Fox News’ ‘Boobs on the Ground’ Reinforces ISIS Propaganda about Western ‘Hypocrisy’
Fox News host Eric Bolling’s misogynistic “joke” that the female UAE fighter pilot who bombed ISIS is “boobs on the ground,” along with his half-hearted and forced apologies are arguably far worse than the sexism they appear to be at first blush.
The “joke” has garnered widespread backlash. On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart blasted Bolling’s hypocrisy and “false patriotism.” Sixty veterans of US Armed Forces co-signed a powerful open letter to Bolling and al-Mansouri lambasting his misogyny, and lauding her service. Near the end of the letter, they write,
“by offending an ally and cheapening her contribution, you are actively hurting the mission.”
This point deserves to be expanded.
The challenges that al-Mansouri has had to face as the first woman in the United Arab Emirates to fly a fighter jet and lead a bombing run in combat against ISIS over Syria are symbolically encapsulated in the image of her, standing on the tarmac in her flight suit, holding her pilot’s helmet, her hair completely covered by a black ‘hijab’ headscarf. Though wearing the hijab is not mandatory in the UAE, the image is a reminder that al-Mansouri hails from a society where gender inequality is acute. Indeed, in the UAE, men frequently marry multiple wives.
So, though it is a challenge for women in any society to break into male-dominated fields, the glass ceiling al-Mansouri broke in piloting a combat mission was far more imposing than it would be for an American woman.
The Guardian reports that she had always wanted to be a pilot, and because of her passion, she never gave up as she waited ten years until a ban on women was lifted. She said,
“Whenever a woman enters a new male-dominated field, they find the same hesitation, the same prejudice, the same stereotype thinking.
“And I had to prove myself by just being determined and having that skill and the knowledge enough to prove that I can perform as skilfully as the men in this field.”
She is probably being modest, and as the first woman, likely has to be better than the men. She is clearly a pioneer for women in her society, and a living challenge to a misogynistic mindset.
But flying as one of the first female pilots also comes with greater cost and greater risk for her than it would for an American woman. According to The Daily Mail, al-Mansouri’s own family issued a statement renouncing her, calling her an “ingrate” and calling on Sunnis to support the rebels in Syria. The Daily Mail reports that the family is politically connected in the UAE. Her role in the bombing may complicate their political dealings. They may be disowning her out of convenience, fear, or deeply held conviction. Regardless, the fact that her family publicly undermines her highlights the challenges and threats she faces.
This is all part of a larger story of recent US-Arab relations, however. For better or worse, US foreign policy has committed once again to influencing the outcome of a conflict in the heart of the Middle East. If the US is ever going to extricate itself from this vortex of violence in a permanent way, the US needs local Arab and Muslim allies to play a major role in combat and achieving a political resolution. This is something that the Bush Administration sorely lacked. The Obama Administration has built a coalition of Arab and Western allies to prominently invest in confronting ISIS. Since a swath of UAE society is clearly supportive of ISIS – as evidenced by al-Mansouri’s own family – the UAE is going out on a limb to make good on its alliance with the US.
It is beginning to seem like the cycles of the Sunni vs. Shia confrontation and dictatorship vs. rebellion in the form of Islamic extremism in the Middle East are not only endless, but accelerating. The US has committed to mopping up ISIS, which will require Arabs to agree on a political architecture to fill in the void that ISIS swept through so quickly. For any regional structure to last more than a few months, the local leadership needs to allow some semblance of civil society and enfranchisement to flourish, in order to cool passions, and give young people economic hope and something better to do than join a revolt. Though we have complicated relationships with these Middle East allies who don’t really reflect our values, the leadership of some of our Arab allies are, beneath the radar, trying to subtly Westernize and modernize their societies.
Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has sent hundreds of thousands of young people to study in the West. The ultimate purpose of this is to slowly diminish the outsized influence of religious clerics on their society without a violent revolution. When these young Saudis return to the Kingdom with a shiny new American diploma, inevitably, they also settle into their nations’ job market, culture and society with a new American idea or two. Multiply this by a generation of young people and it becomes clear that the US and Arab allies are fomenting a silent revolution to undermine Islamic extremism in the Persian Gulf. This is a win-win for both sides. The West gains an up-and-coming generation it can talk to and the Arab states gain political and economic modernization. This is all by design.
So, when Major al-Mansouri screeches off an airstrip to drop warheads on jihadists, we expect misogynists in her culture to undermine her. But when a misogynistic, faux-journalist hack like Bolling in OUR culture undermines her, it sends an extremely chilling message with the power to cause subtle but significant and long-term diplomatic damage. It tells the young people of the Middle East, navigating the pressure of tradition vs. the appeal of a certain amount of Western-style freedom, that, in the end, there’s really no difference. A strong woman will be undermined under Islamic totalitarianism and under Western democracy. Thus, Bolling is reinforcing the message of pro-ISIS clerics and propagandists like Britain’s Anjem Choudary, who preaches on social media that Western liberal freedoms are hypocritical.
This is especially true where the media is tightly controlled. For people living in the Persian Gulf, where everything on the news represents the king’s views, it may be difficult to understand that one moron on Fox News does not represent America. Though Bolling was merely pandering to his chauvinistic, geriatric audience, the reality of 21st century media is that his “joke” will be translated, amplified and used as fuel for political agendas around the globe, within hours.
In this sense, what Bolling did is far worse than insulting a woman pioneer. He gave aid and comfort to ISIS and the extremists who wish to undermine our allies and civil societies in the Arab world. And by allowing him to keep his job thus far, Fox News condones it.
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