The rebuttals to Mona Eltahawy's controversial article on what she describes as Arab men's hate towards women keep coming, from Arab muslim women themselves. Here is a new one, by Arab journalist Jenan Moussa . I am honoured to have her as a guest on my blog.
My Dad Loves Me I found Mona El Tahawy's piece in Foreign Policy under name "Why Do They Hate US?" very provoking yet I am happy she started this discussion. I agree with her on the facts mentioned in her piece. Yes, women in the Middle East are subjected to horrible rules including: circumcision, marriage at young age, harassment, forced into things under pretense of religion and culture. But I don't interpret this as "They hate US". I was born and raised in a Muslim family in the Middle East, where I still live. But my dad for example is my biggest supporter. The issue is much more complicated. It is culture, tradition, misinterpretation of religion, lack of self-confidence when it comes to Arab men, lack of education, corrupt political systems which intentionally work to keep both men and women ignorant. As much as Arab women need liberation, Arab men equally need to be liberated. I know women and girls who were beaten up by their family members, forced to wear a veil, subjected to sexual abuse. Some girls decided to shut up because they could not find the inner strength to protest. I believe this is the portion that Mona is speaking about. But I also know many women who stood up and said 'enough is enough'. These are real fighters who refused to accept the status quo. As Mona unfortunately only speaks in generalizations or takes the weirdest examples from the internet, let me tell you how reality goes. My good friend called me last week from Lebanon. She is in her mid-twenties, studying for a PHD in Literature. She's a very smart woman, actually one of the smartest people I know. Anyway, my friend got a job offer to go work in a Gulf country. This would mean she will be living alone, in a country where none of her family members live. Her dad went crazy, screaming and forbidding her to go. She said she will go no matter what. He then beat her up. My friend did not, as Mona suggests, burry herself in her room waiting for help from heroic democracy loving Westerners. Instead she stood up for her own rights, moved out of the house and is going to take the job she was offered in the Gulf. These sort of women have no voice in Mona's rhetoric. And I am sure my friend's dad loves her too. What he did is unacceptable and I am by no means justifying him beating up my friend. I have met him on different occasions and he is so proud of his daughter. But he is scared. He believes that by keeping her at home, he is protecting her and thus showing her the utmost form of love. He knows no other way to deal with his daughter. His grandfather, father and every male in family, has probably dealt with their daughters in the same way. But now the father realizes that his daughter is not like his sister or grandmother. Times have changed and he has to change as well. And we all know how difficult it is to change especially when these habits, rules and customs have been around for thousands of years. But it is not only "man's" fault. It is an entire society which has to change. Arabic women are also to be held responsible. When my first "male" brother was born, I remember how happy and proud the family was. We were four girls and not having a boy is considered a shame. Some neighbors in the village would insult my mom on different occasions for having giving birth "only" to females. So I don't blame my mom for being happy to giving birth for a baby boy. Because, whether we like it or not, the birth of my little brother "saved" her image in the deeply traditional society we come from. And, yes, it was my mom, not dad who wanted really bad the "boy". Why? Dad is a city guy who doesn't really care about these things anymore. He traveled a lot and mingled with different cultures. His only aim was not to get too many children, be it girls or boys, so he can provide them with best education and living. Because of economic reasoning two daughters would have been fine to him. At the other hand, my mom was born and raised in a village where traditions matter more than anything else. She did not mingle with different people and cultures. I also don't blame her. This is how she was raised. This is the only way she knows. By offering these two examples, it is only an attempt from my side to offer the Western reader, especially, a glimpse at the complicated society I come from. Is it a coincidence that a popular Arabic proverb goes like: "He who beats you, loves you!" Thus the biggest mistake you can fall into is to generalize the status of Arab women. It is not black and white. It is not "they" and "us". It is "we". We, men and women of the Arab world, realize there is a problem. Actually all the points that Mona mentioned are very much known to all of us. Isn't it high time we deal with our problems and offer solutions instead of endlessly naming them? A solution doesn't come by attacking Mona El Tahawy, as many Arabs now have done. I would have loved it if all these Arab voices that criticized Mona do the same when a Mufti says something crazy in the name of Islam. What kind of image are we giving to the world if a show on Egyptian TV says that parliament is about to discuss whether a husband can sleep with his dead wife? What are we doing when our little girls, sometimes, less than 9 years old are forced into marriage? Did anyone protest this? How many responses were written against that? Why a Lebanese woman who marries a foreigner is by law still not allowed to give nationality to her kids? Why are women still not allowed to vote, run for elections and drive in some countries? And Westerners, please do not judge all Arabs by Mona's article. The Middle East isn't only packed with men who hate women and women who suffer 24/7. This is a cliché. It also took the West many centuries to start treating women on equal footing with men. So it is surely not only a problem exclusively connected to Islam or Arabs. Women in the West too have been around for thousands of years and yet they can only vote since the early 20th century. It is not a coincidence that Columbus was a man, not a woman. Name me any influential Western female scientist or philosopher from before the end of the nineteenth century. So can we then conclude that all Western men before, let's say, 1920 hated women? Jesus, Da Vinci, Newton, Lincoln - why did they hate us? Of course not. Western men were stuck in a social harness of traditions, rules and conservative religious interpretations - like many Arab men now. So the only medicine is time. It took time before Western women could vote. It will take time before Arab women will get their rights. Arab men and women should therefore team up to create this real much needed social change. In these days it is very sexy to speak of revolutions. And sure, it needs a revolution to get rid of a crazy dictator but to change people's mindset you better choose the path of evolution. And yes, this might take a couple of generations. But eventually change will come. Little by little, step by step. Why? Because I am pretty sure that my dad loves me. ----
Jenan Moussa works as a Roving Reporter for Arabic Al Aan TV, based in Dubai. @Jenanmoussa on Twitter