Interviewed by Gabriella Gricius
Fatima Mohie-Eldin is co-editor for Muftah’s Egypt and North Africa pages. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Near Eastern Studies at NYU’s Hagop Kevorkian Center. Fatima holds a BA in International Relations from Boston University where she studied Religion and Muslim Societies.
More of her here!
G: Moving onto something more personal, what do you see some of your goals down the line as?
F: I am very interested in continuing on in academia. I’m currently a graduate student studying Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. I came from a background of Political Science and International Relations. I want to work in some capacity related to politics and changing political perceptions of Muslims, Arabs and these kinds of minority groups that I identify with. It was such a tumultuous period close to 9/11 so having to deal with all those stereotypes that have been around - is an issue that has always been important to me. Diplomacy isn’t really for me. I have strong opinions and I don’t really want to moderate them. Maybe I’ll do a Phd, and incorporate Middle Eastern Studies, but I definitely want to incorporate something related to a country I have a link to. I want to better understand what stigmas exist around certain cases.
G: We’ve talked about this before, about how you think about representation in the media, particularly when it has to do with minorities. How do you feel, choose your identity of choice - Turkish, Egyptian, Muslim, how do you feel these identities are perceived in the media?
F: There are definitely attempts to try and diversify representation in the media. You see it in certain TV shows, like Orange Is The New Black. I know it was a big deal when Aziz Ansari got his show, Master of None, that was exciting. But I feel like there is still a lot to be done. In some cases, there seem to be a case of tokenism to make sure people don’t get upset. But it’s more than just having a person there, it’s about giving that person a voice and allowing them to speak for themselves and share their stories. So other people watching it feel like there are people similar to themselves who understand what they are going through and can see there’s a place in society where they feel like they fit.
G: I was thinking about that recently when I listened to another podcast, Book Riot. They brought up the notable fact that there is not a lot of African American representation in children's books. And how do you deal with that as a young child? Everyone in this book is white, how am I, as a young child, supposed to relate to that?
F: Exactly. There was a little girl who tried to collect a thousand books about black girls, books that kids would enjoy. Most of the books I read were about young white boys or dogs. Reading is supposed to be about putting yourself in someone else’s shows. And when I was younger, I didn’t think too much about the fact that the protagonists were white, but I always felt not in the frame. There’s not a place for me.
G: Can you think of a good way of improving that?
F: Yes, there are a lot of people of colour and diverse religious backgrounds that want to share their stories. I think giving them the funding to produce it on their own so it isn’t co-opted would be very helpful. Moonlight is a good example of a film that was written and directed by two black men. It was such a beautiful story and so many great people connected with it.
G: Do you think it’s an issue of stereotyping or a political issue?
F: I think funding-wise, a lot of producers like to go with what works. They don't want to test new things. I think there is institutionalised racism and political barriers to breaking down stereotypes, it’s not just a media thing. They reinforce one another. It’s a big topic to get into and I’m not that well-versed in it so I won’t try to give a spiel.
G: No, please do!
F: Well, in terms of funding. Recently I saw a trailer for a film starring Nicole Kidman, and there was such an emphasis on her life as a woman in the Middle East and it made a lot of stereotypes about people in the Middle East being repressed. I found it difficult to watch. Anytime I saw an Arabic character, they were a background in a “Dance Monkey Dance” kind of way. It was frustrating because at this point, that’s all I can see. That person is supposed to be me.
G: What do you think about the fact that in that film, the movie is at least focusing on a woman rather than a man?
F: I feel like the white female perspective is a compromise, in a “now we are progressive” voice. But it’s still cultural imperialism but now instead of a man, it’s a woman. This is the issue we creep around with Hillary Clinton. There was a lot of emphasis on the woman issue, but there were criticisms that she was just a part of the system that was oppressing a lot of other women and people of colour. She is trying to achieve a spot as a same level as a white man war hawk. In comparison to Trump, she was much better but it was a valid criticism of her removed from the campaign. It was a compromise because it still reaffirmed divisions and stereotypes.
G: So do you have any final reflection?
F: A lot of people feel frustrated and they take it out in a racist way against minority communities who were never really entitled to anything. We need to understand their perspective and listen to their voices. I feel like there are a lot of grassroots movements, like the people protesting the Muslim Ban - I think if we try to understand those groups working towards social justice - that is some way we can come together .The things they are fighting for will help everyone. Healthcare for everyone will benefit Trump supporters too, better public education will benefit everyone. There are universal ideas that are good for everyone to have, and that’s what we should be focusing on.
Note* Fatima also shared with me one of her favourite Turkish recipes: Zeytinyağlı Pırasa
Find out how to make it and more at Almost Turkish Recipes