Here’s to a much-needed discussion over Mona’s article entitled “Why Do They Hate Us?” Albeit being excited over the back and forth dialogue, I was quite disappointed at the ignorant comments sprinkled around. (Less of a sprinkle, and more like a disastrous flood.) My mind too felt like a pendulum swing, as my thoughts oscillated to and fro in an attempt to find equilibrium. But maybe at this moment, there’s too much friction to reach the level of stability I had hoped for.
I began reading the article earlier yesterday, but didn’t finish. Like Mona’s critics, I too came across the images (chosen by Foreign Policy Magazine, and not by Mona) of women being eroticized by stereotypical images fashioned “by the West.” It seems like so many of her critics focused on these images. Either way, I never finished reading the piece, as it didn’t spark the rage I saw from her critics. I nodded along, angered and frustrated at the suffering of women she mentioned throughout the article. But now, having read the piece in its entirety, along with the vastly forwarded counter-reaction, I have a few thoughts of my own.
1) Not being an Egyptian (American), but having lived in the country for a year, I could hear Mona’s experience running parallel to my own. What she described was analogous to my own experience. It was exactly what I saw and lived through. Not being of Egyptian descent might dilute my credibility, because I- as an outsider, as a foreigner, a Pakistani American – am less likely to understand why women were treated the way they were. And this may be true.
But in my mind, pointing out this experience, and the harassment that my roommates and I encountered, just meant I could more easily criticize what I saw around me without repercussions. It meant I wasn’t committed to representing Egypt in the best of light. I wasn’t married to Om Al Dunya’s (Mother of World) legacy or history. And pointing out our reality and negative encounters of sexual harassment in no way disregards the work that women have been doing on this issue—as some of her critics have stated. Now, I’m trying to figure out what I’m missing here, because nowhere in the article does Mona negate the work that women, and women’s rights groups have done on the ground. It more so outlines the nature of oppression that exits in the lives of Muslim women in Muslim majority countries.
But mind you, in public service, the goal is to not keep these organizations alive and breathing. The goal is to no longer have a need for them. So what does the existence of these organizations mean? It means, Houston, we have a problem.
2) Some folks didn’t like that the focus was on abused women from Muslim majority countries. But to separate that fact that we are dealing with Muslim majority countries from the way women are treated is a faulty and cowardly way to approach the problem. It’s a cop-out. For generations, men have used religion as a tool and/or weapon to exert positions of power. These positions of power have reduced women to mindless matter, or tried to at least. To extract Islam away from the problem, and to pretend as if it doesn’t provide the means to rationalize or interpret the way in which a woman should be treated by a man, or what a woman’s role in society is—is terribly misleading indeed. Thus, it needs to be part of the equation.
3) I don’t think the argument Mona oversimplifies the broken system, nor does it claim that Arab/Muslim men are inherently born to hate women. But it does shine light to the fact that there’s a large portion of the world, which preaches Islam, where women are disrespected, oppressed, and forced into premature marriages. These are facts. These are realities, which, regardless of what the West thinks, are very much the reality for hundreds of millions of women. Granted, I understand that she doesn’t delve into the debts of poverty, joblessness or lack of education. These are potential roots to the problem, yes. These are societal problems, for which no person can escape. And men are part of society. But that doesn’t justify the actions that we see conducted by men. That doesn’t justify genital mutilation, it doesn’t validate virginity tests, and it doesn’t excuse child-marriages.
I recall talking about suicide bombs a few years back. Condemnation of the act was always explicit. Never ambiguous. Alongside the conversation about suicide bombings came the reasons for why young boys were so easily manipulated to do such deeds. It was poverty, it was joblessness, it was expansion of madrasas etc. The religion was being hijacked and used as tool to legitimize martyrdom. But people kept condemning. Recognizing the root cause didn’t in any way discount the evil nature of suicide bombings.
4) It is also unfortunate that people are lost in the person they “think” Mona is. Critics got lost in what they believed she represented and stood for. I actually wrote a blog entry not too long back, discussing how much of a fool she looked, regarding the debate on the niqab. But that isn’t to say that I would approach this piece with previous baggage. I will come to assess this article for what’s at hand. Knowing that she comes from her own experiences. And knowing that I come from mine.
Update: I came across the following article and vehiminetly agree:
This is not a disease men are born with, or contract from the Arab atmosphere. Even Eltahawy herself, attributes it to “a toxic mix of religion and culture”. And to this I would add the political oppression and stasis that enabled these structures to become de facto governance, where entrenched tribal allegiances, pre-Islamic mores and social tradition trumped weak political culture. A general retardation that extends not just to women but to every aspect of personal freedom and civic rights.
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