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Apr 24 2012

So comrades come rally

I’m going to look some more at Nahed Eltantawy’s anger at Mona Eltahawy’s article about misogyny in the Middle East, because there’s something really sinister about it.

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.

It’s as if she thinks Eltahawy is doing something bad to her…is in fact oppressing her and abusing her and making her a victim. But why? Eltahawy is angry about things that are done to women in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as elsewhere in the Middle East. She doesn’t talk on Eltantawy’s behalf; she doesn’t claim to identify her plight; she describes abuses of women’s rights. Why does that make Eltantawy so angry? What does she want instead? Silence on the subject? Why would she want that? Silence on oppression and abuse is easy to have, but what good does it do? Silence on oppression and abuse allow the oppression and abuse to go on happening. We know what that’s like; we see that happening all the time; we see the aftermath; we think it’s terrible, we feel shame and horror, we say it must never happen again.

The people of Sarajevo got plenty of silence on oppression and abuse for a long time. The people of Rwanda got silence and inaction when they could have used something else. The abused imprisoned children and women in Ireland got luxurious, lavish amounts of silence on oppression and abuse for decade after decade, and it wasn’t what they wanted – they wanted noise and attention and an end to the oppression and abuse.

What is this idiotic and callous idea that reporting human rights violations is an insult to the potential victims? Where did this come from? It seems to be a confused version of anti-colonialism, but when the confusion is so deep that it sees Mona Eltahawy as Othering Egyptian women – well things have gone wrong.

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.

That, when you look at it closely, is a revolting thing to say. We “Western feminists” welcome news of finger-rape, FGM, and child marriage? The hell we do! We don’t welcome it; we pay attention to it. We should pay attention to it. Everyone should. Internationalism is a good thing. Human rights are a good thing. Finger rape and FGM and child marriage are not good things.

We don’t think Muslim women are “weak” any more than we think the Tutsis are weak, Irish women and children are weak, Iranian gays are weak, and so on. If someone has a gun to my head, it makes no difference how strong I am.

We really need to resist this hateful idea that human rights are purely local and that everyone should ignore any abuses that happen beyond their borders. Eltantawy probably didn’t mean to suggest that, but she did. She needs to think harder about the subject.

12 comments

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  1. 1
    Andrew B.

    It seems like she just doesn’t like Arab’s dirty laundry aired in public. To her, it isn’t an issue of human suffering, it’s an issue of her identity being attacked by outsiders.

    It’s just like the Vatican’s anger over the criticism of their “handling” of child-rape. In fact, in mentioning the secular state’s abuse of its citizens, she echos the RCC’s familiar diversionary cry: everyone else is doing it too why are you picking on us?

    Similarly, her accusations of “Islamophobia” in this case are just as spurious as the RCC’s squealing of anti-Catholic bias.

    In prioritizing their reputation over justice for the victims of their favored group, they end up with neither.

  2. 2
    pipenta

    Pretty much always, when they are part a larger group facing oppression, women are supposed to put up and shut up. Ye olde double whammy. And it’s all “Shhhhh, you’ll make the movement look bad.”

    Heartbreaking to see it. And it used to baffle me. Then I realized it can be a very cushy deal for a outspoken woman who is willing to give herself a leg up on the necks of other women. She can support the status quo and make it easier for the men in power to justify what they do. There are book deals and guest spots on television, being a tame “feminist”.

    Camille Paglia, I’m talking about you, bitch.

  3. 3
    'Tis Himself

    I agree with Andrew B. Eltantawy is angry that what’s happening to Muslim women is being discussed where anyone and everyone can see it. She would like the discussion to be like a family argument carried on in whispers so the people in the adjoining apartments can’t hear what’s going on.

    I also suspect Eltantawy is angry because she knows all of this is going on and she feels helpless about stopping it. So shooting the messenger is all that’s available to her.

  4. 4
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Can we get a collective open letter on this?

  5. 5
    Jeff

    I think the anger stems from the inability to face the intolerable anger she would have at herself for supporting her own victimizers for so long. To face that fact and humiliation at at her own hands, as she would no doubt see it, it becomes easier to suffer barbarity at another’s hands rather than admit to herself that she is complicit in her own victimization as well as all women in her culture. That would be too much to bear and the cognitive dissonance of that mental circumstance creates the anger for anyone who would help her.

  6. 6
    Arty Morty

    I think she’s mostly just prickled by anything that implicates Islam in the problems of the Middle East.

    In the comments below her post, Nahed complains about Mona’s “negative” references to Islam, denies that Islam oppresses women, and claims that Ayaan Hirsi-Ali and Irshad Manji regularly “attack Islam in a violent and unfair way.” (In a violent way?!)

    I sense she’s having a hard time seeing her religion for what it is, and she’s grasping at anything (socio-economic conditions! post-colonialism! “Othering!”) to justify her continued adherence to the faith.

    (I’m not denying that all those other things could share some of the blame alongside Islam, but Nahed seems to think Islam is completely exempt; which: wrong.)

  7. 7
    C. Mason Taylor

    I briefly considered, at one point, instituting a drinking game the rules of which are: every time an article criticizing Islam’s treatment of women gets “mind your own business”-style pushback, I take a drink. I am glad now that I did not, as I would be long dead by now of liver failure. I feel like my daily reading list has become a game of misogynist bingo.

  8. 8
    Your Name's not Bruce?

    Maybe this is some combination of Stockholm Syndrome with the idea that you can criticize your own spouse and family but woe betide the Outsider who speaks against your family.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    F – Maryam has a collective open letter you can sign, on her blog.

  10. 10
    emily isalwaysright

    Excellent work, Ophelia. Keep it up.

  11. 11
    emily isalwaysright

    Arty, some people schooled in certain streams of continental philosophy or post-colonial politics think discourse can be a conduit for violence, not just actions. I disagree with them: I think if we say certain speech acts are violent then the term “violent” has ceased to refer to any clearly definable behaviour and becomes simply a rather deceptive and emotionally manipulative political tool.

  12. 12
    Arty Morty

    Arty, some people schooled in certain streams of continental philosophy or post-colonial politics think discourse can be a conduit for violence, not just actions. I disagree with them: I think if we say certain speech acts are violent then the term “violent” has ceased to refer to any clearly definable behaviour and becomes simply a rather deceptive and emotionally manipulative political tool.

    I agree. Although I suppose I could see how some speech could be considered violent; like, maybe, speech that explicitly encourages people to physically harm others. But I doubt that Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi-Ali have crossed that line. They certainly don’t “regularly” do it.

    If indeed Eltantawy is using the term “violent” in that way, then it’s yet another example of her co-opting and misusing the jargon of post-colonial studies to shout down valid criticism of her religion.

    There seems to be a lot of misuse and co-option of po-co language among religious apologists these days…

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