This article can be found on the web athttp://www.thenation.com/doc/20060619/lalamiThe Missionary Position
by LAILA LALAMI
[from the June 19, 2006 issue]
These days, being a Muslim woman means being saddled with what can only be referred to as the "burden of pity." The feelings of compassion that we Muslim women seem to inspire emanate from very distinct and radically opposed currents: religious extremists of our own faith, and evangelical and secular supporters of empire in the West.
Radical Islamist parties claim that the family is the cornerstone of society and that women, by virtue of their reproductive powers, are its builders. An overhaul of society must therefore begin with reforming the status of women, and in particular with distinguishing clearly their roles from those of men. Guided by their "true" interpretations of the faith, these radicals want women to resume their traditional roles of nurturers and men to be empowered to lead the family. If we protect women's rights in Islam, they assure us, the umma, the community of believers, will be lifted from its general state of poverty and backwardness.
Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), the Egyptian writer and activist who has exerted such a powerful influence over the radical Islamist movement, fervently believed that Muslim women belonged in the home. In his 1964 book Ma'alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), Qutb wrote that "if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children" and, whether on her own or by pressure from society, seeks to work in jobs such as "a hostess or a stewardess in a hotel or ship or air company," she will be "using her ability for material productivity rather than the training of human beings." This, he claimed, would make the entire civilization "backward." The misogynistic philosophy has proved enticing, finding advocates among Muslims throughout the world. Between 1989 and 1991, for instance, Abbassi Madani, the red-bearded founder of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front Party (FIS), often referred to women who refused to cover themselves with a hijab as "sparrow hawks of neocolonialism." His co-founder, Ali Belhadj, claimed that there was a simple solution to the country's high unemployment rate: turn over the jobs of working women to idle men. Madani summarized his program: "The system is sick; the doctor is FIS; and the medicine has existed for fourteen centuries. It is Islam." Reducing Algerian women to birds of prey, and their faith to a pill: These are good indicators of the depth of intellect within the leadership of the FIS.
Meanwhile, the abundant pity that Muslim women inspire in the West largely takes the form of impassioned declarations about "our plight"--reserved, it would seem, for us, as Christian and Jewish women living in similarly constricting fundamentalist settings never seem to attract the same concern. The veil, illiteracy, domestic violence, gender apartheid and genital mutilation have become so many hot-button issues that symbolize our status as second-class citizens in our societies. These expressions of compassion are often met with cynical responses in the Muslim world, which further enrages the missionaries of women's liberation. Why, they wonder, do Muslim women not seek out the West's help in freeing themselves from their societies' retrograde thinking? The poor things, they are so oppressed they do not even know they are oppressed.( Collapse )Edited
to add a brief critique from the Angry Arab