If there's going to be a real revolution in the Middle East, I think it will have to be led by the women. A couple of years ago, I organized a symposium on "the women of the middle east," which had considerable echo. It was not the usual "women and Islam" discussion, important as that is, but included Jews, Copts, and atheists, from several different countries. It featured an Israeli woman who said, rightly I thought, that she felt sorry for her Arab sisters, who were not free to speak their minds or even pursue their lives. Many of the other women thanked her, and said she was entirely right.
I think that the tyrannical rulers of the Middle East actively fear their women, at all levels of their being. They fear anything approaching equal rights for women because they know that women have been singled out for humiliation, degradation, and constant violence, both the official kind (as in the recent Iranian case where two women were beaten up by 'morals enforcers' for dressing inappriately) and the 'normal' kind, where husbands beat wives, fathers beat daughters, and so forth.
An American Army poet stationed in Iraq, Army Specialist Danielle Wheeler, has said it far better than I can:
Behind the Veil
If you asked who the strongest woman would be, I’d say an Iraqi woman.
They’re the strongest I’ve seen.
Here a woman can get beat up just for not being pretty enough.
I guess it all starts off when they are daughters.
Sold off to be married to other men by their fathers.
That poor woman, married to someone she doesn’t know,
Told she’d have his children and make his home.
If her husband is poor without a camel or a cow,
She’ll be outside in the sun pulling the plow.
When her husband comes home and his dinner is burned,
She’ll get a black eye she believes she earned.
She could try to dodge, get away from the attack.
She knows it’d be worse if she tried to fight back.
You think it doesn’t get worse than this?
All this is done in front of the kids.
When she starts to show her age he can beat her to death,
Find someone younger, prettier and marry again.
No matter what happens, she’s always wrong.
That’s not everything; I could go on and on.
If I were them, I’d wear a veil too.
No better way of hiding a bruise.
h/t to Blackfive, as usual an invaluable source on our heroes in the region.
Iraq is far from the worst place in this regard, but you cannot get to know an Iraqi woman without hearing about the nastiness of their lives, and this includes very important woman, members of Parliament for example, leaders of political parties, even women at the highest levels of ministries. In other places, women can't ever reach such status. They're just oppressed.
There is no clearer sign of the fecklessness of the West, above all the Western Left, than the near-total silence about the oppression of women, especially in our enemies' countries. The American and European feminists were never about real liberation, anyway; they just wanted to be treated like men. They got it, by and large, so that big balloon is now out of air. There is nothing left for their truly oppressed foreign sisters.
An unknown number of Iranian women are on death row, awaiting their terrible execution by stoning. The Iranian Government has suspended some of these sentences for the moment, but the latest stoning was just last year, a new legal code does not ban stoning, and government ministers continue to defend it.
And I haven't even mentioned Saudi Arabia, the monster misogynist of the region.
Go to any of the scholarly studies of the failure of the Arab world (and Iran, not an Arab country, can join this crowd) to advance its civil societies, its creative enterprises, its industries, its educational systems, and you'll find that the exclusion and oppression of women is invariably listed as one of the most important causes.
It's another one of those cases, about which I am now writing a book, where everyone sees the evil but nobody is willing to do anything about it. One might "understand" the West's unwillingness to recognize the evil in the Kremlin or the evil in Damascus; doing something effective against such regimes is difficult, risky and costly. But what does it take to denounce the oppression of women? I think the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Iran's Ms. Ebadi was what we used to call a conscience-balm; a lot of Westerners could tell themselves that "we supported her/them, now let's move on."
The women of the Middle East are a revolutionary force, which we are morally, politically and strategically obliged to support. The Bush Administration, which featured a lot of women in high office (from Laura to Condi to Karen to Harriet etc etc), disgracefully failed to rally to the side of oppressed women. Let's hope the next crowd does better.