March 08, 2006

the "strangeness" of muslim sexuality

It's striking how pertinent our class readings seem to be in respect of this weeks media coverage. Here we are reading Edward Said's Orientalism for Systems and the NYtimes publishes a report on Muslim dating in New York, also as a good friend of mine told me NPR just aired a program on "temporary" marriage in Iran yesterday. What is it that keeps Western writers and readers interested in muslim sexuality, whether it is presenting portrayals like Flaubert's on oriental women as sensuous but passive and submissive, or yesterday's New York Times' on the incompatibility of Islamic ideas of marriage with life in the modern world, or conceptualizations of imam-sanctioned forms of prostitution in the Middle East? Is it yet another way in which Americans try to posit Muslims as the ultimate Other, fundamentally different from ourselves? Probably, but I think there is more to it. Sexuality and marriage in general seems to be an increasingly fraught issue here in the US. Just think about the debates over same-sex marriage, rights to abortion or sex-education in schools. South Dakota only just passed a bill banning abortion in its limits and another national one seems to be in the workings that would allow pharmacists to deny the purchase of prescription medication such as the day-after pill to clients on the basis of moral reasons. But fundamentalist Christian doctrines are hard to criticize in the media when they have such strong support here in the US. Muslims on the other hand seem to provide the perfect target onto which we can project our frustrations over attempts defined in religious terms to impinge on people's sexual autonomy.


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