Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Western Woman: Plague of the West

I share here my response to an article titled "Woman: The Plague of the West," by Abu Osama. The introduction of the article reads:
This short work has been compiled to expose the fallacy of the Western nations and the culture and civilisation they profess to believe in and live by. Its aim is to educate those in the Muslim world the true picture of life in the Western countries with a view to demolish the myth that the west has the solution to all the world’s problems. Rather the West is the cause and source of all the worlds’ problems!” Abu Osama's thesis is that the Shari'a is the only solution to the problems of the west, where women are“ sexually denigrated, alcoholic and drug dependent, abused, attacked and raped" and "constant thoughts of suicide and self harm, deeply depressed, pandering after equality such is the nature of the liberated Western woman!

I have been unable to find the original article, but it is available on many Muslim forums and social networks, including Facebook.
My response is as follows.

Anyone who claims that the women in her/his part of the world are treated better than elsewhere is lying both to her/himself and to the rest of the world. This article is the same way. It wants to claim that the western woman is oppressed while the eastern woman is not. First of all, what is the east and the west -- and can a woman be both western and Muslim? Second, how does it define liberation and oppression? Has it ever occurred to us that, just as we can’t say that all Muslim women are oppressed, we can’t say that all Western women are oppressed? Has it ever occurred to us that, just as we can’t let the actions of a few Muslims justify our conclusion of the entire Muslim world, we can’t let the same happen with the west?
Let us not forget that all women are not the same and they don't wish to be the same. Why should the eastern woman be compared to the western woman, then? Who is anyone to decide how women should be treated? Let the women speak for themselves, will ya? And not just a few of them but a lot of them.
Also, when one wishes to talk about women, one must first talk to them. One needs to know what the western woman feels before one goes around writing about her, just like one needs to know what the eastern and Muslim woman feels before one talks about her. Another thing that should be kept in mind when “researching” people’s lives is this: no one represents anyone. We can’t see women on tv and say, “See? See? We told you the western woman is oppressed!” -- just as we cannot look at the way the media portrays women in the east or the Muslim woman, such that many westerners believe that’s how the reality is for all eastern/Muslim women.
Just as we Muslim women wish not to be misrepresented by others, so the western woman, too, does not want to be misrepresented.
What we need, needless for me to say, is a dialogue in which we sit down with each other and tell each other, "Stop talking about my part of the world. If I can't talk about your part of the world, what right do you have talking about mine? If I'm not allowed to make judgments about your treatments, why are you making judgments about mine?"
My comments about some specific points of the article are as follows.
The Western countries pride themselves with achievements for women’s liberation and deliverance from subjugation, or so we are told.
And the author disagrees with this? Let us compare the ratio of literate women in the west versus in the east. Education is liberation.

Islam has given women the right to education, but is this just in theory or in practice as well? Whose fault is that? (Some) Muslims', right? Most rights that Muslims believe God has given women in Islam are observed more in the west than in the east -- examples include: education, work, the right to marry someone of her choice, the right to divorce, the right to custody for her children, and so on.
Western women are described as liberated, independent and equal, an ideal to be chased by every non-western nation as being at the peak of civilisation.
Clearly, the author of this article needs to study what women in the west say and believe. Many agree agree that the west does not treat women the way it should, and they also agree that women are treated no better in other countries. This is the reality. The west might want to claim that its women are treated better, but the east makes similar claims about its women.

Following are some ways women are mistreated in the east (note that I'm not saying in Islam necessarily; I am talking about practices here):
- forced marriages
- marital rape
- wife-beating (and there's no group of people I can think of that doesn't have this as a plague to worry about)
- honor killing (it is getting less common, though)
- stoning to death females only (as uncommon as it might be, it occurs nonetheless)
- no right to divorce when the woman wants/needs it desperately but the husband can divorce her at his convenience and pleasure by simply saying, "talaaq" three times.
Now, wife-beating occurs everywhere. But the problem is that in the Muslim world, many Muslims justify it using Quranic verses (e.g., verse 4:34) and hadiths that talk about the dominance of husband over his wife. No, there is more to these verses and hadiths than what we have made them to be, but the fact remains that many Muslims justify wife-beating using Islam.
In the west, on the other hand, a woman may file claims against her husband for abusing her. She may not always succeed or may not always get justice, but the fact that there are support groups to help her out – counseling, sheltering, government support, etc. – is enough to console her and to assure her that she has resources to turn to in such unfortunate cases.

What happens to Muslim women in the east when they are abused? What happens to them when they are divorced? What happens to them when they are widowed? I do not claim to know everything, or even a lot, about the lives of women in all Muslim countries. But it would be very interesting to conduct some studies on women's support groups in those countries, attempting to observe the responses that these groups receive for supporting women and investigating how they are funded.
Despite what the media wishes to portray the Western Women as, the reality is that Western nations are in no position to lecture about women’s rights.
Neither the western woman nor the eastern woman is in any position to lecture about women’s rights. Neither are men who have not thoroughly investigated the treatment of women in the society on which he speaks.
Women were only until recently officially considered to be second class citizensand have still not gained the position they sought.
Yes. Can we claim that Muslim women are first-class citizens in their countries? Do we have a right to claim that? If the argument is that Islam has given women the rights that women in the west have been fighting for, the response should be: So what? They have the rights in theory, but what about in practice? Moreover, if that is the argument indeed, then what about Western law dictates that women be treated the way they are in reality?

Only recently did women in the Muslim world started getting the education that Islam guaranteed them over 1400 years ago. Islam gave women the rights to vote 1400 years ago, but when did Muslim countries actually enforce this right? The earliest date Muslim women were allowed to vote in practice was 1918 -- in Azerbaijan; the latest is 2006, the UAE. One wonders why it was enforced over 1400 years after the right was given.
When they try to “have fun” and go on a night out, one in three can expect sexual assault, a quarter would have property stolen and 10% would have been physically assaulted.
This is true, yes (although I would expect some source to verify this). But who pride themselves in this? And who said such does not occur in Muslim countries? Again, why are we comparing Islam (a theory) and the west (a reality)? Why are we comparing the treatment of women according to a religion, not in practice at all, and the treatment of women in practice in a certain part of the world?
It is not unusual for them to be sexually abused or raped.
Yes. And most rape AND abuse cases are reported – unlike in the east, where they’re often not reported, often because of the family's honor.
They are beaten, stolen from and sometimes murdered.
And they’re not beaten, stolen from, and murdered in the east? What? We have ample evidence that they are constantly beaten and even murdered.
At the same time, the average salary for women is still below that for men and men still occupy most of the top jobs.
This is one of the only inequalities in the west—no wait, in the U.S -- and many women's rights groups are working to change it.
Meanwhile, the porn industry has burgeoned becoming one of the biggest media forms in the world, primarily financed by Western men. A study carried out by the National Council for Civil Liberties showed that 38% of men use their power and position at work to rape women. A Retook survey found that 88% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment at work. In the UK, 86% of managers and 66% of employers had experienced such problems.
So far in this article, I’m noting that they’re telling us that women in the west are oppressed just because of how they are sexually abused. I completely agree that this is oppression – but this is not all there is to oppression. And I’m still not convinced that women in the east are any better. In fact, the article never talks about women in the east. Why?
The situation of the woman is the West is so liberating that they 21 percent suffer from major depression with depressed women outnumbering men by over 2 to 14.
I was going to mention this same thing (depression) about non-western women. It is a fact that women in the west have a high rate of depression, but that’s not to mean that women in the east don’t. People in industrialized nations are more likely to know what depression is AND to report their depression AND to get counseling/clinical help for it. Most countries in the east are not industrialized, so it makes sense why we’d be told that their women have “less” depression. I don’t believe it, personally, because I know tons of Muslim women who have depression—mostly because of husbands abusing them.

I once wrote something called "Are ‘Islam’ and ‘the west’ Mutually Exclusive?" In other words, are “Islam” and “the west” a good dichotomy? Can an Islamic person ever be western? Can a westerner or westernized individual ever be Islamic? Because we always seem to say “in the west ..., but in Islam…” Why do we say this when “Islam” is a theory (as explained above, Muslim women are rarely granted the rights Islam has given them) while the west is an actual reality? That is to say, when we say, "in Islam," does that actually mean "theoretically, according to how things should be, ..." or does it mean "in Muslim societies, in practice, regardless of how things should be ..."?


  1. Love your thoughts on this! When I read articles I always try to figure out who the writer's intended audience is and whether or not they are speaking from bias. I think the article you are criticizing is a propaganda article, meant to prove superiority of one over the other. I think it is just as wrong and fallacious as articles by westerners who try to prove how oppressed eastern women are, and how they need to be saved by the just and honorable west with it's superior culture.

    Both are way too heavily biased to be considered thorough and sound research. Both are prejudice and sound like a group of arrogant men trying to "one up" each other with who is better than the other. Us women always seem to be the pawns used to play the game with.

  2. Hi, Sarah!
    Thanks for your comment!

    Last year, I conducted an ethnographic study of Muslim women's beliefs here in my city, and it taught me SO much that I have finally learned what it means to observe and listen without judging! The study also taught me how to read critically, whether it's a religious text or the findings of a certain study. You see, if the point of a certain "study" is gonna be to show that a certain gender is "oppressed," we need to be on the look-out for what exactly its aims must be. How dare the west try to define MY existence, MY identity, MY beliefs for me when I myself struggle with my belies/identity/etc. at times? How dare the east try to define the existence and identity and beliefs of the west? We have SO many serious issues in this world, and this is what we're doing to each other? I'm so sick and tired of this whole "women in Islam" "Women in the west" "women in the Muslim world" crap. What the hell? Leave us alone, damnit! I'm both a western woman and a Muslim woman; go try to figure out what that means, and leave my oppression and liberation out of it! I'm both oppressed and liberated, and only *I* know what these two terms mean when used by me in this context.

  3. I completely agree with your thoughts on this. It would almost be funny, if it wasn't so serious, how both sides throw mud at each other and claim the other side is misrepresenting them - whilst they're doing the exact same thing themselves.
    Same thing when Muslims accuse me of misrepresenting Islam. I'm not representing anyone but myself. I'm not representing women, Danes, Denmark, Western women, Muslim women, feminists or anyone else. I'm representing me. What I post on my blog is my thoughts, my beliefs. If everyone else would start doing the same, instead of speaking on behalf of people they don't even know, haven't even spoken to, I think the world would be a much nicer place.

  4. Exactly my thoughts, Becky! I represent no one but myself, and and I don't like the pressure of having to represent all that is me -- female, Pashtun, Muslim, American, feminist, and everything else. The world sure would be a great place if we could just not speak for others and speak only for ourselves!

  5. I agree with everything written above! To me the whole "in the west women are..."-thesis is used as an excuse and cover-up for the flaws within Islamic societies.

  6. Salaam, Sultana!
    Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Jaan!

    I agree - it certainly is just an excuse to cover up the flaws of Muslim societies.

  7. Yaar, I really don't get what's so liberating about becoming a housewife and being obedient to your husband 24/7?! Giving up work and independence? Cooking, taking care of kids and serving his pleasures all time whenever he demands it? So many females I know willingly abandonned their education for the sake of marriage, sometimes they were not allowed to continue with it by their parents. It really saddens me, I used to think like that too for a long time though, now I realise how terrible this must sound to ladies on the sub-continent or elsewhere(but I pre-dominantly focus on the sub-continent as I am most familiar with that culture), they fought so much to gain certain rights and some naive-minded women over here indirectly call them "misguided" and "westernised"!

    Funny enough majority of the extremists over here would NEVER return to desiland whenever I ask them about it they talk about "Insecurity, danger, irreligiousity, westernisation, modernisation", supposedly the people over there had no clue about "deen al-haq". I guess they are far too ashamed and embarrassed to admit it has a lot do with the benefits you are given by living in the occident.

  8. You know, I'd love to just sit at home and do nothing -- if that's what being a housewife meant. Unfortunately, it means so much more, doing things that YOU have to do that your husband in most cases will absolutely refuse to do with you or for you. Comparing the job of most housewives to the work that most men do outside of their houses, I find that housewives do much more work than their husbands who work. And then imagine those women who live with their extended families (in-laws!!!); imagine how they must be as housewives!

    I'd therefore choose work our housewifeness any point in my life. That doesn't mean I'd abandon my family/kids; it just means I expect that my husband WILL raise *our* kids *with me* and not just leave them to me to raise them by myself, with his excuse that he's working and I'm at home :|

  9. O...don't get me started on the saas-issue, I heard so many things it's creepy...When these ppl talk about "housewifeness" they mean complete submission to the male, I know girls that are COMPLETELY dependent on their husband for they have never learnt anything(no apprenticeship/studies), so they are modern-day slaves to the "master". I have a friend who constantly whines about her husband, yet she would never divorce him as she says she'll lose face within the Desi community :|

  10. Education of a girl is necessary but

    She has to be a house wife not Fairy Queen

    Allah has created woman’s body and soul that she can’t face the Problem as man. She is weaker in physical sense than man. The load of work should be put less on woman comparing man. Her responsibilities shall limited than man and it should suit her position.

    western civilization has let the woman out of home and stood them in hotels, streets and bazaars they declared the nakedness, ascension as development of a woman they fooled the woman by misleading slogans and let them to work comparing man as a result of which the western society been destroyed and the society trapped in social problems

    immorality and adultery and the result of illegitimate children born is on the rise. The rate of divorce is abounding. Every one is skunked in materialistic idolatry, selfishness, and self mongering.

    Woman has been displaced from her original location that’s why she is facing the problems more than she could face. Along with woman’s natural duty she has to perform duties like in hotels, shops offices etc. which are beyond her responsibilities. These situations are not acceptable to any wise and sound minded nation.

    The west which are deploring their mistakes if we emulated the women same as they are treating there won’t be any other fool than us in the world.

    With regard to educate woman alike men is dangerous both women and men are instructing under the same education system this system was organized by British. There under particularly the women gets education which hurts the women’s femininity (womanhood) which is very fatal for them.

  11. I actually believe that Islam, purely as a religion, might actually be more liberal towards women than Christianity. The Bible doesn't actually do much to ensure women's rights, although Jesus himself seemed to have much respect for women. On the other hand Quran seems to talk about women's rights a lot in comparison.
    And we know for a fact that women's rights movements in the west are a very new concept; only a few hundred years at most and the true results weren't seen before sixty to fifty years ago.

    I don't believe what other westerners keep saying about Islam being anti-women. It's a cultural issue, not a religious one.

    As for women's rights in the west: there is room to improve... and I do admit that for some women things may have even ended up worse than if we lived in a more traditional culture (for example when social pressure forces some women to get a career and work to become successful on their own even though they would rather stay home, or when people look down on women who do choose to stay home, or worst of all, the young girls who sexualize themselves far too early). On the other hand, some of the problems women face are things that men also face in the western society today. It's an extremely competetive culture which is not good for anyone in the long run.

    I think one of the biggest problems with the western liberation of women is that basically it seems that we're fighting for the right to be "just like men". And by that we're also undermining how important the role that women traditionally play is for society. Although I also do think that women should be allowed to work and have careers if they truly want to (and not because that's expected!) but what I think would be most important is to learn to respect housework and caring for children as the extremely important work that it is. And here's another thing: it should be respected enough that men wouldn't feel embarrassed to do it too!

    By the way, it infuriates me in general how people judge one kind of work as "better" or "more important" than another kind of work. Especially when often that "better" work is the one that demands much less effort! This is the source of so many injustices in the world, I believe. When we should respect and be thankful for everybody's efforts, we instead belittle some people who do the heaviest works of all! I understand that being a boss requires skills and responsibility but the boss is just one piece of the "machine" and would never achieve anything without the underlings who do the actual work.



Dare to opine :)

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