Orientalism: the normalized  (& highly problematic) framework through which the West observes, writes about, and examines the East -- specifically, the Middle East/North Africa/South Asia and Islam. And, a concept that has probably been mentioned on JooJoo Azad more than my love of saffron ice cream (that is saying a lot).

'BANNED' Scarf: Slow Factory / Photo: Driely Carter / MUA: Grace Ahn / Stylist: Solange Franklin | More from this shoot soon, stay tuned!

References to food aside (especially given it's day 3 of Ramadan, a time for Muslims of abstention from food, drink (yes, even water), smoking, sex, etc -- points of pleasure, essentially, from dawn to dusk for 30 days, so I'm clearly doing a bad job of distracting myself), Orientalism is a concept that is integral for being able to de-code media & academic portrayals of Muslims, the West's obsession with the Hijab, and the work of both to justify and accelerate anti-Muslim racism domestically (surveillance, refugee bans, etc) and internationally (war, drone strikes, etc). Central to a lot of my writing and work here on JooJoo Azad but never fully broken down or explained -- until now!

Why is Orientalism such an important concept to understand on a fashion blog? 

Modern-day Orientalism manifests right now in fashion & art more than anything else, everywhere from right-wing and conservative to leftist and liberal spaces. Especially in this particular political moment in which the hijab has become a hyper-politicized symbol and continued point of conversation and heated debate, it is all the more important to know how such markers of visual representation (this thing we call 'fashion') can also be weaponized, or rendered violent.

Fashion is inherently political. Take the recent Trump visit to Saudi Arabia as a more recent example, where the obsession with how Melania and Ivanka Trump were dressed only became a topic of conversation when traveling to a Middle Eastern country. A conversation though, that played directly into an Orientalist framework: creating a (false) binary between liberation and oppression; lightness and darkness (as the Washington Post describes it--see below); and the West and the East -- just based on the wearing -- or not -- of a headscarf. (But God forbid we talk about the fact that Trump's visit to Saudi was not, in fact, a fashion statement but rather to sign a $100 billion arms deal that will only escalate regional violence, specifically US-backed Saudi drone strikes in famine-torn Yemen.) Fashion here now serves as both a form of anti-Muslim violence and strategic political distraction.

"Liberation," "freedom," etc are used incredibly loosely, minimizing the act of being free or oppressed simply down to how a woman dresses. Which is incredibly problematic. Freedom is in the choice, not in any particular way of dressing. Hence, always returning to this concept of Orientalism -- how this simplification of liberation and freedom are linked simply to fashion choices (as opposed to, for example education or not being drone-striked) -- and then how that is used to justify military occupation.

So, fashion as justification for war. 

I got to sit down with two good friends who run a rad podcast called The Lit Review to break down this book & concept -- along with all of the big words that come with it.

A few of the major concepts discussed in this conversation, as I use them:

+ Orientalism | A lens or framework of looking at the 'Orient' or the East, particularly Islam, without the East's voice present; an imperialism of academia that creates simplistic dichotomies between progress and backwardness, freedom and repression, liberation and oppression.

+ Hegemony | Full and complete power, authority, and domination.

+ Imperialism | Hegemony of one country over another, backed by a military with economic, social, and cultural implications.

+ Linear Time | The concept that one country can be 'ahead' of another country; one country is modern and another still needs to 'catch up,' or that there is a series of steps that one country must take to become a 'modern' country. This is false because as we exist all currently in the modern time -- we are all modern people. There is no state that is 'backwards' or behind, but they might be better at hiding structural issues better. Time is cyclical; history repeats itself.

+ Gendered | The East is also portrayed in gendered terms; specifically, as a highly sexualized female that needs to be saved, penetrated, and destroyed. Imperialism, is, after all, a product of patriarchy.

+ The 'Voiceless' | "There is not such thing as the voiceless, there is only the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard" -Arundhati Roy. Easterners are described with a lack of agency, in need of saving or unable to consciously make their own decisions.
Side note: nothing bothers me more than the overly-used phrase "I am a voice for the voiceless" -- no, you're just using your privilege to speak over others. Rather, use your platform to uplift and share their voices rather than speaking over and for them.

+ Homogenization | The Middle East/Islam is described as all the same, unchanging, without diversity. But the narratives, displacement, and experiences of a Syrian family is not the same as family from Iran or Iraq or Sudan. There is incredible complexity, diversity, and history within a region and religion that is always flattened and rendered all the same.

Hope this is helpful! As always, feel free to reach out/drop a line with your thoughts.
And for those of you who are fasting, Ramadan Kareem!

We have a few exciting video collaboration projects coming up so stay tuned ;)


Related writing:
+ Feminism, Orientalism, Asra Nomani, and the Hjiab
+ From Drone Strikes to MOAB: The Strategically Silenced
+ If You Use Our Faces Maybe Stop Killing Our People?