There is a way for me to become famous. My name will frequently appear in America’s leading newspapers, where I will be invited to contribute my valuable opinion to their op-ed pages. I may be appear on Larry King Live, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and many others. I might even have my own show on CBS or ABC.
Let me explain: Many Westerners think it’s very unfortunate to be a Muslim woman born and raised in the Arab world. But that won’t stop me from making the most of my “fate .
It’s not so difficult to find an American journalist who works for a major US media corporation. I will present my case as a scoop: An oppressed Muslim woman, forced by her family and society to wear the veil; brutally circumcised back in my childhood, I grew up in misery, which culminated in a marriage with a polygamous husband.
But now, I have decided to finally become free and speak out against Arab-Muslim backwardness to the freedom-loving Western world.
I just have to find the right journalist; the less understanding he is of the nuances of the Muslim world, the better. I expect him to get excited about my story and to unknowingly help me become famous.
Proof that the Western world always welcomes such stories is that they are common in US media. Other stories that abound in real life in the ME fail to make it to mainstream media in the West; these are stories of Arab/Muslim women who attribute their suffering to completely different problems, which vary from low wages and harsh work conditions to delayed marriage and society’s disdain of divorcées and spinsters. Certainly not circumcision, for example.
I am mentioning circumcision because, being a bilingual Egyptian journalist, with ties to Westerners interested in Islam and Muslims, I am often subjected to the same list of topics and questions concerning religion and culture: Female circumcision; domestic violence; suicide bombings; why Muslim protestors burn Western embassies; whether Islam was spread by the sword; women’s oppression; minorities’ rights in the Muslim world (as an Egyptian, I am frequently asked about Coptic Orthodox Christians); Sharia; corporal punishment/stoning of women/death penalty for apostates; gay rights; polygamy; and the lack of democracy in the Arab world.
These questions in and of themselves are not supposed to be offensive, but I find them to be racist in nature – Amer-centric.
They pull Arab and Muslim issues out of context and transplant them into an American context. When they naturally fail to fit, Americans attribute the problem to Arabs not being up to American standards.
Take polygamy as an example. Generally, it is not accepted in American society (Mormons and other proponents are an exception). Automatically, Muslims are criticized for tolerating it. I won’t explain the meaning of polygamy in an Egyptian/Muslim context because I don’t have to. I am sick of Muslims being put in a position that compels them to apologize for their own value system, whether or not they condemn the practice.
Muslim-majority countries are criticized for legalizing polygamy which is banned in the West. Even if polygamy is voted for by a freely elected Muslim parliament, a Muslim nation’s choice will continue to be resented by the West. Whereas if we look at a somehow similar case in the US, we will see American citizens voting against gay marriages, even though it is increasingly becoming a no-no to publicly criticize homosexuality.
The fact that polygamy is odd and unacceptable in Western culture does not mean that it is necessarily bad. That gay marriage is okay in the West – and that it is respected in honor of human rights in the Western sense – is simply none of our business. This is no reason to honor homosexuality in an Arab/Muslim context.
I have many dear American friends and to them I hold great love and respect, but I refuse to be judged by American standards because they simply don’t apply to non-American contexts.
Strong relationships like friendship will flourish even more when we understand each other’s differences and learn to tolerate them without making judgments.
Sara Khorshidis an Egyptian journalist who has covered Middle East politics, culture, and society for the past seven years. Her articles are published in the Middle East Times, IslamOnline.net, and other media outlets. She is the managing editor of IslamOnline.net’s Politics in Depth section. Email: [email protected]