Thursday, April 19, 2012

Islamophobia and Adoption

Who Are the Civilized?

To quote from Stephen Sheehi’s book, Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims:
The issue of gender has been a key prong in the strategic trident to unify bi-partisan and mass support for US interventionism in the Muslim world. Both Arabic and English media have been flooded by a slew of contrived, opportunistic, and charlatan Muslim and Arab women, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan, and Brigitte Gabriel, advancing Western-centric attacks on Islam.
As Sheehi points out, these attacks have mostly focused on issues such as the veil, as well as honor crimes, with the advocates so listed vaulted to the top of expert panels and best-seller lists by virtue of their parroting the dominant discourse, as befits the role of the comprador class. To this shameful compendium we can add another woman, as well as another line of attack: Asra Nomani, and adoption in the Muslim world.
As an adoptee who has returned to his birthplace of Lebanon, I have been actively watching the rise of this trope in the media, on online forums, as well as in private online exchanges for the past seven years. In 2009, for example, the AP reported on a couple trying to adopt from Egypt. Compared to the crime of this couple and the corruption of government officials there, it is nonetheless Islam that bears the burden of opprobrium in the article: Adoption in Egypt is defined as being “snarled in religious tradition”. This became a contentious discussion on the web site Canada Adopts, where the given of the argument was basically how to get around these Islamic invocations, as if they somehow were to blame for the legal transgressions of the would-be adopters, painted as virtuous Samaritans.
For another example, we need go to Pamela Geller’s web site Atlas Shrugged. Here the tables are turned on would-be adoptive parents of Moroccan children who would be required to maintain the child’s Muslim faith. Ms. Geller describes this as some evil Islamic fifth column in the making, despite the fact that most every orphanage on the planet is Christian-based and missionary in outlook and likewise requires that the parents be of a particular faith in order to adopt.
Similarly, in her article for The Daily Beast, Asra Nomani writes an article which implies that the orphaned children of Pakistan are being recruited by Al-Qaeda as future suicide bombers. Her answer to this problem? To undo the “antiquated, shortsighted, and regressive stricture that makes adoption illegal [within Islam].” This focus on Islam as a problem for adoptive parents who supposedly want to help the orphans of the world is quite loaded, and needs to be deconstructed on two levels, first in terms of the historical and economic/political function of adoption, and second in terms of linguistic and theologic use/misuse of the term.
The Big Picture: Economics and Politics
Whatever the motivation for adoptive parents in the First World, it is a fact that adoption source countries have followed a particular pattern that would quite easily make an additional chapter to Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, in which children become just another resource to plunder and export. Geller and Nomani, in their acceptance of adoption as a given institution in the civilized world, follow in the footsteps of the founding spokeswoman for the so-called plight of “unwanted” orphans, Pearl S. Buck, who in 1964 published the book Children for Adoption. In terms that mimic today’s rhetoric concerning these children, which we currently see repeated in the current hype concerning Kony in Uganda, attention is shifted from the needs of parents (to start a family, to procreate) to those of children (need for a nuclear-family environment), while simultaneously castigating the seeming indifference of their cultures and countries and their inability to care for them.
This infantilization of other countries, now requiring the intervention of a “doting Uncle”, leaves unremarked the fact that such countries–Korea in the 1950s; Uganda today–have been targets of First World punishment via war, sanctions, and economic exploitation. This would explain the presence in Nomani’s article of cliched photographs of children in Iraqi orphanages, as the move is made to the last holdout against such wanton appropriation of foreign children. Nine long years after the invasion of Iraq, however, their inclusion here begs the question: Where has Ms. Nomani been for the past five American administrations, the sanctions, warfare, and sponsored internecine battles of which have killed more children outright than could possible ever be adopted to the West? Furthermore, on a list of countries that allow refugees from these Muslim lands, the U.S. remains near the bottom, behind countries such as Sweden, not to mention leagues behind Iraq’s neighbors that have taken in millions of refugees.
To focus on these children without focusing on their families or communities thus becomes an ignoble hypocrisy; as if to say, “give us your huddled masses–but only if they are cute children and can be indoctrinated from an early age.” This brings us to the other propaganda photos used on the Daily Beast, showing children dressed as soldiers, evoking the specter of infants inculcated with anti-American sentiment, the major fear expressed by the article. Similar to the willful ignorance of the plight of women by Islamophobes in their own locales, Nomani seems not to notice her own culture’s use of such imagery and cultural tropes: she need just visit the Intrepid Navy Museum, or any Civil War town, to see the red, white, and blue version of what she claims to fear most.
But we don’t have to dig so deep when Nomani wears her sentiment on her sleeve:
The council, noting that the Prophet Muhammad was an orphan, supports adoption, citing a Quranic verse enjoining us to practice islah, or “to make better,” the condition of orphans. It says: “And they ask you about orphans. Say: Making things right for them (islah) is better.” (2:220) The women argue that adoption encourages “the protection and promotion of healthy minds.” Indeed. Perhaps it protects kids from becoming terrorists as well.
It might behoove the author to define “terror”, especially given the millions of Arabs and Muslims who have died as a result of overt American attempts to exploit their countries, or of subsidiary attacks from Israel, or via the dictators put in place to keep oil running freely.

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