Tuesday 7 October 2014

The condescension and racism behind American praise of the female pilot who bombed ISIS

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This may be the subtlest but most destructive trope of all, because it treats women's progress in the Middle East as primarily something that matters when it can be used to humiliate Muslim men. It co-opts Mansouri and Muslim women generally into a sort of practical joke that we Americans get to play on our enemies. This may help explain why commentators praising Mansouri are so often ignorant of the actual facts about the status of women in the Middle East: they care about what she represents for jingoistic insults of America's enemies, not for what she represents for female advancement.
The idea that Mansouri's gender would be an ideologically crippling humiliation for ISIS is, in itself, based in racist and Islamophobic misconceptions.
Mansouri's gender is frequently described as such a big deal because ISIS fears female soldiers. The militants, it is often said, believe that they will not go to heaven if they are "martyred" by combat with a woman. This is false, and ISIS even fields its own all-female battalions in Syria, which it uses to terrify civilian women and enforce their compliance with its oppressive laws. This misconception, which actually understates ISIS's brutality toward women, is based in reassuring Islamophobic tropes about "72 virgins" and infantalizing notions of Muslim men. If we were told that any other group of battle-hardened fighters feared female soldiers, we would laugh the idea off as ridiculous, but with Muslim groups this notion is readily embraced.
These misconceptions and stereotypes all seem to reinforce the core theme of American praise of Mansouri: our conversations often begin with the assumption that Arabs and Muslims are inherently less advanced, should be held to a lower set of standards, because that is just how they are. Our praise for Mansouri, no matter how much she deserves it, only demonstrates our unconcern for the actual status of women in the Arab Middle East.

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