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Gendered Orientalism

Lila Abu-Lughod claims that the supposedly oppressed women of the Muslim world don’t need the help of the enlightened West. Turns out, she’s right.

Appeared in: Volume 9, Number 5 | Published on: April 20, 2014
Lawrence Rosen, who teaches anthropology at Princeton University and law at Columbia University, is currently a fellow at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He is the author of The Culture of Islam and Varieties of Muslim Experience.
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  • Curious Mayhem

    Of course, meliorism should be about the object, not the subject. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in navel-gazing.

    But Abu-Lughod’s apologia is likely to be about as fraudulent as Said’s was a generation ago. As reviewers and critics have pointed out, she engages in extreme cherry-picking or gerrymandering, selectively concentrating on a small minority of upper- and middle-class women in the Muslim world. Left out is everyone else, as well as oppressed minorities who live within and along with borders of the House of Islam.

    And concetrating on women alone is part of the mistake as well. The oppression of women in the Islamic world is part of a larger oppressive system, partly theocratic, partly tribal, that almost everyone in that system suffers under. Again, the small mnority of women who form the basis of her argument are, by virtue of family, marriage, and/or wealth, partly exempt from this system. They are not representative nor is their position cost-free to others who have to support it.

  • Avi_in_Jerusalem

    I would recommend that Ms. Abu-Lughod be sent off to Iraq or Gaza or Syria or Pakistan or Egypt as an ordinary woman so that she can live in such a wonderful feminine empowered environment. Obviously Columbia is the wrong place for her.

  • Fred

    I agree and disagree with the above. It’s true trying to civilize people in the Middle East and North Africa is a fool’s errand, and we should just let them be the barbarians they naturally are. There are civilized cultures and savage ones. It’s not politically correct, but the truth rarely is. However, we should recognize their barbarism for what it is and not excuse it or “normalize” it just because it is natural to them. Multiculti relativism is dangerous. Once we excuse barbarism in barbarians, how do we avoid excusing it in ourselves?

    • Pete

      Right. Let the Arabs stew in their own juices.

    • Fat_Man

      Fred: I agree. The correct way to be multicultural and orientalist was demonstrated by Charles James Napier (the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in India in the 1840s). The British had prohibited the Hindu custom of burning widows alive on their lat husband’s funeral pyre — known as suttee. Napier recieved a delegation of Hindu priests who complained about the ban. His reply was most apt and profound:

      “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; but my nation has also a custom — When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. Go ahead prepare your funeral pyres.My carpenters shall erect gibbets next to the pyres and we will hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to our national customs.”

  • Fat_Man

    Oh my god. Is this a parody?

  • Avi_in_Jerusalem

    Having Googled Ms Abu-Lughod’s oeuvre, poetic justice would be served if she was boycotted, disinvested and sanctioned. It would be humorous if it weren’t so serious that this lady makes a living writing this sort of drivel and fills the heads of her students with this rubbish. I am in favour of the battle of ideas in the marketplace of thought. The problem is that Ms Abu-Lughod and her little friends seem to have a stranglehold on thought control in their chosen arena and their influence sees to be barely challenged by people who live in the real world.
    One way ticket anthropological field work is called for here.

  • William Ockham

    “More than 90% of the married women in Egypt….and the Gulf States have been circumcised as girls.” Can this be factually accurate? It’s such a striking assertion that it needs a citation before it can be believed. Please do so.

  • Anthony

    “The offer of assistance to those who in some way are denied it, when coupled with deference to their control, may be as much as can be expected in a world of diverse understandings….”

  • vepxistqaosani

    The most amazing thing about the left wing’s love affair with Islam is that it cannot seem to grasp the fact that all the worlds remaining slaves are Blacks owned by Arab Muslims.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Wonderful article. I can’t agree or disagree with any of it until I sits and thinks for a while.

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