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Pandey 1 Ainesh Pandey apande15@asu.

edu Topic #5 Professor Sarah Graff HON 172 3 May 2013 Distortive Political Power, and Its Effect on the Human Experience In an article titled Do Muslim Women Really Nead Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others, Lila Abu-Lughod discusses the ignorance of Western society in their efforts to save the Afghan women from an injustice that didnt exist. The burqa was not an imposition but a culturally-accepted norm for the women of Afghanistan. Regardless, Western society rallied around the apparent oppression of the poor Afghan women, demonstrating their distorted perception of people from other cultures. Similarly, the characters of Moustafa Bayoumis How Does It Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America face injustices from a society that does not comprehend their background and makes assumptions based on a warped understanding. However, the ignorant are not to blame for their misunderstanding; distortive political power is to blame. As demonstrated by Abu-Lughod and Bayoumi, distortion caused by political power leads to an ignorant population that forms incorrect conceptions of others, ultimately impacting the human experience negatively for both the ignorant and the victims. According to Bayoumi and Abu-Lughod, politics distorts the general perception of entire groups of people for its own benefit. Bayoumi mentions that many groups of people in the history of the United States have been deemed as problems because of the nations political goals; the Declaration of Independence describes Native Americans as savages that could not be assimilated into civilization unless dealt with force, and

Pandey 2 Japanese Americans were penned into internment camps by governmental decree following Pearl Harbor (Bayoumi 2008: 2-3). In each of these scenarios, the government exercised its power to portray a group of people as dangerous or harmful for the nation in order to justify its political actions. Similarly, Abu-Lughod talks about the political work such mobilization accomplishes (Abu-Lughod 2002: 784) when discussing Laura Bushs radio address on November 17, 2001, in which she portrayed Arabic Muslim women in the Middle East as deprived and desolate. However, the main purpose of her address was to [enlist] women to justify American bombing and intervention in Afghanistan (Abu-Lughod 2002: 784). This demonstrates that politics utilizes its power over society in order to contort their perceptions of groups of people in order to further its own goals. As demonstrated by Bayoumi and Abu-Lughod, the result of such political distortion is the creation of an ignorant population that ultimately forms false conceptions about groups of people. It became common popular knowledge that the ultimate sign of the oppression of the Afghan women under the Taliban-and-the-terrorists is that they were forced to wear the burqa (Abu-Lughod 2002: 785). Everyone in the Western world made false conceptions about the plight of the Arabic Muslim women in the Middle East because of the actions of the government and influential politicians such as Laura Bush. Similarly, the COSA believed that Yasmin was being oppressed at home by a domineering father (Bayoumi 2008: 93). Other groups of people could not attend certain events because of religious or cultural reasons (Bayoumi 2008: 106), but the COSA never assumed that they were being oppressed or were not acting of their own will. He assumed so about Yasmin primarily because of her background as an Arabic Muslim woman. His

Pandey 3 evaluation of the situation represents the influence distortive measures by politics can have on society. Through the individual stories and history he discusses, Bayoumi shows that the effect of political distortion and the consequent ignorance that develops in society is that the human experience is impacted negatively for the victims, the group of people who have been targeted by politics and misunderstood by the ignorant. Bayoumi demonstrates that government policies against these victims usually jeopardize their quality of life and infringes on their basic human rights by openly targeting those groups in laws (Bayoumi 2008: 4). Rasha and her entire family, an immigrant Arabic Muslim family, were subjugated to heinous treatment and incarceration solely because of their background following the attack on September 11 (Bayoumi 2008: 21-33). Although her family had no connections to the perpetrators of the crime, and although there was no evidence to link the family to any illegal activity at all, the family was sent to prison and was forced to endure months in detention. Similarly, over two thousand non-citizen Japanese individuals living in the nation were swept into internment camps due to the hysteria caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor (Bayoumi 2008: 40). Such travesties are indicative of the victims plight following the ignorant perception of them that results from the distortive power of politics. On the other hand, Abu-Lughod demonstrates that the human experience of the ignorant is also impacted negatively. Because society has a false understanding of the condition of certain groups of people, it mobilizes in ineffective or incorrect ways. As Abu-Lughod mentioned, Americans worked to free Afghan women from the clutches of the Taliban and the terrorists, believing that the Afghan women would rejoice following

Pandey 4 their liberation (Abu-Lughod 2002: 785). Unfortunately, this was not the case, because the Afghan women did not wear their burqas out of compulsion; they wore them as markers of their respectability which were supposed to assure their protection in the public sphere from the harassment of strange men (Abu-Lughod 2002: 785). Because of the misunderstanding caused by political distortion, Americans believed that they were acting righteously for the basic rights of women in a backwards part of the world, when in fact they were wasting time and energy, mobilizing out of ignorance for a cause that was neither needed nor desired. Some people may say that such political distortion is warranted during critical times or periods of war for the betterment of the larger population. Targeting a relatively small portion of the population in order to weed out potential threats to the larger population should be allowed for the greater good. However, Bayoumi shows that this is not true for two reasons: such targeting is ineffective when trying to safeguard the larger population, and doing so infringes on the rights of Americans who have done nothing wrong. Bayoumi mentions how the governments policies of detention, voluntary interviews, and deportation proceedings for targeted Arabic Muslim individuals yielded no results; none of these policies produced a single terrorism conviction (Bayoumi 2008: 267). Similarly, President George H. W. Bush apologized for the Japanese internment that had taken place in the early twentieth century, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of that policy as well (Bayoumi 2008: 40). Furthermore, these actions infringe on the rights of the victims of such policies. Bayoumi details the horrors many detained Arabic Muslim individuals had to face. They were slammed, bounced, and pressed against the walls of the prison twisting a detainees arms behind his back was

Pandey 5 routine, as was pulling back his thumbs and bending his wrists forward toward his arms (Bayoumi 2008: 38). Most of the victims were detained on meager or even nonexistent evidence, which means they were treated so horribly even though they had done nothing wrong. They were victimized because of their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, or the color of their skin. Such inhumane actions, especially when they do not even fulfill their intended purpose, cannot be warranted. Politics wields the power to form the perception of its constituents, distorting the perception to suit its own needs. Consequently, an ignorant population develops which forms conceptions of entire groups of people inaccurately. These false conceptions range from an inaccurate understanding of why Arabic women wear burqas, as demonstrated by Abu-Lughod, to a nationwide weeding of groups of people, as with Japanese internment camps and Arabic Muslim detainment following September 11. Such false conceptions, caused by political distortion, ultimately impact the human experience of both the ignorant and the victims negatively.

Pandey 6 Bibliography 1. Abu-Lughod, Lila. "Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others." American Anthropologist 3rd ser. 104 (2002): 783-90. Web. 2. Bayoumi, Moustafa. How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.