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Anthony Lloyd’s review on Asne Seierstad’s book “Two Sisters” in The Times. By Salman Al-Azmi


News Author

Anthony Lloyd

Published Date

10 March 2018

In her lower secondary school Ayan – the leader of the two — was a tough, cheerful, confident child, keenly aware of the oppression so many women suffered under Islam.

The expression “keenly aware of the oppression so many women suffered under Islam” is an example of the writer’s attitude towards Islam where he suggests inherent misogyny in Islam 1. Without providing any evidence where the so called ‘oppression’ on women in Islam comes from, the author positions Islam from his own cultural experience. Juxtaposing the noun ‘oppression’ and the verb ‘suffered’ while referring to women in Islam is a typical value-judged comment that has no basis. The author has not justified how the two women were ‘keenly aware’ of the so-called misogyny in Islam. It is also not clear on what basis he claims that ‘so many’ Muslim women are oppressed, which is an example of a ‘weasel claim’ often used by journalists.

It has been frequently observed that the Western media often confuse ethnic cultural practices in some Muslim societies as Islamic. For example, forced marriage in South Asia and FGM in Africa are often presented as Islamic oppressive practices, whereas these crimes are committed by people of all faiths in these regions. How much these cultural practices are stemmed from Islamic principles is seldom questioned. Many media articles about Islam and Muslims include photos of Muslim women in hijab or veil implying that these women have been forced to wear them2. In most of these representations, very few women are asked whether they have been forced to wear them or they decided to wear them voluntarily to profess their faith.

Al-Azami (2016) finds that the media often look at gender issues in Islam from an ‘ethnocentric’ perspective where they consider cultural practices of Islam as oppressive just because they have a different way of life than their own experience. The way the author uses this expression in this article is a type of ‘media framing’ in which, according to Fairhurst and Sarr (1996), journalists tend to present a concept through their own value judgment. Fowler (1985) says that in situations of power and control, language can be a useful tool for manipulating concepts, which is clearly manifested here. Absence of Muslim women’s perspectives on gender issues in Islam is often a recurrent matter in many media articles3. Women are portrayed as victims of oppression, but their own views on this are rarely heard. Kesvani (2014) observes that the media often use terms such as patriarchy, misogyny, medieval on gender issues, while Campbell (1995) comments that this type of invisibility is nothing but ‘marginalising of minority voices’.