“She ought to be in prison for wearing the hijab” said conservative political pundit Ann Coulter on Fox news two weeks ago. Then she added, seemingly baselessly, “Did she get a clitorectomy too?” Given that America’s impression of Muslim women as a whole is often still that of oppressed and childlike foreigners, remarks like Coulter’s are no shock. They do, however, raise the question of how a culture that views a group as so devoid of agency handles the power and activism that they do demonstrate. Increasingly, American media and culture have been forced to confront the ultimate threat to their conventional typecast: empowered Muslim women. Their reaction in these moments speaks volumes.
Take, for example, the case of Malala Yousafzai. Malala was recently named the world’s most influential person by the TIME 100, the latest shower of attention in a media frenzy that has spanned several months. Malala, who bravely took a stand against Pakistani Taliban, attracted the attention of the worldwide press when she survived a near-fatal shooting last October. While Malala is doubtless an icon for activists the world round, the mainstream Western media’s coverage of her managed to tailor even her brave tale to their own needs. Malala received constant coverage for the much of late 2012. Overall, the insights apparently gained from her experience were not primarily that the U.S. presence in the area has increased Pakistani radical groups or that drone attacks create blowback, but that controversial U.S. military actions are a necessary sacrifice to save girls like Malala. The prevailing media rhetoric became one of idolizing Malala while resolutely refusing any possible blame. [Read more...]