Readers–I have been formulating a couple of particularly complicated essays for this blog, but I keep running into this obstacle where I keep getting surprised by people I talk to about this stuff, maybe people like you. I keep getting surprised because I don’t have a very good conception of What People Think About Muslims, so learning new information (especially information I couldn’t have thought of on my own) along those lines has the ability to make me pause, to consider not only my approach to an argument, but the content I must include. It’s hard to make those choices when I have a blind spot for what information people are missing or resting upon. And sometimes I can’t even conceive of what my audience knows or doesn’t know or thinks or doesn’t think. So here is a serious request for information to help me further define my rhetoric and blogging goals and approaches.
I would like to hear about perceptions towards Muslims, especially Muslim women, in the Middle East. I am looking for responses that are either from people who have never lived in or significantly interacted with a Muslim-majority society outside of the West, or describing the positions of people who fit those criteria (your roommate, your mom, etc). ‘People’ here just means one or more contemporary human beings–it doesn’t have to be a group of people, and the perception doesn’t have to be something that a lot of people think.
Information can include but need not be limited to the following:
- How people think Muslims in the Middle East dress–including the type and fabric and styles of their garments, the role and significance of that clothing, any information on how dress varies or does not vary across class, gender, private, professional spheres etc.
- How people think Muslims in the Middle East live–what their homes and cities and jobs and schools look like. What kind of work they do, with what kind of schedules. What kind of transportation systems they have. Anything about economy and infrastructure and landscape and social norms.
- How people think the urban and rural landscapes in the Muslim-majority Middle East look and function.
- How people think race, class, religion, and gender hierarchies are structured in the Muslim-majority Middle East, including how members of different groups behave towards each other.
- How people think Muslims in the Middle East spend their leisure or pleasure time, including popular or group pastimes.
- How people think the governments of Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East are structured, including very specific details re: how people think Muslims in the Middle East think about matters of foreign policy, fiscal policy, big government, services, taxes, and the like.
- How people think Muslims in the Middle East perceive their own laws, lives, and norms, including if and how and why they dissent or conform.
- How people think family and community structures are like among Muslims in the Middle East. Marriage, divorce, inheritance, childrearing, etc. How families are divided into homes and provided for. How people join for meals. Community development and activism projects. Etc.
- How people think Muslims in the Middle East read, write, and think. What is their literature and music and art and cultural consciousness like? What is their collegiate culture like?
Anything else that comes to mind is welcome too. Go ahead and answer if you have something in mind!
If you are interested in helping me out but have questions, please read the following guidelines in full. If your question is NOT answered then please ask it in the comments and I will address it. So, FAQ:
- This is NOT a request for Necessarily True Information, but a request for information about What People Think. This means that Stereotypes Are Good Information, as are Falsehoods. This means you can freely provide answers even if you suspect or are certain that the information in question is mistaken, reductive, offensive, or has other types of problems, but I also encourage you to answer with information you feel to be particularly circumspect, empathetic, and evidenced. I am NOT particularly looking for perspectives from experts rather than laypeople.
- This is NOT a request for information for your position or stance on the perspective in question. You need not provide a judgment or explain whether or how a perception you are describing is or isn’t misguided, and it’s okay to provide information that you are not sure about yourself. You don’t need to tell me if you are sure or unsure either.
- Justifications for belief in the information you provide are welcome but not required.*
- That being said, nuance is not required. Straightforward or simple perceptions are welcome without comment.
- Information that indicates what people DON’T think of or consider or think about Muslims is also useful.
- Information that indicates what people think about non-Western Muslim-majority societies NOT in the Middle East is not exactly what I’m looking for right now, but is welcome in any case, and will be useful for other things.
- Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Middle Eastern and other non-Western Muslim-majority societies is also welcome.
- Information that indicates a CONFLATION or CONFUSION, even implicitly, between Arabs and Muslims, or Muslims and other ethnicities, or Arabs and other ethnicities associated with Muslim groups is also useful to me.
- I will not take your comment as an endorsement. I will not take the information you provide to be indicative of your personal beliefs or positions and you can expect to receive no criticism of the information you provide.
- If you *do* want to make your position clear because you fear others will judge you even if I will not, then feel free to, but know that a) I will not use the knowledge of your stance in any way, and b) if you identify yourself as holding a certain belief, you exempt yourself from my promise to withhold criticism of it. It’s worth knowing I will only critique your positions if you voluntarily claim them as yours and if I find it necessary to do so because they are deserving of it. I strongly suggest using a ‘some people think that x’ sentence structure as useful for separating the information you provide from your stance on it if that is your desire.
- This is also not a request for information in any *statistical* sense. I am not attempting to measure the frequency or commonality of certain beliefs, so even if you have never encountered more than one person, possibly yourself, who has the conception you are describing, then your information is still valuable to me. If you have the information but don’t know why you or someone else believes it, or you don’t know from where that belief comes, even in a vague way, that is fine too. I’m not attempting to measure influences in any manner, so being unsure why you think something will not affect the usefulness of your information to me.
- I am posting this partially to look for perceptions outside of the circles I commonly frequent. This means that you are encouraged to ask friends, family, or even strangers who are differently-minded than you and report back.
- If you are struggling with phrasing because you find the position you are describing to be problematic or distasteful in some way, it might help you to know that I prefer a description that may be more offensive if tempering your language will result in loss of connotation or a softened version of the real position.
Thank you very much! I look forward to your responses.
*That being said, please only provide explanations if you think you are particularly skilled at modeling other minds in that regard, or you have heard the justification from people who have held the position, or you have held or do hold the position with its justification yourself. If you cannot understand why someone might plausibly believe the information you provide, then please do not try to explain it. Explanations like ‘because people are ignorant’ are not useful to me. They tell me nothing about what approaches I might use to temper misinformation because they tell me nothing about what the person believes and knows or doesn’t know that leads them to that conclusion.