Take Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, replace Wonderland for Saudi Arabia and ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ for ‘being kidnapped by a Muslim man’ and what have you got? ABC Family’s proposed series: Alice In Arabia.

ABC Family approved the pilot, only to scrap it four days later when advocacy groups raised concern about its negative Muslim and Arab stereotypes. Protesters took to Twitter with the hashtag #NotYourStockMuslim to highlight the diversity of Muslim women and dispel harmful perceptions that are prominent in the Alice In Arabia narrative and American society.

“Yes, I grew up in a desert surrounded by religious fundamentalists. In the American Southwest. #NotYourStockMuslim,” wrote Pearl Lawrence, an American journalist and Muslim who participated in the online protest against the show. Pearl aimed to demonstrate that Americans are quick to point the finger at extremism and repression in the Middle East, yet ignore the fact that it happens everywhere in the world – even on their own doorstep.

“Believe me, I know,” says Pearl. “I grew up in a family of fundamentalist Christians. I went to a Christian college where female students were barred from registering for certain male-only classes. Where certain departments were legally allowed to only hire men. But this isn’t headline material, it’s not the subject of a new drama called Alice At A Christian College In The US.”

The American view of Muslims and the Middle East is evident in popular culture. Dr Jack Shaheen’s book Reel Bad Arabs notes that there were around 350 films between 1970 and 2001 that depicted Muslims as terrorists or villains. Pearl says that these stereotypes affect how people view her choice to marry a Muslim man. “I abhor the stereotype that Muslim men are violent oppressors of women,” she says. “I hate feeling pressure to prove that my husband – my beloved, gentle, kind, sweet, loving husband – is a good person and doesn’t ‘oppress’ me.”


This is a view that student Wiam Saad echos. She says: “The fact that Alice is kidnapped is a representation of the barbaric and savage depiction of Arab [and Muslim] men that we see too often in Hollywood.”

However, this isn’t the only bone of contention in Alice In Arabia. The show’s logline reveals a story laced with prejudice. It reads: “… 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 line “surviving life behind the veil” in particular angered Wiam. “As a woman who wears a headscarf, I find this description very degrading and disrespectful,” she says. Zeba Khan, a Dubai-based writer, is also keen to point out that she isn’t forced to dress a certain way by a man, and that women shouldn’t be judged on how much, or little, they choose to wear. “A woman’s value isn’t a function of her clothing,” she explains. “Wearing a burka doesn’t make me oppressed any more than being naked makes you free.”

The prejudice against clothing highlights a much deeper problem with western views of Muslim women, which are often derived from media. “The perception of Muslim women is that we are passive, uneducated and helpless second-class citizens, waiting for the world to rescue us,” says Zeba, illuminating the narrow view that she feels needs to be changed. Her tweet: “I proposed to my husband first. Thank God he said yes! Alhamdulillah 🙂 #NotYourStockMuslim,” received 30 retweets and 62 favourites. 

Zeba explains that getting this kind of information into mainstream society is vital: “The best way of [helping people understand] is by educating them about what Muslims really are – a non-monolithic entity composed of individuals as unique in their religious practice as they are in their DNA. In short – Muslims are people too.”

These women and their fellow tweeters are promoting diversity, in order to show that you can’t typecast anyone, whatever their nationality or religion. #NotYourStockMuslim has seen hundreds of Muslim women having their say, with many posts going viral, giving a voice to those who are often spoken for or ignored.


However, Alice In Arabia writer, US army veteran Brooke Eikmeier, defended herself in a column for the Hollywood Reporter in which she explained that giving a voice to Muslim women and promoting diversity is precisely what she was trying to do. Eikmeier studied Arabic in the Middle East while serving in the US military. During this time she claims she realised the everyday struggles of Arab women, over things that are taken for granted in America. She began to ask herself, “Is there anything I can do?”

Eikmeier wrote: “I decided to create a girl facing these same issues and frustrations. I knew [Alice] needed to be American for the intended audience to best relate to her, so I decided on a mixed-race girl caught between two cultures.” But instead of quashing the backlash against her show, Eikmeier’s comments caused further outrage. “Excuse me, what? Since when does being American have anything to do with race?” asks Pearl. “In order for Americans to be able to relate to the protagonist, she needs to be at least partly white? If Eikmeier really believes that, then she has no business writing a culturally sensitive TV drama.”

Pearl isn’t the only one who thinks Eikmeier was the wrong person for the job. Nadia Ali, a lab technician who participated in the #NotYourStockMuslim hashtag, says: “We have a lot of young Muslim writers who are utterly capable of writing about their own experiences. Instead they decided to hire a US soldier who absolutely might have some bias opinions.”

This raises an interesting point regarding the voice of Muslim women in western media – being that it almost never actually comes from a Muslim woman. The American perception of the Arab world, and indeed American Muslims, is exacerbated by voices of extremism, repression and ignorance. Wiam explains that if we are going to become familiar with the normative voice of Muslim women, we need to start listening to what they have to say.

“We’re always spoken for, rather than to. The orientalist portrayals of Muslim women as being subservient and submissive are demeaning,” she says. “I’d like to see a day where Muslim women are given a platform to speak for themselves in the West. Where films and TV shows about Muslim women actually involve Muslim women in the creation process.”

Western society often learns from popular culture, and we certainly don’t need another television show depicting racial bigotries and narrow-minded views of Muslims – we have 24 and Rules Of Engagement for that already. But this isn’t about those shows, and it’s not about Brooke Eikmeier – it’s not even about eliminating racism in media. If we’re to learn anything from the Alice In Arabia backlash and the #NotYourStockMuslim campaign, it’s that we need to stop speaking on behalf of Muslim women and let them speak for themselves.

Many women took to Twitter to voice their opinions and concerns. Here are some of our favourite posts: 

The first university ever was started by a Muslim WOMAN ~ Fatima al Fihri ~ #NotYourStockMuslim – @AniqahC

Hostility against women is not an ‘Islamic’ teaching. Hostility against women happens everywhere. It’s not secluded #NotYourStockMuslim – @NadiaAlie

We aren’t all named Muhammad or Aisha #NotYourStockMuslim – @RaquelEvita

I’m an American-Pakistani Muslim, single mom, Ivy League-educated and I refuse to be stereotyped by you #NotYourStockMuslim – @ImBizzyBee

My Muslim, South Asian grandfather was the first feminist influence in my life. #NotYourStockMuslim –  @Fay_Blue64

I speak for myself, so when I write, I write for myself. Not the entire Muslim community. Stop expecting me to. #NotYourStockMuslim – @lulainlife

Person: Where are you from? Me: Queens, New York. Person: No, where are you REALLY from? Me: Oh my bad. I’m from Mars. #NotYourStockMuslim – @maureen_ahmed

There are more female tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world #NotYourStockMuslim – @UndisclosedMind

You might see my hijab as an obstacle, I see it as a source of empowerment #NotYourStockMuslim –


“You don’t drink? Oh, because you’re Muslim.” No, because I see no reason to. It has nothing to do with religion. #NotYourStockMuslim – @emaaanc


Image: Getty