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      From Orientalist Sexual Object to Burkini Terrorist Threat: Muslim Women through Evolving Lens



            Muslim women in Western societies have found themselves caught in a discourse that politicizes them or depicts them through twisted narratives. Crafters of these narratives utilize media, literature, political rhetoric and government policies, to portray Muslim women through lenses that aim to define who they are, not by their own definitions as Muslim women but by the definitions of those who intend to shape society for political or social gains. These lenses have evolved through time, particularly since in the context of historical events and societal realities such lenses cannot seemingly be true for all Muslim women, at all times. Hence, with new images and information that shape our realities, the lenses by which Muslim women have been defined have also shifted and evolved with the changing of historical events. In this article, I outline four historical lenses: (1) lens of sexual objectivity; (2) lens of backwardness and ignorance; (3) lens of domination and subjugation; and the most current lens which we can analyze today in the here and now, (4) the lens of fear and threat. This final lens entails unwarranted associations made between the evil of ISIS terrorism and the innocent play of Muslim women on French beaches. This lens feeds into the greater attitude of Islamophobia. The fear which is broadcast through the media is a fear against a Muslim encroachment that subverts Western values and ways of living. Muslim women voices are silent in these perceptions. Hence, the dominating voice comes from those who hold power through media, government, or education. They are the ones choosing and crafting the narratives and perspectives, defining Muslim women, and Muslims in general, as a threat to Western Democracy and Liberalism.


            Author and article information

            Islamophobia Studies Journal
            Pluto Journals
            Fall 2017
            : 4
            : 1
            : 101-114
            University of Southern California, USA
            © Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, Center for Race and Gender, University of California, Berkeley

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.


            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            empowerment,Islamic veil,Western representations,colonial feminism,Muslim women


            1. Spaces were much more gendered historically than they are today. However, gendered spaces still do exist as part of Islamic societies, in particular, mosque spaces where men pray separate from women. There are also all women banks, malls, and work spaces.

            2. , Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books Random House, 1979), 188.

            3. , The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830–1857 , ed. and trans. (Cambridge: The BellKnapp Press of Harvard University Press, 1980), 107.

            4. , The Colonial Harem , trans. and (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986) 7.

            5. Ibid.

            6. Ibid., 4.

            7. Pictures of postcards derived from Alloula's Colonial Harem.

            8. , Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 85.

            9. Ibid., 81.

            10. Ibid.

            11. , Turkish Harems and Circassian Homes , 2nd ed. (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1871), 3.

            12. Ibid., 33.

            13. Ibid., 74–76.

            14. Ibid., 12–13.

            15. Ibid., 90–91.

            16. During the Democratic National Convention during the 2016 elections, and , whose son Army Capt. died in Baghdad in 2004, took to the stage to support Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton against then Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. Khizr Khan delivered a speech attacking Donald Trump's integrity saying he is an American who is ignorant of the Constitution and whose proposed policies would have kept his honorable son out of the United States, even though he gave up his life to protect his fellow soldiers in Baghdad. The Khan family is recognized as an American Gold Star family. Trump responded to the Khans by attacking Khizr Khan and particularly his wife, Ghazala Khan who silently stood in pain next to her husband, later explaining that seeing her son's face in a picture had left her extremely emotional and hence silence was all she could offer.

            17. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/week-transcript-donald-trump-vice-president-joe-biden/story?id=41020870, accessed May 7, 2017.

            18. Father of the Bride Two , Dir. Charles Shyer (Burbank: Touchstone Pictures, 1995).

            19. In the summer of 2016, an uproar on French beaches took place where mayors from about 40 cities and villages set up laws to ban women from wearing full-body swimwear known as burkinis. The outfits cover the entire body except the hands, face and feet. They are physically safe for people to swim in, allowing women the opportunity to swim in safe and comfortable outfits while having at the same time the freedom to cover their bodies. The bans were later overturned by the French government but the conversation in the political realm still remains today and political candidates running for all types of offices, from the President to Mayor, use the bodies and clothing of Muslim women as political tools to appeal to voters who harbor feelings of French superiority and Muslim or Arab inferiority complexes. The history of France against the Islamic dress is long and complicated, particularly in French schools, where much of the French population view Muslim women's hijab or headdress as an attack on French identity and laicite, while at the same time associate the dress with terrorism although no Muslim women in Islamic dress have ever committed terrorist activities in France.


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