“This has been my dream ever since I was a kid.”
Noor Tagouri, a 19-year-old college student, wants to become the first Muslim hijabi anchorwoman in America. Two weeks ago, she was a relatively unknown entity on Facebook who posted a picture of herself sitting at the presenter’s desk at ABC News. Since then, Tagouri has become somewhat of a celebrity, with nearly 7,000 subscribers to her official Facebook page.
Her picture has accumulated more than 25,000 likes and more than 1,500 shares in a matter of days. TheYouTube video in which she talks passionately about her dream and her goal of shadowing journalists like Christiane Amanpour, Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, and Wolf Blitzer has almost 50,000 views and has inspired countless individuals. Muslims and non-Muslims alike have connected on a personal level with her childhood memories of watching Oprah and aspiring to become like her one day.
But somewhere between watching and emulating Oprah, Tagouri began to question why women like herself, who are Muslim and wear the hijab, never made it onscreen in the first place. Why were they not allowed a chance at their dreams? Why was it that there was a lack of Muslims in the media?
The answer requires us to take a short detour from Tagouri’s inspirational story. Besides being underrepresented in the media, Muslim men and women are misrepresented so often so that even their mention on a television show or film brings about feelings of suspicion and deception. Representations of Muslims in media have been predominantly negative and have adversely affected both American Muslims’ lives and their image in non-Muslim Americans’ minds.
Even Hollywood films that date back to the 1920s like The Son of the Sheik and The Song of Love depict Muslim men as murderers, thieves, and degenerates whose lust for monetary gain was unparalleled. Muslim women are generally represented as meek, submissive creatures whose futures were decided by their fathers, brothers, or husbands and who needed to be rescued by white men. Such depictions mirrored the Orientalist fantasies of white male filmmakers who never bothered to go beyond the surface or challenge negative stereotypes.
Unfortunately, even today, television shows like 24, Homeland, and Sleeper Cell reinforce negative stereotypes by portraying Muslim men as terrorists and Muslim women as their unenthusiastic yet loyal supporters. At best, the Muslim woman plays a shallow distraction for men in the story, as a belly dancer in the 1920s, and as a terrorist supporter today. In this environment of misrepresentation and misunderstanding, how can Muslim women be allowed to engage with millions of Americans in a dignified, respectable manner? How can Americans be bombarded with negative imagery about Muslim women for decades on the one hand, and simultaneously, be expected to trust a Muslim hijabi woman to tell them what is going on in the world? And does Tagouri have a chance?
Watching Tagouri and following her story, I asked myself what makes her special and why so many people have responded. I believe it is because her excitement for and dedication to her dream are infectious. Watching her interact with Anderson Cooper during his live show with confidence and intelligence inspired me, along with hundreds of others, to support her dream.
Tagouri is the answer to all cynics and critics who claim loudly and often that Muslim women are not confident enough, not proud enough, not empowered enough, and not strong enough. Her dream and its eventual fulfillment challenge those Muslims and non-Muslims who treat women as inferior to men. She has the courage to do what hundreds of thousands of Muslim women never before were given the chance to do: to dream and work hard towards change.
When Tagouri’s dream of becoming the first Muslim hijabi anchorwoman comes true, television and film producers will realize that their one-dimensional characterizations of Muslim women need to change. A Muslim woman can be an anchorwoman, a radio show host, an activist, or an author. She need not only be a foil or sounding board for a male character. Millions of Muslim women like me see themselves in Tagouri’s struggle for acceptance, for gaining respect and taking back their identities from the men behind television shows like Homeland. With her zeal and confidence, she has inspired me to find my inner voice and follow my own dreams and I believe she will do so for countless other Muslim women as well.