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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.