About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

February 7th, 2012 at 11:47 am

Jonathan Lyons on Islam, Women, and the West

“The expropriation of the rhetoric of women’s rights under Islam in order to unleash deadly violence on Muslim nations shows just how much the struggle for women’s equality has become a discursive one rather than a material one.”—Jonathan Lyons

Jonathan Lyons, Islam Through Western Eyes

In a recent guest post for Juan Cole’s Informed Comment, Jonathan Lyons, author of Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism, argues that Western perceptions of the Islamic world have often been dominated by the male-female dynamic, or its misunderstanding of this dynamic.

The harem, which once dominated Western perceptions/fantasies of the Muslim world, has been replaced by the harem, which has come to be a symbol of the sexist and anti-modern nature of Islamic society. Lyons writes:

By the early twentieth century, the institution of veiling had for the most part supplanted the more exotic harem as the focal point of Western attention. Still, the underlying logic of the discourse of Islam and women remains firmly in place today. The end result has been a “sexualization” of the Western view of Islam, one in which the totality of Muslim beliefs and practices and even the entire Islamic civilization are too often reduced to Western perceptions and assessment of the male–female dynamic.

Exhibit A may be found in our obsession with the hijab, or veil, as a barometer of social progress and overall well-being within Islamic societies, to such a degree that it has become a commonplace of Western mass-media coverage, social activism, and political discussion alike. For years, the veil has been a staple of endless news articles, books, and documentaries, and it is captured in magazine and television images – all as shorthand for a society, a civilization, or a system that is backward, alien, immobile, and inherently antithetical to human rights and dignity.

Lyons argues that the West’s stress on the veil has led to a serious misunderstanding of the Islamic world with serious implications:

Running throughout this public discourse is the persistent binary opposition of oppression and freedom, veiled and unveiled, bad and good. Islam itself and on its own terms is once again ignored in favor of an unquestioned Western construction. And this construction dictates that the West’s approaches and policy proscriptions toward Muslim societies be seen solely through the lens of our own flawed understanding of both women and gender relations in Islam.

Nothing else can adequately explain the Western fascination with the veil and the apprehension of this institution as the root of the oppressive conditions faced by many women in Muslim societies. The prevailing idea of veiling, and of the associated degradation of women, creates the notion of an inferior Muslim world in need of rescue from itself, by force if necessary. This recalls Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s famous critique of colonialist rhetoric as largely consisting of “white men saving brown women from brown men.”

To see the immediate dangers in such a course, one must only reflect on the ways in which the U.S. government was able to mobilize public support for two doomed wars against Muslim societies by tapping directly into the overarching discourse of Islam and its important subset, Islam and women. The expropriation of the rhetoric of women’s rights under Islam in order to unleash deadly violence on Muslim nations shows just how much the struggle for women’s equality has become a discursive one rather than a material one.

Post a comment