of day-to-day existence in societies that seek scapegoats and do little to defend the victims of hate crimes. Enhancing their scholarly perspectives, many of the contributors (including the editor) have lived through the strife they analyze. This project taps into their firsthand experiences of war and deadly political oppression.
- Note from the Editor: Transliteration and Key Terms
- Introduction (Faegheh Shirazi)
- Part I: Central and South Asia
- Chapter 1. The Peace Brokers: Women of Aceh and Ambon (Sya`afatun Almirzanah)
- Chapter 2. Nation and Selfhood: Memoirs of Bengali Muslim Women (Shamita Basu)
- Chapter 3. From Refugee Camp to Kabul: The Influence of Fundamentalism on Afghanistan's Politics and Women (Carol Mann)
- Chapter 4. Gendered Aid Interventions and Afghan Women: Images versus Realities (Lina Abirafeh)
- Chapter 5. "Black Widows" in the New York Times: Images of Chechen Women Rebels (Sara Struckman)
- Part II: The Middle East and North Africa
- Chapter 6. The Islamic Republic of Iran and Women's Images: Masters of Exploitation (Faegheh Shirazi)
- Chapter 7. Widows' Doomsday: Women and War in the Poetry of Hassan al-Nassar (Abbas Kadhim)
- Chapter 8. Images and Status: Visualizing Iraqi Women (Nada Shabout)
- Chapter 9. In Search of Identity: Hijab Recollections from West Beirut (Nada S. Fuleihan)
- Chapter 10. Leadership of Lebanese Women in the Cedar Revolution (Rita Stephan)
- Tunisia and Algeria
- Chapter 11. Images of Manipulation: Subversion of Women's Rights in the Maghreb (Nadia Marzouki)
- Part III: Europe and the United States
- Former Yugoslavia
- Chapter 12. Images of Women in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Neighboring Countries, 1992-1995 (Zilka Spahić-Šiljak)
- Chapter 13. Muslim Women in the Spanish Press: A Subaltern Image (Ángeles Ramírez)
- Great Britain
- Chapter 14. The 7/7 London Bombings and British Muslim Women: Media Representations, Mediated Realities (Fauzia Ahmad)
- United States
- Chapter 15. Images of Muslim Women in Post-9/11 America (Omar Sacirbey)
- Former Yugoslavia
- List of Contributors
This volume reflects a deep interest in the politics of "image" and the ways in which images dominate and seduce by investing power in particular signifiers, tropes, and descriptions. The multivoiced text, written by scholars and journalists from across the world, revolves around dual themes: the reality and the representation of women caught in war and crises. What ties the chapters together is a collective concern for women who are subjected to violence in various manifestations. Whether physical or psychological, direct or indirect, whether promulgated by external and internal forces or by religious majorities intent on genocide, the issue of direct or threatened violence against women informs each essay.
Many of the contributors have lived through the times they discuss. For some, including the editor of this volume, their personal lives have been affected firsthand by war. Indeed, this project taps into the traumatic effects of war on my own family, friends, and community. As an eighteen-year-old, I left Abadan, Iran—unaware that I would never be able to return. My family home, my father's business, all beloved childhood memories and spaces were entirely obliterated by Iraqi bombs. Across the decades, colleagues and acquaintances, most of them women, have shared their personal stories concerning war and national struggle. The more I spoke with them, the more I realized the universality of our experiences, despite differences in culture, language, and religious background.
One objective of this project was to document and disseminate stories like my own. In the process, I began to notice significant disparities between firsthand accounts and analyses of the events on which those accounts were based. This subject-object tension, with the attendant dichotomy of women cast either as victims or as political agents, piqued my interest and informed my decision to juxtapose the two separate themes of reality and representation in a single volume.
Gender and War: The Reality
Women and children make up 80 percent of refugees worldwide. As soldiers, as refugees, and as survivors of war-related incidents and sexual violence, women are often affected by war in markedly different ways from men. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the protection of women in armed conflict—and their centrality to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace building—is a matter of increasing concern to the international community. The UN Security Council passed a resolution in October 2000 to "expand the role of women in UN field-based operations, especially among military observers, civilian police, human rights workers, and humanitarian personnel." Yet the deliberate killing, rape, mutilation, forced displacement, abduction, trafficking, and torture of women and girls continue unabated.
In times of civil war or strife when male family members are drafted into the military, arrested by government or occupying forces, or killed in combat, women assume primary responsibility for their households and carry the burden of ensuring the immediate survival of family members. At these critical times, women and girls face continued threats to their safety and security, not only during the conflict, but also in the postconflict phase. The aftermath of any war is frequently marked by significant social and political upheaval. Women who have been subjected to gender-specific control within their communities during peacetime will be especially at risk. If these women become victims of rape, forced prostitution, or other sexual violations at the hands of the "enemy," the impact is staggering. Women caught in political repression or social upheavals are often manipulated, exploited, and used as scapegoats.
For example, it is not unusual for young women, often against their will, to be assigned suicide missions. In September 2008 a fifteen-year-old old Iraqi girl, who had apparently been drugged, turned herself in to village police—explaining that female family members had fitted her with a vest of explosives and directed her to a schoolyard where she was to await further instructions. In 2007 eight female suicide bombers were documented in Iraq. In 2009 authorities arrested Samira Ahmed Jasmin, known as Umm al-Mumineen (Mother of Believers), who was suspected of recruiting more than eighty female suicide bombers, and on February 13, 2009, forty people were reported killed in one bombing incident. Generally, women draw less suspicion than men, and security checks tend to be less comprehensive for women due to the social protocol of honoring a woman's modesty. For these reasons, militant organizations increasingly recruit women. Although there are instances in which women voluntarily join with men in armed struggle, more often they are responding to pressure exerted by family, community, and religious leaders. One sees this, for example, in the exhortations of Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Yassin, cofounder and spiritual leader of Hamas, who issued a fatwa (religious ruling) "that gave permission to women to participate in suicide attacks as well as listing the rewards in 'Paradise' that these female martyrs would receive upon their deaths." Perhaps the most chilling aspect of this female jihad-martyrdom can be best expressed in the phrase "dying to kill." Literally, young women who are facing honor killing themselves as a result of having "sullied" their family's purity are given the choice: either be killed by family members or die as martyrs.
The motivations of female suicide attackers vary according to circumstance. Although it is difficult to profile the typical female suicide bomber, one can observe certain patterns:
Like male suicide bombers, women who do attack tend to be younger and more educated than their peers. Some reports indicate that certain women are motivated by revenge for male relatives or spouses killed in the continuing violence, while other anecdotal evidence suggests that others are unwittingly used to transport explosives that are remotely detonated.
Nor are female suicide attackers unique to Iraq. There is a long history of such attacks by Sri Lankan, Chechnyan, Palestinian, and Turkish terrorists. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka have used women most frequently, conducting some 200 suicide attacks of which 30 to 40 percent involved women.
The impact of any crisis on a nation, initiated by internal or external forces, always exerts a significant toll on the general populace, most often women and children. Images of women during any crisis can be reshaped to project various identities. Especially in the post-9/11 era, images of Muslim women have been used to further radical policies, as a means of regulating society. Religious and political authorities view women as integral to societal regulation; they must be controlled, tamed, and dominated. Under the guise of glorifying the value and status of women, societal norms are adopted and women's images targeted. In such contexts, for a more orthodox reinterpretation of Islamic values, women's bodies have become the testing ground for new political policies. These values are then intertwined with regional traditions and fed to the populace as the way to salvation. In Sharia-based nations—primarily throughout the Middle East but in other Muslim communities as well—Islamic authorities continue to embrace extremist policies. In Iran, for example, "the Islamic state has adopted an increasingly conservative religious interpretation of the role of women, and excluded them from the social and political mainstream." Roksana Bahramitash refers to this process of rigidly interpreting the Qur`an to promote political agendas as "Islamic fundamentalism."
Some scholars suggest that the terms "fundamentalism" and "fundamentalist" are neither static nor uniform. While I concur with this assessment entirely, collective agreement on terminology is key to any thoughtful discussion regarding Islamic resurgence. Terms take shape and assume different meanings depending on the perspectives and disciplines of the scholars engaged in the debate. According to Mahmood Mamdani, one should eschew the term "fundamentalism"—which he describes as a cultural phenomenon—in favor of the term "political Islam" to describe an Islam that has embraced violence as central to political action. Oliver Roy supports this distinction by suggesting that "fundamentalism" and "cultural worldview" are synonymous.
Dilip Hiro claims that fundamentalism is "the effort to define the fundamentals of a religious system and adhere to them." According to Minoo Moallem, fundamentalism exists within every religion and "is not peculiar to an Islamic context." Moallem situates "fundamentalism as a modern discursive formation . . . with a genealogy and history of representation." She further states that although application of the term "fundamentalism" may seem problematic, running the risk of demonizing Islam, employing it is useful for "an understanding of both religion and secularism."
"Fundamentalism" can refer to a wide spectrum of movements or attitudes, from religious revivalism to extremist political movements. I view it as a political ideology rooted historically in a religious community's specific social and cultural environments. In this collection of essays, the various authors treat the concept of fundamentalism in relation to their own academic training, experience, and observation.
The Legacy of Orientalism
Over the past two decades—in particular, since September 11, 2001—violence has engulfed Islamic societies; the brutal and bloody face of war has become commonplace. Bombarded by media coverage of these horrific images, individuals living in the West have formed overt and subtle impressions of what Islam stands for. When major television networks persist in substituting the word "fundamentalist" for "terrorist" and prestigious print venues such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal invariably juxtapose the terms "fundamentalism" and "terrorism," how can Western audiences be expected to sift through the confusion? An analysis of reports from the New York Times between September 2001 and September 2003 revealed that "the dominant representations of Muslim men [were as] violent and dangerous[,] and Muslim women [were presented] as victims of oppression. The dominant images of both Muslim men and women served the same purpose: They established the need [for the West] to intervene to rescue the men and control the men."
How can the West know what it means to be Muslim and, perhaps especially, what it means to be a Muslim woman? How to explain the stubborn survival of traditions and practices in Islamic societies without reinforcing stereotypes? How to avoid portraying Muslim women as inferior to women of other religious faiths without resorting to apologetic and self-glorifying accounts of Islam today and throughout history?
Historic accounts of Muslim women reflect what Edward Said describes as Orientalism: "a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and . . . the Occident in which Western culture and societies are essentially and inherently superior to Eastern ones." Muslim women, in early accounts left by European travelers, are acknowledged as "little more than black shadows in the corner of the Bedouin tent." Travel accounts of the Orient as early as the seventeenth century depict Middle Eastern women as symbols of a backward, idle culture. For example, in 1665 Jean Thévenot wrote in his Voyage du Levant, "This great idleness causes the women to be depraved, and they apply all of their mind to the search for means of distraction." Among nineteenth-century European writers who visited Algeria, Egypt, and Palestine were Théophile Gautier and Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert's description of the Oriental woman is especially telling:
[She is] . . . no more than a machine; she makes no distinction between one man and another man. Smoking, going to the baths, painting her eyelids and drinking coffee—such is the circle of occupation to which her existence is confined.
Interestingly, European travelers rarely attempted to converse with Muslim women; one might say they preferred representation to reality. According to Judy Mabro, "Few travellers to the Middle East or North Africa ever found themselves in a position where they could really communicate with women living there, and even fewer had any interest in learning how their society was perceived by the people they were observing." The Middle Eastern man, as counterpart, is also portrayed in the travel literature as something lesser, not quite a real man. In Western representations of Islamic masculinity, men are perceived as despots or victims, either domineering patriarchs or oppressed by colonial power. Images, whether visual or textual, put forth by a narcissistic West, tend to encapsulate men and women of the Orient in a colonization of the spirit.
Victorian travelers such as C. M. Doughty, the Burtons, and the Blunts did much to further the colonial perception of the feminized Middle East, that is, as territory meant to be penetrated. The Orient itself, Europe's cultural and spiritual opposition, was often conceived of as female. A century later, in his novel The Stranger, Albert Camus called attention to this same tension when the Arab protagonist refuses to offer his sister to French colonialists. The introduction to Malek Alloula's The Colonial Harem states, "Possession of Arab women came to serve as a surrogate for and means to the political and military conquest of the Arab World." In short, Orientalism, the product of a four-thousand-year relationship between Europe and Asia, resulted in a historicization of the Muslim woman as either sexually idealized or oppressed. In his book Covering Islam, Said insists that Orientalism is still very much alive today, pointing to the media's projection of negative images of Muslims.
Most of the authors included in this volume agree on one point: the Western media's representations of Muslim women, whether veiled or exposed, passive or wielding weapons, have fit quite neatly into "dominant geopolitical discourses" and have served as the "main repositories of the West's sense of fear, fascination, and superiority vis-à-vis the Muslim world." Elizabeth Poole speaks to this critical role of the media and their success in having superseded all other institutions in the cultural production of knowledge.
The manner in which Western media interpret and present the roles of Muslim women is the focus of several chapters. Post-9/11 media representations in the West of Muslim women, for example, focused almost entirely on Afghanistan. Afghanistan became the first prism through which Americans would consider Muslim women. As a result, Western images of Muslim women have disproportionately reflected images of individuals who are oppressed and helpless.
Two chapters in this volume focus exclusively on women's experience in Afghanistan, a nation that has endured more than twenty-five years of armed struggle. Carol Mann's essay, "From Refugee Camp to Kabul: The Influence of Fundamentalism on Afghanistan's Politics and Women," underscores the defeat of positive reform in Afghanistan. According to Mann, this failure to reform has produced a unique phenomenon—one of reactionary modernity rather than a return to the archaic past. Owing to a weak central government in Afghanistan and strong rural tribal influence, she states, "the configuration that is affecting women today was produced by the unique political evolution in Pakistani refugee camps which then percolated towards Kabul." Mann investigates what it means to be a Muslim woman caught in the violence, patriarchy, and insecurity of post-Taliban Afghanistan. Valentine Moghadam, too, has perceived the dilemma of Afghan women as linked directly to the consequences of "a tribal social structure, warlordism, and state compromises."
Lina Abirafeh, in "Gendered Aid Interventions and Afghan Women: Images versus Realities," suggests that a particular discourse on Afghan women was created to justify intervention—a discourse that was not contextualized and that largely denied Afghan women's agency. Media images of downtrodden women beneath the burqa helped to fuel the rhetoric of "liberation" and "empowerment" characterizing aid interventions. However, women in Afghanistan might say that they have been neither liberated nor empowered, despite the rhetoric. Abirafeh's study is the result of perceptions and experiences accrued during almost four years of fieldwork in Afghanistan. Her research, based on interviewing numerous Afghan women involved with or participating in aid programs, leads to crucial questions: Are Afghan women passive victims or active social participants? Are they in need of liberation by the West or is their burqa-clad image one more opportunity to further political agendas?
The news media's part in shaping women's images is also explored by Sara Struckman in her essay, "'Black Widows' in the New York Times: Images of Chechen Women Rebels." Struckman is interested in the media's treatment of Chechen women involved in suicide bombings and other violent acts. "Black widow" was a term coined by the press to explain women's violent involvement in the Chechen independence struggle from the Russian Federation. Struckman examines how the New York Times questioned this explanation, yet felt compelled to offer other culturally acceptable and gender-appropriate reasons to account for what motivated the Chechen women rebels. In doing so, the Times simultaneously broke away from and remained faithful to the media's role as a "circuit of culture."
Fauzia Ahmad explores media representations of Muslims—specifically, British Muslim women—following the London bombings of July 7, 2005, and attempted bombings in London and Glasgow during June 2007. Ahmad questions whether those projected images reflect lived realities or merely a victim-based pathology of Muslim women selectively maintained by the mainstream media. According to Ahmad, after the terrorist attack on London's public transport system, Muslim women in Britain—especially those highly visible in their hijab, jilbab, or niqab—experienced particular vilification on the streets, in the media, and from some politicians. Some women were spat on or verbally abused. Others were refused entry on public transport or had their hijabs pulled off and, in more serious cases, became targets of physical violence.
Ángeles Ramírez focuses on the hijab issue in Spain, an understudied country. In her chapter, "Muslim Women in the Spanish Press: A Subaltern Image," Ramírez sheds light on the phenomenon of Maurophobia (Spain's postcolonial relationship with Morocco) and suggests that the press successfully transformed Maurophobia into Islamophobia after the train attack in Madrid by terrorists. Since the 2004 attack, Spanish newspapers have presented Muslim women in one of two ways: either they wear the headscarf, or they do not. The absence of a headscarf signals adaptation, modernity, and culture. Its presence threatens Spain's democratic values. Ramírez cites Antonio Elorza, a political scientist who writes prolifically for the newspaper El País. Elorza states that obstacles hindering Muslims in the West are "the spirit of violence," which is connected to the ideology of jihad and the inferiority of women in Islam. Sexist constructions of the headscarf, although targeting a particular group (Moroccan Muslim women emigrating to Spain), represent a critique of all Muslim society. This racist style of thought and expression, deeply rooted in the Oriental discourse, exemplifies a form of ongoing psychological abuse against Muslims in general and against Muslim women in particular.
Omar Sacirbey, in his essay "Images of Muslim Women in Post-9/11 America," points to the quandary in which American Muslim women find themselves: they face hostility and violence from non-Muslim Americans for wearing the hijab and spiteful disapproval from fellow Muslims for not wearing the hijab. Sacirbey alludes to an American fifteen-year-old high school student who, curious about discrimination against Muslim women in the United States, decided to wear a burqa for a day (in 2007) and record her experience. She was subjected to abusive remarks—"Hey, we rape your women!"—underscoring, in Sacerbey's words, "a persistent animosity toward American Muslims that is driven largely by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Given that Muslim American women have begun to take proactive steps to shape their images in the media, Sacirbey continues to question whether impartial news coverage can undo bigotry or significantly affect the seemingly reflexive response of distrust and hostility engendered by the sight of a woman in a hijab.
The Lebanese author Nada S. Fuleihan also delves into the significance of the hijab in her chapter, "In Search of Identity: Hijab Recollections from West Beirut." The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent siege of West Beirut brought devastation and humiliation on Muslims. As a result, a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and fervor took hold in southern Lebanon and West Beirut. Many young Muslim women—university students and professionals who had not previously followed Islamic proscriptions for modest apparel—decided to adopt the hijab. This provoked widely diverse community responses, from total rejection to respectful admiration. Even Fuleihan, raised in the Christian tradition, admitted that this act gave voice to her "own suppressed feelings of anger and loss." Fuleihan demonstrates how the hijab became a dramatic symbol for Lebanese women. For some, it was a declaration of faith, a form of resistance to Israeli actions; for others, it meant submission to coercion from family and community. Indeed, the hijab itself came to represent a dichotomy between women as activists and women as passive victims.
Victimization versus Political Agency
In the feminist narratives of liberation, debate continues over the concept of women's agency in the contexts of war and social crises. One must not assume that all women are passive (i.e., victims) and all men are active (i.e., oppressors). Doing so denies women what Katherine Gibson and Julie Graham have described as "resistant agency." In this respect, the term "agency" refers to a woman's refusal to be a victim and to fight back instead. In other words, violence against women is not an "inevitable truth" but rather a "language script" to be rewritten. The script that women make use of may take multiple forms. Eloquence does not necessarily come from words inscribed on the page; rather, it may occur in the most unexpected ways.
For example, in 2005 women artists—all masters of textile traditions—documented their lived realities of war in Michigan State University's exhibition, Weaving of War, Fabrics of Memory. From Afghanistan to Laos, from Lebanon to South Africa, these women captured and expressed their personal experiences of the reality of war by weaving, embroidering, and quilting textiles. Many of them eschewed the traditions of nonfigurative design to embrace literal, pictorial imagery: assault rifles, pistols, hand grenades, helicopters, tanks. This extraordinary folk art demonstrates the way in which women use "self-presentation" to "survive, reflect, and remember aggression." The exhibition catalogue continues:
Whether the works are narrative tapestries that depict scenes of executions, refugees fleeing war-torn lands, or ethnic cleansing, or whether the works are simply garments and household objects with motifs of helicopters and machineguns, these objects defy simple interpretation.
Thus, even women—both Muslim and non-Muslim—who are allowed no voice, power, or control in their immediate social environments manage to preserve the individual and collective realities of war.
Another example of resistant agency is Shirin Neshat's photography and, more recently, her video installations. According to Iftikhar Dadi, "Neshat has arguably come to occupy the position of the most signiﬁcant visual interpreter of the status of Muslim women universally." Neshat, an Iranian American, is referred to as "a visual theorist of the body." Her images, adorned with calligraphy, may be understood and appreciated aesthetically even by Western art audiences unfamiliar with Persian culture or language. The meaning deepens significantly for audiences who can easily read and understand the text. In general, Neshat's photographic work focuses primarily on the Iranian postrevolutionary woman and her place in the public sphere; specifically, her ﬁgure as representation.
Nada Shabout's chapter, "Images and Status: Visualizing Iraqi Women," recounts the many changes Iraqi women have experienced since the 1968 revolution created the Arab Socialist Ba`ath Party. It provides a comparative examination of posters, public monuments, and paintings produced by extremist Iraqi women of the time. Shabout also discusses the status of Iraqi women artists and their role in transforming contemporary visual representations.
Although Iraqi women have suffered endlessly, whether at the mercy of the Ba`athist regime, under economic sanctions imposed by the West, or, more recently, during the extended U.S. occupation, like their Iranian counterparts, as Miriam Cooke eloquently points out, these women no longer embrace "their expected role of Mater Dolorosa. [No longer] do [they] quietly lament and submit to a fate that might be cruel, pointless violence." Instead they are finding gender-specific ways to resist aggression. As writers and artists, as mothers and lawyers, they are accessing public spaces and refusing to remain invisible victims.
Rita Stephan offers a good example of this by examining in her essay the nonviolent active struggle by Lebanese women who took to the streets, joining their male counterparts, during the Beirut protests of March 8 and March 14, 2005. Once accused of being indifferent to political processes and outcomes, Lebanese women became liberators and resisters, participating alongside men in the Cedar Revolution to oust Syria from Lebanese soil. As women assumed leadership roles in the Lebanese freedom movement, they created a more tolerant, less violent, and more feminized style of protest. The Cedar Revolution left an indelible image of women as active and equal citizens in their society. Against a backdrop of three decades of war—and threatened by the likelihood of Hezbollah's violent exchanges with Israel—stands a new breed of Lebanese woman, such as Sirine Ahmad, age forty-seven, who claims indignantly that "Hezbollah does not have the right to decide to take [Lebanon] back into war." It is this emerging activism that Rita Stephan highlights—women who represent a new form of patriotism in Lebanon, insisting on a normal life after so many years of war, death, and misery. Stephan is also concerned with how the media captured and projected images of Muslim women during the anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, given that these images ultimately had an impact on the perceptions and decisions of regional policy makers.
Sya`afatun Almirzanah focuses on Muslim women's daily realities in conflict and postconflict situations in the Aceh region of Sumatra and in Ambon (Maluku), Indonesia. Her essay, "The Peace Brokers: Women of Aceh and Ambon," chronicles the peacemaking roles of Indonesian Muslim women. In the late 1990s the struggle between Indonesian security forces and the Free Aceh Movement, an armed insurgency, exploded in brutal warfare in which each side violated human rights with impunity. The Ambon conflict represents the most deadly violence in Indonesian history since the 1960s—resulting in the death and displacement of a large portion of the population. Almirzanah discusses the specific effects on Muslim women of conflict and crisis, stressing the importance of their political agency vis-à-vis postwar rebuilding efforts, as well as their contributions to the August 2005 peace agreement signed in Helsinki between insurgents and the Indonesian government.
Masters of Manipulation and Exploitation
Because family values and the role of women as wives and mothers are core elements in the development of any society, women especially are viewed as fortresses against the infiltration of foreign values and practices. Defending chastity and maintaining national and family honor become paramount. In a patriarchal society, value systems such as honor and shame align neatly with proscribed religious doctrine. Thus when patriarchal value systems are at risk, women's behavior must be controlled and closely monitored, even to the extent of instructing women in proper forms of clothing and public behavior. In the extreme, women are silenced in the name of religion and cultural tradition. As Nafis Sadiq, former executive director of the UN Population Fund, counters, "Tradition must not be used to oppress, but to empower."
Zilka Spahi*c-Siljak, in "Images of Women in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Neighboring Countries, 1992-1995," begins by tracing the status and roles of Balkan women in public life starting in 1946. She then analyzes the images of women projected during the 1992-1995 Balkan war, images that reflected ethno-national politics and ideologies prevalent at that time. As Kesic Vesna has written, "Nationalistic political discourse defined women as mothers of the nation, responsible for the continuation of national identity and maintaining tradition." The chapter addresses gender-based violence during the war, in particular, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, which proved highly successful in transforming women's bodies into symbols of national territory to be conquered and defeated. Current research on the Balkan tragedy—research that references mass killings and gang rapes—supports the assertion that women were primarily raped for reasons of national, religious, and ethnic identity rather than for reasons based on sexuality.
Reducing women to sexualized bodies and silencing their agency through acts of violence is the story of other nationalist tragedies as well. The torture, rape, abduction, murder, and suicide committed by Hindu and Muslim men against Muslim and Hindu women, respectively, during the partition of colonial India provides historical context for Shamita Basu's contribution to this collection, "Nation and Selfhood: Memoirs of Bengali Muslim Women." Basu highlights two female Muslim writers at the time of partition (1947), describing their memoirs as much more than mere stories or historical recollections. Rather, these personal narratives represent multiple voices of protest, agony, and criticism requisite for breaking the linearity and certainty of tradition.
In both memoirs Gandhi stands as an iconic figure, encouraging women to participate in political resistance through the charkha and khadi movements. Muslim women viewed Gandhi's ideology of nonviolence as a way to offset existing patriarchal and fundamentalist paradigms. Gandhi's vision not only attempted to create a multireligious community but also offered a symbiotic relationship with feminism. The partition of the subcontinent, as reflected in the historical narratives of these Muslim women, was considered nothing less than a tragic betrayal of nonviolence.
Another example of Muslim women having been used and abused to construct religious-national identity is reflected in Faegheh Shirazi's chapter, "The Islamic Republic of Iran and Women's Images: Masters of Exploitation." The Islamic Revolution ushered in a new era of violence against women in the name of religious morality. For instance, the Islamic regime created and supported a female commando network called the Sisters of Zaynab (Khaharan e Zaynab); their duties included patrolling streets and targeting women dressed "immodestly." Punishments ranged from scolding and name calling to jail sentences and fines. More zealous members of the Zaynab commando units would wipe off women's lipstick with a razor blade hidden in a handkerchief. In 1983 an amendment was added to the Iranian constitution stating that women who violated codes of public chastity by appearing without religiously sanctioned veiling in streets and in public view would be subject to receiving up to seventy-four lashes.
Shirazi recalls the Islamic government's massive orchestration of traditional myths and collective symbols to control public sentiment during Iran's revolution and during the 1980s. She cites religious-political messages behind posters, banners, and stamps created in the 1980s and analyzes the purposeful semantic fusion of hejab (veiling) and jihad (holy war), especially in the context of martyrdom. As suggested by Peter Chelkowski and Hamid Dabashi, the persuasive effects of public myths and collective symbols significantly contributed to the achievement of the Islamic Republic's wartime objectives. Although Iranian women were not physically present on the battlefield, they were expected to be martyrs by proxy. That is, they were expected to perform their patriotic duty with enthusiasm by willingly sacrificing sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and friends to war.
During the same Iran-Iraq war, on the other side of the border in Baghdad, lived the poet Hassan al-Nassar. Abbas Kadhim, in his essay in this volume, explores Al-Nassar's poetry to underscore the phenomenon of sacrifice and its violent psychological impact on the lives of Iraqi women. Al-Nassar lived through two devastating wars and a ruinous era of sanctions under Saddam Hussein's government. Unlike other poets of his stature, he passionately devoted his time to writing about those whom he perceived as silent victims of war—Iraqi women. As Kadhim points out, Al-Nassar's poetry celebrates forgotten Iraqi widows who, through no choice of their own, shouldered all the sorrows of war and none of its glory.
Just as the Ba`ath Party exploited Iraq's population, both male and female, to serve Saddam's totalitarian objectives, so it is that authoritarian regimes today throughout the Maghreb continue to subvert basic rights in their own countries. Nadia Marzouki's essay examines women's rights in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. Marzouki points out that any attempt to help North African women is doomed to fail as long as the Maghreb's authoritarian regimes remain unchallenged. She also questions the presupposition that the main solution to Maghrebi women's problems must be either purely Islamic or purely secular, and she makes a compelling case by arguing that supporting these women's nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) translates into supporting the very authoritarian states responsible for deplorable conditions against which women are struggling. In reading Marzouki's essay, one begins to understand the reason for the sense of futility and frustration experienced by women working to advance basic rights in this region. In short, not only have Maghrebi rulers held women's issues hostage "either to avoid or to simulate political openness[,] . . . [but] the opposition (secular and Islamist) has also been adept at using the issues of women to support their own interests."
After September 11, 2001, U.S. citizens began to grasp the daily trials of individuals living in war-torn regions throughout the world. While many Americans called for tolerance and understanding, others engaged in relentless harassment of Muslim citizens, including anyone who appeared to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent. The result was to forever damage American Muslims' sense of belonging. The adoption by the U.S. government of new security measures served to exacerbate their feelings of exclusion. Louise Cainkar points out:
These measures . . . included mass arrests, secret and indefinite detentions, prolonged detention of "material witnesses," closed hearings and use of secret evidence, government eavesdropping on attorney-client conversations, FBI home and work visits, wiretapping, seizures of property, removals of aliens with technical visa violations, and mandatory special registration. At least 100,000 Arabs and Muslims living in the United States . . . personally experienced one of these measures.
In addition, in the post-9/11 climate, negative public sentiment toward Arabs and Muslims has been fomented by "sensationalized media portrayals of Muslims and strong anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic rhetoric from the political right." Muslim communities have reported increased incidences of workplace discrimination, interrogations, and property seizures.
As the "war against terrorism" unfolds and Islam continues to be perceived with suspicion and hostility, the veil is no longer associated simply with Muslim women; rather, it has become a symbol of Islam. According to Bailey and Tawadros, "In the aftermath of 11 September, the veil has become synonymous with cultural and religious differences that have been presented to us repeatedly as unbridgeable, alien, and terrifying." Muslim women, easily identified in hijab, are especially vulnerable to hate crimes. For example, "On October 5, 2003, a Muslim woman wearing hijab was attacked from behind in a K-Mart parking lot in Springfield, Virginia. The white male teenager attacker allegedly shouted, 'You terrorist pig!' before running away. The woman was treated for a 2-3 inch deep wound on her lower back at a local hospital and released."
My intention in compiling this book is in part to counter the Islamophobia that pervades contemporary literature, media, and government policy—not only in the United States but also in Europe. Particularly in the wake of the Madrid (2004) and London (2005) terrorist bombings, "the parameters of . . . institutionalized xeno-racism—anti-foreignness—have been expanded to include minority ethnic communities that have been settled in Europe for decades—simply because they are Muslim." At the same time, this study is also meant to illuminate the flaws of the Islamic world—its absence of political freedom, open debate, and pluralism, all of which create a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism. Muslims must not eschew constructive criticism or deny the need for self-criticism.
This volume, whose contributors draw on primary sources such as poetry, prose, diaries, news reports, and visual media, begins with Central and South Asia and moves east to west, ending with a Muslim perspective from the United States. The essays represent cultural viewpoints as diverse as the regions in which they originate. Whether in Kandahar or New York City, the Muslim woman continues to be an enigmatic symbol and an ongoing source of Western fascination. More to the point, it is the Muslim woman who bears the terrible burdens of international, covert political operations. For example, during the USSR-Afghan conflict, U.S. aid was funneled into the hands of extremist Afghan Islamic groups (i.e., the Taliban). It is well documented that "one of the most favored of these groups was headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a man known for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil, and whose group received as much as 50% of US aid." Beneath "the rubble left behind by the game of super power politics played on Afghan [and Iraqi] bodies and communities" are countless displaced women and their families. Some will bear the scars permanently; some will remain refugees indefinitely.
Multiple factors influence women's alternatives in times of war, especially in patriarchal societies where men enjoy privileges linked to education, employment, property rights, and family status. Perhaps this disparity is most dramatic at the level of basic resources, that of food. The following testimony of a sixty-eight-year-old female Kurdish refugee demonstrates this point:
When we fled to Turkey it was very difficult to get food. All the younger men ran fast and got all the food the Americans were handing out. We only had my husband with us and he can't run. So we ended up as a family without food. This happened to all the women who fled without their men. We were just left out as if we weren't there. Three of my grandchildren died in those mountains.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reports that even when food supplies are adequate in refugee camps, malnourished (and, on occasion, starving) women and children appear alongside healthy-looking, well-fed men. In camp environments patriarchal traditions are rigidly observed; men and boys are fed first, resulting in a higher mortality rate for the female refugee population.
This book attempts to provide a realistic picture of countless Muslim women caught in the snares of war and militarization. Along with the other contributing writers, my goal is to foster meaningful dialogue concerning the plight of these women and, in doing so, quicken the cessation of their exploitation and abuse. It is my hope that readers in policy studies and those working with NGOs, as well as students in the fields of Middle Eastern studies, Islamic studies, gender studies, and anthropology, will find this publication useful.
“Muslim Women in War and Crisis is a unique book….In sum, this book is an important contribution to the growing body of literature addressing the representation of, and the challenges faced by, Muslim women in the post-Cold War period. In collecting and amalgamating such a remarkably diverse group of authors, Jaegheh Shirazi has provided readers with different ways of understanding Muslim women in war and crisis.”
Journal of Islamic Studies