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               Guest For  TUESDAY FEBRUARY 24, 2009

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                                         GUEST

                      BARBARA NIMRI AZIZ Ph.D

        

                                   Anthropologist

  Radio Broadcaster WBAI / Pacifica Radio Network

                                          Author:

  

                     "Swimming up the Tigris -

                Real Life Encounters with Iraq"

                                www.radiotahir.org

                               www.RadioTahrir.org

                                                aziz@wbai.org

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  The program can be viewed in its entirety by clicking the you tube link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2014gORlwY - BARBARA NIMRI AZIZ Ph.D

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More about: BARBARA NIMRI AZI Ph.D


Barbara Nimri Aziz

Place of residence: New York City.
Birthplace: Canada.
Grew up in: Canada, India, and the Middle East.
Day jobs: Radio broadcaster for Pacifica Radio. Freelance writer.
Education: Master’s and Ph.D. at University of London, England.
Serial publications: The Christian Science Monitor. Natural History. Aramco World.
Director and cofounder: Radius of Arab-American Writers, a network of writers of Arab descent. (RAWI, P.O. Box 620 Prince St. Station, New York, NY 10012. Email for Barbara Nimri Aziz: aziz@escape.com.)
Current projects: Two manuscripts-in-progress. The first is titled: Between Two Rivers: The Story of an American Woman’s Journey in Iraq. The second is a book about three Nepali women activists.
Favorite book: Madness and a Bit of Hope, poems by Safiya Henderson Holmes (Writers and Readers Publishing Company).
Belief: Arab nationalism.
Cravings: Good radio drama and birds singing in the evening.etg cover page | to purchase

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Barbara Nimri Aziz: co-host, executive producer
Saadia Aslam: assitant producer, host

Hassen Abdella: host

Sarah Malaika : assistant producer, host
Aydin Baltaci: webmaster 
Reem Nasr and Adeeb Jaaber: interns2008

Website: www.RadioTahrir.org, with weekly podcasts

Email address for comments and information about our intern training program in

radio journalism: info@radioTahrir.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

aziz@wbai.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Program description:

Tahrir: Voices of the Arab/Muslim Community is a weekly radio magazine. We talk about our people in the homelands. We profile the growing community of Arab/Muslim activists, comedians, writers, musicians, prisoners in the USA. We announce local community events. We celebrate our talent. We build coalitions. We look back into history. We look ahead to our future alongside others. Many programs aired on Tahrir are drawn from the rich record of interviews which producer Dr. Nimri Aziz conducts on her frequent assignments into the Middle East. We have an active program to train young Muslim/Arab interns in journalism and community radio.

Tahrir has aired continuously and weekly on WBAI since 1989. Our web page, www.RadioTahrir.org, offers selected interviews from recent years as well as recommended books and films.

Host/producer profiles:

Barbara Nimri Aziz, regular host and executive producer, is an anthropologist and writer. Working with other producers, Dr. Aziz is a frequent commentator on issues relating to the Middle East and the Muslim community.

 

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Barbara Nimri Aziz
© Tavis Cockburn




 

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Move Over
by Barbara Nimri Aziz

It is time for Western feminists to step aside and let women from other parts of the world speak.

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Move Over
"Move Over" is the title of a poem by Mohja Kahf. And for me it is a statement that Western feminists need to hear. It is time for Western feminists to step aside and let women from other parts of the world speak. Why is it that feminists who serve as book editors and conference organizers urge me to talk about my victimization at the hands of my brother, husband, or another Arab man? Why won’t they hear me explain the injustices of Western actions, for example, in the Gulf War? These women, perhaps more than my Arab brother, are an obstacle to my true liberation.

Do you remember the opening passages of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, or Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, or Nawal el-Saadawi’s The Hidden Face of Eve? I cannot forget them, and you, too, may remember how each opens with a powerful scene of a woman being abused. Either she is raped, or driven to suicide, or violated in some other way. A coincidence? "Abused Third World Women." Is such a portrayal a fair reflection of reality, or a pre-judgment? By selecting these themes, can publishers of our work influence our voice?

The books I note, and many more like them, were celebrated in the West, especially by feminists. As a result, they appear in many world literature courses and are a must on any women’s studies college reading list. Even high school teachers assign these books. Think about receptive young readers eager to learn about the wider world. Often these stories are the first image young people have of Asians, Africans, or Arabs.

Why do so many stories about third world women portray us as victims? I only began to ask myself this question very late in the game because it took me years to break through the conditioning and to say, "Wait a minute. Is this really what I am?" Finally, when I did speak out, Western feminists responded that, "The world must understand what hardships you face." Moreover, they maintain, "These sufferings bond women worldwide. These stories arouse interest where, before, there was none at all. We take pity on you."

Why do we need bonds of suffering to unite us? And why do stories of our suffering seem to dominate what is published, and thereby what is known about us? I am speaking not only about Asian, African, and Arab women but also about those of us identified as Hindu, Muslim, African-American, Nicaraguan, or Bosnian—all so-called third world women.

In the United States, the power centers are the Congress, the judiciary, corporate boards, the clergy—Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish—the military, and the press. All these remain entrenched male domains. Before the Western feminist movement began in the 1970s, scholars, journalists, and activists gave little thought to the power of our patriarchy here. Then feminists began to expose social inequities and call for a balance. There were some changes, and some women entered places where they had once been excluded. Yet gains were limited.

So I can’t help wondering: is it possible that, because of their frustration over limited success at home, feminists have shifted their attention to women worldwide? Are these women distorting the third world situation to create a winning argument for themselves at home—to make it appear they are really better off, after all? And why the focus on the abuse of third world women at the hands of their patriarchal systems? What about the exploitation of third world women by international corporations, by arms suppliers from the industrial world?

The Arab or Muslim woman is a prime example of the edgy relationship that third world women have with Western women. Recall Taslima Nisrine, the lately celebrated writer in Bangladesh. She was publicly denounced in some circles within Bangladesh because she had criticized some interpretations of the Qur’an. Newspapers worldwide rushed to report how rampaging hoards of Muslim men were out to kill her. What a boon for Western feminists! They could expose the excesses of Islam, and its abuse of women, especially those who aspire to be freethinkers. In the end, Western women offered Nisrine and other Muslim women little real assistance. (Nisrine herself, I was told, was aware that she might be exploited by Western women if she called for their help.) Before this, Nisrine’s writing hadn’t interested American readers, and her work was not translated into English. But once she Wt the stereotype promoted by feminists—sure enough, a collection of her work is being translated for publication by a major house in the United States. Meanwhile, the American public was left with the impression of another ugly incident from the "undeveloped, extremist" third world.

Let’s come back to the roles of American women. Where are American women effective today? Few women, regrettably, have risen to positions of power in the Senate or in corporate America. One place they seem to be more influential is the local media and publishing. Feminists have a major impact on what is published about women in the world and thereby on what is taught about other societies in schools and colleges.

The Arab or Muslim woman finds herself defined by experts in women’s studies. Repeatedly we find the same simplistic presentations. First, we are perceived as weak. Second, we are seen as victim. Third, our oppressor is typically a male relative. Fourth, we appear uneducated and incapable of managing without outside help—namely support, publicity, and ministering from those already educated and liberated, the capable Western women. Fifth, the Arab or Muslim woman is caged and needs to be released. Everything is set up for the arrival of a fairy godmother.

The pattern I speak about is very real, and I believe that it is by design. It is not a conspiracy in itself. It is rather a natural spin-off of arrogance. These women often exhibit the same patronizing attitude for which they fault the men of their own society. Remember their complaints of how they were criticized by men for their oversensitivity and weakness? Aren’t they making the same accusation toward Arab and Muslim women? Western women assume that they are somehow historically better placed to take global leadership of women’s issues—that they evolved ahead of others to an advanced stage of social and sexual enlightenment.

The assumptions of Western women are unfounded. There is also a racist element in their attitude. We have repeatedly tried to correct this. But the many objections voiced by women worldwide are unrecorded in the West. Americans and Europeans simply fail to hear third world women when we call out to them, "Wait a minute! We do not all feel the way such and such an author reports we feel. What about my brother? What about my father? What about the strong among us?"

Meanwhile, to verify these Western claims, a select group of third world authors are trotted from one TV round table to another, from one feminist conference to the next, and featured in magazine stories on a regular basis. Take the example of Arab women and the Egyptian writer, Nawal el-Saadawi. Careful research by Amal Amireh, presented at the 1995 Middle East Studies Association conference, pointed out that current editions of el-Saadawi’s work in English have been altered to overemphasize violence to women and demonstrate apparent intolerance in Islam. Perhaps against her own wishes, el-Saadawi has found her work used by others to try to illustrate the general oppression of Islam toward women.

The best known books about Arab and Muslim women are, in any case, not by Arab authors, but by American women. Anne Mahmoody’s book Not Without My Daughter has been made into a successful film. More recently, in the wake of the Gulf War, we have Price of Honor, by Jan Goodwin, and Nine Parts of Desire, by Geraldine Brooks. Goodwin and Brooks (both journalists) draw on the research of Arab women scholars, and therefore bring an "insider" authority to their claims.

As third world women, we must not be intimidated. We must ask: Why this fascination, this curiosity, this obsession with the lives of Arab and Muslim women, almost to the exclusion of other subjects? And what happens to our male writers?

We have many male novelists of the caliber of Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Yet few are published abroad and most remain unknown outside the Arab world. Many find themselves overlooked in favor of Arab women writers who are, perhaps, less accomplished. And, when Arab male writers are sought out, it is less for their humanistic creative work and more for their analyses of Middle East political events. But that’s another story.

In the end, let us recognize that Western feminism, including its academic dimension, has its cultural context and its political agenda. The women who embrace us and pander to us as victims must step back. Then they must learn to take our strength with our weakness.

Profile
I met Barbara Nimri Aziz in March 1994 in the offices of WBAI Radio in Manhattan. As a Pacifica community radio station, WBAI’s studio has a well worn, utilitarian atmosphere. Together with its sister stations, WBAI is the last bastion of really free speech in the country—a milieu into which Aziz fits perfectly, although she’s been here only since 1989.

Aziz earned a doctorate in anthropology and for almost two decades conducted research in the Himalayas, India, and China. Now she is a working freelance print journalist. And she also serves as senior producer at WBAI. Her program Tahrir (liberation) features Arab and Arab-American thinkers, writers, and artists and is one of the few outlets of Arab thought in this country. Spare time? There’s canoeing and hiking. And also literature. In 1992 Aziz founded RAWI, INC.Radius of Arab-American Writers. (In Arabic al-rawi means storyteller.) This unique, budding organization pulls together the country’s best Arab literary talent. Will Arab-American culture break out? In all, the signs are good. But on this gray, wet day in March, Barbara Nimri Aziz saw things differently.

"Can I tape our interview?" I asked.

"No," she said. Aziz looked at me. I was your average white guy, undoubtedly biased, not to be trusted. "First," Aziz continued, "let me ask you some questions." She ripped into me pretty good, one question after another: "What are you looking for?" she asked. "Trying to confirm the usual stereotypes? Do you want to know how my father or my brother oppressed me?" She was combative.

We were sitting in a scruffy producer’s common room furnished with sound-deadening peg board. From the on-air monitor I could hear a talk show host discussing racial stereotypes. Aziz’s battle also had to do with racism—in this case, deep-rooted prejudice toward her people. "I am invited to scholarly conferences," she said, "and, as long as I talk about the weaknesses and flaws in Arab culture, I am welcomed. But what of the real issues and the personal side of our lives? What of the hypocrisy that we Arabs and Muslims in the West must face at every turn? When I want to speak this truth, the microphone is turned off. By that I mean I am only occasionally invited to talk on these subjects. But I must participate, and so I work in alternative media such as WBAI."

Logic, vision, conviction. An impressive woman, indeed. A woman who seemed to draw strength from the dim light of WBAI’s low budget digs. We talked for an hour longer. Barbara calmed, but nothing friendly. Afterward, we walked out together. On the street corner, in the daylight, Barbara was reduced to human stature. I wanted to give her a hug—this was the Patty Hearst syndrome, I knew, the desire to be loved by one’s captors, not a good move at all. So I turned and walked away.

By the next time we spoke, Aziz had decided to trust me. She was businesslike, gracious. This was the Aziz that RAWI members knew. But take my word. Beneath the surface of this rational, professional woman is immense feeling. She seems to think that her ideas are not an intellectual game: the lives of many people depend upon what she says. How was it that, in my earlier interview, I was allowed to see inside?

"I was upset that day," said Aziz.

—Scott C. Davis

Bio
Barbara Nimri Aziz

Place of residence: New York City.
Birthplace: Canada.
Grew up in: Canada, India, and the Middle East.
Day jobs: Radio broadcaster for Pacifica Radio. Freelance writer.
Education: Master’s and Ph.D. at University of London, England.
Serial publications: The Christian Science Monitor. Natural History. Aramco World.
Director and cofounder: Radius of Arab-American Writers, a network of writers of Arab descent. (RAWI, P.O. Box 620 Prince St. Station, New York, NY 10012. Email for Barbara Nimri Aziz: aziz@escape.com.)
Current projects: Two manuscripts-in-progress. The first is titled: Between Two Rivers: The Story of an American Woman’s Journey in Iraq. The second is a book about three Nepali women activists.
Favorite book: Madness and a Bit of Hope, poems by Safiya Henderson Holmes (Writers and Readers Publishing Company).
Belief: Arab nationalism.
Cravings: Good radio drama and birds singing in the evening.

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