Category Archives: media

unorthodox – my review

everyone’s been talking about netflix’s ‘unorthodox.’ i watched the mini series recently and i agree, it’s well written, well acted, well produced. it certainly grabs u from the get-go and keeps u interested all the way through.

there are some unsettling scenes and cringeworthy situations, but there are also moments that move and inspire, in particular the protagonist’s love of music and her need to express that dizzying sense of emotive freedom. it’s always satisfying to see a woman come into her own anyway. i get all that.
but as a muslim, who’s used to the west’s obsessive depictions of muslim women escaping their oppression, i am sensitive to certain tropes that others might not recognize.

i could easily imagine a similar netflix series (and there might be a dozen or more already) involving a muslim woman breaking away from her exotic/bizarre (not legible to western audiences), patriarchal/religious, sensational/shocking milieu, and the collective sigh of relief and exhilaration that it would produce in western viewers, along with plenty of self-righteous indignation.

for the women in question, whose stories are being shared, their journeys are arduous, hopeful, and steeped in unquestionable power. no doubt about it.

however, i cannot help but note the self-congratulatory, give yourself a pat on the back framing of this genre of drama.
the politics are never too subtle and sit so well, so cozily, with representations of the ‘sacred space’ occupied by first-world democracies, the ones with a superior, universal, liberal culture that loves progress, gay people and women.

‘unorthodox’ hit so many of those typical binaries that are supposed to help us differentiate between what’s civilized and what’s not.
eating pork is esty’s first discovery of the west’s attractive irreverence. it reminded me of an article i read recently about la fete du cochon in france which is used to celebrate french traditions and seen as pushback against muslim immigration. just to illustrate how bacon symbolizes western enlightenment.

i think perhaps esty ended up drinking alcohol as well which is also read as a mark of emancipation.

the club scene is a typical portrayal of a repressed character from a backward culture, uninitiated in the mind-bending freedom of drugs and collective grinding, who learns to finally relax and concludes the night with an empowering sexual encounter.

esty is becoming ‘liberated’ before our eyes, checking off each box on the white feminist checklist of things to do, in order to go from object (baby-making machine) to free agent with tons of individual freedom.

i’m not criticizing any of these actions in and of themselves (eating pork, drinking alcohol, clubbing or casual sex). women are allowed to make these decisions in whichever way they deem fit. but when they’re combined into a stereotypical, white feminist manifesto, i have to mention how recognizable it is, to us the ‘other’ people whose cultures are constantly measured against this very specific and predictable criteria.

just some thoughts:)

The ‘Sultana’s Dream’ Project by Chitra Ganesh and the Importance of Muslim Feminisms

i wrote this in the middle of our move, because it means that much to me.
a new exhibit based on the work of radical bengali feminist rokeya hossain is now at the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (until june of this year). that’s something to rejoice, except that hossain’s muslim identity is completely erased in the discourse about the project both on MAG’s website as well as in artist chitra ganesh’s description of the work on her own website.

this erasure is particularly jarring at a time of anti-muslim progroms in india as well as the weaponization of the pandemic (it’s being called covid jihad) to stoke islamophobia.

here’s more.

Film Discussion to Explore Legacy of 1947 Partition, As Anti-Muslim Violence Surges In India

so a screening of ‘a thin wall’ followed by a community discussion at Douglass Auditorium at 36 King St. was cancelled on march 14th, in accordance with NYS coronavirus guidelines. we hope to reschedule some time in the future.

in the meantime, Darien Lamen spoke to Hibah Arshad, Thomas Gibson and i, and put together this excellent intro to the community conversation we hope to have. pls read/listen here.

white hypocrisy

with all due respect to football fans (including my son), the super bowl is one heavy-duty bit of commercial entertainment. an obscene embodiment of american excess. capitalism is pretty vulgar, my friends. so apart from racism and colonial hypocrisy, it’s a bit hard to understand the (white) abuse and panic triggered by shakira and J Lo’s performance. what did people expect? brittney spears?

mashrou leila’s roman

#lebanese #filmmaker Sonia Hadchiti visited my class today to talk about Mashrou’ Leila’s music video #roman and her own animation. as far as the music video, ‘roman’ is one of my absolute favorites and here is why

from Anastasia Tsioulcas: …there’s a lot of subtlety in both the text and the visuals to “Roman” that challenges stereotypes — from all comers. As the band explains, the women in the video are “styled to over-articulate their ethnic background, in a manner more typically employed by Western media to victimize them. This seeks to disturb the dominant global narrative of hyper-secularized (white) feminism, which increasingly positions itself as incompatible with Islam and the Arab world, celebrating the various modalities of Middle Eastern feminism.”

Reclaiming the Narrative: Analyzing the White Supremacist Roots of Anti-Muslim Violence

an incisive and clear-cut analysis of white supremacy and anti-muslim racism by two young women from the islamic center of rochester, Halima Aweis and Hibah Arshad. the interview by Darien Lamen was part of Reclaiming the Narrative‘s longer news program on april 5, 2019. this is the interview on its own, archived on sound cloud – an important reference point at a specific political moment in our history. pls listen and share.

April 5, 2019: Analyzing the White Supremacist Roots of Anti-Muslim Violence

this is such an excellent discussion about white supremacy and anti-muslim racism (starts at 6:30). so proud of Halima AweisHibah Arshad and Navaira Aslam for understanding history, systems, and the deep connections b/w various forms of violence all around the globe. thank u Darien Lamen for producing such an informative news program, where there is an opportunity for uninterrupted, complex analysis. if u want to be in solidarity with the muslim community, pls listen here.