Films challenge Muslim stereotypes
A young girl caught between the prospects of spiritual salvation
and a golden dream of freedom; women simultaneously honored and held prisoner
by their own cultures- these were some of the issues raised in Monday's
screening of two independent films about the place of women in Islamic
Touching and provocative, the documentaries moved the audience
to laughter, to discomfort, and, in some cases, to mild protest. In response
to concerns about violence against Arab-Americans and Muslims that has
resulted from the September 11 disaster, the Women Make Movies organization
has issued selections of movies in order to help educate the general public
about the culture and traditions of the Arab and Muslim community, both
abroad and in the United States.
The first film, Don't Ask Why, by Sabiha Sumar (1999),
examined the thoughts of a 17-year-old Pakistani girl attempting to cope
with both the cultural restrictions that her world placed on females,
as well as the deep pride that she felt in being a part of her culture.
On the other hand, A Tajik Woman, by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa
(1994), attempted to reflect upon issues of exile and cultural conflict
for Muslim women from Afghanistan and Iran living in the United States.
Munis Faruqui, a Visiting Instructor of History, noted after
the showing that in the societies being examined, "women are seen
as repositories of identity - of culture, of tradition."
Having been placed upon this honored pedestal, however,
the men of the Muslim and Arabic societies give women few ways of stepping
down and participating in public life.
Faruqui also noted that both documentaries succeeded in
conveying the "interesting interplay of thinking of yourself as Islam
and at the same time, rebelling against Islam."
Randolph Stakeman, Associate Professor of History, also
appreciated the fact that the movie conveyed the ambiguities that arise
when Islamic women attempt to find more freedom while maintaining their
proud traditions within the religion of Islam.
Too often, said Stakeman, "we
see things in black
and white--on one side there is freedom for women and on the other side
there is the patriarchal Islam." As the two films demonstrated, however,
matters are not that cut and dry.
If anything, the two films provoked many in the audience
to feel that they should examine the place of women in American culture
before passing judgment on the complex and often ambiguous aspects of
the role that females play in Islamic societies.
The movies were rented from the Women Make Movies organization
and the event was organized by Rachel Groner, a Visiting Assistant Professor
of Women's Studies.