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Queen Rania of Jordan has posted her own video on YouTube, entitled, “Send me your stereotypes.” Her aim is to break down stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims through YouTube (I assume she focuses only on Arabs because she herself is Arab; however, this is problematic for the majority of Muslims who are not Arab but whose cultures are stereotyped similarly). It’s an admirable aim, but is it going to work?
So far, there are 35 responses. They come from Italy, Canada, the U.S., Ireland, etc. There are genuine questions about the “truths” surrounding Islam and homosexuality, view of Jews, terrorism, etc. There are also people who’d just like to hear themselves talk, and some that I am pretty sure have aims other than addressing questions about racism and Islamophobia.
There are also some great examples of Islamophobia in the media; I was tickled purple to see the opening scenes of Disney’s Aladdin in the queue. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Aladdin, but it’s important to address the latent racism (not to mention sexism) in Disney movies.
The most positive of all the videos in the “dispelling stereotypes” category is entitled, “A Land Called Paradise,” and features American Muslims of all walks of life with placards that reveal their inner thoughts and confessions, humanizing tidbits that reveal that they are “just like us”: worrying about one’s mother, cheating in school, liking Grey’s Anatomy, etc.
Many of the stereotypes that are put forth deal with Islam and women. Several posters questioned why a woman in Saudi Arabia was murdered for chatting on Facebook, why (some) Muslim women undergo female genital cutting, why women are punished for adultery and not men.
The questions asked are valid, the stereotypes presented are real and harmful. But I’m skeptical as to how much of a change this is going to make. The ultimate goal of stereotypes is to dehumanize a person or group; even if these videos somehow change a few minds, will they humanize Muslims and Arabs? I’m a little skeptical.
Though Queen Rania is a lovely spokeswoman for this movement, we don’t know what perspectives she’s bringing. She hasn’t responded to any of the videos yet, and so it’s unclear as to whether she’ll be answering them all by herself, or if she’ll bring it other Arab and/or Muslim voices.
My main worry about this project is that it will be an excuse for Islamophobic ranting, with loud voices who aren’t interested in allowing others to refute negative stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. That it won’t be a dialogue, that no one will learn anything. Or that the “truths” presented won’t be accepted because they are not black-and-white, but instead are complex and sticky: for example, explaining that female genital cutting is not an Islamic practice, but one that is tied to local cultures, might not satisfy a poster who thinks this practice and all who engage in it are barbaric.
Though I’m a skeptic at heart, I do laud this as a positive step. Videos on YouTube proliferate so many stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims; now is a good time to start fighting fire with…dialogue.
The conversation will continue until August 12, 2008 (International Youth Day).