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Citizen Voices

Where the Iraqi Women At?

Strangely enough, the most pressing political question of the current presidential campaign was first struck upon by Mel Brooks more than thirty years ago: Where the white women at?

The Democratic primary and now the general election have brought a new found concern (for some) and focus upon women's rights. But like most things in this election, there is little room for intelligent discussion of the issue. What exactly is the status of the glass ceiling? Is it a question of American politics or American culture or both that has thus far prevented the rise of an American Angela Merkel,  Margaret Thatcher or Benazir Bhutto? All three rose to heads of state as leaders of their individual parties.  Perhaps parliamentary lawmakers are more likely to recognize substance than is the general electorate of our country. There is no shortage of impressive female U.S. representatives, senators and governors in our country, but thus far none deemed worthy to take hold the reigns of our country - or even ride shotgun.

Does our country view women's rights as a universal issue or a special interest? The ascendency of Obama over Hillary follows a historical pattern established in the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights Act both trumped and inspired the women's rights movement. The Civil Rights Act passed, the Equal Rights Act stalled. The nomination of Sarah Palin also follows a historical pattern of empty, token gestures toward equality of the sexes.


Jessica Jondle
September 20, 2008 at 02:43 AM
A thought-provoking subject, to be sure - who can forget the State of the Union speech in which Bush pointed to an Iraqi woman with a purple finger, a woman who had just voted in her first democratic election? Unfortunately, though, as you point out, this is not necessarily the norm and she was a bit of a showpiece (although strides have been made, particularly in urban areas). Throughout the Muslim world, there are what we in the West would often view as contradictions - women who feel liberated by wearing the hijab, for example (because it allows them to leave the house). Hijab (covering) = liberation? We don't get that. In terms of what female Muslim suicide bombers get in heaven - well, I think a lot of Muslim women must struggle with that and similar issues as well. Feminist Islam is an incredibly interesting subject, and if you are so inclined, there are several books out there by Muslim, female authors (I would recommend reading the ones by Muslims still closely connected to countries of origin in the Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia rather than second- or third- generation Muslim Americans, simply because it's more informative to read a perspective that has minimal Western justification/influence). Like you say, change will have to come from within. That was my view of our decision to go to war in Iraq - it was deeply flawed (surprise!) and although a good thing may have come out of it (the toppling of an authoritarian regime), it's a shame that the Iraqis didn't do it themselves - the result would be a more legitimate, domestic political system. We can encourage democracy, but Muslim democracy may look different than Western democracy. As for shari'a, it's a scary concept that I believe too often ignores human rights, and regardless of what kind of democracy (or any political ideology, for that matter) the Iraqis would like to embrace, it should be a political system that upholds international standards of human rights. This is something our dear friend Saudi Arabia needs to be held to as well; our foreign policy in the Middle East frustrates me because we seem to turn a blind eye to the transgressions of our friends while condemning our enemies. I am most interested in the case of Iran, but I will save that for another day. But while Bush holds hands with Saudi royalty, the Wahhabi regime is busy funding and building Wahhabi, fundamentalist schools in Pakistan. We'll make no progress if we ignore these sorts of activities. (I highly recommend the book Three Cups of Tea, a bestseller - and true story - about an American who builds schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and deals with opposition from religious authorities who issue fatwas against his work.) An Al-Jazeera reporter visited my "Islam and the Constitution" journalism class once in college. He refused to look me in the eye while I was asking him a question (about HIV/AIDS in Saudi Arabia and why Al-Jazeera never reported things like that), and I can tell you, it was the most frustrating experience to me. To someone else in my class, she thought it quite respectful of him. (Incidentally, the reporter answered my question by saying that there are no cases of HIV/AIDS in Saudi Arabia.)

September 22, 2008 at 06:11 PM
Jessica, Thanks for the thoughtful comments and book tips. Saudi Arabia is certainly the elephant in the room in speaking of the War on Terror, the cultural/religious wars, women's rights, oil....I recently tutored a Saudi woman preparing for the GMAT - she was part of that fraction of women (token concessions to Western pleas) allowed into male workplaces (but still not allowed to drive). I can't quote her - but the impression I got was that her life was made impossible in the workplace in a manner that would have been shocking in 1950s America. Returning the book tip - the Algerian French novelist Assia Djebar writes intricate novels about the interior lives of traditional muslim women living within modern cities - Women of Algiers in Their Apartments and Sister to Scheherazade are both worth reading... Chris

Candace Suerstedt
September 22, 2008 at 10:29 PM
Chris, Thanks for a moment of Cleavon Little. I was fortunate to work with him; not only was he hilarious, he was such a kind man. I think he would have enjoyed his part in your blog. Candace

133 from Hermosa Beach
September 22, 2008 at 11:19 PM
Cut Chemist at The Silent Movie Theatre this week. DJ'ing in between rare old rap videos from the 80's. No Iraqi women there. Strictly b-boys and b-girls. Let's go!


September 23, 2008 at 05:07 AM
Arrange tix and im there....

September 23, 2008 at 05:10 AM
and cleavon's been making me smile since I knew what was funny.