by Seth J. Frantzman
Litmus test for 'progressive Muslim' is how his sister and daughter are expected to behave.
The November 1958 edition of National Geographic included an article "The Arab World: A Story in Pictures." Among pictures of Palestinian refugees and UN workers helping them (some things haven't changed) was a photo of Tunisian women celebrating Independence Day. They were wearing less-than-flattering but nonetheless progressive white track suits with baseball caps in place of head scarves. The article waxed poetic on the "vivacious proof that modern Arabs no longer isolate women and insist they wear a veil... with their new status, women find opportunity." Photo captions noted that the veil was "conspicuous by its absence."
Anyone watching the Muslim world with a critical eye for the past half century would be hard pressed not to recognize that in every country, even supposedly secular
Night clubs in
But there is another side to the increasing religiousness of Muslim women. What of the Muslim men? If one judges by their dress and behavior, it seems they haven't changed much in the past 60 years. If anything, Muslim men have become more liberal, more exposed to supposedly Western notions of beer-swilling promiscuity, and have acted accordingly.
This creates a disconnect between the supposedly liberal Muslim man and the conservative Muslim woman. Popular culture is at a loss to understand this contradiction. Instead, what people often say is that "Ahmed is liberal, he is a real progressive Muslim, he has a non-Muslim girlfriend and he drinks and dances and wears bathing suits and can discuss Sartre and Shakespeare and listens to Nelly."
CONSIDER THE Economist's description of
An October 2009 National Geographic article entitled 'Facing Down the Fanatics' by Michael Finkel describes how Indonesia has become "more overtly Islamic" with the enactment of various forms of Shari'a law and modest dress by women. The most memorable picture from the article shows three men and a woman at a table. The men act as teenagers would in
The article further informs us that the magazine ME Asia is "challenging
There is a disconnect in the West in its view of Islam. It once measured the community by how its women dressed. Now, since the women are all covered, it prefers to measure the community by how its men behave. Muslim male terrorists means Islamism is a threat. Boozing, carousing Muslim males working as bouncers at strip clubs (as Abu Hamza al-Masri, the
The litmus test for the supposedly progressive Muslim is how his sister and daughter are expected to behave. Are they allowed out of the house past 8 p.m.? Can they date non-Muslims the way he does? Can they drink alcohol? What kinds of clothes can they wear? Can they swim beside the men at the pool or beach in similar bathing attire? The problem is that all too often Westerners don't even bother to notice Muslim women. Western women and men who visit Muslim countries treat Muslim women much as their own society too-often treats them, hiding them behind veils and ignoring their voices.
Seth J. Frantzman is a graduate student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, living in
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.