Don’t fall into the ‘noble savage’ trap re women’s rights in Middle East

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
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Sometimes I wonder if you’re not falling into the romanticizing trope of the "noble savage" with posts like this, "Casual Prejudice Against Muslims" (by Weiss). 

The fact of the matter is that in most, if not all, Arab and Muslim countries, women are discriminated against as a matter of course, from citizenship laws to inheritance to paternalistic familial structures and domestic abuse. This is clearly not a purely Muslim or Arab affair, since, with perhaps the exception of Scandinavia, it exists in various degrees throughout the world. But the fact of the matter is that even if it’s often used as a pro-Israel or neocon club to bludgeon Arabs on other, unrelated issues like the Israel/Palestine conflict, that doesn’t make the charge less true.

I look at it as being similar to Soviet charges against US treatment of black citizens. Did pointing out the Jim Crow laws make Siberian gulags or Eastern European oppression any more acceptable? Of course not, although it may have scored Moscow some points in the world arena by pointing out American hypocrisy. At the end of the day, though, the answer to Stalinist accusations of racism should have been the civil rights movement, not a denial of segregation. Likewise, to my mind, the oppression of women and minorities and homosexuals in the Mideast is not directly related to the Arab/Israeli conflict, but it is very important to me, and I don’t see that there’s any contradiction in my struggle to fight for my wife’s right to marry who she pleases, legally own land and work at any job she wants to in Lebanon and her right to return to and live in Haifa.

The internet is bad here, so I didn’t listen to the clip, but I don’t think that the knee-jerk reaction that many people, especially those who don’t live in the region, have to dismiss any and all criticism of Arab or Muslim states and/or societies as hasbara for Israel is helpful at all. In fact, it plays into the rhetoric of Arab states that justifies the emergency laws in Syria and Egypt and censorship laws here in Lebanon, not to mention the shameful treatment of Palestinians throughout the Arab world. For my part, an equitable solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict should be about justice, not about supporting "my side" right or wrong.

Sean Lee blogs from Beirut at the Human Province.

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