Poke the hatred in its eye

Mona Eltahawy pulls no punches in her Foreign Policy article on the hatred of women in the Middle East. She’s pissed, man.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with  Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.”

Notice that it’s the man who gets to decide; notice that he gets to decide for his daughters; notice that the daughters have no say; notice that this reduction of “temptation” is the elimination of sexual arousal; ponder the apparent lack of need to reduce male “temptation” by a similar form of amputation.

Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

Exactly. The religion makes it all ok, because after all, it’s religion – don’t look at me, it’s God who made the rules.

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

That I didn’t know. It’s…pathetic.


First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.




  1. mnb0 says

    (Male) circumcision compares to female “circumcision” (even Wikipedia calls it mutilation) like removing tonsils compares to the amputation of legs.

  2. says

    “Exactly. The religion makes it all ok, because after all, it’s religion – don’t look at me, it’s God who made the rules.”

    God made the rules, not men. But those rules came indirectly from God via men.

    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; Genesis 1:27

    It’s as good as.

    Actually that is more accurately: “So man created God in his own image, in the image of man created he him.”

    But that would mean that the rules of life are a bit like those of a golf club: ever subject to amendment by the Committee.

    No, that would never do.

  3. StevoR says

    Well said. Thanks for letting us all know about this horrific barbarity – Surely, we’ll all wake up one day and stop it. Soon let’s hope.

  4. wytchy says

    Ha, I was just read this and was about to link it in the previous post about Collective Response. I love this article because Eltahawy specifically points out the there will be people like those in Collective Response who try to silence our vocal critiques of the horrors going on in Islamic countries with the “cultural relativism” argument, and she tells us to ignore them! We need more voices like Eltahawy to be shared broadly to encourage real change. And her conclusion is just wonderful.

    “We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye.”

    My stick is ready, best to get pokin’!

  5. says

    I’m glad Eltahawy wrote this article. I agree with all the obvious stuff: the disgust at the degree, scope, extent, and fact that any and all of these things happened and are still happening.

    It’s a bit marred for me, though, coming from Eltahawy, by the fact that she vehemently denied any and all concerns about these things re: Egypt during the Arab Spring last year. At the time, anyone who was worried that the two emerging dominant forces were the Muslim Brotherhood and various Salafi figures just didn’t know what they were talking about.

    I’m also not particularly pleased, given her earlier callous dismissal of concerns, with her utterly unnuanced, throwaway criticism of Secretary Clinton and the White House in general re: its bent toward maintaining friendly relations with the House of Saud. As I asked elsewhere, what does Eltahawy expect us to do?

    Should we Embargo? Close the embassy? Make another enemy in the MIddle East, of a regime that is at least willing to talk to us, at least willing to make some feeble attempts at reform, even with the knives of Wahhabis at their backs at home? And on the word, no less, of someone who essentially told us to shut our ignorant American mouths as we raised concerns last year over Egyptian fundamentalism, as the MB and the Salafis marched ever closer to power in Cairo?

  6. Don says

    Male circumcision is not OK. It is not legal in the US to make as much as a cerimonial pin prick to a girl’s labia. It should not be legal to amputate the foreskin without consent. I am not minimizing female genital mutilation. I’m just saying don’t be hypocritical. If you are against one you have to be against both.

  7. says

    It’s a bit marred for me, though, coming from Eltahawy, by the fact that she vehemently denied any and all concerns about these things re: Egypt during the Arab Spring last year.

    I suppose being detained and assaulted are the kind of things that are liable to transform one’s consciousness…

  8. BeckyK says

    @ Don #8

    I am not minimizing female genital mutilation. I’m just saying don’t be hypocritical. If you are against one you have to be against both.

    No one said male circumcision should be legal or that it was all right. Please read what was said. Male circumcision is not the mutilation that femle “circumcision” is. Qaradawi is trying to belittle what he advocates doing to girls by comparing it to male circumcision.

    There is (and you’ll find most people on FTB suppport this movement) a movement to stop male circumcision. There are articles and blog posts about this issue. We don’t need to be told everytime female circumcision is brought up that male circumcision is wrong. This is one reason the phrase “It’s all about the Menz!” comes up in these discussions. We can’t have a discussion about a very serious and deadly issue to women without having the discussion side tracked to male circumcision.

    Please don’t do this.

  9. Alain says

    What C. Mason Taylor said.

    What is “democracy” worth when all it means is the murderous tyranny of a theocratic majority? Just ask the Copts in Egypt or any of the other minorities across the Muslim Middle East. Or that half of the population that is systematically oppressed in virtually every Islamic country in the world. As everyone by now should have noticed, the Arab “Spring” has entered a very cold winter. And women, in particular, are without clothes. I am old enough to remember demurring when leftwing activists were heralding the arrival of Khomeini in the name of “progress”. Three decades later I had similar arguments about the “Arab Spring”. I still hope to be proven wrong this time, but the Khomeini precedent dampens my optimism.

  10. Boomer says

    I agree that we shouldn’t let cultural relativism distract us, but there’s something much more concrete westerns can do about this.

    The MB and the Salafists will only survive if we finance them. IN the case of Egypt, the country has few natural resources, imports half of its foodstuffs and has, as its principle source of revenue the “pimping” of pre-islamic art, architecture and culture.

    However, with the current unrest that pimping ( we call it tourism) is on hold.

    Govt’s in both Europe and America are now assembling huge aid packages to keep this place afloat. The MB and Salafists absolutely need that free money to grease the wheels of their little sharia wagon.

    Supplying free money will calm the chaos, but if that money is witheld, the chaos will remain unattenuated, and the MB and Salafaists will never be able to take effective controle.

    All the pundits keep saying we need more engagement with these emerging régimes, but what we need to do is to, at least temporarily, completely disengage from the region.

    And various Salafist and MB types have already come to Washington, cap in hand, to ask the Obama administration for money. At first it was reported that they met with only low-level officials, but there’s now a good deal of evidence suggesting they were given access to some pretty influential people.

  11. says

    C. Mason – I know. I watched Eltahawy’s reportage last year with a lot of angst – hoping her confidence was well-founded because after all she was there and didn’t need translators, but not feeling much confidence myself.

  12. Didaktylos says

    Boomer – you’re wrong: Egypt’s principal source of income is fees for transiting the Suez canal.

  13. Boomer says

    Boomer – you’re wrong: Egypt’s principal source of income is fees for transiting the Suez canal.

    It is NOW. However, before the ouster of Mubarak, tourism was the country’s biggest single source of foreign earnings.

    In 2008 ( according to Wiki) the canal earned the country 3 billion in transit fees, whereas tourism, which USED to employ at least 12% of the entire workforce, brought in nearly four times that amount; some 11 billion dollars U.S.

    An exposé on the leading candidate to become Egypt’s next Prez…


  14. carpenterman says

    This matter will never be resolved peacefully.
    This virulent oppression may claim to be about god or culture or nation. But it is ultimately about power. These men have the power, they want to maintain that power, and they have absolutely no reason to change. They will not give it up unless they are forced to.
    And, sooner or later, that will mean bloodshed. Probably a lot of bloodshed.
    So, “amplify the voices”, by all means. Promote awareness. Increase political pressure. Raise money. Comment on a fucking blog.
    But if these women really want their freedom, they’re going to have to take it. They don’t need righteous indignation. They need guns.
    Many people claim they would die for a cause they believe in. Fuck that. Are they ready to kill for it?
    And are any of us willing to help?

  15. says

    What C. Mason said. Yes, I was concerned about that too. However, you can scarcely fault a person for dreaming, even if it seemed obvious at the time that they were really dreams. Hope springs eternal, and all that. However, it being quite obvious that the Muslim Brotherhood was biding its time to make — not a comeback — but its first big success, and that the only thing stopping it was a kind of quasi-religious cum sexular miltary tyranny, as soon as Mubarak was gone, it could not be a surprise to see Salafists taking the lead, and Sharia law being brought forward as a comprehensive solution to provide the foundation for the perfect society — where women don’t count, of course. However it is good to see that Eltahawy has been awakened to the truth about the chances for a real democratic awakening in Egypt. Does no one see that Salafism is the Islamic reformation that everyone seems to be waiting for, and that, whether the West supports military tyranny (so long as it is outwardly friendly with the West) or Islamist totalitarianism, nothing favourable is going to develop in Muslim majority countries. Even Turkey, for all its vaunted modernity, is backsliding. I’d like some encouraging news. It never comes. No wonder the French right has shown new life — not that I think this would be a solution, but at least it shows that whatever the West is doing is not really working.

    I’ve just been rereading Hitchens’ Kindle single on Islamofascism. I’m not sure he’s very far wrong. I miss his voice. It was a necessary one.

  16. says

    I don’t know about Hitchens being right. I agree that his voice was a crucial one, even in its occasional wrongness. But I think if we learned anything from the last 70 years or so of American policy toward the Middle East, it ought to be that meddling with it carries disastrous consequences for everybody involved.

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