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The vision of Arab women today

21 years after the twin towers, what is not changing because of Neo-orientalism

The vision of Arab women today 21 years after the twin towers, what is not changing because of Neo-orientalism

The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, radically destabilized the sense of self in the United States and led to a reassertion of state identity that violently revolves around gender and race. The U.S. project to "save" its identity today intertwines religion, ideology and conflict in a way that permanently affects the psyche of U.S. citizens (not only), triggering fear, revulsion and paternalism toward the "Middle East."

In particular, the U.S. trauma related to 9/11 led to the construction of a neo-orientalist project that institutionalized gender violence and racism through the infantilization, demonization, and sexual commodification of the person understood as "other," especially if corresponding to Eastern aesthetic traits. But let us start with the difference in how the Middle East was perceived before the attack on the Twin Towers to understand what has changed and identify the toll still paid by Arab women in this regard.



The term "Orientalism" was coined in 1978 by Edward Said, a Palestinian-born U.S. writer, to define the power and control that the West exerts over the East by producing stereotypical cultural representations far removed from reality, initially through pictorial depiction.

Said first argued for the existence of a persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arab-Islamic peoples and their cultures, which finds its origin in centuries-old oppressive relations that motivated the persecution of Muslims during the Crusades, the first racial laws, the Decretales, compiled by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, as well as the enslavement of the Moors (a derogatory term used in Europe to refer to North Africans). These representations, widespread in the Western imagination described the peoples of the East as irrational, violent, savage, morally corrupt and intellectually inferior to their Western counterparts.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which were followed by the war on terrorism proclaimed by former President George W. Bush, it is necessary to speak of Neo-orientalism - a contemporary term coined by Western academics including Ali Behdad and Juliet Williams - that describes the current perception of Arabs, now unconsciously perceived as terrorists, inherently violent.

Linked to this violent and uncivilized perception of the Arab man is a far more devious view of the Arab woman, perpetually perceived as a submissive victim by male family figures. This myth of oppression poses different obstacles and challenges to Arab women as they are forced not only to interface with different difficulties as a racialized minority, but also as a gendered minority. 



This is because through the lens of the West, itself a victim of Wendy's or the crucifer syndrome, the oppressed Arab woman needs a savior, which is embodied in the Western imagination in the figure of the American soldier, elevated to a heroic figure useful for Western neo-orientalist discourse. Once again, the Arab woman is seen through the gaze of the Western man and his power biases, the same as applied in the pictorial depictions of her in the harems as a figure willing to satisfy any sexual desire, again following the figure responding to the religious submission attitude of Orientalism.

However, neo-orientalism has led to further fetishism related to the religious manifestations of Arab women; thus, the Hijab has also become an integral part of fetish images and pornographic films, inviting consumers to explore and normalize their colonial-rooted fantasies, entrenching racist and sexist conceptions in their understanding and communication of the world. The neo-orientalist and racialized view of Arab women 21 years after 9/11 today is fostered by the porn industry, where it continues to amplify and entrench itself out of context, expanding the problem of perception of Arab femininity and making it a commercial object and aesthetic reference point of an exotic beauty that attracts by its subdued nuance the attentions of users seeking an exercise of power. Precisely because the sphere of aesthetic and sexual pleasure is involved in porn and we are inserted into moments related to irrationality and personal disinhibition, a racist structure is completely normalized, which is unlikely to be eradicated; on the contrary, such a factory of desire and pleasure will always be part of U.S. neo-Orientalist policies that have westernized a deep hatred and rejection of the East.

It is no coincidence that Mia Khalifa is confirmed every year to be the most searched porn star on the web, despite the fact that she has not been working in the main-stream porn industry for years and has several times called for her videos to be removed from all platforms, also denouncing the circution she has experienced that has led her to have to undergo dangerous media exposure.


Twenty-one years after the twin towers, the fetishization forms of the hijab, niqab and burqa invite epistemic violence, based on a male gaze aimed at constructing an instrument of control that allows for the subjugation of Arab men and women, making them subordinate figures exploitable in the construction of racist ideologies, as demonstrated in the anti-hijab campaigns carried out by Lega and Fratelli d'Italia, following the launch of the campaign against hate speech, online and offline, launched by the Council of Europe and then immediately removed.

To date, discourses on Islamophobia and Arabophobia are still non-existent and there is an urgent need to trigger a process that can dismantle such forms of racism, through knowledge and study of oppression, as mentioned earlier, rooted in Western history for centuries and emphasized in recent years due to U.S. and European anti-Islam policies.

Women's self-determination and decisions about their own bodies are a foundational part of feminist discourses and actions; therefore, it is necessary to break out of one's privilege by breaking free from Western narratives.

The veil for many people, especially in the West, is a symbol of freedom and expression of one's personal beliefs. All that is personal is certainly political, but it cannot be left to politicians who undermine individual expression and choice, failing the third article of the Italian constitution!