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NINE PARTS OF DESIRE by Geraldine Brooks


The Hidden World of Islamic Women

by Geraldine Brooks

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-385-47576-4
Publisher: Anchor

A well-crafted, absorbing account of Islamic women's lives as seen through the eyes of a secular-minded, Australian-born feminist journalist. Wall Street Journal Middle East correspondent Brooks describes with sensitivity and clarity her conversations and relationships with Islamic women, from the blue-jean-clad, American-born queen of Jordan to a devout Palestinian who shares her abusive husband with another woman in a four-room hovel with 14 children. Many of the obstacles she describes are well known: Some Islamic women are not allowed to show flesh or pray out loud in public (their voices are too arousing and could provoke unholy thoughts in men); many professions are closed to women; and severe sexual double standards still exist. However, Brooks's lively interpretations of Islamic tradition offer a useful challenge to Western stereotypes. According to her, Mohammed's teachings on the role of Islamic women, not to mention his living example, are complex and contradictory, often in direct opposition to the gender politics of today's extreme fundamentalists. Unfortunately, the author's naive faith in her own culture's progress allows her to make some rather arrogant statements, such as, ``Like most Westerners, I always imagined the future as an inevitably brighter place, where a kind of moral geology will have eroded the cruel edges of past and present wrongs. But in Gaza and Saudi Arabia...the future is a place that looks darker every day.'' Stemming from a similar blind spot, perhaps, is the short shrift given to Middle Eastern feminist activists and scholars. Few organized women's movements are discussed, and Brooks's treatment of Egyptian feminist Nawal Saadawi's persecution by the radical Islamic group Jihad and the Egyptian government totally overlooks the influence she has had; many believe Saadawi and other feminists are responsible, for example, for the Egyptian government's partial banning of clitoridectomy. Nonetheless, Brooks is a fine storyteller, though at times her tales feel incomplete. (Author tour)