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Who Hates Whom?

Who Hates Whom?

Image from the Foreign Policy Magazine "Sex Issue"

When I first came across Mona Eltahawy’s article, questioning “Why do they hate us?”–“they” being the misogynistic rulers of Middle Eastern and Muslim nations, and “us” being the female population–I have to say my instant reaction was one of apprehensive agreement. Apprehensive, because I’ve seen womenfolk suffer cruel injustice in my part of the world (Pakistan, innately feudal and supremely “Islamic”), but never had I felt that I too was disadvantaged because of my gender and I knew the injustices though furthered in the name of Islam, had nothing to do with the religion and everything to do with politics. So I nodded, but with a guilty conscious.

In the days that followed the publication of that article, there was outcry on how “Muslims” treated their women and how the religion was to blame, but like any other argument, there was also the flip-side, which I was happy to find presented in a more articulate and accurate manner.

Ms. Hilal Elver put it best when she said, “there was nothing new in Eltahawy’s article. Many of the issues she raised were already well known, thanks to Western media that has been issuing frequent alarmist warnings to the public about the menace of Islam… Giving a platform to Muslim women writers critical of Islam has also become a very popular tactic in Europe… This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.” Eltahawy singling in on Muslim culture and teachings of Islam as the reason for discrimination does the same. Not to undermine Eltahawy’s experiences or dub them untrue, but the fact of the matter is, as Sarah Mousa put it, Eltahawy is “out of touch.”

Sherene Seikaly and Maya Mikdashi point out that the Foreign Policy’s “Sex Issue,” though being a world issue, with the exception for one article, “reproduces much of the dominant and sensationalist discourse about sex in the Middle East.” They rightly conclude “[t]he battle against misogyny does not follow a ‘men hate women’ formula. It cannot be reduced to a generic battle of the sexes spiced with a dose of Islam and culture. It cannot be extracted from the political and economic threads that, together with patriarchy, produce the uneven terrain that men and women together navigate.”

In the words of Ms. Elver, “[v]iolence against women does not respect religious, cultural or state borders. Statistics are very clear on that. Women in politics in high level positions have to pay a big price no matter which country we consider, although some do better than others … A closer look into two areas in which Egyptian women are disadvantaged – one on a legislative level, and the other on a social level – reveals flaws rooted in governance, rather than culture or religion.”

Writing for the Washington Post, Dalia Mogahed points out “[r]eligion is the dominant social currency in the Arab world. Everyone from pro-democracy activists to anti-woman authoritarians invokes its imagery, moral authority and emotional appeal for legitimacy.” That is the reason politicians and clerics alike have abused the tenants of religion to promote personal agendas. We’ve seen it take shape in Pakistan against women and minorities, radicalizing in the Zia era (General Zia, Pakistan’s fourth military dictator, holding office from 1977 to 1988) and continuing to date.

None of this is to say that women are not treated badly in the Middle East or elsewhere; it is to state that they are treated badly in “secular” nations just the same. Muslim nations have been run by women yet a super power such as the United States has not; why then does that not translate to mean Muslims are more progressive? Mental barriers are created because we do not always get the whole picture. Let the reader decide, but give the reader all the facts–not your bias version of it. Eltahawy gave her side of things,and  it was up to the Foreign Policy Magazine to ensure they filled the gaps with other articles. Most critics of this particular issue of the Foreign Policy Magazine do not deny the good intent behind its publication, but what was that about the road to hell?



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.