Photo: Foreign Policy
The cover story of the latest issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, titled “Why Do They Hate Us”, an emotional telling of the discrimination, humiliation, and violence women face in Arab countries by Egyptian-American Mona Eltahawy, has been in the news a lot lately. The article talks about female genital mutilation, legalized physical violence, and denial of fundamental rights and political freedoms and places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Arab Muslim male. “Yes: They hate us. It must be said,” Eltahawy says right off the bat. She blames “a toxic mix of culture and religion” for the hatred that Arab Muslim men “from Morocco to Yemen” have for women.
And while the problems she describes are very real, she has been criticised by many of the very people you would’ve thought would be on her side: feminist Muslim and Arab women.
The criticisms seem to be coming from three angles:
It just reinforces negative stereotypes of Islam in the West
Books by “native voices” like Eltahawy have become increasingly popular post-9/11 in a Western world attempting to justify its wars and invasions against Islam and the Middle East, Monica Marks writes in The Huffington Post. “…these native ‘testimonials’ tell us what we in the West already know — that there’s something inherently misogynistic about Muslims and Arabs,” she explains, providing war-mongering politicians a justification no one would argue with: Islam and Arabs must be fought because they oppress women.
And instead of acknowledging the pre-Islamic socioeconomic roots of patriarchy, she instead blames only religion, pandering to Islamophobia, according to Al-Monitor’s Samia Errazzouki.
Marks also takes offence with the photos that accompany the piece: a woman wearing nothing but black body paint that is made to look like a niqab (the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women that only shows a part of their face). “Sensationalist photos like the one on this cover… perpetuate the assumption that all women who wear the niqab do so because they are oppressed,” she says, arguing that some women believe that as opposed to showing skin in a bikini or tiny skirt, modesty and covering up is more personally liberating.
It reinforces a false monolithic view of the Arab world
Critics say there are wide differences among the Arab countries that Eltahawy fails to take into account. They believe her premise of “all Arab men hating all Arab women” is too simplistic. “Why did Egypt’s hateful “they” elect only 2 per cent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia’s hateful “they” elected 27 per cent, far short of half but still significantly more than America’s 17 per cent?” says Max Fisher in The Atlantic.
It perpetuates the notion that Arab society itself is anti-women
“…we need to fight the patriarchy, not men,” says the Guardian’s Nesrine Malik. She, like most other critics, believes it is wrong to say that the men hate women; rather, it is the political system and establishment that is perpetuating the violent discrimination, directed not just at women, but at the population in general. “One cannot reduce a much more universal and complicated problem merely to gender,” Malik says. She adds:
“Yes, in Saudi Arabia women cannot drive, but men cannot elect their government… In Egypt, it’s true that women were subjected to virginity tests, but men were sodomised. In Sudan women are lashed for wearing trousers, but ethnic minorities are also marginalised and under assault.”
Her view is echoed by Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim, who writes that it is not the men who oppress women, but the regimes who twist social, cultural, and religious norms to suit their needs. Critics say Eltahawy has failed to put the oppression into proper context. “‘Muslims hate their women’ is no different from ‘Muslims are essentially violent’. what a great disservice to our fight”, Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian human rights activist, tweeted.
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