Ayesha Kazmi

Oh, Mona!

In The Political on 24/04/2012 at 22:27

Since yesterday it appears Mona Eltahawy has had her hands full fending off the massive outrage her Foreign Policy article entitled “Why do they hate us? The real war on women is in the Middle East provoked. Even much to the dismay of disappointed feminists, her tweets suggest those disagreeing with her have not bothered to provide intelligible debate. However, it was pretty clear, even yesterday, this was certainly not the case.

I realise Mona has likely been quite swamped with responses. But her tweeting patterns suggest that she is responding mainly to two types of people: those that are lauding her work, and those that have been shamelessly slandering her. The problem is that there is a whole host of people in between who want to engage with her intellectually and respectfully while explaining to her precisely why they disagreed so deeply with her piece. After my own numerous attempts to try and engage with her, it appeared pretty clear she wasn’t particularly interested in this type of engagement.

So, here I am, irritated and disappointed, attempting to add to the host of blog responses to Mona Eltahawy – unsure of whether or not she will even bother to read the many sensible rebuttals, or whether she will continue to push the idea that no one is providing coherent retorts. I have made peace with this likelihood before I even sat down to write this.

First, I have to come clean with my own biases: I do not approach this rebuttal from an Islamic perspective. I am very open with everyone I come into contact with that while I identify as Muslim, I am non-observant. This is a very clear choice I made a few years ago that is very personal to me. That said, in my regular job as a researcher in terrorism laws and counter-terrorism strategy, I vehemently oppose the criminalisation of Muslims in western countries as the “suspicious other” and the barbarisation of the Muslim world by the media and western foreign policy. I am an anti-war, anti-racist, anti-Zionist, anti-prison, pro-gay rights/marriage, anti-imperialist, anti-security industrial complex, feminist activist and have been involved with activism since I was 14. I believe in Allah (God), and I believe that S/He created humanity as equals – to love and to be loved as one of our greatest yearnings. This is what unites us.

Perhaps, then, you can imagine it was much to my chagrin when I saw how much Mona’s FP article spectacularly splintered feminism. At this point, I have successfully lost count of the number of women who told me that the title of her article bothered them – but they couldn’t quite figure out why it was. I will tell you why: it is because the title divorces the countless number of women who might identify with the very real grievances they have living under a ruthless system that hates women, from the broader war on women. To claim that the “real war on women is in the Middle East” stakes the legitimacy of Arab women in the war against women, that I view as a global phenomenon not unique to Arab women, while leaving millions of non-Arab women, also victims of systemic misogyny, to fend for themselves. Mona has dangerously isolated non-Arab women from a war that is global. If Mona wanted to specifically address the plight of Arab women, she should have done so without appropriating the entire war as uniquely her own. Take the greater Muslim world for example, could she honestly look an Afghani or Pakistani woman in the eyes and read the title of this piece to them without recoiling?

I agree with Mona: if a Muslim woman feels the need to speak openly about the abuse she suffers by the messy amalgam of religion and culture, she does no favours to anybody, particularly herself, by remaining quiet. If a Muslim woman wants to point her finger at a man, or even a cleric, she feels has wronged her and other women and draw attention to his misogyny, she must not be afraid. Her right to action was not only historically protected by the earliest Muslim communities, but it must be protected in our present day context. There should be no need for her to be politically correct – as these are issues of abuse, not politics. Most unfortunately, these are issues universal in nature.

The problem is not that women like Mona are openly speaking out against the abusive systems in the Arab and Muslim world. Rather, it is that the very private domestic problems in Arab and Muslim families have become hyper politicised and subject to political misappropriation by politicians. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron used the very sensitive issue of forced marriages and honour killings to tout the European defence and security industries at the Munich Security Conference in February of 2011, to justify the exponential increase of surveillance and the militarisation of Britain. English Defence League (EDL) sympathisers then use these cases to illustrate why they want Britain to close its borders to immigrants from the Muslim world and to justify hateful protesting in Muslim communities. Too many Muslim women have told me that they would rather remain silent than open up and potentially risk the possibility of providing the EDL more fuel. In short, the politicisation of domestic abuse and violence against Muslim women have made them all the more vulnerable and have in some instances, prevented them from seeking much needed recourse.

Most critically, these are delicate issues. While Muslim women’s discourse has become compromised by politicians who seek to “rescue” Muslim women from Muslim men, it is possible to skilfully highlight the systemic violence and abuse of Muslim women without sensationally fanning the likes of Samuel Huntington. I find it deeply insidious that Mona repeatedly associates the Arab man with the dark ages – the same Arab man that George Bush, Tony Blair and now David Cameron seek to rescue us from. I am fully aware of where I have repeatedly heard this precise conflation – and it reeks of the odious “clash of civilisations” hypothesis. Is it possible that Mona entirely subscribes to the Western definition of who and what she is, or is she involved in a stealthy political game? From here, it is really difficult to tell but the end result of her article, which was to fragment global feminism, is deeply troubling and most unforgivable; irresponsible at best.

I repeatedly attempted to engage Mona on twitter last night, with no success. I wanted to tell her how offended I was as a Pakistani woman that she has hijacked the war against women and has claimed the Middle East as the chief battle ground. Then, as if to prove my entire point about the dangers of her article, I received a tweet from an Arab woman attempting to qualify my voice in this debate: “Why are you even talking about this? Are you Egyptian? Arab? I don’t see you presenting any countering facts. If so, guide me.”

Perhaps we should all be congratulating Mona instead. For she has treacherously contributed to the categorisation of knowledge into meaningless, non-contextual clusters and away from an interdisciplinary globalised understanding of how our system that treats corporations as people, rewarding enterprise to the detriment of human dignity – and our commonality as subjects of a deeply corrupted capitalist system from China to the United States and everywhere in between – into an isolated “Arab Women Only” discipline. As a Pakistani woman, to have been chastised by an Arab woman when speaking on this issue, is merely the tragic outcome of seeing women’s struggles as isolated instead of interconnected and co-dependent.

So, my hats off to Mona Eltahawy. While your sensational article now receives acclaim from Dutch MEPs and you get offers from the BBC to sit on debate panels, the rest of us, who care about academic integrity and honest accurate debate, remain here – perhaps not receiving as much publicity as you, but hastily attempting to clean up the fallout from your very precarious article. Your words may be powerful, but I have faith that the love and compassion between woman-kind will win this one.

  1. [...] Oh, Mona! Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like3 bloggers like this post. [...]

  2. While I ‘actively’ support gender equality, I wonder why all such essays fail to highlight the irony in the fact that all should be allowed to drive and none should expect others to replace a flat tyre.

  3. [...] rebuttals to her article can be found here, here and here Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Comments RSS [...]

  4. Thank you for this. I appreciated her article for so many reasons, but, as a Christian woman and Latina feminist, I engage the conversations about Muslim women with pause and ears to learn, in every attempt not to cast or my western Christian view or my experiences as a Latina woman onto the conversation. I could not put into words what gave me pause and concern with the article. But, for certain I was concerned that my friends and others who know little about Islam would see Islam characterized in her article. Thank you, again for your response.

  5. I can’t thank you enough for this! I enjoyed reading your comments about her responses to her article from Twitter folks, too. I felt the same way when I noticed that she was responding to only two types of comments on her piece, and I was pained to see that she thinks everyone — really, EVERY single person! — who doesn’t like her article or doesn’t appreciate it is simply against her for speaking out or for speaking about a taboo subject. Frankly, I didn’t see what was taboo about it at all. It’s horrific to know and see what many women in the ME go through, but to assume that there’s just *one* reason for that is so sickening, irrational, and ignorant. Then again, I’d rarely expect logic from her.

  6. Ayesha, to have someone dismiss your argument when you dared to disagree with Mona Tahawy’s article, simply because you’re neither Egyptian nor Arab is ridiculous! I am an Egyptian, Arab Muslim woman and I have major reservations on that article. Tahawy doesn’t represent me in any respect and I don’t welcome or accept her self-proclaimed “liberator” status.. Nor do I respect her inflammatory prose that does nothing for Arab and Muslim women, except draw applause from Western readers and ignite Islamophobia as evidenced by the derogatory comments on her article, and disdain from the rest of us.

  7. Quote: I vehemently oppose the criminalisation of Muslims in western countries as the “suspicious other” and the barbarisation of the Muslim world by the media and western foreign policy.

    And how about the discrimination against and criminalization of non-Muslims everywhere in the Islamic world? How about the denigration and slander of non-Muslims in your Quran? How about the dozens of attacks by your dear prophet against his peaceful non-Muslim neighbors (or even against Muslim women and children in a mosque, according to the Quran)? How about the brutal, barbaric tortures personally performed by your dear Allah on people for the horrible crime of “non-belief”?

    Have you ever read the Quran? Are you aware of the accounts in the hadith? Do you follow current events at all? Or is it just that Muslims are exempt from all responsibility for their actions and beliefs?

    I find it rather amusing that a person from the land of the pure — known for its abysmal human rights record toward women, minorities, non-Muslims and even some Muslims — should lecture others on morality.

  8. I think I understand why you find Mona Eltahawy’s article problematic, and the article will definitely fan anti-Islamic rhetoric here (in Europe; I am a European). Nevertheless, I am torn. That she has chosen an English-language outlet to get her message across, and might, in the process, stir up reactions and thoughts which are not focussed on debating the issue, but rather to paint a picture of Islam, or Arab men, or Muslim men, of being medieval, primal and so fort, does not address the issue itself: is her message itself ‘right’, is it ‘wrong’, or is it neither? I believe, as a European who abhors imperialist thought, that I have a right to take an interest and applaud or criticize what is going on on the other side of the globe, be it that I am well-informed and am aware of what is happening ‘on the ground’, and have taking considerable efforts to understand a society from within; on that same level, you, as a Pakistani woman, are free to criticize my society, my culture, our power structures from the same premise, as equals. The sense I am getting from you, however, is that I may not be free to listen and discuss what Mona Eltahawy is saying, because I might frame it in a context free environment. Is that correct? If so, I would find that odd. Just to clarify with an example: I am not a Zionist, nor an anti-Zionist, but what I do know, is that in discussions on Zionism with Israelis, I am confronted with a certain meaning of Zionism by these Israelis which is framed differently from how a lot of Palestinians, or outsiders, would frame it. That does not mean, however, that my criticism on Zionism should be dismissed, because I may ‘misinterpret’ Zionism and fuel stereotypical images of Israelis – or Jews; I have the feeling I have lived long enough in Israel and Palestine, and have engaged enough in discussions on this subject, to say that I can present a well-balanced opinion on the other, without trying to fuel any stereotype. So concluding (being on the premise, as I said, that I understand you correctly): when and how is it possible to speak out this subject to the outside world, and when and how is it not?

  9. [...] as Ayesha Kazmi points out in her excellent blog post, when Eltahawy framed this as an ‘Arab problem’, she isolated women across the globe who feel [...]

  10. [...] Oh, Mona! « AmericanPaki t this point, I have successfully lost count of the number of women who told me that the title of her article bothered them – but they couldn’t quite figure out why it was. I will tell you why: it is because the title divorces the countless number of women who might identify with the very real grievances they have living under a ruthless system that hates women, from the broader war on women. To claim that the “real war on women is in the Middle East” stakes the legitimacy of Arab women in the war against women, that I view as a global phenomenon not unique to Arab women, while leaving millions of non-Arab women, also victims of systemic misogyny, to fend for themselves. [...]

  11. Are you sure that Mona Eltahawy actually wrote the headline that bothered you and the women you spoke with? It’s usually an editor who comes up an article’s title, not the writer herself.

  12. ” that the very private domestic problems in Arab and Muslim families have become hyper politicised and subject to political misappropriation by politicians.”
    woman-slaughter is private? what happened to a basic feminist analysis of violence against women here?

  13. Interesting article!
    The small mind sees only what it has collected through the senses. The big mind sees beyond perception.
    Authentic Islamic culture is based on the equality of men and women at the moral and religious level as conscientious responsible creatures. Women had a clear and distinct voice during the life of the prophet of Islam.

    The confused mindset of feminists has caused great harm as they have trying to free women from men’s oppression, which is an important struggle in a world dominated by men. The results have not been so great for women. Women are part of every aspect of life, including places of worship, but there is a certain level of separation. Women are purposely excluded from many activities and profession they are able to do or wish to do in nearly all most culturally Islamic countries. Fundamental idea is that, “paradise lies under the feet of the mother”, if you want to enter paradise treat women accordingly to gain the pleasure of God. The paradise is on earth…don’t wait until death to realize that simple fact.

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