City of Brass by Aziz Poonawalla

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the myth of the barbie doll

posted by Aziz P. at 9/23/2002 07:02:00 AM permalink View blog reactions

One of Steven Den Beste's arguments about Arab culture is that it needs to be "reformed". What he means is, it needs to become a clone of ours. He advocates the Barbie Doll (equating the bikini with freedom. Actually, the bikini is as much a tool of female oppression as the Saudi burka) and Rock and Roll as elements of a successful cultural imperialism.

Jane Galt has a fantastic post which does a lot to analyze the fallacies in Steven's argument. Cultural imperialism is reduced in Steven's perspective to what music you listen to and what clothes you wear. Somehow, these things make you more free than someone else who doesn;t wear or listen to what you do (having oppressive givernments, installed by colonialist Western givernments, presumably factors little into the issue). Jane points out:

Turning into a western society would involve ripping out everything they do, and embracing an untried, and in many ways inferior, way of life. To take just one example, many Arab/Muslim cultures, social lives revolve almost entirely around the extended family, especially for women, who in many countries rarely socialize with anyone but their own families, and their husband's families when they are married. This is not compatible with the sexual license and serial monogamy of modern American society. You're asking women to give up their family and friends so that they can wear lipstick. Of course, we, who are comfortable in this way of life, consider it superior. And perhaps it is. But for someone whose lifestyle is so different, the idea of embracing it is terrifying, not liberating.

She also makes this witty yet insightful comment:

That's why feminist aid workers are so often angry and hurt to find out that the majority of women in places like Afghanistan do not want to throw off the veil and turn into Gloria Steinem. It would mean abandonning the entire matrix of customs and beliefs in which they are operating comfortably, for an unknown future.


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About City of Brass

City of Brass was originally launched in March 2002 under the name UNMEDIA. The blog focuses on issues related to muslims in the West. The primary author is Aziz Poonawalla, a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. Bohras adhere to the Shi'a Fatimi tradition of Islam, headed by the 52nd Dai al-Mutlaq, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (TUS). Also see the technical blog, entitled Khidmat is not a zero-sum game, detailing the open-source infrastructure behind our community web portal,