Apologist for Gender Apartheid

On May 7, 2010, UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) and the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies co-sponsored the lecture, “Rethinking Arab Women as ‘Subjects.’” The talk was delivered by Suad Joseph, a Lebanese-born professor of anthropology and women’s studies at UC Davis, and president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the principal professional organization for scholars of the region. Joseph, who has co-edited a book with CNES director Susan Slyomovics, is considered a pioneer in the field of Middle East women’s studies, accolades which—as is, sadly, often the case—translates into apologetics for the oppression of Middle Eastern women.

Joseph announced she was perturbed about the title of her lecture; she couldn’t decide whether “Arab” was an appropriate term to use for identification purposes. Yet, she contradicted herself (and followed the Arabist practice of her discipline) by referring to the Middle East exclusively as the “Arab world” and by questioning the identities of Jews, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and other distinctive, regional minorities. She wondered why these groups perceive themselves as separate from Arabs when the answer is readily apparent both in the distinctive histories of theses peoples and in their persecution at the hands of Arab Muslim majorities. The very term “Arab”—often used arbitrarily to describe anything Middle Eastern—is loaded with a perilous and extreme nationalism that has made ethnic minorities such as Mizrahi Jews and Assyrians victims of the majority.

Joseph questioned, and at times denounced, studies examining the status quo of women in the Middle East. She argued that the representation of Arab women as subjects is a “problematic category and necessary one,” and that there is serious fault with characterizations—particularly in Western research and media—of Arab women as the victims of patriarchy, culture, politics, and religion. Instead, Joseph contended, notions of self are changing and malleable.

Predictably for contemporary Middle East studies, Joseph paid tribute to Edward Said’s deeply flawed book Orientalism, which helps explain her rejection of any implied Western superiority regarding women’s rights. In asserting that Westerners shouldn’t assume women in the Middle East wish to imitate secular, Westernized women, she encapsulated the ideology widespread on college campuses: multiculturalism, a form of cultural relativism that denies the ability to judge non-Western cultures on their merits, and which, in practice, judges all non-Western cultures as superior. She made no reference to universal human rights or to the possible reasons for rising Arab immigration to secular European nations and to North America.

Joseph asserted that Arab women are the “most relationship-driven” of any with which she has worked. She described Americans, in contrast, as less “relationship-driven” and American women as having fewer expectations than their Arab counterparts. Joseph offered no factual evidence for either of these preposterous claims. Given the grave circumstances under which many Arab women live, one would think it is they who are forced to have fewer expectations and not, as Joseph contended, Western women.

Incredibly, Joseph theorized that Arab women want to be claimed by men, and therefore have no objection to being subjects of a patriarchal and theocratic society in which their individual rights are abridged. The audience, which appeared to consist mostly of Center for Near Eastern Studies and Women’s Studies faculty, nodded their heads in agreement with this troubling statement. In fact, those gathered reacted favorably to the lecture overall and asked no challenging questions of the speaker. Overwhelming (if understated) evidence of the systematic and institutionalized abuse of Middle Eastern women didn’t seem to factor into the equation.

In many regions of the Middle East, the basic standing of women and the attitude of men towards them are pre-modern. Were this not so, there would be no honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage, or legitimized wife-beating. Moreover, the West should consider the disturbing social implications for its societies as these barbaric customs are imported through Muslim immigration.

If I may end on a personal note: As a woman of Middle Eastern origin, the situation of women in the Middle East has always fascinated and troubled me. Although I come from a very traditional Middle Eastern family—albeit Jewish—the women in my family have always been empowered and independent. Therefore, I find it extremely difficult to come to terms with the theory that Middle Eastern women are a different breed who welcome abuse for some twisted concept of maintaining a “relationship-driven” society.

If one believes, as I do, in fundamental human rights, there are moral principles that define our basic freedoms. Middle Eastern women’s rights activists such as Shirin Ebadi and Ayaan Hirsi Ali do not excuse the misogynistic and theocratic elements in their native countries. Instead, they demand freedom, even in the face of their abusers and of Western apologists.

Unfortunately, Joseph’s lecture belongs in the latter category, demonstrating yet again that Middle Eastern women who seek intellectual and moral support from Western professors of Middle East studies will come away disappointed.

Reut Cohen is a journalist, researcher, and the publisher of ReutRCohen.com. She wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

  • Al Barrs

    Suad Joseph is full of BS!

    Why doesn't she go to one of these Islamic countries and become the property of a devout Muslim who mistreats and even kills women?

    It's one thing to throw stones. It is another to be the recipient.

    When the Talaban was run out of Afghanistan we saw women flourishing in all kinds of occupations from school students, to teachers, to doctors and many other positions. They wanted freedom but were severely mistreated and depressed by the male population. They are no different than the Arab women in the Middle East…

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  • Barbara Kitzman

    Arab women's high expectation–to drive a car–they , Arab Women, have more asperations, like human rights. How does the professor see honor killings as a part of relationship driven goals, that would be terror, fear, and staying alive as another asperations.What the professor professes is so stupid that maybe her degrees should be examined and a hearing be held, ooops can not do that because we have freedom of speech. Another on the list of Arab women's asperations.

  • von Starkermann

    Aren't you all glad that the Tax payers in California support this nonsense? Isn't it funny how Californians go after Arizonians in their new law, yet still endorse true marginalization of its own citizens.

  • al Kidya

    I would love to see the professor in a public debate with the likes of Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali on her theory.

  • Marty

    suad joseph is a pathetic excuse for an academic and should be considered an embarrassment to UC-Davis. Just a guess, but my sense is that cnes is the recipient of lots of money from saudi arabia (a country where women have been denied their natural rights for millenia) and other medieval regimes along the persian gulf.

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  • RiverRat2U

    It is interestiing to note in Russia and China the Communist liberated women and gave them equal status to men in education, jobs and Party affiliation. Now these so called Left Wing Marxist in the U.S. advocate the most barbaric elements of a culture as an accepted norm. In a sex craved society where the Left advocates sexual liberation of the Female they appear to be quiet over the public stoning ,honor killings and other repressive messures of their sisters in "Arab" cultures. The Feminist certainly are two faced in liberating the repressed in Islam.

  • Tanstaafl jw

    Suad Joseph is a slave trying to pretend she is free.

  • PW Virginia

    She might be entitled to her own opinions but not her own facts…what woman accepts honor killing ? one who is terrorized into keeping quiet…

  • Disabled Veteran

    What woman would accept multiple marriages also? What women would accept anything that a muslim male would have to offer? What of the acid throwing events in Pakistan and Afganistan? What of the fact that the Iranian imam saying earthquakes were cause by women dressing in western style? That Iranian women would be arrested if they had a tan. What of the religious police? That this lady considers herself and her theory academic is the greatest humor.

  • Andy

    Women in the Quran Part 1

    A husband has sex with his wife, as a plow goes into a field.

    The Quran in Sura (Chapter) 2:223 says:
    Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like . . . . (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an, Oxford UP, 2004)

    Husbands are a degree above their wives.

    The Quran in Sura 2:228 says:
    . . . Wives have the same rights as the husbands have on them in accordance with the generally known principles. Of course, men are a degree above them in status . . . (Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Meaning of the Qur’an, vol. 1, p. 165)

    A male gets a double share of the inheritance over that of a female.

    The Quran in Sura 4:11 says:
    The share of the male shall be twice that of a female . . . . (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 311)

  • Andy

    Women in the Quran Part 2

    A woman’s testimony counts half of a man’s testimony.

    The Quran in Sura 2:282 says:
    And let two men from among you bear witness to all such documents [contracts of loans without interest]. But if two men be not available, there should be one man and two women to bear witness so that if one of the women forgets (anything), the other may remind her. (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 205).

    A wife may remarry her ex—husband if and only if she marries another man and then this second man divorces her.

    The Quran in Sura 2:230 says:
    And if the husband divorces his wife (for the third time), she shall not remain his lawful wife after this (absolute) divorce, unless she marries another husband and the second husband divorces her. [In that case] there is no harm if they [the first couple] remarry . . . . (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 165)

    Slave—girls are sexual property for their male owners.

    The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:
    And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands [as prisoners of war] . . . (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 319).

  • Andy

    Women in the Quran Part 3

    A man may be polygamous with up to four wives.

    The Quran in Sura 4:3 says:
    And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife, or marry those who have fallen in your possession. (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 305)

    A husband may simply get rid of one of his undesirable wives.

    The Quran in Sura 4:129 says:
    It is not within your power to be perfectly equitable in your treatment with all your wives, even if you wish to be so; therefore, [in order to satisfy the dictates of Divine Law] do not lean towards one wife so as to leave the other in a state of suspense. (Maududi, vol. 1, p. 381)

  • Andy

    Women in the Quran Part 4

    Husbands may hit their wives even if the husbands merely fear highhandedness in their wives (quite apart from whether they actually are highhanded).

    The Quran in Sura 4:34 says:
    If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (Haleem, emphasis added)

    Mature men are allowed to marry prepubescent girls.

    The Quran in Sura 65:1, 4 says:
    O Prophet, when you [and the believers] divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed waiting—period and count the waiting—period accurately . . . 4 And if you are in doubt about those of your women who have despaired of menstruation, (you should know that) their waiting period is three months, and the same applies to those who have not menstruated as yet. As for pregnant women, their period ends when they have delivered their burden. (Maududi, vol. 5, pp. 599 and 617, emphasis added)

  • lovezion

    She, the….professor??? is sick in her brain, name of her sickness? MASOCHISM! She should be thrown to one of the arab muslim countries and let her enjoy her sickness in peace! :o)

  • therealend

    How long will the Arabian peninsula remain in the dark ages?

    • Disabled Veteran

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  • Democracy First

    Safe and secure in the west, but apparently highly defensive about the Dark Ages aspects of the Arab world from which she or her immediate forbears come, she rationalizes the wicked abuse of women there. For shame. Western multiculturalists – a gradually dissipating group – should note what they ahve spawned. Except, too many of them are no less defensive than Suad Joseph, so, likie her, actually support, however inadvertenty, the abuse of women elsewhere.

    Perhaps of note is this: Suad Joseph is likely Christian, not Muslim, given her name. How interesting that, yet again, we see an example of Middle East Christians, despite the demographic genocide to which they have been subjected over the centuries, and especially at this moment, defending Arab Muslim practises and barbarity. Is this explained by some kind of cultural Stockholm Syndrome?

  • Sexy

    This horse manure is an insult to our intelligence.

    Why do the universities and leftist media love this stuff?

  • David

    Even during the height of Left-intellectual enamorement with the Soviet Union, there was less blatant misuse of academe for anti-Western, anti-democratic purposes.

    The fact that there are apologists for Islamic abuses in our midst is less surprising than the fact that our educational institutions seem incapable of resisting their growing influence or even defining it as a problem.

    Remember, there were so-called "liberated" women who, in their time, were agents of Nazism, as well. Western feminism in the service of Arab male-chauvinism and oppression deserves special contempt.

    Brava! to Reut Cohen for striking back.

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  • Maria



    As if we don't know the 'Arab oil lobby's power' over the UN, international organizations and some African officials to go along with the Arab propaganda.

    Even promoter of the apartheid-slur J. Carter admitted on CNN: "I recognize that Israel is a wonderful democracy with freedom of speech and equality of treatment under the law between Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis." http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0612/12/acd.02

    Last but not least:

    Isn't it true that the anti-Jewish "apartheid" slur campaign is" 1) to demonize Jews and 2) to hide the real apartheid practice by the Arab-Islamic world?

  • Maria

    From anti-Jewish Apartheid:

    – The Arab racist apartheid against the Jews attempted genocide ever since the 1920s, (Like Mufti of "Palestine at his incited massacres, and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood who called simply 'to kill Jews').
    – Chased out a Million Jews in the late 1940.
    – Has boycotted and demonized [every logical defensive action is branded "racist"] the Jewish democratic-free-equal-to-all state only because it's the "other". It is neither Muslim nor Arabs.
    – The Arab racist world continues to play with Arab-Palestinians (grandchildren of Arab immigrants) like ping-pong against Israel.

  • Maria

    * Maronites-Christians [Native Lebanese] suffer from both Arab ethnic racism and religious bigotry, like the massacres in the 1970s by local Muslims and by Palestinian/Syrian forces.
    * Assyrians, are/have been being persecuted both racially and religiously. Still very much marginalized in Iraq, for example.
    * Iran is not an Arab country but racism is huge against Kurds, Jews, Turkmens, etc.So is anti-non-Muslim bigotry against Christians, Bahai, Zoroastrians and other in the Islamic republic.
    * Turkey is also a Muslim non-Arab country and Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and other ethnicities have been through much suffering, genocide. Still there's great wide racism againt non-Turkish ethnic grpups. Turkey's policy in Cyprus has also been recognized as a real Apartheid by many. All non-Muslims are automatically branded as "foreingers" at the "moderate" Islamic supremacy of Turkey.
    * Al-Akhdam in Yemen.
    * Gypsies in Jordan.

  • Maria

    Arab apartheid / Muslim apartheid are the largest 'apartheid systems', that exist today. All non-Arabs and/or non-Muslims are second class citizens. Among minorities that feel the wrath of the bigoted Arab-Muslim world include:

    * Berbers (native N. Africans, before Arab invasion).
    * Copts (indigenous Egyptians suffer from both: Arab racism and Islamic bigotry).
    * Kurds (Examples include: [Saddam's] Iraq and Syria.
    * Blacks, in Arab lands or in Arab ruled Africa like the genocide in the Sudan and slavery in both Sudan and in Mauritania.
    * Asians, particularily in the Gulf Arab states. [Sex slaves or "plain" slaves).

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