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Apr 24 2012

You gonna believe Mona Eltahawy or the grand mufti?

Nahed Eltantawy responds to Mona Eltahawy’s article on woman-hating in the Middle East. She hates it.

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…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.

Meaning what? We shouldn’t worry about women stoned to death, girls taken out of school and forced into marriage, girls who are held down while their genitals are sliced off, women whipped for not wearing a burqa? We should just say “that’s their culture, it’s none of our business” and go on our way rejoicing? We should be insular and selfish and indifferent?

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.

Ah yes, naughty Orientalist Mona Eltahawy, representing Arab women as the Other. How does that work, exactly?

…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?

“Virginity tests” in which cops shove fingers up women have nothing to do with hate of women? Really? As for that final question – words fail me.

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.

Boy, that’s a devastating rejoinder. Yes, sexual harassment is a disgusting and sick problem in Egypt, but somehow Mona is naughty for saying so. Why?
Meanwhile, in woman-loving Saudi Arabia, the grand mufti says girls are ready for marriage at age ten. Yes, ten.

A girl is ready to marry at 10 or 12 years of age according to Islam, London-based Al Hayat reported Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al Sheikh as saying, adding that Islamic law is not repressive to women.
“Those who call for raising the age of marriage to 25 are absolutely mistaken,”Al Sheikh said in a lecture at the faculty of Imam Mohamed bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh.
He added: “Our mothers and grandmothers got married when they were barely 12. Good upbringing makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties at that age.”

Oh yeah? Can good upbringing make her wide enough to bear children without getting a fistula? No, it can’t, so enormous numbers of women have ruined lives because they leak piss or shit or both and everybody shuns them.

And then there’s the little matter of education, and being able to choose something to do with her life other than or in addition to domestic work. “Good upbringing” may make it possible for her to do all the housework at age ten, but it doesn’t make it desirable.
And then there’s the fact that few ten-year-old girls want to have sex, especially with grown men.
But the grand mufti’s indifference to the well-being and flourishing of girls and women has nothing to do with hatred – oh heavens no. It would be Orientalist to say that.

17 comments

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  1. 1
    Lyanna

    So…if it will be welcomed by Western feminists, it’s definitely bad?

    Also, pointing out that someone is oppressed means that they are the Other?

  2. 2
    psocoptera

    “But the grand mufti’s indifference to the well-being and flourishing of girls and women has nothing to do with hatred-”

    Sometimes, I think these men don’t even consider women worth hating. Not that dehumanization and hatred are unrealated, but when they discuss women, it sounds more like they are talking about the proper treatment of a cow than a person. I think I would rather be hated.

  3. 3
    Sunny

    “Our mothers and grandmothers got married when they were barely 12.”

    The Mufti’s mother survived (unfortunately ?) to give birth to him while countless others probably died or suffered immensely from avoidable complications. The Mufti should consider the truncated part of the distribution.

    Sorry I forgot: No thinking allowed, Religion ahead.

  4. 4
    Freodin

    I fear psocoptera is right: it is not hate that drives these people. They are convinced they are doing good, and are completely indifferent to the pain and suffering they cause.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Oh it certainly is hate some of the time. “Honor” killings; stoning; poisoning girls who go to school and their teachers; that kind of thing.

    Mohammed Shafia hated his daughters. He was still raging at them after he’d killed them.

  6. 6
    jolo5309

    I think it is more anger when your possessions get away. You beat your dog when it gets out of the yard and kills your chickens, you beat your daughters when they don’t listen. It is less hate and more anger at the tool not working the way god intended it. When you break the handle on your hammer, you don’t keep it, you toss it out.

  7. 7
    Ophelia Benson

    No you don’t. You clip your dog over the ear when it eats your soap, but you don’t beat it. (If it kills your chickens you build a better chicken house.) You don’t beat your daughters when they don’t listen – unless you hate them.

    Don’t overthink this. It’s really not nuanced. It really is hatred. There’s widespread delusion that it’s “protectiveness” that goes too far, but it’s not. It’s hatred.

    The religion trains men to hate women, and some of them oblige. Certainly not all, but some.

  8. 8
    shatterface

    Also, pointing out that someone is oppressed means that they are the Other?

    Worse than that, you also Other the poor blokes doing the oppressing.

  9. 9
    James

    Nahed Eltantawy:

    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.

    Only if those “Western feminists and anti-Islamists” fail to read to the end of Mona Eltahawy’s article:

    Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

    (snip)

    “Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.

    For me, this conclusion was what the article was all about. All of the foregoing horror stories demonstrate what women go through in Islamic/Arabic/autocratic patriarchal countries. The conclusion demands that we recognise the heroism of the examples given and consider how many others are doing similar things without their stories being known.

    I can’t imagine the courage and strength of character it takes for women in these societies to stand up and demand their rights. For anyone to read the full article and not agree that anyone with an ounce of conscience should (at the very least) proclaim solidarity with such brave people is unfathomable.

    To actually argue it shows Muslim women as “weak” and “victims” is just bizarre!

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    The whole idea is just insane. By that logic it’s insulting and offensive to protest any violation of human rights at all – so we should just look away and busy ourselves shopping for bigger flat-screen TVs. Mass rape in Congo? Mustn’t say anything; that would be to say the raped women are weak, oppressed victims. Gays being hanged in Iran? Quiet; you mustn’t deny them agency. Bodies piling up in Syria? Stfu, you horrible Orientalist!

  11. 11
    julian

    Well don’t I feel stupid. Here I’ve been thinking we should be pointing out when people are in bad situations where they’re oppressed, hurt and denied their rights. Wow! Have I got egg on my face…

  12. 12
    Ophelia Benson

    Quite. I got so annoyed I did a whole new post on the subject.

  13. 13
    Carmichael

    “Everything, from virginity tests, to sexual deprivation, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and child marriage, is included in this article…”

    What’s her point here? In future, please confine yourself to no more than two examples of abuse against women per article? It’s bizarre. Eltahawy has included these because they all demonstrably happen and because they are all relevant to the point she’s making.

    And thanks for the blog Ophelia. Keep fighting that fashionable nonsense. It’s just depressing that such work is necessary.

  14. 14
    wytchy

    Why are people looking for a boogeyman that isn’t there? Sure, there probably are instances where westerners have no idea what they’re talking about when trying to confront misogyny in the middle east. Mona’s article is not one of those instances. That Nahed has the gall to try and accuse her article of othering women, it makes me suspicious about whether they even read the article. Sometimes I talk to people, and as soon as misogyny in Islam or Islamic culture is brought up this same tired argument is tossed out, assuming that whatever I have to say is belittling or othering women. It boggles me!!!

    “Why do we always focus on violence against women?”
    *facepalm* I’m done taking Nahed seriously now.

  15. 15
    Boomer

    Ophelia, I can understand how female apologists for islam’s mysogyny upset you, but I wouldn’t go that route.

    There’s no shortage of MB hijabs spewing out this dishonest, deceitful bullshit. I’ve been reading the same stuff for years.

    I prefer to concentrate on the arguments and ideas being put forward modern, secular muslim women.

    We need to play them up, give them a high public profile and as much exposure as possible. Believe me, I have it on good word that promoting such women is by far the best way to get into the faces of people like Nahed.

    Everything Nahed believes in is at stake here, whereas with Mona theocratic absolutism is no longer a necessary and indispensable condition for a good nights sleep.

  16. 16
    Ophelia Benson

    Please don’t make this about me being “upset.”

    Mona is a Muslim.

  17. 17
    John Coelho

    Mona, your critics are full of shit. Keep telling it the way it is.

    John Coelho

  1. 18
    Closing the week 17 - Featuring Sex, Arab Women and Orientalism — C L O S E R

    [...] cents in favour of Mona Eltahawy You gonna believe Mona Eltahawy or the grand mufti? | Butterflies and Wheels Meaning what? We shouldn’t worry about women stoned to death, girls taken out of school and [...]

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