Why Muslim Americans Are Giving “Alice In Arabia” Major Side-Eye

“Behind the veil,” again.

On Monday, ABC Family ordered the pilot for a new show, Alice in Arabia:

“Alice in Arabia” is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather’s royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil.”

The show’s pilot was written by Brooke Eikmeier. According to the L.A. Times, Eikmeier formerly worked for the U.S. Army, supporting NSA missions in the Middle East.

She was a cryptologic linguist in the Arabic language until September 2013 and reportedly started working on the series while she was still in the military.

1. The synopsis, the latest in a long line of similar portrayals of Muslim women on American television, prompted an immediate backlash. Pakistani-American writer Aisha Saeed got the conversation trending under the hashtag #AliceInArabia.

2. Some believe the show threatens to perpetuate stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims as predators and terrorists.

@girlyouflyyy #AliceInArabia perpetuates stereotype of Arab/Muslim as terrorist. Fuels negative perspectives and not true representation.

— Trྫྷ Vi (@tinybambui)

3. Others were offended by ABC Family’s comment about Alice having to “survive life behind the veil.”

"While surviving life behind a veil" Uhh?? I'm "surviving" life "behind" a veil. But i happen to embrace it&choose to do so. #AliceinArabia

— Noonii (Simba) (@Noonii_TU)

Images of the Islamic veil has served as a symbol of oppression in the West, #AliceInArabia only perpetuates the notion & erases choice.

— Ainee Fatima (@Faineemae)

They couldn't unveil Muslim women in life so now they have a show about a white girl who infiltrates the oppressive veil #AliceInArabia

— Zahraa (@loredsaviour)

4. And many Muslim Americans have little trust in a white woman to represent their experiences accurately.

lol of course a white lady who worked for the US government thinks she has the authority to write about Arabs #AliceInArabia

— Ima Haque (@lollllsummer69)

Arab&Muslim writers are fully able to voice their experiences..So let's hire a US soldier who has absolutely no bias instead! #AliceInArabia

— Sarah (@buonasahra)

And yet another case of the media educating the American public about a "foreign culture" through a white washed lense #AliceInArabia

— Hawa Henderson (@HAWAyoudoing)

5. The author’s military background was also a target of criticism.

Automatic consideration of a military professional as an expert on occupied/surveilled people is inherently oppressive #AliceInArabia

— Steve (@yeaThatSteve)

I'm gonna take the premise of #AliceInArabia as a direct and accurate reflection of the US military.

— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed)

6. Eikmeier responded on Facebook that her views and the story are more complex than critics assume.

7. This in turn prompted a wave of demands that the network hire a Muslim writer.

Lol @ writer of #AliceInArabia saying she's trying to give her voice to Muslim women. No. How about @ABCFamily hire Muslim writers instead

— Mirzya Zaidi (@mirzzaidi)

There is nothing "noble" in speaking for others, There is no "empowerment" in having one's voice co-opted. #AliceinArabia

— Rozina Ali (@rozina_ali)

Stuff like this takes up spaces needed for our own voices to be presented #AliceInArabia

— Ahmad Abuznaid (@DiplomatEsq)

Author Eikmeier responded to this criticism in a Facebook comment:

Yes to creativity. But where's acknowledgement of Muslim/Arab otherization, & her own privilege? #AliceInArabia

— Ayesha Mattu (@Ayesha_Mattu)

Where is it headed? Al Jazeera’s “The Stream’s” Muslim-American host Wajahat Ali told BuzzFeed in an email that he hopes ABC Family will reinterpret this as an opportunity to combat Islamophobia:

“It feels like I sat in a Delorean and went back in time to the 80’s and 90’s where most things Muslim, Middle Eastern and Arab were inelegantly lumped into a simplistic bouillabaisse of sinister stereotypes featuring irrational, bellicose, angry, intolerant, “brown” folk.

However, this represents an opportunity for ABC Family to reach out to American Muslim and Arab American community leaders, consultants and writers to ensure the show’s depiction of an oft-marginalized region and peoples is nuanced, balanced and engaging. No one is asking for an apologetic propaganda piece or the celebration of politically correct talking points – that leads to bad art and bad stories. But, there should be a sensitivity and cultural awareness as to how this story affects national and international communities.

Currently, the two major root causes of Islamophobia in America are ignorance and media depictions. Television is a powerful and influential cultural force that can either reinforce dangerous stereotypes that perpetuate fear and bias or break the mold and humanize religious and ethnic communities that are often portrayed as antagonists, sidekicks or are utterly excised from the American narrative.”

And ABC Family spokesperson Jennifer Verti said:

“We hope people will wait to judge this show on its actual merits once it is filmed. The writer is an incredible storyteller and we expect Alice to be a nuanced and character driven show.”

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