Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Review and Give Away: Muslim Women Reformers (Lichter)
Author: Ida Lichter (here's a link to her twitter feed)
Genre: Adult Non-Fiction
Pages: 513 (402 to 513 is notes, appendix, etc)
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: PoC (3); Middle East (7); One, Two, Three Theme (Middle East);
FTC Disclosure: I got this book free from Lisa Roe of online publicist
Summary (from the back of the book): In Iran, the credibility of a woman's testimony in court is valued at only half that of a man's. IN Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive cars or to leave their homes without their husbands or a male relative acting as a chaperone. In Iraq, despite the foreign coalition's pledge to liberate and democratize the people, Basra's police force has acknowledged that women are routinely killed for breaking Islamic dress codes. In Egypt, even though government officials have spoken out against the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, the custom continues at the urging of Islamic fundamentalists who claim that to outlaw it would be "tantamount to promoting vice."
Since the attacks of 9/11, no region of the world has received more attention than the Middle East, where the actions of foreign forces and the strident demands of Islamic extremists are the media's focus. Yet half of the population of these countries remains silent, except for the courageous protests of Muslim reformers, who barely receive any notice. In Muslim Women Reformers, Ida Lichter goes behind the veil to take a powerful, critical look at the lives of Muslim women and the inspirational stories of those dedicated to promoting women's rights--women brave enough to risk arrest, torture, and even death to achieve fair, equitable, and just treatment.
Review: When I first read a review of this book I wanted to read it, but I had a difficult time finding it (perhaps it hadn't been published yet) so I wrote it down on my "be sure to buy these books" list hoping it would appear in my life. And it did! I got an email from Lisa Roe of Online Publicist asking if I wanted a copy to review; how perfect is that? So here we go...
I like the way Ida Lichter set up this book: each chapter covers a different country in either northern Africa or the Middle East. Within each chapter there are a few pages of introduction and background, covering a brief history of Islam in the country, politics in regards to women, and some of the bigger challenges that women in that country face, whether political or personal. Following the background there are stories of individual women who have spoken out against the injustices faced by women and girls and the consequences or successes that they have experienced.
This book is so full of facts and information that it got to be a bit overwhelming at times, but the research is impressive with detailed stories, quotes from letters, laws, and books in addition to awards won, legal cases fought, and personal stories that will break your heart. There is a real variety of how women are treated throughout these countries, but the common thread it that men and shari'ah law rule.
The women in this book have gone up against their families, their governments, their societies, and interpretations of their religion, facing death threats, expulsion, and ridicule in order to accomplish their goal of bettering lives for women living in Islamic countries. I found the stories inspiring and depressing at the same time because while these women are doing amazing things, life for many women isn't changing.
One of the aspects that I found most interesting is that the younger reformers are using blogs and the internet to get their messages out to the people. That is a much more difficult medium for governments and religious leaders to combat. In addition, it means the women can reach a much wider and international audience.
I do worry that after reading this book people will come away with the idea that women in these countries have no hope, that Islam is bad, and that life is all horrible for women in the Middle East. Unfortunately, that is often all we hear about the region. I am not denying the difficulties faced by women under political (read: male) interpretation of Islam by any means. But we can find similarly horrible stories (rape, denial of freedoms, injustice in the legal system) from women and minorities in the US and other western countries. I realize the difference is that in the west it isn't systemic and our society as a whole isn't supportive of the inequalities.