Via Meadia has studiously avoided delving into the partisan fever swamp during this election season. Instead, we’ve taken the road less traveled, focusing on real trends, ideas, and analysis rather than media-manufactured “debates” over the ethics of dog-eating or trumped-up claims of a war on women. Mona Eltahawy’s searing Foreign Policy essay on the real war on today’s women—those oppressed in Arab countries—is a textbook example of why we make this choice. It is the sort of journalism that really matters, as opposed to the kind that simply keeps political journalists employed.
Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt—including my mother and all but one of her six sisters—have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing—or divorce either.
Eltahawy’s lengthy account is filled with chilling examples of such oppression. It’s the sort of fact-based criticism of the Arab world that fashionable media outlets typically prefer not to print. After all, there are so many more important stories to be written about the Republican war on women or Obama’s assault on stay-at-home moms!
Foreign Policy should be commended for publishing this, and Etahawy for writing it. And you should read all of it, as well as some of the better responses, like that of Brookings Doha director Shadi Hamid.
If you want to learn something of consequence, that is.