July 21, 2008 by essiracab
A few days ago, I remarked to Max
while reading some article in Al-Ahram Weekly, the English version of the main
government paper here, that the level of journalism was pretty horrible.
The articles seemed to constantly be criticizing the Copts or talking about a
nascent Shia takeover. Plus, the writing was absolutely atrocious.
Max told me that the Arabic version wasnít much better.
Iíd been reading Al-Ahram because
it was the only Egyptian news source I knew of that published in English beyond
the occasional articles in the Times or wire services. Someone
told me the other day, though, about the Daily Star, apparently an
independent English daily, and so today I checked it out. At least on
their online version, they simply donít seem to have enough news to fill a
daily paper, so I wonder what is in the print copy. Iíve noticed this
problem with Al Ahram, too, and it confuses me - this is one of the worldís
largest cities, and ther simply must be interesting things to
cover. Hell, NYC has its own 24-hour news station (though this is not
necessarily a positive development). Some of what is in the star, though,
is somewhat interesting. Itís aimed, fairly obviously, at the wealthy
English speaking population in Cairo, so it has articles about mountain resorts
and the like as well as stories about human rights issues and societal
liberalization that Iím not sure always find a home in news sources aimed at
locals. That said, some of these articles seemed fairly silly or wrong,
like one on a ďtrendĒ of girls abandoning the hijab here. I donít know
that I believe in the existence of this trend - most other news sources are
still talking about the increasing religiosity of the Egyptian population.
But the most bizarre thing I read
all day came from an article on virginity and marriage. Itís a serious
human rights and feminism topic, and therefore one Iím interested in - an
accidentally broken hymen in a girl getting married can lead to terrible
consequences for the girl, even an honor killing in some places and under some
circumstances. The article in question talks about hymen reconstruction
surgery - evidence, I suppose, of the wealthy readers of the paper. In
particular, it talks about the case of one Egyptian girl who had pre-marital
sex and is now basically ineligble for marriage. Ok, interesting.
But the article
also contains this account of her story with an absolutely painful final
went off to college, she was young, hopeful and innocent. She met Omar in her
second year, and believed it was love at first sight. He professed his undying
affection for her, and made her feel wanted. It seemed natural to her that
their relationship would progress physically as it matured emotionally.
promised that as soon as he was able to, he would ask for her hand in marriage,
but after graduation the two drifted apart.
of forever was broken, and so was Nadaís hymen.
I donít even know what to say.
Also, went to dinner tonight with
Reham and had an interesting conversation about hijab. She is quite
liberal and feminist in most ways, but she does wear a headscarf, and so I
tried to delicately ask about why it was she decided to do that. She told
me, simply, that she wore it becuase in her opinions the Quran commanded her to
do so and that she believed in the Quran. My own opinions on hijab are
somewhat conflicting. On one hand, I think the American, First
Amendment-absolutist part of me finds laws like those that have been passed in
France and Turkey banning the hijab in certain places - schools, government offices
- are unjustifiable on a free expression basis, and so I oppose them. On
the other hand, it seems to me that hijab canít be separated from the cultureís
subjugation of women. Iím an atheist, and so while I feel that an
individualís personal belief that she should wear a hijab is fine, Iím more
interested in the societal pressures to cover, which seem to be quite separate
from religion. As with the reasons for FGM - which has no religious basis
whatever - the pressures that lead to covering seem to boil down to a societal
discomfort with femaleness, especially female sexuality. Reham agreed
that the society seems to not much care for women, but seemed to think that
there was, once, a logical reason for the hijab - that, in some historical
context now lost the hijab conferred some sort of respect on women. I
fail completely to see what logic could ever have existed, and I reject the
argument based on the hijab conferring respect to women for the same reasons
that, in Western society, I reject the arguments from anti-feminists who wish
to relegate women to certain roles - child rearing, homemaking, etc. - and
argue that, in these roles, the women are respected and on a pedastal.
Such respect, when it defines the bounds of what may be respectable, is necessarily
I fear Iím not really writing
clearly, and I have some trouble talking and writing about this subject.
I donít really feel like Iíve thought it all through, and I have some
reservations about making societal criticisms (Reham noticed this when we were
talking - she said I was being very careful and politically correct in my
speech). I guess that there is a constant, creeping feer that Iím being
imperialistic or Orientalist when I engage in these sorts of criticisms, and I
think that for someone in my position it is important to be aware of that
risk. Still, I suppose that I donít believe that you can care about human
rights and be culturally relativistic about those same rights, and I believe
women donít have enough rights here.
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