A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Firestorm of Debate on Mona Eltahawy's "Why Do They Hate Us?"

If you've been on any social media in the last day or two, you're probably aware that Mona Eltahawy's powerful indictment, "Why DoThey Hate Us?," which I blogged about on Monday, has stirred up a hornet's nest of commentary. Any journalist ought to consider it a triumph to have everybody talking about his/her article and to generate multiple Twitter hashtags, but at times the controversy has gotten a bit harsh. I think the use of the term "hate" may be what proved most provocative, in its implication that Middle Eastern (she';s really mainly talking about Arab) societies hate their women. Perhaps another word (fear?) might have been less controversial, but I think controversy is the whole point of an article like Eltahawy's: you want to engage debate, so you throw a fox in among the chickens.

I'm sure I haven't seen all the responses, even all of those in English. (She says her article is being translated into Arabic and will appear, as some have criticized her for publishing in a Western publication n English). But here's a selection of responses from the last day or so: Foreign Policy itself, in whose "Sex Issue" the article appears, asked five (now six with Leila Ahmed) commentators, male and female, for their reactions, which are here.

Others who have posted essays in various places are Mona KareemSamia Errazzouki, Dima Khatib, Roqayah Chamseddine, Nahed ElTantawy, Zeinobia, and a couple of male voices, Karim Malak, and Philip Brennan.

Al Jazeera English summarizes the debate as well.

UPDATE: Add Nesrine Malik at The Guardian.

A blogger visually graphing the responses here.

UPDATE II: Too  many responses to keep updating this post. As needed I'll add other links in a new post. 

I will only briefly engage this debate here: I'm not Arab, Muslim, or female, so my standing in this debate is as an outsider, though one who's spent a career in the region (and who, as the father of a daughter, thinks about these issues). As I already said, I think the word "hate" provoked much of the response; to many it seemed too strong, though it's hard to look at things like the "virginity tests" and the "blue bra" incident in Egypt (the photo of which is used to illustrate Tahawy's article online) can be explained as anything but contempt for women. Many also have taken her to task for the cover photo on the issue: a woman in black body paint to resemble a niqab, seen by many as playing to multiple Western sexist stereotypes, managing to get suggestions of nudity and full veiling into the same illustration. As an Editor, I'm well aware authors don't usually get a say in the cover art, but not everyone appreciates that.

Everyone needs to read the original article, a powerful indictment as I have said, but as the word implies, also very much a prosecutorial statement. It stands to reason there would be briefs for the defense as well, and much that lies somewhere in between those adversarial positions.

Whatever you think of Mona Eltahawy's article (and I was struck by its sad truths from the beginning), she got our attention. She threw down a gauntlet and managed to get the whole Middle East commentary community talking for a couple of days. That is what opinion journalism, informed by fact, does at its very best. And that should please the author and her editors.


Anonymous said...

here is the Al Jazeera English link: http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/article-women-middle-east-triggers-debate-0022186

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Thanks. The original link went bad for some reason.

Nahed Eltantawy said...

Here's a compilation of all the main articles and blog posts in reaction to Eltahawy's article. http://tahrirspirit.blogspot.com/2012/04/compiled-list-of-eltahawy-reaction.html