The Independent talks to and about Mona Eltahawy, who has a book coming out (which I get the privilege of reviewing for Free Inquiry).
Egyptian-American Eltahawy, who lived in the UK between the ages of seven and 15, believes the radicalisation of young Western Muslims is only partly explained by a “feeling of marginalisation and alienation” and being “lost between different cultures”.
“For some people religion becomes their only form of expression and opposition and it can take a very violent turn,” she says. “This is not a majority of people who identify as Muslim. We are showing you can still belong to this religion; you can still be a Muslim and find other ways of expressing your divisions that do not involve this horrific level of violence.”
She has just finished her first book – Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, which comes out in the UK in May. It is an extension of her essay Why Do They Hate Us?, which provoked huge controversy in 2012 for its examination of misogyny in the Arab world.
But Eltahawy, who lived in Saudi Arabia for six years after leaving Britain, is unapologetic about its themes and condemns the hypocrisy of world leaders who flocked to pay their respects after the Saudi King Abdullah died in January.
“I am horrified by the moral amnesia that develops when a dictator dies,” she says. Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving and cannot go anywhere without a male chaperone, is a “black hole of misogyny” that operates a system of “gender apartheid”.
Saudi human rights abuses, she argues, go ignored “because of oil and because they spend billions of dollars on weapons” – and also “because [the country] is home to the two holy sites of Islam”.
Well and also because it’s only women. Meh, you know? Who cares. Women are such bitches anyway, plus they’re stupid.
The same cultural relativism arguments – “this is their culture; we can’t touch it” – that are used to ignore abuses by Saudi Arabia are used in the UK to allow practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage to flourish, along with the rise of Sharia courts, Eltahawy says. Liberals in the UK have not spoken out for fear of appearing racist, leaving the field clear for right-wingers such as Nigel Farage.
Not all liberals in the UK, but far too many of them.
As a member of Musawah, an international group campaigning for equality and justice for women in the Muslim world, she is vocal in condemning the appalling levels of sexual violence against women.
“Slowly and surely we are beginning to talk about something that has never been talked about before, which is sexual violence on the street against women in Egypt, either from the state or from civilians. It has reached a terrible height of horror over the past few years since the revolution began. This revolution wasn’t about women’s rights.”
They never are. They never, ever are.