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Monday, September 17, 2012

Islamophobia at its best: Newsweek's "Muslim Rage."

Apparently Newsweek wants to join the hot debate on the offensive anti-Muslim film and the angry reactions it sparked across the Muslim world. Newsweek's latest issue opens with a rather catchy cover that glares "MUSLIM RAGE" in all caps. I'm glad to say though, that what was meant to be a serious (yet ignorant & biased) account on the anti-Islamic film turned into a joke on Twitter.

The Newsweek issue features an opinion piece by ex-Muslim Ayan Hirsi Ali titled: "Muslim rage & the last gasp of Islamic hate." This headline pretty much sums it up!

This piece reeks of Islamophobia from beginning to end. Her very first sentence reads: "Islam’s rage reared its ugly head again last week." Thus, right from the lede, Ali confirms the  most recycled stereotype of Islam as the ugly and violent religion. A close-up of angry bearded Muslim men is included in the article, thus adding to the drama!

Ali criticizes Libyan civilians and holds them responsible for the tragic deaths of US embassy officials. She claims the US contributed to the Libyan revolution and was unfairly repaid with these tragic deaths!

Ali, who describes herself as an ex-Muslim, is all of a sudden the Arab Spring expert, and predicts that Libyans, might follow the steps of their Egyptian counterparts and choose a government that "stands for ideals diametrically opposed to those upheld by the United States." 

This here is the first evidence of Ali's total ignorance of Arab countries. Ali fails to mention that this so-called Egyptian government that is everything that the US is not, is a strong US ally.

Ali makes unfair accusations at the Libyan people, the people who have expressed deep sorrow for the unfair and tragic deaths of US officials. Last Thursday, a stream of images went viral, showing Libyan men and women holding posters that said they were sorry, and that this violence is against Islam. Today, a new video was released, showing Libyans trying to rescue ambassador Chris Stevens. Yet, Ali ignores all of this and makes hateful accusations.

From there, Ali shifts to her own personal story, with Ali of course playing the innocent victim, who was mistreated by her religion and found freedom after fleeing to the liberal Netherlands. She tells the story of how she suddenly discovered that Islam was a hateful religion that fuels evil attacks, the likes of 9/11.

It's quite a shame that Newsweek, a magazine I had a lot of respect for, joins the Islamophobes of this world and selects a hateful former Muslim to speak about Islam. To ignore the large pool of informed, educated and level-headed prominent Muslim speakers and go for a pro-Western, anti-Muslim feminist, is distasteful and stereotypical. For sure there are many who will embrace Ali's account, as it confirms old, recycled stereotypes that depict Islam as the evil and Muslim women as the oppressed victims.

Just to confirm my point on Ali's excessive hatred of Islam, I will rely on the analysis of columnist, Nicholas Kristof (2010), who says that Ali's ferocious criticism of Islam even makes him uncomfortable as it feeds "religious bigotry."

Here's how Kristof sum's up his opinion on Ali's unfair and biased claims on Islam:

"To those of us who have lived and traveled widely in Africa and Asia, descriptions of Islam often seem true but incomplete. The repression of women, the persecution complexes, the lack of democracy, the volatility, the anti-Semitism, the difficulties modernizing, the disproportionate role in terrorism — those are all real. But if those were the only faces of Islam, it wouldn’t be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today. There is also the warm hospitality toward guests, including Christians and Jews; charity for the poor; the aesthetic beauty of Koranic Arabic; the sense of democratic unity as rich and poor pray shoulder to shoulder in the mosque. Glib summaries don’t work any better for Islam than they do for Christianity or ­Judaism."

I therefore, feel sorry for Newsweek audiences, who won't get the chance to receive a fair and informed account/analysis of the recent riots that sparked much of the Muslim world. These audiences will learn nothing accurate about Islam, but will get a colorful imaginative description of a faith; a description that cannot be true, given Islam's 1.6 billion followers and given that it's the fastest growing religion on earth!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Help us #stopSCAF

On May 4 2012 SCAF launched one of its most brutal attacks on protesters in Abbasiya, claiming it was securing the Ministry of Defense. It all seemed staged, like the military instigated the violence. Witnesses confirmed that many army men were dressed as civilians and were shooting live ammunition at protesters.

Others claimed that the army had pushed violent thugs among the crowds to create or spread the violence. One piece of evidence that confirms such claims is Field Marshall Tantawi's picture in a hospital room, visiting military personnel injured during the clashes. What is so striking about this picture is that the injured men all have heavy beards!!! How many army soldiers are allowed to grow a beard? There are also various videos that reveal alleged SCAF deals with thugs that created the May 4 violence.

These clashes were followed with brutal attacks on protesters who took refuge in el Noor Mosque. Victims and witnesses confirm that army men stormed inside the mosque with their boots on (it is wrong to enter a mosque with shoes on out of respect & cleanliness). They verbally and physically attacked and abused the men and women inside the mosque, many of whom were not even involved in the Abbasiya protests.

    One female doctor, who confirmed that she was not protesting, was called names, pushed, beaten on the eye and hit on the head with a baton-like stick until she lost consciousness.

    Egyptian activists and human rights lawyers confirmed that close to 500  or even 600 men and women were detained on May 4. These included over 15 journalists, some of whom were beaten and brutalized. The detainees also included 15 females, who were released the next day. These women came out with horrific stories of humiliation, name-calling, beatings, more virginity tests and even threatened of gang-rape!

Crying, one female was saying that what was happening to the male detainees was much worse. She is right. Of the hundreds of young men detained on May 4th, only 12 or so have been released. Those who are out are giving horrific accounts of abuse. Halim Heneish, a law student was viscously beaten, with obvious injuries all over his thighs. Another detainee said all males were forced to take off their pants and boxers, sit on back of their heels and use water placed in buckets in front of them to clean their behind. He said they were told this humiliating procedure was a precaution to make sure they were not hiding anything!

    After watching multiple painful videos and listening to horrific accounts of torture, I am truly ashamed and disgusted of what remains of the Egyptian military. Egypt's army, historically one of the most respected in the region, has managed to turn into a barbaric torture machine, completely controlled by SCAF generals, who were hired by and continue to follow Mubarak's dirty path.

Where are the military ethics and values and code of honor? Even if the people detained were the worst of enemies and were prisoners of war, the military is still expected to treat them with decency. So how can our army men explain the inhumane and brutal treatment of our Egyptian brothers and sisters, who are not our enemies but are our family?

Shame on SCAF and shame on every single army member who takes part in such dirty tactics.

What is disgusting is how Egyptian media are almost completely ignoring the incident and the 100s of detainees who are in desperate need of media attention.

    In the absence of sufficient local media attention, it is our task as Egyptians to expose SCAF atrocities and reach out to world media and human rights organizations everywhere.

    There's a Twitter initiative by several activists to do the same thing. @LeilZahra, @evronia and others are encouraging people to expose SCAF brutalities using the hashtag #stopSCAF.

   I will update this post regularly with more links and accounts by released detainees on their torture experience.
We have to stop SCAF now! Jan25 instilled in us the strength and courage to stand up to our oppressors and fight for our basic rights. SCAF generals need to get the message that we are human beings and we have dignity and that they cannot abuse our courageous men and women in such a horrific way!

Here's a list of links to videos, witness and victim accounts on the Abbasiya attacks.

Comprehensive list of links on Abbasiya May 4 attack

Dr. Tarek's account on Abbasiya attack of Tuesday May 1

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Compiled list of Eltahawy reaction pieces

     When I examine comments in favor of Mona Eltahawy's Foreign Policy article, Why do they hate us? I notice that many of Eltahawy's fans think that Arab women who object and criticize her are the extreme few; maybe a handful of privileged women who know nothing about the Arab women's plight! While others assume that we Arab women are in denial and we just don't want to admit that we are immersed in oppression and hate.

     What is ironic here is that many of the comments attack the women who criticize Eltahawy's article in a way that (in my view) oppresses Arab women and muffles their voices as if they have no right to speak up and should be thankful that Eltahawy has spoken for them! So, just that we get this straight: Eltahawy's proponents are all for Arab women's freedom from so-called Arab men hatred, but these same proponents object when Arab women voice their own opinions on the matter?  I'd say that's ironic, undemocratic & outright oppressive!

     So, in an attempt to clarify to these enthusiasts that they might be wrong, I did my best to demonstrate that Arab women who took offense to Eltahawy's article deserve to be heard too. These are diverse women from various countries in the region, with diverse backgrounds, personalities, education and problems.

So, here's a comprehensive list of reaction articles and blog posts to Mona Eltahawy's Foreign Policy article Why do they hate us? Most of the pieces were written by Arab women, but I also include articles/posts by Arab men and foreign reporters following this story.


Foreign Policy: Debating the War on Women This includes six reaction pieces:

The Guardian: Do Arab men hate women? It's not that simple | Nesrine Malik

Jadaliyya: Let's talk about sex, Sherene Sikaly & Maya Mikdashi 

Phil Brennan: On Muslim-Arab Issues & the Danger of Aiding the Neo-Liberal Colonialist Agenda, Phil Brennan

Open Democracy: Hatred & Misogyny in the Middle East: A Response to Mona El Tahawy, Tom Dale

AlJazeera Stream: Article on women in the Middle East triggers debate

Global Voices: Do Arab Men Hate Women? Mona Eltahawy Faces Storm, Solana Larson

The Atlantic: The real roots of sexism in the Middle East (It's not Islam, Race or 'Hate'), Max Fisher

History News Network: The Real War on Muslim Women, Daniel Martin Varisco

Blog Posts

Samia Errazzouki: Dear Mona Eltahawy: You Do Not Represent "Us"

Dima Khatib: Love Not Hatred, Dear Mona!

Nahed Eltantawy: I don't really think they hate us!

Gigi Ibrahim: Mona, why do you hate us?

Roqayah Chamseddine: Us and Them: On Helpless Women and Orientalist Imagery 

Ayesha Kazmi: Oh Mona!

Mona Kareem: Why do they hate us? A blogger's response

Karim Malak: Case in point: Mona el Tahawy's FP article

Zeinboia: Us, them and breaking the stereotype!!

Jillian C. York: On Listening (A response to the Mona Eltahawy Criticism)

Dalia And El-Hameed: Get an Arab Woman to say it for You

Menna Adli El Keiy: "And a very special F... you darling," said the un-oppressed woman

Colonial Feminism: Dear Mona ElTahawy

Samar D. Jarrah:  عزيزتي مني, الحمل ثقيل, والهجوم كثيف, فلماذا زدتيه؟
Mohamed AbdelFattah: What 6 Egyptian women say about Mona Eltahawy

Omid Safi: The hypocrisy of the "Why they hate us" rhetoric of Muslim native informants

Hatem Rushdy: Mona Eltahawy, your facts are wrong and we don't hate women 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I don't really think they hate us!

I felt deeply offended and insulted by Mona Eltahawy's latest article in Foreign Policy, titled Why Do They Hate Us?   I follow Eltahawy's columns quite regularly and I accept many of her arguments, even if I do not agree with her views on Islam and veiling. But for her to claim that "they" hate Arab women is in my view complete nonsense. 

And before I go any further, I realize of course that I will be accused by some (which already happened on the FP comments sections) that I am in denial and that I refuse to air my dirty linen in public. Well, I'm NOT in denial; I am well aware that Arab women have their fair share of problems. But I refuse to be lumped into this monolithic group of oppressed, abused and hated victims. Arab women's problems are not the same across the board. Even within one country like Egypt, what I see as a problem, might not be the most pressing issue for the woman next door. So, I refuse to have Eltahawy talk on my behalf as if she is the expert who can accurately identify my plight.

In her column, Eltahawy cleverly weaves a web of torture and oppression against Arab women, with pictures of black-painted covered-up women planted throughout the article, to accentuate this image of oppression. Everything, from virginity tests, to sexual deprivation, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and child marriage, is included in this article to produce a column that will surely be welcomed by many Western feminists and anti-Islamists, who for years have been telling us that Muslim women are weak, oppressed victims of misogyny and rigid Islamic rules that force them to hide behind their veils.

But for many Arab women (I say many based on the negative reaction Eltahawy's column has already stirred), this column is offensive and is nothing but a combination of old cultural practices and undemocratic government actions that are described in a way to represent women as the Oriental Other, weak, helpless and submissive, oppressed by Islam and the Muslim male, this ugly, barbaric monster. Yes, women everywhere face diverse challenges. Arab women have their own fair share of issues, but to claim that these are problems of hate is deceiving.  

 As a Muslim Arab woman, I therefore by no means see myself being represented fairly in Eltahawy's column, and here's why:

  • From the very start of the article, Eltahawy introduces a disturbing account by author Alifa Rifaat in her fiction book Distant View of a Minaret to tell us what goes on in a bedroom between man and wife. Yet how can Eltahawy jump to this conclusion about misogyny in the Middle East merely by reciting quotes from Rifaat's fiction book?  How would you know or how can you claim to know that many Arab women are sexually deprived? Have you interviewed Arab wives who confirm this? Are you relying on a credible study? For someone like Eltahawy, whom I truly considered to be a veteran reporter, to make such generalized sensationalist claims is very disappointing!

  • Additionally, some of the evidence Eltahawy relies on, such as virginity tests, criminal codes, etc are problems of undemocratic governing and have nothing to do with hate of women. These are problems that also impact men. There are numerous accounts of police brutality in Egypt, where men have been beaten, sexually abused or beaten to death. Have we forgotten about Khaled Said, the young Alexandrian, whose brutal death sparked the Jan25 Revolution? Or how about Essam Atta, the young man who was tortured to death in prison? Why do we always have to focus on violence against women?  And if you are going to mention unfair criminal codes, then out of fairness, let's examine Egypt's child custody laws, laws that empower mothers but are ridiculously unfair towards fathers. 

  • I find Eltahawy's discussion of sexual harassment also problematic. Eltahawy, very candidly and on more than one occasion, has described in detail her ordeal with Egyptian riot police back in November 2011. She explained how she was groped everywhere by a number of police officers while in Cairo. Yet in this Foreign Policy column, she adds a new detail; she informs her audience that she was groped earlier that day by a fellow protester in Tahrir Square! But while Eltahawy details her groping ordeal, she fails to mention the heroic Egyptian women and men who are fighting this epidemic. There is no denial that sexual harassment is a disgusting and sick problem in Egypt that needs to be eradicated. Yet, there's also no denial that there are gutsy women who are already engaged in a battle against this epidemic. Tthese include the women who created HarassMap, and women who are blogging about harassment and others who are standing up to this problem and fighting for its eradication. Eltahawy also fails to give credit to men, who have on multiple occasions created a protective circle around protesting females to protect then and NOT to harass them. Is this the hate that Eltahawy refers to? 

  • Then there is the female genital mutilation issue, which Eltahawy presents in such vagueness, mixing culture with quotes from distinguished Muslim cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, thus, confirming ignorant claims that FGM is an Islamic practice. FGM is a cultural practice that predates Islam and if it is still commonly practiced in Egypt today, this is mainly in rural areas and traditional parts of the country, where it is in fact practiced by both Muslims and Christians alike. It is a problem of ignorance and reflects the prevalence of old cultural habits and beliefs that are hard to eliminate. While the Egyptian government banned FGM, it has done little to raise public awareness and educate people via health awareness campaigns. What is also problematic here is how Eltahawy quotes from Qaradawi's book to prove that he was all for FGM. Yet in that same paragraph, she mentions that he has since issued a fatwa to ban FGM! So why mention it in the first place? Wouldn't you at least give Al-Qaradawi credit for revising his opinion? Doesn't this action by a prominent Sheikh disprove your "hate" claim?

  • As for Eltahawy's argument on child marriage in Yemen, and how Muslim clerics support the practice, I ask you to kindly refer to the Pulitzer article Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides. It did not take the reporter too long to accurately clarify to her readers that child marriage is a cultural practice that relates to no religion. A practice that is widespread in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Nepal and is deeply rooted in cultural traditions and not Islam! I have to ask then, why does Eltahawy fail to offer this simple fact to her audience, rather than leading them to believe that child marriage is welcomed by Muslim clerics?

   It's pretty annoying for some of us Arab women when we read Western feminist declarations about our so-called plight. But it's worse when we read the same claims from a woman of Muslim and/or Arab descent. Eltahawy's column, similar to the works of Ayan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji, does more harm than good to Arab women. It does not, in my opinion, support these women, but it helps confirm the long held stereotypes of their oppression and victimization. 

Not surprisingly, these columns are embraced by many Western readers and feminists, because this is in line with their beliefs about Islam and Muslim women. In fact, it is taken as a credible confirmation of Arab women's plight, given that the author herself is a Muslim Egyptian American. Take one look at the comments below Eltahawy's Foreign Policy article, and you'll see what I mean.

It's really sad that Eltahawy's column hardly mentions the empowered Arab women of the Arab Spring. These are women who have forced the world to take them seriously and not look down upon them as the oppressed Other. These heroines include Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkul Karman, Syria's Razan Ghazzawi, and Egypt's female protesters, from Asmaa Mahfouz, Gigi Ibrahim, Nawara Negm, Samira Ibrahim, to Set el Banat, or Blue Bra girl (although I hate this term) and many others, who have once and for all proved to the world that Arab woman are not weak and cannot be silenced.

When I look at these Arab heroines, who have made their people proud, I don't see hate. I see love, compassion and understanding between young men and women who are wiling to work together to create better lives, more freedoms and more just governments for everyone.             

So, to Eltahawy, I say that your column does not represent me as I don't feel hated. I do have concerns, which might be similar or different to my sisters in Egypt. But I'm confident that whatever social, cultural, political and economic problems I personally face, these are challenges that can be fought instead of simply blaming them on misogyny. 

And so, I ask you to kindly stop talking on the behalf of all Arab women, because I’m not sure we all share your views on being hated.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Egyptians mourn massacred soccer fans

      Feb 1st 2012 turned into another bloodbath for many Egyptians. Instead of mourning those killed in the Battle of the Camels one year earlier, Egyptians witnessed yet another massacre! At least 73 Egyptian soccer fans were killed in a horrific bloodbath in the city of Port Said.

      There is enough evidence to suggest that this crime was not a soccer brawl as SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Minister of Interior would like the world to believe! Many witnesses say there was a clear absence of security forces since the start of the match. Others recall how the stadium lights were turned off, immediately following the end of the match. Thugs carrying knives, sticks and other weapons were allowed to make their way into the stadium, undisturbed. When the soccer fans tried to make their way down the stadium stairs towards the exit doors, they found all exit doors were locked and they were faced with thugs that beat them to death!

    This is a clear outrageous crime and someone must be held accountable! Presidential candidate Abdoul Moneim Aboul Fetouh points to SCAF as the murderers, and so do millions of angry Egyptians, who have put up with SCAF atrocities for one full year since Mubarak was ousted.

    What SCAF and the Ministry of Interior fail to realize is that, the more they inflict violence on the Egyptian people, the more united and committed the people are. Egyptians are so angry and so hurt by the injustice, by the lack of secuirty, the absence of fair trials and now they are even more furious.

   The streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said, among other cities, have witnessed angry riots all morning. And it is probably just going to get uglier. In fact, less than an hour ago, protesters where clashing with security forces close to the Ministry of Interior. Tear gas was used in the clashes that are still ongoing.
   The question is, how many hundreds of innocent lives will SCAF sacrifice before they get the message that they are unwanted? How many more deaths and injuries will we have to put up with?

   This has got to stop!