How one woman stands (and writes) against fundamentalist religion

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine displayed a startling contrast between the insane race to death by young often decently educated Muslim men who leave their lives and middle-class families in Great Britain to join what they consider “jihad,” and–only on the last page of the magazine–on one, young smart Muslim woman and how she regards her religion vis-a-vis her gender.

You must read the interview with Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian woman to whom the Times gave an opinion column just last week. (You’ll want to read her column first, before you read the interview which supplements the column.)

There is an abyss between fundamentalist Muslim men and one Muslim woman.

I could spend hours with Mona Eltahawy, listening to her and nodding throughout. Here are some excerpts from the interview. You’ll see what I mean. (The questions are put her Ms. Eltahawy by Lydia Polgreen.)

Some women in the Arab world have criticized your work, saying you portray Arab women as helpless. I’m not saying, “Come rescue us.” I don’t believe anyone can or should rescue us. I’m pointing out what the enemy is. And the enemy is misogyny and patriarchy.

“The enemy is misogyny and patriarchy.” That means…men. Male Muslims. But then she broadens the scope:

You’ve written that these issues are not unique to Islam. Do you believe that all of the Abrahamic faiths are essentially anti-feminist? Yes. I think if you whittle them down to their essence, they’re about controlling women and their sexuality. I lived in Jerusalem for a while, when I was a reporter for Reuters, and I would see ultra-Orthodox Jewish families that reminded me of families in Saudi Arabia.

Yes! You see why I love her? She goes on to talk about her violent personal experience with what I call the global war against women:

You went to Egypt during the Arab Spring. But when you arrived there, you found that the political revolution hadn’t necessarily included a sexual one. We were out there marching with men, side by side, but I kept hearing about sexual assaults against women in the protests, and it became obvious that men were trying to push women out of public space. Nothing has improved for women, nothing. And in an era of revolution, that is absolutely unacceptable and unconscionable.

You were attacked while covering the protests in Tahrir Square. What happened? I joined the protest with an activist friend of mine, and we ended up being entrapped by plainclothes security. Then the riot police beat me, and they broke my left arm, and they broke my right hand in two places, and they sexually assaulted me.

What has the aftermath of the Arab Spring been like for women? The women who were involved in the revolution on the outside are taking it home. Most of the coverage is about the men, so it focuses on political revolution. But I think the social-sexual revolution is more interesting and will ultimately save Egypt. Both military rule and the Islamists are authoritarian, hierarchical and very paternalistic. Gender equality is the key.

I admire her incremental ideals, although I’m not so hopeful that the ravages fundamentalist religion has inflicted upon women for all the millennia religions have existed can just be aired out in favor of gender equality.

Or, rather, I have no pragmatic vision of how we can unlink the god problem from the global war against women.

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