Orientalism and the Lack of Diversity in Travel Blogging

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It’s sad that even today travel blogs continue to cater mainly to Westerners. We need to address this lack of diversity in travel blogging. This post has been on my mind for quite a while, and I finally got around to writing it. I am including several links for background information. So I hope you will take this opportunity to do more research.

Lately, I’ve observed a number of female travel bloggers writing about traveling to what they usually refer to as “Muslim countries.” More often than not, they talk about how to dress or behave in some North African or Middle Eastern country. But these discussions never include the voices of women from the region or Muslim women. Nor do they consider the diversity in the Muslim world.

The diverse Asia-Pacific region contains the highest number of Muslims in the world, easily surpassing the Middle East and North Africa.

South Asia contains the largest population of Muslims in the world. One-third of the Muslims are of South Asian origin. Islam is the dominant religion in the Maldives, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. India is the country with the largest Muslim population outside Muslim-majority countries with about 200 million people.

The various Hamito-Semitic (including Arab, Berber), Turkic, and Iranic countries of the greater Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region, where Islam is the dominant religion in every country other than Israel, hosts 23% of world Muslims.

The country with the single largest population of Muslims is Indonesia in Southeast Asia, which on its own hosts 13% of the world’s Muslims. Together, the Muslims in the countries of Southeast Asia constitute the world’s third-largest population of Muslims. In the countries of the Malay Archipelago Muslims are majorities in each country other than the Philippines, Singapore, and East Timor.

About 15% of Muslims reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, and sizeable Muslim communities are also found in the Americas, China, Russia, and Europe.

Islam by Country, Wikipedia

To sum things up, Muslim-majority countries exist in Africa (19), Asia (27), and Europe (3). And yet, people have a very monolithic image of “Muslim countries.”

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A non-Arab Muslim travel blogger in Jordan. Wait, what?!

However, what bothers me the most is that even travel bloggers are guilty of this. And it simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Because shouldn’t well-traveled people know that not all Muslim-majority countries are the same? After all, the information is really only a few clicks away:

search results muslim countries lack of diversity in travel blogging
If you search for images for “Muslim countries” you get a pretty good idea already.

The “Muslim countries” you travel to are as diverse as the “Christian countries” you may be from. And you wouldn’t write a post on “how to behave in Christian countries” if you were really talking about your trip to Poland, would you?

But even open-minded travelers often think their own perspective is the only accurate one. And Westerners often believe their opinions are neutral precisely because they’re not from a specific region. They don’t take their biases into account.

Edward Said explained this in his famous work Orientalism:

From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself. Evidence of the Orient was credible only after it had passed through and been made firm by the refining fire of the Orientalist’s work.

Orientalism, Edward Said

And in travel media, this means only Westerners are seen as writing useful travel blogs. They are perceived as the real authorities while travel writers from the region in question are considered biased. This simply can’t continue. Because it doesn’t allow for accurate representation. This harms the countries that are written about. And it keeps valuable information from the reader.

How to Fix the Lack of Diversity in Travel Blogging

So if the opinions of Western travel writers are always considered more important, how can we get a more accurate representation of our world? Is this even possible? The big publications seem to think Muslims don’t travel. And that Muslims don’t read travel content. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’m not saying non-Muslims should not share their experiences, but there should be a balance of perspectives. I believe that major stories about “Muslim countries” should include or link to at least one Muslim voice. There certainly are enough people who deserve to be included.

Acknowledge the Lack of Diversity in Travel Blogging

In order to actually fix a problem, people have to first acknowledge it. So travel bloggers and readers have to realize that it’s not okay for Westerners to be the only people who get to talk about certain countries. It’s nice to be curious and travel. But consider your own background.

Travel is a child born from curiosity. This is not inherently a bad thing. Curiosity in diversity can provide an intellectual spark for progressive thought – especially when it is sincere. It can open the mind to the world and humble the individual. But more often than not, curiosity is imbued with a set of pre-existing assumptions – or expectations – about what a place should look like, of what I am looking to find there, and how I will feel like while ‘experiencing’ the place that I intend to go. These assumptions are not born on their own. They are a product of a long history of interaction between the global north and south – a division of ‘appropriate’ roles that we are assigned by virtue of our skin color, passport, language, sex, and place of origin. When curiosity and travel come together, I become the privileged visitor, and ‘they’, the visited.

The Accidental Geographer, emphasis mine

This is true of anyone who can afford to travel. We are all privileged in one way or another. Now that doesn’t make us bad people.

Rather, the question is what we do with that privilege. Do we protect our little bubble and stay there? Or do we do our best to dismantle the power structures in place? And nobody has to be perfect. But we can at least make an effort.

Look for Muslim Travel Bloggers

Firstly, read Muslim travel blogs. There are more travel bloggers of Muslim heritage than you think. And like our countries of origin, we are very diverse. Culturally and otherwise. We have interesting stories to tell from very unique perspectives.

So when you look for information about our cultures, countries, or religion, check our blogs first. You will still read additional blogs, but give Muslim travel bloggers a chance. You might learn a thing or two.

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Promote Muslim Travel Bloggers

If you’re the editor of a travel magazine or have your own platform you can take this to the next level by actually promoting Muslim travel writers. Use your social media to introduce your followers to Muslim travel bloggers. I don’t see this happening nearly enough. Am I wrong? And it doesn’t even take away from your own audience.

Work with Muslim Travel Bloggers

If you’re a Muslim travel blogger consider joining forces and collaborating with others. It’s really important that we lift each other up and promote each other.

Because the more we support each other the less the mainstream can ignore us. If we want others to support our communities it’s important we take the first step.

When people see you promoting other Muslim travel bloggers they realize that there isn’t only a handful of us. And I advocate for promoting people from other marginalized communities as well. Let’s boost each other’s online presence and normalize our existence in the travel space. We can’t count on others to help us so let’s see what we can do for each other.

Muslim Travel Bloggers to Check out

So I hope that I have piqued your interest in Muslim travel bloggers. If that’s the case, please do check out these wonderful people:

And yes, I mainly listed female writers. That’s intentional because Muslim women are often spoken about but rarely given space to tell our own stories. But that’s a whole different post.

Let’s End the Lack of Diversity in Travel Blogging

While this post cannot solve the problem of Orientalism in travel writing, I wanted to bring your attention to it. Because problems need to be acknowledged before they can be fixed. And talking about the lack of diversity in travel blogging is crucial if we aim for a more inclusive approach to travel writing. Things should not remain as they are. So let’s all address Orientalism in travel blogging when we see it.

2020 is almost here, and I hope we can do away with Orientalism in travel blogging. Because there really is no place for it.

orientalism and the lack of diversity in travel blogging pin

Have you noticed Orientalism in travel blogging? Do you think Muslim travel bloggers receive enough of a platform? And do you have any other suggestions for increasing diversity in travel writing?

8 Comments

  1. Great piece and good to get a fresh perspective!

    To be honest, I haven’t read blogs from female travellers that specifically write about what to do/not do in “Muslim countries”, but perhaps it’s because I’m not looking for that type of post/article. I’ve travelled long enough to understand to respect the locals from any country without signalling a specific country out.

    It’s always good to write objectively about an experience whilst visiting any country, regardless of its religion, which is what I always try to do. I like to provide my readers with a true experience, whether it has been good or bad.

  2. What an interesting topic! I just returned from South Korea & was surprised at the number of Muslim locals as well as tourists there. As I was researching Korea for my own travel blog, I came across so many Muslim bloggers…it was inspiring for sure. They would discuss what attractions & what restaurants were “safe” for Muslims, which I was initially naive to.
    Thanks for sharing this…gave me a different perspective to travel & blogging about my experiences!

  3. Lisa at Following the Rivera

    This is such an great post!! As a travel blogger, I agree that we should do better on this subject. I’ve also learned some do’s and dont’s for myself. I’ll be sharing this with other bloggers.

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