Why Do They Hate Us? Mona Eltahawy is Right About Misogyny in the Arab World

The cover story of Foreign Policy’s first-ever Sex Issue, was an article written by Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy entitled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” Eltahawy, herself a victim of sexual assault and harassment on the streets of Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution, seeks to answer the simple question posed in its title – why women are so hated, treated like second-class citizens and animals, in Arab World.

As Eltahawy mentions, it is not her goal to “sugarcoat” anything. She wants to tell it like it is. She states, “They don't hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us … Yes: They hate us. It must be said.” She then goes on to “recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion” including female genital mutilation in Egypt, low literacy rates in Yemen, child marriage and high maternal mortality rates, the driving ban among many other restrictions in Saudi Arabia, and limited political participation throughout the region.

For Eltahawy, the reason behind this hatred is as simple as the question itself: “Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.” Women are hated solely for being women, and Islam is to blame: “The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region -- now more than ever.” Eltahawy implores her readers not to fall victim to cultural relativism. Hate is hate, and we cannot turn away simply because it is a religion or culture that is different from our own. By the end of these Arab Spring revolutions, women, too, must gain their freedom. 

Needless to say, Eltahawy’s article is both thought-provoking and controversial. The responses have ranged from ardent agreement with her views to being called pure “bullshit.” Many of the responses turn to Islam itself and, the Quran and the Hadith, to show how it as religion of peace that supports, not hinders, women. This notion is supported by many Islamic feminists who argue that in the 7th century, Islam was a progressive religion giving women rights where they had none; however, over time patriarchal culture corrupted these rights, and women were oppressed. 

A response written in the The Atlantic argues that the sources of misogyny in the Arab world are not from Islam, but imperialism and colonialism that reigned over the Arab world for centuries. It was these cultures, and not Islam, that introduced the systematic oppression of women. Lastly, Monica L. Marks in the Huffington Post, says that Eltawahy is only affirming the stereotypes and prejudices that we in the West already have about Arab misogyny and fails to recognize the actual complexity of the situation. She, along with many comments on the original article, argue that this is merely sensationalism in order for Foreign Policy to sell magazines. 

It is true that “Why Do They Hate Us?” may be purposefully dramatic, but it needs to be when women’s rights are so often overlooked. Additionally, Eltahawy’s voice is as valid as any in this debate and should not be dismissed so easily, as her critics are trying to do. She offers a plethora of points that cannot and should not be ignored. She does not rely on her own story of harassment and abuse in Egypt, but analyzes a wide range of offenses across the region in order to prove the systematic degradation of women, not just on the individual level, but on the societal and political level as well.  

The article rightly points out that at this time, misogyny (whether it comes originally from Islam or is an imported concept) has become ingrained in the Arab consciousness and culture and needs to be undone.

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Alexandra Zimmerman

Alexandra works as a Program Coordinator on women's business leadership at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She previously worked at the Wilson Center, a leading non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC and at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, where she was taught courses entitled "20th Century Political History of the Middle East" and "Religion and Identity." She received an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Religion concentrating in Islamic studies from the George Washington University. She loves to cook and travel and is a huge fan of the NY Giants and NY Mets.

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