Our social justice tour

I wanted to come to Washington, D.C., to visit my friend, M. I intended to come last weekend but didn’t because of the forecasted snow storm.

My teen wanted to come, but I rescheduled the trip for this weekend and she had school… so I thought… what if we made it a social justice tour in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

So, I signed her out of school to “explore social justice in our nation’s capital.”

We ended up on the campus of Georgetown University’s Law Center. And had a sandwich nearby where I tried my first pastrami.

I don’t know why I never had pastrami before.

We then attended a rally for Marzieh Hashemi, the African-American journalist and American citizen who lives in Iran and works for the English language Iranian Press. She is also a Muslim convert.

Marzieh recently came home to the United States to visit family when she found herself “kidnapped” by the FBI and transferred to two different detention facilities, where she was not offered halal food nor allowed to wear her hijab.

I had heard Marzieh’s story on NPR’s Morning Edition and saw M posting some updates on her situation on Facebook. When he mentioned a rally and protest today, I wanted to go.

She called her 11-day imprisonment an act of “intimidation” and encouraged all of us to make sure we make a difference with our lives because we will all eventually die.

Meanwhile, my daughter ended up on Iranian TV. See the little blue globe in the photo and the brown haired girl in the jean jacket? That’s my baby.

Check out my YouTube videos of this event:

The beginning of the event:

https://youtu.be/1Bl4A5NoE7g

Marzieh’s son talks about growing up in a home that the FBI raided without reason:

https://youtu.be/BAOPut6jVH4

Marzieh arrives:

Marzieh speaks:

https://youtu.be/ZcgL2Iog0s8

Facing modern Orientalism in Lalla Essaydi photographs at Lafayette College

This is the final week to see Lalla Essaydi’s photographs at the Williams Center for the Arts gallery at Lafayette College.

This seven photograph exhibit takes a journey into contemporary Muslim women’s space while exploring traditional Orientalist beliefs, otherwise known as Western stereotypes of the Muslim/Arab experience.

Immediately, I recognized these themes in Essaydi’s photography. My previous exposure both academically (my interest in post colonial Francophone Africa, how it intersects with the Muslim world, and the impact these topics have on contemporary international politics) and via travel in Africa and the Middle East came rushing into my head like a lost dream you fight to remember upon waking.

This exhibit features five photographs that use white/beige colors, Arabic writing, henna and women in various levels of religious covering and two photographs more steeped in color.

The seven photographs come from three different series: Converging Territories, Harem and Bullets. Just reading those titles should leave a certain taste in the mouth. I have with me an exhibit guide but I haven’t referred to it yet as I prefer to digest the works on my own first.

The first piece one encounters in the exhibit is 2004’s Converging Territories #24, featuring a woman’s face, only eyes showing, with writing on her face and the cloth covering her. The chromogenic print mounted on aluminum divides the woman’s face into four panels, each an almost even display of skin, lettering, and beige fabric.

This one did not attract or impress me. That is not to say it does not present a strong harmonious image. It is certainly a lovely piece of artwork, but artwork often speaks to the viewer in unique ways and this one seemed what one would expect from an exhibit like this.

Next came Harem #2 (2009). Instantly, I noticed the use of the term harem and the mimicry of traditional Orientalist images prevalent in I believe it was 19th century Western paintings capturing a fantasy of what Western/European artists expected the Muslim/Arab lifestyle to be.

The Harem series uses more color, more texture, and repeats the Orientalist themes of a reclining woman in exotic dress. The repetition of these stereotypical themes used by a Muslim female photography made me bristle. But this woman is propped on one arm and seated rather proudly so I sense the challenge to the age-old idea of the Middle Eastern harem.

Next, I found Bullets #3 (2003). The woman  in this photograph has a sassy shoulder turned to the camera. She is covered, but showing more flesh than normally proper throughout the arm. The backdrop is all bullets as if they were tiles on the wall, bullets also adorn her clothes. Another stunning photograph, but frankly I grow tired of the constant obsession of the Muslim identity automatically connecting with terrorism. I’m sure that’s Essaydi’s point, too.

I’m going to skip my favorite piece and turn instead to Harem Revisited #34 (2012). Perhaps this is the most colorful piece presented at Lafayette. It is three years newer than the other, and the woman’s pose in this one is not only more docile and reclined but divided into three panels, an immediate detraction from her humanity. She is reduced to pieces.

But the focal point of the exhibit (and my favorite), if I can proclaim that based on not only the fact that it was in my opinion very prominently displayed, is Converging Territories #30 (2004). [Featured image for this post.] It depicts, with the same beige clothing on beige background covered with writing and people decorated with henna, four females standing side by side in various levels of garb.

The largest woman, whom appears to be the only adult in the group, is completely covered head to toe. I can’t even refer to it as burqa as she doesn’t even have a slit or a screen for her eyes. I see them as a family, and the next one is in more traditional burqa and appears to be an adolescent. The next girl, a sweet looking pre-teen, has her scarf tied under her chin, exposing her whole face but not her hair. The last little girl has no head covering.

What I adore about this photograph is the vivid use of the progression of covering as it follows a woman through various stages of life and suggests not only the typical message of how a woman’s identity is limited by strict forms of covering, but also attaches this idea to the act of mothering and potentially makes it more universal. To me, the suggestion is that all women lose a part of their identity as they transition into a maternal role. This has nothing to do with religion.

If you miss the exhibit at Lafayette, a similar exhibit runs through May at the Trout Gallery of Dickinson College.

About Lalla Essaydi: According to the exhibit guide, she grew up in Morocco, raised her family in Saudi Arabia, and lived in both France and the United States. She received her arts education from prestigious art programs in both France and the United States.

Reviving an old abstract…

I noticed that the link to my abstract on the NCUR 2013 web site no longer worked so I went on a search…

I found the abstract on the NCUR web site and opted to copy it so it survives.

I presented at NCUR my final year at Lafayette. The introduction to my thesis is listed under academic writing on this site.

The Abstract:

CIVILIZING MUSLIMS: HOW THE FRENCH PERPETUATE ALGERIAN COLONIALISM IN THEIR FIGHT AGAINST THE VEIL
Angel Ackerman, (Angelika von Wahl) International Affairs, Lafayette College, Easton, PA

France today struggles with the presence of a highly visible and growing Muslim population in a society that considers public secularism a founding institution. Many Muslims in France today have roots in colonial Algeria. Without the rise of Algerian nationalism and the subsequent war that led to Algerian decolonization in 1962, the Fifth Republic would not exist as it does today.

Many scholars have criticized and studied whether or not France should integrate Islam into its society better, but fewer people have studied how French colonial-based stereotypes proclaiming the inferiority of Muslim Arabs linger in the treatment of Muslims in France today. The treatment of colonial Algerians, particularly the denial of equal citizenship because of their religion, provides an interesting case study that can be compared to a contemporary case, the attempt to strip Muslim women of their right to wear the veil.

French efforts to legislate whether or not women can wear traditional Muslim veils serve as a continuation of the “civilizing mission” undertaken in the Algerian colony. Using a variety of French language and English language primary and secondary sources, this project looks at the intersection of citizenship and religion from the 18th through 21st centuries.

Chapter One establishes the roots of laicite and the persecution of the Catholic Church after the 1789 revolution. Chapter two explores the role of religion in the colonization of Algeria, the creation of stereotypes of the inferior Arab, and how religion led to the denial of citizenship to the indigenous Muslims. Chapter three chronicles the rise of Algerian nationalism, the war of “liberation” and how the various French populations interacted with the Algerians. The fourth chapter takes the stereotypes of the colonial era and shows how Fifth Republic France has perpetuated these ideas of the Arab Muslim as an inferior that still needs to be civilized. The final chapter offers political theory covers what it means to wear the veil in France.

Photographs of Tunisia, January 2012

Paris Rendez-Vous

Quartier Gare de Nord
October 2010 (my photo)

Paris Rendez-Vous

(A poem from my 2010 trip to Paris)

In the initial flurry of dark coats and

Clunking baggage wheels, my harsh accent that

Does not sing gets lost on the platform. The

Acclimated crowds ravage my coveted Gauloise

While I hesitate.

Emerging, damp silk and cotton clinging to

My skin, my body threatens to fail as I

Pray for her acceptance. The station

Breathes mechanical three-tone chimes

Delineating each train.

Simplicity of metal, glass and concrete,

The station does not yield to the sway

Of engines and cars. This canopy

Protects me from the elements and her gaze.

My reluctant shove opens the door.

I cascade into a surreal apertif of

Flowers, perspiration and urine,

Cigarette smoke and inexpensive red wine

Skimming her flesh. The olfactory assault awakens me

And mocks my freshness.

Redolent of yeast, her warm body embraces

Me. My mouth lusts for her breads and her

Sweets, grime overshadowed, but my first

Need is revival brought by strong coffee

In tiny cups.

At the hotel, I climb a vivid pink and

Worn brown spiral of 85 stairs to a

Corner chamber where imperfect sheets

Remain suspiciously mussed from the

Bodies preceding us.

I step to the balcony, fingers of wrought iron

Restraining me as I stand with no destination

Sandwiched between opposing stations.

In this space, I taste her earnest

Poignancy on the breeze.

From this narrow ledge, she dances

Mesmerizing me with her softness, her angles;

Her age versus her timelessness.

Her caress reaches me and transforms the American

Tension that defines me.

Transfixed, I freeze. Every murmur against

Neighboring tracks rocks my core, screaming of my

Transience. Every siren from the streets below

Thrills me, a tremor for each pin-pon that pierces

My overconstructed fugue.

The passersby below my balcony continue their

Departure, trajectory focused on a shortcut to the

Train. Their nonchalance boggles me. Her touch

Forces amnesia, the mundane discarded in her kisses.

We descend into her streets of rapture.

She leads me through her neighborhoods

Into her flavors. She is not the girl I once knew

But nor am I the same. I desire more than I did in youth

So I chase her as I will chase her for days

Begging for our merger.

The ideologists mandate her purity, concocting paltry laws

While she feigns aloofness. The natives ignore her

Everyday charms but bristle when she shares

Her ardor with Africans, Muslims, and other dark faces

As readily as white skins.

She absorbs the choppy resonance of the Arabic

Laid at her feet and stares at the strange letters

She cannot read, because language constantly

Mutates. She can only preserve her heart and not what the

Populace layers upon her.

My feet blister keeping pace, just the endorphins

Propel me. My mood turns uneasy as she continues beneath

Me, urging me onward into her pleasures. With fats from

Her table and easy-flowing wine, she satiates, sullies

And corrupts me.

Under the haze of alcohol with a belly full of frog,

Snails and rabbit, she lures me to the river Seine,

Tourist-laden boats driving its currents,

Its banks flooded with the silhouettes

Of lovers entwined.

When exhaustion lands me in my bed, I never

Close the window. The bugs nip my soiled flesh

But I continue to expose myself to her.

How else could I monitor her nocturnal movements?

Never have I felt so dirty and free.

But finally, I return to that station, with more

Song in my voice. I laugh and weep as the

RER dashes into the suburbs. Tunnels ascend

Into daylight, sun falling on graffiti, the message too real,

Disconcerting.

My tears draw attention from a tall

Black man with dreads whose soft French comforts

My sorrow. I can only pray that he will

Care for her, as I do, and stay with her

With a permanence I cannot.