Why Do They Hate Us, the Debate

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Why Do They Hate Us, the Debate

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian activist, wrote an article for Foreign Policy last week called Why Do They Hate Us? about the situation for women in Arab nations.

The article is being intensely debated, emotions are high, all kinds of colorful words are flying around.

Here are some of Foreign Policy’s responses to the uproar.

I hesitated to bring this up because, honestly, I don’t know what to say. But I can’t ignore it either, because of where we live and what I write.

Some people praise the article because she sensationally brings to light an important issue about the human rights of women in Arab nations. They hope this will get things moving. Eltahawy herself tweeted: “As a writer, it’s my job to poke the painful places. So agree/disagree with what I write, but if it makes you think and pisses you off, then good.”

Others argue that she has made her point emotionally and simplistically, demonizing every Arab male and turning Arab women into helpless victims. They also argue she is unfair in her comments about the role of Islam.

The pictures in the story are of a naked woman painted black, other than her eyes, to give the impression of the hijab and niqaab, or face veil. Intense, provocative, disturbing.

So, how to respond?

It is hard to know because I want to respond to a question that was never asked, but was answered while the question that was asked, remains unanswered. Why do they hate us essentially turned into Do they hate us, and she answers with, unequivocally, yes. Arab men hate Arab women.

My response to that is to disagree, to say ‘some’. Some men hate some women. I can’t just say yes. Or no. Some American men hate some American women. Some…some…The abuse of women isn’t a 100% kind of topic. This is sort of like a non-answer, refusing to take sides. Some presidents make bad decisions, some make good decisions. Some aid work is beneficial, some isn’t. Articles that talk like this don’t make the cover of magazines and don’t stir things up and I think that’s where her tweet comes in – if it makes you think and pisses you off, good.

I know about FGM (female genital mutilation and which is often an example to show the sexual abuse of and violence toward women, as Eltahawy does in her article) and I know about the arguments to call it circumcision and for western women to stay out of the debate. I have friends who aren’t bothered by it, who would do it to their daughters. I have friends who are begging, literally, to earn money for visas to a country where a doctor could reverse theirs, who say they would kill the woman who performed it on them if they ever saw her again.

I have experienced sexual harassment, almost on a daily basis, in Djibouti. But I would never give a blanket statement that ‘Djiboutian men sexually harass women’ because I have also been vehemently defended and protected from it.

I’ve written about the horrors women face in Somalia. I’ve also written about the hope of women running, working, raising families.

So, while I would come up with a different answer to the question she writes about (and I didn’t answer the question she actually asks), I think Eltahawy knew exactly what she was doing and was intentional in being so divisive and lacking in nuance. There is a problem in the world with how women are treated. That is true. It might not be the entire truth on the issue of women or on the issue of human rights or on the issue of religion, but it is true.

And that is what she (probably) wants to stir up debate and action around. I don’t know that Eltahawy’s article will bring about the change she desires, but it has certainly gotten people talking.


By |April 30th, 2012|Categories: Uncategorized|5 Comments


  1. Melissa April 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    I could have hours and hours of conversation on the role of women and the systems that condone unequal treatment of women. I recommend the book “Might be our powers” by Leymah Gbowee (one of the most recent nobel peace prize winners) and its her memoir about her experience in liberia during the civil war. Her main message is that women are the ones that have to bring about peace….very empowering book

    • Djibouti Jones April 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the book recommendation, I will definitely check it out.

  2. Djibouti Jones April 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    “I think ‘hate’ is the wrong word here. I think the story is more about power than it is about hate. ‘Hate’ is too intense to maintain consistently with individuals that are a part of your community (i.e. women). But, everyone is seeking to maintain their status and power even within their communities. Forms/actions within the cultural context are done to maintain hegemonic relationships.”

    This is from my husband, who almost NEVER reads my blog. He didn’t know how to comment so I had to post it for him because I think it is a good point.

  3. Kami Hazlewood May 1, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

    You know, I was going to say the exact same thing as Tom. I’ve been thinking about this one all day. Definitely there are hate crimes as a part of oppression, but it’s more about power and control. It all goes back to original sin… It’s about understanding of worth and value for self and others. I was thinking of this in relation to what women complain about in the western world as fair treatment in the office, of what happened in the slave trade of old and the slave trade today, of what is happening in political uprisings, or what happens to women in some cultures like the one described in the article.

    • Djibouti Jones May 1, 2012 at 11:52 am - Reply

      Thanks, Kami, for this thoughtful comment too. I think you both have really good thoughts about power and control and the treatment of people. And about the intrinsic value of self and others that gets lost in that lust for power. Someone else mentioned to me that what I wrote reminded them there is a human element behind issues like this that often gets lost in the politics of it all.

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