Last week Turkey’s top court announced plans to consider reinstating a headscarf ban in universities. The ban, which had been in place for many years and was even included in Turkey’s constitution, was overturned just last February, only to spark intense debate over the future of secularism in the country.
The headscarf is just as charged an image in the West as it is in predominantly Islamic countries like Turkey. The covered Muslim woman is a common image in Western media —often as a symbol of male brutality – and the debate over whether the headscarf is religious freedom or female oppression still rages in Europe.
But in all the debate over Muslim women, how are Muslim men depicted?
In Stolen Honor (May 2008), Katherine Pratt Ewing attempts to answer that question with an ethnographic portrait of Muslim men (coincidentally, mostly of Turkish decent) in contemporary Germany. Throughout her writings, Ewing focuses on the stereotypes and stigma these men face, arguing that “even when men are not mentioned directly, such narratives implicitly embed negative representations. These representations are particularly prominent in Europe and play a major role in the political process in many European countries, shaping public policy, citizenship legislation, and the course of elections.”
These negative stereotypes – compounded by the post-9/11 climate in which the Muslim man is seen as a potential terrorist – have created significant social problems for Muslim men living in the West. Moreover, Ewing asserts that “the stigmatization of the masculinity of a minority such as Muslim men often goes unnoticed because of the blind spots and silences that surround this stigmatization. This sometimes invisible or implicit process of stigmatization is linked to intertwined national and transnational imaginaries that rest on a foundation of fantasy.”
With Stolen Honor, Katherine Pratt Ewing looks at the creation of masculine identity and the struggles Muslim men face in the Western world, and in doing so, quietly turns the discussion of gender in Islam on its head.