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Switch to Forum Live View The Face of Mideast Feminism
6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 6:57PM #1
Posts: 19,045
Are we allowed to talk about this?

The Face of Mideast Feminism

The Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy is being smeared as an imperialist for calling out gender apartheid in the Mideast. She’s dead right.

. . . .

At the same time, Eltahawy has taken courageous, politically incorrect stands, like condemning the burqa. When Egyptian security forces detained and assaulted her last November, Eltahawy would not remain silent. Eltahawy’s courage is prominently displayed in her blockbuster cover story in the latest issue of Foreign Policy on the hatred of women in the Muslim Mideast. “Yes: They hate us,” Eltahawy writes of the region’s Islamist ideologues and the Arab men who perpetuate gender inequity on a day-to-day basis. “It must be said.”

“Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend,” she writes. “When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt—including my mother and all but one of her six sisters—have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme.” Amen.

With this defiant declaration, Eltahawy hit a very raw nerve. Salafi types immediately decreed she was a kuffar, or infidel. “Zionist” and “imperialist” were some of the other accusations hurled her way from the Muslim Twittersphere’s fever swamps. Soon, more sophisticated-sounding counterarguments emerged. Eltahawy, they claimed, was echoing an Orientalist discourse that wrongly blames Islam and Arab cultures for the abhorrent state of women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nonsense. When it comes to Mideast’s endemic misogyny, Eltahawy is dead right.

. . .

True, there are country-by-country variations in the forms of and degrees to which one half of Mideast society subordinates the other. And gender inequity tragically persists in other non-Western regions. But the fact remains that, as a whole, the Muslim Mideast lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to women’s rights. Female genital mutilation occurs in some non-Muslim nations, but only in countries like Egypt does it reach epidemic proportions—or find such zealous religious justification. Modesty norms have been enforced by most cultures from time immemorial, but nothing quite compares to the monstrosities of the burqa and niqab, which completely negate women’s dignity and personhood.

To these impassioned arguments, many of Eltahawy’s critics responded with so much denial and blame-shifting.

. . .

The Kuwaiti activist Mona Kareem echoed Khatib. She targeted Eltahawy’s support for the French ban on the burqa, which, she worried, was motivated by “Islamophobia.” Ah yes, Islamophobia, that imperishable co-creation of Islamists and P.C. multiculturalists that alchemically transforms an ideology into an immutable identity, too sacred to withstand reason. More broadly, Kareem claimed, “freedom as such differs in definition from one culture to another and surely from one individual to another.”

This line of reasoning—freedom for some is found under the thumb of a dictator—is a classic trope among cultural relativists. It is also expertly deployed by the world’s most repressive regimes to deflect international scrutiny. In 1990, for example, the Organization of the Islamic Conference solemnly committed itself to upholding basic human rights, provided they do not conflict with the precepts of Shari’a, or Islamic law, and other cultural limitations. In other words: Human rights are universal—except when they’re not.

full article:

I think this article brings up all sorts of things which are ripe for discussion. Does anyone want to discuss any of it?
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6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 8:14PM #2
Posts: 5,021

I've known Mona for more than a decade.  This is nothing new for her.  She's also not that unique.

Disclaimer: The opinions of this member are not primarily informed by western ethnocentric paradigms, stereotypes rooted in anti-Muslim/Islam hysteria, "Israel can do no wrong" intransigence, or the perceived need to protect the Judeo-Christian world from invading foreign religions and legal concepts.  By expressing such views, no inherent attempt is being made to derail or hijack threads, but that may be the result.  The result is not the responsibility of this member.

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 9:37PM #3
Posts: 19,045

Unique or not, there are ideas etc... in the article which are deserving of discussion 

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6 years ago  ::  Apr 27, 2012 - 11:37PM #4
Posts: 16,967

Feminism in the Middle East most certainly is a legitimate topic here. The whole range of 'womens' issues' is something that offers a lot of opportunities to compare countries, cultures, laws, practices, and status.

An interesting, and again 'legitimate' thing to do is to compare how Islamic 'religious' laws and customs,  with Orthodox Jewish 'religious' laws and customs, and discuss how such affect the politics in specific Middle East countries.  I think some might find the similarities surprising, and maybe even annoying.

Finally, 'feminism' in a country like Egypt and 'feminism' in a country like israel is probably not the same thing.

Good topic! Let's stay on it!


Libertarian, Conservative, Life member of the NRA and VFW
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6 years ago  ::  Apr 30, 2012 - 12:09AM #5
Posts: 21,730

I am not an expert on the middle east, Islam or even feminism.  I have been an interested observer for many years, which counts for something.

This whole "why to they hate us" question in regards to Islam/middle east and women.  No doubt there is SOME pure misogyny out there.  But in general I think that it is not hatred that drives any of this.  The hatred part is a very small part of the equation. 

I am talking about the worst part of it, the really ugly stuff like this particular woman in the OP we are discussing.  I believe we have a gumbo of contributing factors here.

1. it makes sense to me that there has been and still is a real movement to define Islam and Islamic culture as opposite or counter to the west.  Which is of course highly misguided.  You can be different but to try to be opposite is foolish.  Which is perfectly summed up in the London Islamist protestors waving signs "down with freedom of speech".  The west is for equality between the sexes so we are going to reject that because we are opposite the west. 

2. There has been in the middle east and in most of the world a traditional control of women.  If the arab spring had been a bit different alot of that control would be gone so you have those in power wanting to exert additional control.  Even if they are monsters in the process. 

There is a certain amount of idol worship going on here that I find also in other religions.  This taking the written word, in this case the Quran and Haddith and worshiping it (instead of God) and because the Quran/Haddith does not forbid sex with your newly dead wife or any of these other ridiculous things then it is probably OK.  And then the Iman on a power kick gets to make these outrageous proclimations and people are supposed to nod and agree.  Very intoxicating I am sure.

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6 years ago  ::  May 01, 2012 - 4:08AM #6
Posts: 14,591

FYI, Elthawy's article in Foreign Policy is here.

IMO the face of Middle East feminism is multi-faceted.  There is still a long way to go, baby, but there are many bright lights in the feminist firmament:

Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, who shared the 2011 Nobel Peace prize with 2 other women for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work."  Karman is the youngest Peace Prize laureate to date.

Shirin Ebadi of Iran, who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize "for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children". 

Palestinian athlete Wourod Sawalha, who will compete in the 2012 Olympic Games under the Palestinian flag.  Her dream is "to change the reality of veiled women and be part of all sports".

Dalma Rushdi Malhas, the Saudi equestrian who took a Bronze Medal at the Youth Olympic Games, in Singapore.  She is the first female competitor to represent her country at an Olympic event.  She may get an invitation to the London Games. About her win in Singapore, she said, “I’m very happy that I got the chance to compete and change the way it’s been.  I hope that this will be a door that will open many other possibilities for all other Saudi girls”.  

There are many, many, more but time is short and it's getting late for me.  None of the foregoing is intended to downplay the plight of women in the Middle East.  Rather, it's to highlight some of the lights in the feminist firmament in the Middle East - women who are and will be beacons for other women.

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