(Meena Kadri. 2010. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

TWITTER–Yesterday, beginning at 1PM CST and continuing long after, tweets bearing the hashtag “#AliceInArabia” expressed dismay and weariness towards ABC Family‘s upcoming drama about Arabs and Muslims.

Alice in Arabia is the aspiring TV-drama written by ex-U.S. soldier Brooke Eikmeier. The plot follows an American teenage girl as she is abducted by her Saudi-Arabian grandfather and taken to Saudi Arabia, where she is imprisoned within his home. Wait, I thought Alice was in Wonderland…

The name sparks a stark resemblance to Disney’s famous 1951 production, Alice in Wonderland, that threw a white girl into a world of drugs, chaos and mayhem, all the while threatening to corrupt her whiteness. Let’s not ignore the parallel being drawn between the LSD-laden Wonderland and the Arab world.

When the news was released about the drama-pilot soon to air on ABC Family, people were baffled, and rightfully so. Many, actually, thought it was a joke.

Added Break

Sadly, this is not some harmless prank. Here is a snippet of the controversial synopsis that sparked the discussion, as stated by Tom Ascheim, President of ABC Family:

2014-03-18_21-08-24

Surviving life behind the veil? Statements like that reflect on a number of issues. Here are two:

First and foremost, “the veil” is not a set of prison bars. Wearing hijab is not a life behind bars and often times serves as a source of liberation from the media’s sexualization of women.

Second, Muslim women do not need, nor want more depictions of themselves as oppressed or in need of saving. If writers such as Eikmeier talked to actual Muslim women about the issue, she would be able to feel the overwhelming exhaustion that is a result of no one listening. By portraying the hijab in a negative light, the show would not work as a vehicle of liberation for Saudi women. It wouldn’t liberate anyone, for that matter. It would further fuel the presumption that Muslim women are weak, subservient, and not nearly as “independent” and witty as American girls.

Moreover, the Alice in Arabia plot line reeks of white supremacy and plays along the same “White Savior, Oppressed Muslimah, Barbaric Brown Civilization” narrative that is all too common in this country. And what makes it a credible depiction?–A white woman who served overseas assisting NSA missions in the Middle East.

— TheSalafiFeminist (@AnonyMousey) March 17, 2014

 

The show rides on the back of the notion that everything Arab–its land, people, religion, and culture–is backwards and uncivilized, and all of it needs saving. By whom? A white savior, because white is always shown to be immaculate and restorative.

Alice in Arabia is not doing the Arab/Muslim community any favors. What it does do is perpetuate stereotypes against Arab men, Arab culture, and Muslim women. If this show was truly geared towards pro-Muslim depictions, then why is she being kidnapped by her Saudi relatives and why is her oppressor none other than The Tyrannical Hijab? The entire premise of the show is geared to push America’s deep-rooted prejudice towards Arabs and Muslims deeper into the ground. Arab and Muslim figures on TV controlled by white puppeteers do not give voice to anyone. Spongebob gave more voice and agency to sponges than American media has given Muslims.

However, it’s necessary to help others understand where the problem truly lies and what can be done to encourage change and come to a solution, however vague or rough (that’s why constructive discussions needs to happen). Here are some tips on how to foster genuine depictions of Arabs and Muslims in the public sphere:

1. Let Muslim women and men speak for themselves.
2. Hire brown men for roles that don’t call for self-combustion, thievery, or being a pimp.
3. Do not try to save me.
4. Do not try to save everything that isn’t white, like me.
5. Stop constructing Muslim/Arab narratives through white lenses.
6. Make room and open the floor for real, authentic conversations.

It actually looks like common sense, but common sense isn’t as common as we’d like it to be. Let’s hope change comes in the form of authentic Muslim figures and not another magic carpet.

Lastly, as you can see below, Eikemier did give her two cents on all the feedback she was receiving. The tweet beneath is an abridged version.

The Twitter discussion included all of these ideas and more. Check it out and add your voice to the conversation, and make sure to comment down below to let us know what you think.

UPDATE (12:15 PM):

(ANAHEIM, CA, 3/19/14) – The Greater Los Angeles-Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) said today that it has asked ABC Family Channel to meet with Muslim and Arab-American community leaders to discuss concerns about potential stereotyping in the pilot for a new series called “Alice in Arabia.”
Press Release:
http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=ff2677122d1f429e0db1748a2&id=07e5e69a78


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.


5 COMMENTS

  1. The U.S. Muslim women who tweeted against Alice in Arabia disregarded criticism from many other Arab feminists. When I objected, I was shouted down by people who had asked for my support in their campaign against Abu Eesa. I was told that this bullying clique want to stop the show because Saudi Arabian women’s lives and problems “make Islam look bad.” “Who”, said a woman who has never been to KSA, doesn’t speak Arabic and who promoted this twitter war, as she messaged me “will marry a Muslim if they see this?” Airing dirty laundry, that is, exposing the oppression of women is something television programming should address. The secondary claim that an American shouldn’t have written the show is a red herring for the women objecting are not Saudi Arabian, not Arabs and simply want to control popular discourse on Islam. This is not the way to fight Islamphobia. 4 real women, daughters of King Abdullah are captive right now in Saudi Arabia, showing the severity of the problems with the concept of guardianship. But, no, these tweeps aren’t interested in real problems of real women, or even in allowing discussion of the role of Islam in its birthplace.

  2. Theresponse by CAIR speaks volumes. Rather than helping to prevent violence against women in our U.S. Muslim communities (which differ by national origin), it is also primarily interested in controlling the critique of women’s rights in Islam.

  3. I find it unsurprising that Disney (which is associated with ABC), a company that is notorious for portraying Muslims and Arabs in a substandard manner is continuing their ways with Alice in Arabia. Stereotyping Muslims and Arabs in popular culture has been going on for so long. To illustrate, there has been numerous literature that discusses this such as Reel Bad Arabs. I suggest for people to watch the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly to get a sense of the Disney Company’s way of telling stories of race, class, and gender.

    With all of that in mind, it is fascinating to see how The Disney Company/ABC is trying to represent “whiteness” as a form of heroism. If it is not with Alice in Arabia, then it’s with countless Disney movies. In all essence, I liked the fact that this article discussed the topic of white supremacy within Alice in Arabia. Because even though people think white supremacy has to do with southerners wearing unfashionable costumes and burning crosses, it extends considerably beyond that.

    All things considered, I heard Alice in Arabia was cancelled due to increasing pressure from various people showing their discontent with Alice in Arabia. While that is good news, it does not change the fact that prejudice against Arabs and Muslims have suddenly vanished in thin air.

    And for the record, I loved the comment on, SpongeBob Squarepants giving “more voice and agency to sponges than American media has given Muslims.” It’s funny because it’s true…

  4. Wow sounds like you have a lot of hatred for speaking the truth about how evil Saudi Arabia truly is. If you took half of that energy you put into your article and used it to criticize Saudi Arabia instead of this American director, then all of us Muslim women would be better off.

    Yes, I am Muslim, yes I am arab, and yes I have been to Saudi Arabia. It is a little piece of hell on earth. While the hijab is liberating for some, it is a prison for Muslim women who DO NOT want to wear it but are forced to.

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