Guest contribution by Roqayah Chamseddine
Despite the establishment of stale orientalist campaigns, created in the name of women’s liberation in the Middle East and North Africa, the existence of enduring, self-sufficient women in the region has far-reaching historical context. The search for female Middle East voices amongst pundits in the mainstream media echoes the same tired “Palestinian Gandhi” aphorism; analysts have long used Laurence of Arabia-esque exoticism as a means to portray the women of the Arab world, in that if they are not subservient housewives they are coy and reserved daughters, sheltered and locked away by the domineering male figures in the household. These conjectures are not false in their entirety, but they are also not subjective as to one specific region, culture, religion or people.
The pervasive Western tradition of characterizing an entire community by certain traits, which their Western audiences can ooh and ahh at, has helped manufacture a plethora of distortions. History confirms that Arab women have long played an active political role in their societies; from Egyptian women who demonstrated alongside men during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, against British occupation of Egypt and Sudan, to resistance fighter Jamila Bu Hreid of Algeria, who was nearly tortured to death by French occupation forces during the Algerian revolution and independence movement, lasting from 1954 to 1962, which resulted in Algeria gaining its independence from France. South Lebanon, liberated in 2000 after nearly 22 years of Israeli occupation, was also home to female political action. Lebanese women would quietly supply resistance fighters with ammunition, often times wrapping them across their stomachs before passing through Israeli checkpoints unnoticed. [Read more...]