Late Comment on Hijaab

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I just came from a community cinema event in Philadelphia for an independent film called “Arusi Persian Wedding” directed by Marjan Tehrani. It’s a really beautiful film that follows an Iranian-American and his American wife who travel to Iran and have a traditional Persian wedding. I was not only in awe of how incredibly beautiful Iran is, but also at how I found myself relating to it. The Iranian-American expresses his pride for his Iranian roots, but also feels a distance because of his inability to fully understand the culture and language. It reminded me about how I sometimes struggle with finding my ethnic identity, no matter how much I’m proud of it.

After the screening, there was a guest panel that led an interesting discussion about the film and then took questions from the audience. My friend got a chance to chime in with a great question, while I decided to sit back and listen. I didn’t feel like I had much to contribute to the conversation since the event seemed to aim at breaking stereotypes about Iran, its people, and its culture. Although one of the panelists spoke very highly of her experience as a White woman in Iran, she admitted that “initially, I was frightened, as a feminist, when I learned I had to wear the veil…”

When I got home tonight, her words replayed in my mind over and over again. I really should have gotten up and said something, even though I just wanted to make a small comment. I think I’ll e-mail her after I write this, but what I wanted to point out is that it’s very important for us to not make an association between oppression and the hijaab, or veil. Her comment seemed to implicate that someone who wears the hijaab could not also be a feminist (I would have asked her to correct me if I was wrong). I’m sure this is not what she meant, but I believe it would have been important for one of the panelists to mention that forcing someone to dress a certain way is very different from someone choosing to dress a certain way. There are plenty of Muslim women in other parts of the world, especially in the West, who wear hijaab by choice; therefore it would be very inaccurate to say that Muslim women who wear hijaab cannot be feminists. I’m glad one of the Iranian panelists said that Iranian women still drive, work, and go to school, contrary to the stereotypes and misconceptions that they’re “so oppressed.”

The other thing I should have commented on was on their usage of the word “Islam” whenever discussing the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979 and the current “Islamic Laws.” The Qur’an clearly states that religion cannot be imposed on people. Doesn’t Allah teach us to use our logic and reasoning? What is so logical about forcing someone to believe a certain way? The true spiritual essence and beauty gets lost when someone is being forced to practice a religion. Spirituality and Faith is personal; it must be felt within. Reciting the Shahada (Islamic declaration of Faith) is simple, while believing in it is something deeper and entirely different altogether.

Later, someone asked a question about whether or not these were the dress codes for Muslim women in all Islamic countries, and one of two Iranian panelists said, “I’m not sure, but I would say ‘yes,’ they are universal.” A friend and I spoke about this later after the discussion and both agreed that we felt a strong anti-Islam vibe from her. I was glad that the other Iranian panelist jumped in and explained that these are not universal dress codes in Islamic countries since most Muslim countries don’t force women to wear hijaab or the burqah.

Anyway, my main point is that the hijaab should not be associated with oppression, and Muslim women who wear it shouldn’t be so quickly judged. Just because some feminists are not familiar with certain manners of dress doesn’t mean that it’s not compatible with feminism. I think it’s important for feminists to understand that feminist thought is very diverse rather than being limited to one group of people, one culture, and one skin color.

Peace

~Broken Mystic~

(Photo credit: davidChief via creative commons)

Hollywood Vilifies Muslims and Arabs Yet Again

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I seriously just wanted to come home today and escape from all the politics and racism in  the world.  Just for two hours.  Is that too much to ask for?

As I drove home from college, I decided to stop by at the video store — a place I haven’t been to in forever — and I browsed around for something to rent or buy.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I went home.  Or, at least, I tried to go home.  I ended up getting stuck in massive rush hour traffic.  I was literally 5 minutes away from my house, but I couldn’t get there because there was only one road open!  So it ended up taking me about 45 minutes to get home, and I’m not exaggerating!

Anyway, I wound up seeing “Taken” tonight because I heard one of my favorite filmmakers, Luc Besson, produced and wrote it.  I haven’t seen a Luc Besson film in the longest time and that’s because he rarely directs movies now.  When I was in high school, I was obsessed with his filmmaking style.  I absolutely Loved his visuals, they were really in-your-face and profound.  I was obsessed with “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon, the Professional,” and “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”  None of these films are in my top ten anymore, but at the time, I remember being so inspired by his work that I found myself emulating his style in my own short films.  I was recently showing some of my work to one of my best friends, and I was pointing certain shots out and saying, “Oh, that shot was inspired by Luc Besson!” or “That’s a Luc Besson jump cut!”

So yeah, why not check out what ol’ Luc Besson is up to these days, right?  “Taken” is pretty much about a retired U.S. government special forces operative (played by Liam Neeson) who tries to reestablish his bond with his 17-year-old daughter.  Then one day, she wants to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, but her father doesn’t approve.  “It’s a dangerous world out there” he basically says.  Of course, she doesn’t listen to him and neither does his ex-wife.  “I’m going to be fine” the daughter says; “she’s 17-years-old, give her some space!” the ex-wife says.  Finally, he gives in and allows his daugther to travel overseas.  And surprise, surprise, she ends up getting kidnapped!  This is what happens, of course, when women don’t listen to men, right?  They get kidnapped by women-trafficking Albanians when they go to France.  It’s priceless when our fearless protagonist informs his ex-wife about their daughter; she has the “oh-my-god-I’m-such-a-stupid-woman-who-should-have-listened-to-my-ex-husband” face.

At this point in the film, Liam Neeson immediately transforms into an indestructible killing machine.  Cracking necks, twisting arms, chopping throats, breaking knees, knifing stomachs, shooting people in the head, parrying punches like Neo, and dodging bullets because evil foreign bad guys couldn’t possibly have the kind of shot accuracy that White people have.  Yeah, he pretty much does everything that Jason Bourne and James Bond does.  At first we think the villains are Russians.  Oh great, I thought, Russians.  Like we haven’t seen that before.  Then it turns out to be Albanians.  Oh wonderful, even better since most Albanians are Muslim.  Now this really ticked me off because my brother has a lot of Albanian friends and my cousin is getting married to an Albanian, insha’Allah.  And now I see them depicted as women-trafficking criminals?  There’s no mentioning of Islam, but there are plenty of close-ups on their “crescent moon and star” tattoos.  Hmm, I wonder what that means?

The same stereotypical images are cultivated again:  “White guy, who is also the protector-of-females, against dark-skinned people, who also happen to oppress and sell White women.”  It’s just the same old garbage recycled again and again.  How many times have we seen this dance before?  Why are we still funding movies like this?  And the worst part of the film is how it supports and glorifies the Guantanamo Bay torture tactics (pictured above).  The scene is disgustingly ethnocentric as our James-Bond-wannabe protagonist electrocutes the hell out of the Albanian character and talks about how it’s so much easier to torture in France since, as opposed to third-world countries, the power doesn’t go out.  After relentless torture, he gets his answers out of him.  Then he kills him.  Hey, torture works!  Maybe they should keep Guantanamo Bay open after all.  Thanks, Luc!

At the end of the movie, our invincible hero finds that his daughter gets purchased by an (drum roll) Arab!  Of course!  How can you make an action-packed suspense thriller without beating up some A-rabs!  Yes, a final showdown with Arabs.  Wonderful.  I think Luc Besson must have been stuck on an ending until co-writer Robert Mark Kamen came up with the ingenious idea of Arab thugs.  Luc probably got so excited, “Yeah, yeah!  Throw that in there!  People Love that s***!”  I Love the fact that the hardest guy to beat up is the dark-skinned, bearded Arab guy (who happens to have a hairstyle similar to mine, so I’m double-offended!).  It’s kind of like those video games where you reach the final boss of the whole game and he just takes forever to kill!  As they fist-fight with some insane choreography, the Arab — oh snap!! — whips out his curved Arabic blade.  Here we go, clash of civilizations right here!  But then Liam Neeson overpowers with his bare hands and forces the knife back onto him!  Dude, he stabbed the Arab with his own medieval weapon!  And of course Liam Neeson wins because, after all, he’s the main character and he’s Liam Neeson.  No one can kill Liam Nesson.   Unless you’re Darth Maul.  Or Batman.  Or some random Crusader in “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Ok, so he has died in other movies, but we know he wasn’t going to die here because Mr. Luc Besson needs to establish his point:  Good guys always prevail over Muslim and Arab scum, women should never divorce their secret government operative husbands even if they’re not around most of the time, and no one should travel overseas because the United States is the best and safest country in the whole wide world.  Not even Luc Besson, even though he’s French.

Oh I should also point out that the film likes to toss in some random Black guys for Liam Neeson to beat up.  They literally come out of nowhere!  It’s like you see him fighting Albanians, but then, whoa! Where’d that Black guy come from?!  Before you can think more about it, he gets thrown off a building or smashed through a window.  “Yes, we need some Black people in this movie,” Luc must have thought.  “Because we want Black people to watch this movie.”  Yeah, ok.  *sigh*  I just don’t get it.  I was so depressed and angry after watching this movie that I couldn’t help but feel like my efforts aren’t worth anything.  I felt like my short films, research projects, activist work, and critiques are insignificant because no matter what I do, Hollywood always has their monster-budget that will produce anything that rakes in the dough.  I felt like writing a letter to Luc Besson, but what good will that do, right?  He won’t care if he loses a fan.  Who am I?  No one.  Just some random Muslim guy whose opinion doesn’t matter.

I really just wanted to escape tonight.  I wanted to get things off my mind and just be entertained.  Once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that isn’t so absorbing.  It’s just really discouraging how ethnocentric and racist a film can be.  All one needs to do is look at the imagery:  White man in a foreign country that is infected by other foreign people:  Albanians and Arabs.  Seriously, can I have a moment to smile?  I don’t think many people understand what it feels like to feel so uncomfortable in a movie theater when the film itself vilifies your people.  I don’t think many in the White non-Muslim community get that.

But what does Hollywood care about all of this?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re swimming in money.  They could care less about who they offend.  I’m so sick and tired of it all.

So utterly sick and tired of the unapologetic arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, and Islamophobia…

Wonder Woman Crosses the Fascistic Line

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I know “Kingdom Come” is quite old (published in 1996 by DC comics), but I admit that I haven’t read it until recently.  A friend of mine lent me the trade paperback and the first thing that caught my eye was the amazing artwork by Alex Ross.  As you can probably tell from the image above, the entire comic book is painted in gouache, so the word “amazing” doesn’t do his work justice; it’s a masterpiece!

“Kingdom Come” takes place in DC’s Elseworlds where new superheroes of the future known as metahumans have replaced the old superheroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.).  These rogue metahumans show no regard for human life, however, and one of them ends up splitting Captain Atom in half, causing his nuclear energies to release and kill millions of people.  The entire world is thrown into alarm and we learn through the narrator of the book, Norman McCay, that Armageddon is approaching.  In such desperate moments, Wonder Woman finds an exiled and bearded Superman who shows no interest in helping the humans again.  Eventually, Wonder Woman convinces Superman that the world desperately needs a leader who will reestablish truth and justice.

Overall, I’m relatively pleased with Alex Ross’ visual depictions of Wonder Woman.  She’s not drawn out of proportion and isn’t showing off sexy poses as if she’s in a men’s magazine.  There were only one or two unnecessary images where her skirt gets lifted to show her underwear, but it’s not as explicit and noticeable.  I really got the sense that the writer and artist wanted readers to focus more on her character rather than how she looked, and while we can appreciate that, her character’s personality and role in this particular book really bothered me.

What ticked me off was how Superman would constantly hover over her as if she was a reckless child who needed parental guardianship.  He learns that Wonder Woman was exiled from “Paradise Island” (a matriarchal society), because the Amazons believed she failed in her mission to bring peace to the outside world (i.e. the “man’s world”).  Aside from fighting for truth and justice, Wonder Woman struggles with an internal conflict because she is now forced to live in a world that is not even her own.  Let us be reminded that Superman, or Kal-El (his Kryptonian name), is also an outsider, but Earth (i.e. the “man’s world”) never cast him out; instead Superman abandoned his life as a superhero and went into exile.  Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is disposed of by her own people, the Amazons:  women.  She was forced into exile.  It seems that the matriarchal society is harsher than patriarchy.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the book is how Wonder Woman becomes a fascist.  Superman tries to appeal to the metahumans and encourages them to behave as real heroes instead of heartless monsters, but only a few of them join him.  Unsure about how to deal with these rogue metahumans, Superman turns to Wonder Woman who suggests imprisoning those who don’t join!  Superman says to Diana (Wonder Woman), “I’m not used to forcing others to follow my lead.  Now I’m supposed to jail those who won’t?  To act as judge and jury against our own kind?  That’s a fascistic line, Diana!”  Wonder Woman responds, “Then get ready to cross it.  We are at war, Kal… And we will take prisoners.  We will have to.  They’re not our kind.  We’re protectors of humanity.  They are barely human.”  Superman continues to express his concern for her, saying things like,  “you’ve changed” or “this is not the real you speaking,” and yet remarkably, Superman is the same and stable character that we all know him as.  It’s as if the deaths of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Perry White (murdered by the Joker) didn’t throw his personality off balance.  As mentioned before, he went into self-exile and all it took was Wonder Woman to mend him back into action.  But the same does not apply to Wonder Woman, who is so extremely afflicted by her forced exile that she behaves in contradiction to the moral compass that her character represents.

What starts off as imprisonment turns into Wonder Woman’s call for justice “by any means necessary.”  When she is warrior-clad with her hair tied back, Superman comments like an over-possessive boyfriend, “yet another side of you that I’m not comfortable with.”  She snaps back, “Get used to this one.”  Wonder Woman shows her sword to Superman, who asks if she expects to use it.  “I expect to be a soldier” she says with a stern and deadly look on her face.  When Wonder Woman becomes no better than the rogue metahumans who show no regard for life, Superman shouts, “Why do you undermine my authority!”  Wonder Woman shouts back, “We’re going to confront the prisoners and give them an ultimatum.  They must surrender,” and if they refuse, “then it’s war!”

It’s important to point out that Wonder Woman is the only female protagonist in the book (there are other female characters that we see, but they hardly have any speaking parts), and she’s also the only character of DC’s three iconic heroes (the others being Superman and Batman) who turns reckless and ends up killing a metahuman character named Von Bach.  Yes, Batman doesn’t join Superman earlier in the book and actually teams up with Lex Luthor instead, but he later  undermines Luthor’s plot in mind-controlling Captain Marvel.  In other words, Batman  eventually joins Superman for the climatic battle (it was pretty predictable).  But these three characters — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — have always epitomized moral judgment and the ethical principles of truth and justice.  To see one of them detract from what a traditional superhero stands for may be interesting to some, but when it’s a character like Wonder Woman who hardly suffers as much as Superman did in this particular storyline, it just doesn’t make any sense.  After she kills Von Bach, Batman tries to talk some sense into her and says she won’t earn her royal position back by killing.  Wonder Woman shoots Batman a death glare and flies into a rage, shouting “You aristocratic bastard!  How dare you condemn me!”

As the both of them do battle in the sky, Batman (on his flight-enhanced suit)  remains on the defensive and tries to reason with Wonder Woman (sort of like how Luke Skywalker tries to reason with Darth Vader at the end of “Return of the Jedi”).  Wonder Woman finally returns to her senses when she sees stealth bombers perparing to drop nukes on the superheros and metahumans.  While this is happening, Superman brings the brain-washed Captain Marvel back to his senses so that he can stop the nuclear bomb.  Notice how Captain Marvel is violent because of mind-control, while Wonder Woman is full of rage because of her personal struggles and ego.  It’s as if the male superheroes can’t lose themselves in face of their own challenges.

At the end of the book, Wonder Woman goes back to normal and enjoys a nice lunch with Superman and Batman.  We also learn that she ends up pregnant with Superman’s baby, but the focus rests on Superman and Batman who have a nice embrace of friendship, as if they were violently fighting each other throughout the book.  If anything, the real moment of forgiveness should have been between Wonder Woman and Superman and Batman.  I don’t like either ending, to be honest, because they reduce Wonder Woman to an inferior.  She was unable to keep her head on straight amidst the turbulent and changing times, while her male counterparts held their composure.  The fact that the ending hardly focused on Wonder Woman, aside from her being pregnant,  shows how much of an insignificant character she was.  If anything, she was an obstacle to Superman and Batman.  It wasn’t Superman or Batman who wound up killing, it was Wonder Woman who did.  She turned to the “dark side” and made the situation worse.

As I closed the book, I reflected on how I would have enjoyed it more if Wonder Woman was portrayed better.  Then I thought about how many comic book readers may overlook the sexism and praise it for being an amazing story with beautiful artwork.  Beautiful artwork, indeed, but an amazing story?  I think male readers are more privileged to say that.

~Broken Mystic~

Sister

She was dragged out into the street
An angry mob shouting words they didn’t understand
Tearing her clothes off shamelessly
Spitting in her face and beating her with brutal hands

She was seventeen – beautiful and innocent
A radiant smile that became trembling lips
What was my crime, she cannot even ask
What have I done to deserve this torment?

A distant Lover, a young man from a different part of town
Just an innocent pair of Lovers
They pull her hair and call her a disgrace
“Infidel!” “Slut!” “Whore!”

Tears streaming down her face – I’m sorry, she whimpers
Heavy rocks and stones slamming against her body
Blood dripping, bones crushing, such fragile beings we are
Why hurt so much beauty?

You stand in the crowd
Surrounded by a chaotic storm of violence
Unable to hold back your tears
Wanting to bring an end to this madness

I know, me too…

With each violent strike
You watch her life bleed away
Her broken fingers reaching for help, just someone to hold
Just someone to tell her it’s going to be okay

You’re haunted by her helpless eastern eyes
Watching the brutality ensue
One rock thrown at a time like some demonic game
While police officers just stand as spectators
Unyielding to her desperate and painful cries

You want to charge through the crowd
And take the rocks like bullets
You want to bleed and lessen her pain
You want to scream into the sky
And punch the earth until your hand breaks

I know, me too…

Sister, what we would do to help you
If we weren’t so afraid
I’m standing here, bleeding from the inside
Suffocating and blind from all this hatred

Sister, I cannot live like this
Or laugh or sing or dance or smile
I cannot breathe like this
Or talk or eat or walk or sleep

Thinking of all the pain you endured
Of all those years you missed
Those precious days stolen from you
In the early bloom of your being

You want to believe in the Unseen Beauty
Heaven’s Chariot charging through the fields
Divine Light resurrecting her lifeless body
And a warm hand healing her wounds

Fear nothing, says a gentle voice
For Beautiful Muhammad has come
To lead you out of darkness and into Light
To bring you out of sorrow and into rejoice

Ali and Fatima wait at the Gate
Come, Sister
To the Eternal Sky
To the Garden of Souls
To the Love that belongs to you

You want to believe this is how it ended

I know, me too…

~ Broken Mystic ~