Culture / Sahar Said

Who Hates Whom?


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.

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… This makes the European public feel comfortable when they adopt public policies against Islamic practices.”

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.”

Writing for the Washington Post, Dalia Mogahed points out “[r]eligion is the dominant social currency in the Arab world.” 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. 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

As first posted on May 24th 2012

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2 thoughts on “Who Hates Whom?

  1. “(women) are treated badly in ‘secular’ nations just the same” except we are allowed to keep our genitals ( and therefore our sexual pleasure) intact, and expose whichever parts of our bodies we choose. You have enticed the reader in with the story of Egyptian women, then wholly skirted around the subject!!”!

    • I’m sorry you felt as though I was “enticing” with a piece on Egypt – in fact I just wanted to talk about Ms. Elthaway’s article, which is what I thought I did. I’m sorry if you found the piece misleading. As far as the treatment of women in secular nations, I do believe you must study that with sight of cultural relativity. But the point I was trying to make was that only the “bad news” from the Arab world ever gets any attention and the amazing work women do within the Middle East never gets any coverage. What about Queen Rania from Jordan and the work she’s doing? Pakistan and Bangladesh’s female Prime Ministers? The US only last term elected a black candidate to President and is yet to overcome its prejudices to elect a female president. There are always two sides to a story. We must not jump to conclusions without hearing them both – that was the point I was hoping to make. I’m sorry if it got lost along the way.

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