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Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Musli Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights. In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism--conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West--are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women's lives. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam--as well as a moving portrait of women's actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.


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Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Musli Frequent reports of honor killings, disfigurement, and sensational abuse have given rise to a consensus in the West, a message propagated by human rights groups and the media: Muslim women need to be rescued. Lila Abu-Lughod boldly challenges this conclusion. An anthropologist who has been writing about Arab women for thirty years, she delves into the predicaments of Muslim women today, questioning whether generalizations about Islamic culture can explain the hardships these women face and asking what motivates particular individuals and institutions to promote their rights. In recent years Abu-Lughod has struggled to reconcile the popular image of women victimized by Islam with the complex women she has known through her research in various communities in the Muslim world. Here, she renders that divide vivid by presenting detailed vignettes of the lives of ordinary Muslim women, and showing that the problem of gender inequality cannot be laid at the feet of religion alone. Poverty and authoritarianism--conditions not unique to the Islamic world, and produced out of global interconnections that implicate the West--are often more decisive. The standard Western vocabulary of oppression, choice, and freedom is too blunt to describe these women's lives. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is an indictment of a mindset that has justified all manner of foreign interference, including military invasion, in the name of rescuing women from Islam--as well as a moving portrait of women's actual experiences, and of the contingencies with which they live.

30 review for Do Muslim Women Need Saving?

  1. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    I am very ambivalent about this one. The introduction was so promising, and there were admittedly several flashes of insights scattered throughout, but overall, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? was a bit of a disappointment to me. Abu-Lughod’s stated aim is to articulate why prevailing Western stereotypes about Islam and about the Arab world fail to capture the reality of Muslim women’s lives. She promises to present the reader with “women’s hopes and dreams, desires, anger, and disappointments” in I am very ambivalent about this one. The introduction was so promising, and there were admittedly several flashes of insights scattered throughout, but overall, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? was a bit of a disappointment to me. Abu-Lughod’s stated aim is to articulate why prevailing Western stereotypes about Islam and about the Arab world fail to capture the reality of Muslim women’s lives. She promises to present the reader with “women’s hopes and dreams, desires, anger, and disappointments” in order to lay rest to the common stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslim women (p. 5). Given my interest in Middle Eastern politics and my frequent criticisms of Islamophobia, I thought this was an exciting prospect. At the same time, Abu-Lughod presents her book as a critique of the universalist claims of human rights discourse. For someone like me who sympathizes with a certain brand of Enlightenment rationalism, this sounded like an immensely challenging viewpoint that might lead me to question my views. But in the end, the book fell very far short of these expectations. An anthropologist by profession, Abu-Lughod seeks to complicate the abstract universalism of human rights discourse by contrasting it with the concrete particular in all of its complexity and ambiguity. This is a worthwhile (even necessary) undertaking in theory. The problem, however, lies in the execution. For all of Abu-Lughod’s insistence on the particular, she actually devotes shockingly little attention to it. In the first place, her own research limited to the Egypt—a minuscule part of the Arab world. In the second, it focuses not only on just a couple of relatively far removed Bedouin communities in Egypt, but on just a handful of women from those couple of communities. In other words, the sample of particulars with which she is working is infinitesimal. Now to be fair, Abu-Lughod acknowledges this in the introduction to the book. However, this is insufficient, for her reservations quickly vanish, and do not seem to temper her conclusions anywhere else in the book. Maybe she thinks that she is justified in doing this. After all, only one counter-example is necessary to refute a universal statement. But of course, cultural generalizations of the kind Abu-Lughod criticizes (e.g. “Muslim women are oppressed,” “Western culture is highly individualistic”) are rarely meant to be bona fide universals. They are much more commonly used (rightly or wrongly) to express patterns or general tendencies. And just as interviewing a few Americans living on a commune is insufficient to prove that American society is not consumerist or individualistic, so interviewing a few women living in remote Bedouin communities is insufficient to dislodge general observations about Egyptian society, let along about the entire “Arab world” or about all “Muslim countries” (whatever those are). Methodological considerations like might not be such a big deal if Abu-Lughod were a little more modest in her aims and a little more cautious about the conclusions she draws. Much more damning to my mind is her overall lack of direction and argumentative rigour. Being a philosopher by training myself, I am perhaps more sensitive to this than most, but it was often very unclear to me what conclusions I was supposed to draw from the considerations presented. To summarize very briefly, Abu-Lughod begins by highlighting the manner in which the rhetoric of “saving Muslim women” has been used to justify military interventions in Middle Eastern countries by the United States. She traces what she calls the “new common sense” about going to war for oppressed Muslim women to two distinct but overlapping sources. The first of these is the language of human rights; the second, the “pulp nonfiction” that has flooded the market since September 11th 2001 and offered sensationalized accounts of honour crimes, forced marriage, rape, etc. She then goes on to critique human rights discourse in detail. Specifically, she argues that the category of “Muslim women’s rights” fails to capture the complexity of women’s lives, and that human rights in general cannot be understood outside of frames of global governance and "privilege." Her principal conclusion is that “there is always a certain incommensurability between everyday lives and the social imagination of rights” (p. 176). What are we to conclude from this analysis? Is it that human rights are not genuine moral truths? Or just that human rights discourse is often harmful despite its truth? Is it that we ought to abandon universal moral claims altogether in favour of a communitarian particularism? Or just that we need to be careful in the way that we formulate and conceptualize these universals? Is it that Islam is no more oppressive by nature than any other ideology? Or is it that it is no more used in practice to justify various abuses? These claims are very different, and only some of them are true, yet Abu-Lughod frequently runs them together as though they were all the same. The result is often some of the most outlandish non-sequiturs I have ever seen written in a piece of academic writing. Already her conclusion (“there is always a certain incommensurability between everyday lives and the social imagination of rights”) should strike us as suspicious. What justifies the universal always here? A few more examples. Abu-Lughod insists that talk about liberating women from a “patriarchal culture” cannot do justice to the complexity of women’s suffering, e.g. as a result of poverty, substance abuse, etc. (p. 197). This is true. But it is no more a critique of human rights than the claim that access to at least a minimal income is insufficient for human happiness is a critique of social welfare. Earlier on, she stresses that “honour countries” do not have a monopoly on illiberal values, and that these can be found everywhere (p. 126-127). Once again, true, but entirely beside the question whether the "illiberal values" are there, whether they are there in higher concentration, whether something needs to be done, and by whom. And more: she repeatedly insinuates that Westerners might take “(porno)graphic” pleasure in consuming pulp nonfiction accounts of Muslim women’s suffering. Again, this may or may not be true, but I fail entirely to see how it is supposed to discredit either the accounts themselves or the value-judgments that Westerners may or may make upon reading them. In the conclusion, Abu-Lughod claims to have shown that “rather than asking whether Muslim women have rights,” we should ask “what the concepts of ‘Muslim women’s rights’ or ‘the oppressed Muslim women’ are doing in the world and who is making use of these concepts.” (p. 220-221). But in fact, she hasn't shown this at all; she has presupposed it. Throughout the book, she focuses her attention on the question of the consequences of human rights discourse, to the exclusion of the question of its correctness. And in a move that has become a staple of the contemporary Left, she often jumps from premises about their consequences to a conclusion about their (in)correctness. The result is that she is repeatedly led into performative contradiction. Perhaps the most egregious example of this is when she denies the neutrality and universality of human rights language within a paragraph of writing that “One must be critical of gender subordination” (p. 87). From what perspective can we claim that we must be critical of gender subordination if not from a neutral and universal one? Is it from “our” (Western) perspective? Or is it rather from “their” (Muslim) one? If the former, how do we distinguish our claim from the most blatant imperialism? If the latter, why should “their” values hold any sway over us? There are multiple other cases where Abu-Lughod denies the very impartial point of view that she requires in order to formulate her own critique. It seems to me that the cause of this strange phenomenon—which is at the same time the most glaring error in the book—is that she fails entirely to distinguish between what we might call culture and society, that is, between cultural self-understanding and political norms. She is right to point out that we often judge other cultures on the basis of our own culturally specific interpretations of certain norms and rights, e.g. of choice, fulfilment, freedom, etc. But this says nothing about the norms themselves, and in the final analysis, Abu-Lughod cannot avoid appealing to these herself. The shortcomings of Abu-Lughod's analysis are particularly frustrating because I actually agree with many, if not most, of her views. She thinks we need to mediate “sweeping generalizations” with “intimate familiarity” with concrete others. Yes! She argues that terms like “oppression” and “patriarchy” are very blunt instruments that do not do justice to the complexity of people’s lives (p. 25). Yes! That we need to contextualize the veil within the dense framework of lived meanings that it carries (p. 38). Yes! That it is necessary to break free from simple oppositions between "Islam" and "the West" that treat them as homogenous essences (p. 53). Yes! Yes! Yes! But her arguments are frequently confused, confusing, and self-contradictory; her claims opaque, sensationalistic, or just irrelevant; and her tone often perplexing. Why does she say that “lists and numbers give the appearance of objectivity” as though this were in some sense incorrect? Why does she say that honour crimes never occur outside of institutions as though this were anything more than an benign truism? Add to this a liberal dose of post-structuralist buzzwords (“hegemonic,” “power,” “violence,” "privilege") and prejudices (liberalism is inseparable from Western individualism, universalism squashes cultural difference), and you have one of the most frustrating books I have read in recent memory. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? does have redeeming features. There are, as I have said, several flashes of insight. There are many points where it is on the right track, but falls prey to conceptual muddles, hasty generalizations, or just outright non-sequiturs. It seems to me that Abu-Lughod is at her best when she highlights the complexity of human life, the multiplicity of ways of being, and the various points of similarities between cultures that would count against simple oppositions between "us" and "them," between "Islam" and "the West." But then she is at her worst when she tries to tie these to the question of human rights and to critique the universal perspective from which alone questions of human rights violations can be posed. The biggest problem, I suppose, is that the latter is supposed to be the point of the book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elen Ghulam

    I so wanted to like this book because I mostly agree with the points it is trying to make. However bogged down in academic language, repeating the same point over and over, it frequently felt like rhetoric more than a well researched document. Ultimately, the book fails to prove the points it is attempting to convey. It is a shame. Somewhere between the pages lays an unfulfilled potential for a great book that is sorely needed. Hopefully some other author will do the job in the near future. This I so wanted to like this book because I mostly agree with the points it is trying to make. However bogged down in academic language, repeating the same point over and over, it frequently felt like rhetoric more than a well researched document. Ultimately, the book fails to prove the points it is attempting to convey. It is a shame. Somewhere between the pages lays an unfulfilled potential for a great book that is sorely needed. Hopefully some other author will do the job in the near future. This one doesn't cut the mustard.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Written by an anthropologist, this book is extremely well articulated, well researched, and will make you question long-held assumptions. The author urges readers not to impose sweeping generalizations on all Muslim women, and to not place blame on the religion of Islam for women's mistreatment but rather to blame the cultural and socio-political climate of middle-eastern countries. Written by an anthropologist, this book is extremely well articulated, well researched, and will make you question long-held assumptions. The author urges readers not to impose sweeping generalizations on all Muslim women, and to not place blame on the religion of Islam for women's mistreatment but rather to blame the cultural and socio-political climate of middle-eastern countries.

  4. 5 out of 5

    YD

    The arguments in this book don't hold up. For one, the author is guilty of the same generalizing of Muslim women she warns against early in the book. I am a woman who was raised in a Muslim community that held deeply conservative values which were highly disadvantaged for women. The men called the shots basically. I completely disagree with her rationalizations which overall seem to say, these women are just fine, they have pride in their modesty, blah blah blah. I would bet that most women in m The arguments in this book don't hold up. For one, the author is guilty of the same generalizing of Muslim women she warns against early in the book. I am a woman who was raised in a Muslim community that held deeply conservative values which were highly disadvantaged for women. The men called the shots basically. I completely disagree with her rationalizations which overall seem to say, these women are just fine, they have pride in their modesty, blah blah blah. I would bet that most women in my own community would defend the even the most misogynistic aspects of our culture -- women are a part of upholding patriarchy as well as men. The stigma of speaking out and going against the grain is strong and it just isn't done. People will always find a way to have honor in their way of life. It's a basic survival mechanism. But this pride and "choice" is all relative. Many are making do with the situation they're in. I found her arguments about the "seduction" honor crimes particularly offensive. Yes, they get attention and are easy headlines, but the fact remains that they do occur and disproportionately result in female victims. It's clear early on that she's decided on the answer to the book's title question. This book repeatedly argues from essentially this same point of view, making for increasingly predictable chapters. It would have fared better if this were a more nuanced and balanced examination of Muslim women incorporating voices of more varied populations.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sofia

    I did a presentation for one of my modules at uni, entitled "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?" last week. One of the books I read was this one and I'd highly recommend it. In fact I've even suggested to some of my friends that it should be compulsory reading for muslimahs who are sick of being patronised and demonised all at the same time. Abu-Lughod is an anthropologist so she's in the business of unpacking the projection of Islam as an oppressive force for the Others, and she does this very well w I did a presentation for one of my modules at uni, entitled "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?" last week. One of the books I read was this one and I'd highly recommend it. In fact I've even suggested to some of my friends that it should be compulsory reading for muslimahs who are sick of being patronised and demonised all at the same time. Abu-Lughod is an anthropologist so she's in the business of unpacking the projection of Islam as an oppressive force for the Others, and she does this very well without creating a naive picture of some sort of Muslim utopia us Muslim women can opt into. In fact I was apprehensive to read the book as I thought it may well do that, but it doesn't. The writing is very accessible, not at all overly academic and tools you up very well to answer the question with a resounding, no! If you enjoyed Edward Said's Orientalism, you will enjoy this. It's written in a much more understandable way than Said wrote, but you can see she's taken his approach and applied it specifically to Muslim women and the discourse surrounding them (she calls it gendered Orientalism). Also unlike many other academic books, it didn't cost an arm and a leg to buy, it was about £7 from Amazon. The book was written 10 years after she first wrote an article by the same title. You can read the article here: http://org.uib.no/smi/seminars/Pensum... She laments the fact that 10 years on, the situation is still the same.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Queenie

    Good points here and there - Abu-Lughod criticized some popular books written by western journalists on oppression of women around the world, such as Half the Sky (a book that inspired me in many ways) for ignoring the diversity of Muslim women’s lives and asking over-simplified and generalized question like “Is Islam Misogynistic?” and for their hypocrisy to invite their rich and privileged readers to save people far away. She argued “these books do not ask us to examine the roles Westerners al Good points here and there - Abu-Lughod criticized some popular books written by western journalists on oppression of women around the world, such as Half the Sky (a book that inspired me in many ways) for ignoring the diversity of Muslim women’s lives and asking over-simplified and generalized question like “Is Islam Misogynistic?” and for their hypocrisy to invite their rich and privileged readers to save people far away. She argued “these books do not ask us to examine the roles Westerners already play - whether in their everyday practices, their government actions or their economic strength - in perpetuating global inequities that exacerbate (and sometimes cause) the sufferings of women elsewhere.” She also touched on issues like whether NGO is a new form of colonization. All these bring a whole new perspective to me and I feel naive to have taken books like Half the Sky as universal truth without much critical thinking. (if you happen to have read Half the Sky, I am curious what you think about that!) That said, I must say many arguments in this book are poorly developed and confusing. Abu-Lughod devoted substantial paragraphs to attack what she called “pulp nonfiction” (memoirs written by women who experienced violence in their Muslim family/ country, and later escaped) by discrediting those authors and their experiences and accusing them of selling sex and violence. These attacks look personal and unnecessary to me. While I agree with her that we need to look at our roles and privileges before jumping into the conclusion that women in Muslim world needed to be “saved” (I rather prefer using “helped”), I have an impression that a large part of the book is built on placing blame on the West (even though Abu-Lughod said otherwise) or anything else. In subchapter “Violence in the Domestic Sphere”, She cited her friend Khadija’s plight in domestic violence and tried to explain the violent behaviors of her husband by saying “it is produced at the nexus of the global field of European tourism in the Third World and the inequalities between rich foreigners and local villagers that fuel it” and it is a product of poverty created by “transnational capitalism but(and) also by state policy, is as much part of the modern global economy and social system”. SERIOUSLY. Did she stretch her points too far it sounds ridiculous. I really hope someone else will further contribute to the topic and write a better book - after all there is no better time than now to read more and clear misconceptions that are perpetuated by fear and ignorance.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ang

    I don't know what to say about this book but that it didn't convince me that they don't. I don't mean to belittle, but I also don't think the book did anything to say that women's issues aren't more dire in some countries than others, and that some of those countries are majority Muslim. Some of the ridiculous acrobatics the author did to convince us of things....she basically asserts that the all-encompassing burqaa is ACTUALLY not oppressive, because they allow women to go out in public. I hav I don't know what to say about this book but that it didn't convince me that they don't. I don't mean to belittle, but I also don't think the book did anything to say that women's issues aren't more dire in some countries than others, and that some of those countries are majority Muslim. Some of the ridiculous acrobatics the author did to convince us of things....she basically asserts that the all-encompassing burqaa is ACTUALLY not oppressive, because they allow women to go out in public. I have a hard time with this, but the argument is that culture dictates that men and women be separate at all times, and the burqaa is like a little room that allows women to follow the cultural mores, so voila, freedom! Her baloney that none of us are TRULY free to make choices (because there is no real choice) so who cares if Muslim women are free is, well, baloney. I honestly don't understand how that argument helps anyone. In summation, I hated this book, and I'm mad at it, and I don't really think a word of it is convincing. ARGH.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rindala

    Truly couldn't put the book down. I read Abu-Lughod's journal "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?", which is a shorter version of the book, a few weeks ago and knew I needed to read more about it. I'm glad I did. Truly couldn't put the book down. I read Abu-Lughod's journal "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?", which is a shorter version of the book, a few weeks ago and knew I needed to read more about it. I'm glad I did.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I keep going back and forth on this rating because I genuinely think the message of this book is one that needs to be more widespread and accepted. The author's general thesis about how the language of women's rights has been used in multiple ways and portrayed in certain situations and through different channels for particular goals - which may not always include the well-being of the women it purports to help - is sound, and particularly resonant in the current global political climate. Author I keep going back and forth on this rating because I genuinely think the message of this book is one that needs to be more widespread and accepted. The author's general thesis about how the language of women's rights has been used in multiple ways and portrayed in certain situations and through different channels for particular goals - which may not always include the well-being of the women it purports to help - is sound, and particularly resonant in the current global political climate. Author Lila Abu-Lughod is clearly knowledgeable from her anthropological experiences in a village in upper Egypt and presents her arguments with clarity even for those completely unfamiliar with the subject. However, Abu-Lughod argues that we cannot seamlessly apply the rhetoric of women's rights (oppression by patriarchy) to the lived experiences of the Muslim women she knows, citing the example of a domestic violence victim whose situation is complicated by global forces of economic inequality and a network of family ties that connect her to her husband. However, the experience of any woman, anywhere is a reflection not just of gender but of race, class, sexual orientation, her position in the global north or south, and many other factors. And as an aside, I find any discussion of domestic violence that doesn't take into account male socialization to be complicit in excusing it. Constructions of masculinity may become violent through their interaction with 'humiliating' factors like economic disadvantage but the root of it is unquestionably gendered if it occurs in a patriarchal society. I also have mixed feelings about how she discusses the need to cast aside liberal ideas of choice and consider that women in different societies may value and desire different things than we may choose for them. I completely agree, but the problem is that women in any society are not a monolith and may desire different things from each other. In what way can we conceptualize a just society where each woman has the means to pursue her own goal of happiness, whatever that may entail (provided no one else is harmed)? Abu-Lughod points to the fact that many Arab societies are more family-oriented and have different conceptualizations of the self - but she and any other anthropologist would acknowledge, these mores are constantly changing and not held equally among each segments of the population, especially as they come into contact with different views. There are certainly Muslim women, who live in the Muslim world or in the West, who conceive of themselves as individuals and defend the goal of individual liberty. How can we defend (morally) a society's right to pursue its own happiness if the happiness of some of its members entail an infringement upon others (as dissidents from these societies prove exist)? How do we correct these issues that absolutely exist in our own western societies with regards to unequal opportunities due to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination? I don't have the answers and I don't expect Abu-Lughod to either - but I still found the way this point was discussed to be an oversimplification of the many desires of women in the Muslim world (and doesn't even touch upon women that don't adhere to the gendered requirements placed upon them, such as gender non-conforming women and lesbians). At the end of the day we all live in a patriarchal world where patriarchal values affect us to some degree. It's wrong to exceptionalize anyone, of course, and it's true that Muslim women have been the focus of a disproportionate amount of discourse surrounding their choices. Yet mapping morality onto covering (or not covering) the female body is a symptom of patriarchy (just as it is in the West). There is also a lack of psychological analysis that perhaps goes beyond the scope of this book but might be worth mentioning as Abu-Lughod discusses why a woman may stay in an abusive situation where she was tricked and forced into marriage - suggesting the woman may have even fallen in love with her husband but not mentioning known effects of Stockholm syndrome and other psychological coping strategies to violent and traumatic conditions? This kind of speculation minimizes problems like marital rape and spousal abuse and the cycles of trauma that they often create. I almost feel bad writing some of this because I do get understand the author's point in writing the book and I agree with her premises and her ends, if not the logic she uses to connect them. Islam has been maligned worldwide and Muslim women portrayed as victims without agency. Westerners need to be aware of their own privilege (at home and abroad) and unpack any covert imperial assumptions. I'm all for listening to first person accounts, as Abu-Lughod suggests. But what do we do after we listen? How (if at all) do we prioritize these voices? How do we put them into context with the individual situations of the writers, and taking into account that each reflection will be colored in some way by the author's self-interest? One thing that Abu-Lughod and I whole heartedly agree on is that the situation is enormously complex and variable and I would wager that in practice she and I would preach the same things. It's still a book on an important subject with a viewpoint that isn't discussed as much in the mainstream media, so for that alone it's worth reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Basma

    Too academic for my liking but I might get back to the chapters that I skipped later on when I’m in a better mindset for all the information.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ross Torres

    This spring semester I witnessed a professor wax polemically about the US's duty to save Muslim women. He presented the class a story of a Muslim woman whose face was brutally mutilated by her husband for some transgression against him. This was the professor's final word on Islam in a class exploring the major religions of the world. We were presented with few facts: the women was Muslim, her husband mutilated her, and a horrific photo of the women mutilated. He used this brief succession of i This spring semester I witnessed a professor wax polemically about the US's duty to save Muslim women. He presented the class a story of a Muslim woman whose face was brutally mutilated by her husband for some transgression against him. This was the professor's final word on Islam in a class exploring the major religions of the world. We were presented with few facts: the women was Muslim, her husband mutilated her, and a horrific photo of the women mutilated. He used this brief succession of images as the basis of his contention that Islam induces a horrible patriarchal society in that which the men act violently towards women, partly because they are powerless in the outside world. I was disgusted by his violent pornographic argument for the US military to save Muslim women, but I was unable to articulate my astonishment then. These kinds of one-dimensional representations of Muslim women and how they function in the field of international politics is what Lila Abu-Lughod explores in Do Muslim Women Need Saving?. Unlike Professor Leonard, Abu-Lughod's answer is no they do not need saving as what the West presents as a Muslim women doesn't exist. She demonstrates that contrary to popular belief, the Muslim women has agency, the Muslim women doesn't need to be saved from her culture by the “civilized” culture of the West. The West seeks to disregard and to dominate others and this is partly accomplished by the idea of Muslim women needing saving. In order to address the question of the title Abu-Lughod contends we must ask; What is a Muslim woman? How is this identity constructed and maintained? How does the West explicitly use this identity to violently encroach on the sovereignty of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and other countries in the Muslim world? How does the West disregard the agency and the reality of what “Muslim women” are known to experience? This is put into quotes to emphasize how Abu-Laghod demonstrates that “Muslim woman” encompasses a lot of people and thus a wide variety of experiences. We are shown how the idea and depiction of “Muslim women” in pulp non-fiction is the basis of many non-Muslims perceptions of Muslims. Abu-Lughod explains that these narratives depict women as if they were once part of “IslamLand” where they, as women, are specifically targeted by men and suffer violent oppression because of Islam, because they are “Muslim women” but had escaped to the salvation of the West, the “civilized” world (68). She contrasts this image with her experiences working completing ethnography concerning the Bedouin people in Egypt, where she has extensive experience working with women who are Muslim. What she exhibits is that they like every other human can not be reduced to a static victim as is shown in the mainstream literature she analyzes in the book. With this it becomes evident that someone who this label is attached to, is not one-dimensional, but in fact enmeshed in a large network of actors and power. The violence these women may experience from men can not be reduced to Islam. In fact she mentions some instances of women who are trying to push a closer interpretation of Shari'a and with this a more egalitarian society is encouraged. Thus her main argument is brought forth, that the violence between men and women that is sometimes seen in the Muslim world can not be reduced to Islam. I find the book to be continuing the work Edward Said began with Orientalism, using his critical tools of; worldliness, contrapuntal reading and textuality, to write back to the West about other experiences of being a Muslim women that may contradict the West's perception. Abu-Lughod demonstrates that we have to take into account the past and continued colonialism and imperialism violently acted by the West in the Muslim world. We must consider the worldliness of the texts that are necessarily associating violence against women with Islam. If we do this the humanity of who is referred to as the “Muslim women” in Western media can begin to emerge and this label begins to signify different things, stops legitimizing war to save “Muslim women”, makes the division between the “West” and the “East” less clear and the humanity between us all more clear. With an analysis such as what we find in “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” violent polemics against Islam such as of the professor and many leaders in the West, now start to appear as a mad man raving against a ghost who only exists in their mind. These polemics reduce human beings with agency to static victims of a “barbarous” culture through the graphic images of pain and violence. It is emotional hijacking and a dismissal of an entire religion and culture in order to legitimize further violence when we very well have the ability to investigate further. Through works such as Abu-Lughod's we are invited investigate further, to consider Islam and those who practice not as a homogeneous entity but heterogeneous and in process with in itself.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tia

    What a mess, what a disappointment. The first half was good, but after that it started falling apart. I don't know what the target group for this book is; on one hand, many of the points she makes are self-evident to anyone with basic knowledge of Islam and religions in general, but on the other hand the writer tries to cover up insufficient arguments with academic jargon that makes no sense to someone outside of the discipline. The main points of the book would have fit on one page. The long-wi What a mess, what a disappointment. The first half was good, but after that it started falling apart. I don't know what the target group for this book is; on one hand, many of the points she makes are self-evident to anyone with basic knowledge of Islam and religions in general, but on the other hand the writer tries to cover up insufficient arguments with academic jargon that makes no sense to someone outside of the discipline. The main points of the book would have fit on one page. The long-winded conceptualizations of vocabularies and imaginations or whatever just muddle the message, and the writing is off-putting to anyone that prefers understandable language. I would recommend the first three chapters to people who are interested in Islam and women's rights, but don't know very much about the topic. After that - I don't even know. I barely remember the last three chapters. P.S. See the other reviews of the book for a better understanding of its problems.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sehar Moughal

    'No [person] is an island entire of itself, Every [person] is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.' This quote by John Donne complements the argument put forward by Lila: before we judge a culture or religion, we must realize that there are many things at play. We should not ignore the individual's history, their familial ties, their country's politics or the West's involvement before blaming Islam or its 'patriarchy' as the sole cause of the Muslim woman's 'oppression'. Do you think that 'No [person] is an island entire of itself, Every [person] is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.' This quote by John Donne complements the argument put forward by Lila: before we judge a culture or religion, we must realize that there are many things at play. We should not ignore the individual's history, their familial ties, their country's politics or the West's involvement before blaming Islam or its 'patriarchy' as the sole cause of the Muslim woman's 'oppression'. Do you think that a 'Muslim woman' is oppressed? Do you think that a 'Muslim woman' needs to be rescued and shown her rights? Do you think that a 'Muslim woman' blames Islam for her suffering? Do you think that Islam is the cause for a 'Muslim woman's' suffering? Do you feel it is your duty to free the 'Muslim woman' living miles away in a 'remote' land? Do you feel that donating a few dollars every month to teach this 'Muslim woman' a domestic skill, is contribution towards freeing her from 'oppression?' Do you think that your life style in no way affects the 'Muslim woman' living miles away from you? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you must read this book - whether you are Muslim or a non-Muslim. This book is an eye opener for every person who thinks that Islam oppresses women and that our [Muslim women] modesty is a sign of being a caged bird. I must end the review with this quote from the book. I feel this sums up the main message Lila wants the reader to get from her book: "There are the moral crusaders who view Muslim women as distant and different and want to save them. There are the writers who have capitalized on the international political situation and individual women’s traumas by selling morbid memoirs of sensational abuse and escape. There are hardworking activists leading organizations dedicated to fighting forms of gender inequality, including violence. Most speak a dialect of universal rights; others use dialects specific to the Muslim discursive tradition. Some work at the international level, some work locally." Lastly, I love the repetition/reiteration of Lila's ideas since the writing can be hard for someone who is not familiar with anthropological jargon.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Yasmine Flodin-Ali

    Excellent dissection of the politics of representation of Muslim women. Must read for anyone who is interested in Islam in the modern era, or anyone who is interested in the difficult timeless question of how one deals with the "other" and what the images we conjure of those who are unlike ourselves reveal about us. Excellent dissection of the politics of representation of Muslim women. Must read for anyone who is interested in Islam in the modern era, or anyone who is interested in the difficult timeless question of how one deals with the "other" and what the images we conjure of those who are unlike ourselves reveal about us.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tara Calaby

    Second reading for the year, so registering it under another edition.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fred Dameron

    This book asks do Muslim women need saving from Islam and answers a resounding NO. Women in Islamic countries don't need to be saved from Islam but from the corrupt, patriarchal, misogynistic government's and aid agencies that they continue to come in contact with. Government's that decide what programs they will allow. Corruption that ranges from feeding police for nothing at your café to fighting a court system that supports the patriarchy. A government patriarchy that uses extremely conservat This book asks do Muslim women need saving from Islam and answers a resounding NO. Women in Islamic countries don't need to be saved from Islam but from the corrupt, patriarchal, misogynistic government's and aid agencies that they continue to come in contact with. Government's that decide what programs they will allow. Corruption that ranges from feeding police for nothing at your café to fighting a court system that supports the patriarchy. A government patriarchy that uses extremely conservative and selective passage from the Quran to keep the patriarch's in power. The biggest threat to this patriarchy is education. Not just the three R's but also in the Quran. A Quran education that has been received by the new elite women in the Muslim world has done a lot to lift women out of bondage to patriarchal forms. For instance many Muslim women today are saying no to arranged marriages. Their not getting stoned, their not being shunned, their not being forced to live alone and never go out. Some welcome spinsterhood and some regret taking care of their families and putting marriage on hold. But, the point is they chose, within the constricts of the Quran, and with the elders and parents permission to say NO to an arranged match. Also if we look at honor killings we see that this is not a Muslim problem. Look up the word honor in your handy thesaurus. The first simile you see is respect. The line we hear from many Muslim men is "My sister, wife, mother, daughter dishonored the family." How much different is this from the Lauren McCluskey murder in Salt Lake City Utah October of 2018. The shooter felt disrespected by Ms. McCluskey when she broke off their relationship. Disrespect or dishonor: if the Thesaurus says there similes then aren't the murders the same? If the same then doesn't the U.S. also have a "Honor Killing" problem? Or does the Muslim world really have a violence against women problem just like we in the U.S. do? Or does the U.S. actually cloak our oil grabs in the Mid - East and Central Asia under the cloak of "Were saving women from this bestial backwards religion called Islam."? When the real objective is to provide the American consumer with cheap gas for their F350 Pick Ups. Saving women becomes a fourth rate priority to USAID and the slew of NGO"S that descend on these Central and Mid-East nations, well behind security for oil rigs, pipe lines and port facilities. What this work tries to show is that women in the Mid East and Central Asia do need our help, but not as we currently send it. They need new NON-radicalized books on Islamic Law, The Quran, Sharia Law. They need more of the secular teachers to teach their countries law and explain social services that are available. They need politicians to hold the corrupt courts and officials feet to the fire and get right with the majority of the people. They don't need aid packages that send radicalized text books written by the Saudis and teachers trained by Whabbie clerics in the second most backward version of Islam available. That's what these women don't need but it is what they get with USAID packages. This is why we here in the U.S. think they need saving. It's a convenient lie that supports regime change that benefits big oil, costs my comrades lives, limbs, and sanity and in the end gets the U.S. NOTHING. DO Muslim Women Need Saving, YES. But not from Islam. They need saving from the long reach of the American and the West's Imperialist ambitions based on our addiction to oil, that's what they need saving from.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tariq

    I hope the Author doesnt read this. The premise of this book was extremely promising. This is a topic that is of the utmost relevance in the world today, and I had hoped this book would lay the foundations for a compelling argument in favour of Muslim Women. I have to say that in all honesty, this isnt a standard book. It feels and reads like a thesis and while this isnt inherently a bad thing, it isnt the right format to get the message across. I could be a lot more forgiving if it werent for som I hope the Author doesnt read this. The premise of this book was extremely promising. This is a topic that is of the utmost relevance in the world today, and I had hoped this book would lay the foundations for a compelling argument in favour of Muslim Women. I have to say that in all honesty, this isnt a standard book. It feels and reads like a thesis and while this isnt inherently a bad thing, it isnt the right format to get the message across. I could be a lot more forgiving if it werent for some clear issues with the flow of the text itself. For example, throughout the book Lila constantly refers to other chapters and how she has explained (or plans to discuss) topics in that chapter. This is normal by itself, but it happens so frequently that it feels like a self-congratulatory message to the reader that the issue has been discussed elsewhere. This is particularly jarring even when you are in Chapter 5 (for example) and you are reminded that the Author discussed an issue "as she touched on in Chapter 3". It really disturbed the flow of the book and felt as if the manuscript was hastily put together to constitute a book version. A few times is fine, but it happens enough to feel very repetitive. Secondly, the language was extremely verbose. Though I am not a stranger to such language per say, there were times where sentences would run on for almost half a page, which by the time you finished it, you had lost track of the original point. It felt unnecessary and a bit frustrating, especially when the point could have been made clearer in a much simpler way. I strongly believe that eloquence is the art of saying much while speaking little, and this is where this book falls short. As for the content of the book itself, I cant say it was a total loss reading this - but only because if you read a 1000 page book and learn just one profound thing, then overall the book is a benefit. I learnt about the fact that consent in regards to rights is a product of conditioning, as is choice. Whenever people talk of freedom and choice, take it with a pinch of salt, of which the understanding is that noone is truly free. We have all been conditioned and bought up in societies where our choices reflect what is socially acceptable. By understanding this, we can see our choices and those of others in a fairer light. It isnt a simple question of using Secular Western morals with a people who are neither Secular nor (in most cases) Western. I also learnt to frame the discussion of Muslim Womens rights in a different light. When people feel the need to express they want to 'save' Muslim Women, we must ask ourselves: Save from what? Save to what? It betrays the agenda of the proclaimer and is rarely an innocent statement to make. As another reviewer stated, there is a general point and a brilliant book between the pages here somewhere. Within the pages is a brilliant piece of work that is of the utmost importance for our times. Sadly, it has become lost and bogged down in a text I can only call incongruent and inefficiently verbose. 3* for the fact that I learnt a few important concepts, but for a 200+ page book, this should be the bare minimum. I hope Lila Abu-Lughod is able to write a revised edition in the future to rectify these issues and compile her thoughts in a more organised fashion.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aneela

    Read this a while back but I can broadly comment on it. I would recommend the book since its one of the few within its area and does offer some insight however it does get highly repetitive- after establishing that women don't need saving, Abu-Lughod does little to inform an Islamic perspective showcasing why women do not need saving and specific focus is on answering the title question simplistically when the topic stretches deeper than that. The title perhaps should have been: 'Do muslim women Read this a while back but I can broadly comment on it. I would recommend the book since its one of the few within its area and does offer some insight however it does get highly repetitive- after establishing that women don't need saving, Abu-Lughod does little to inform an Islamic perspective showcasing why women do not need saving and specific focus is on answering the title question simplistically when the topic stretches deeper than that. The title perhaps should have been: 'Do muslim women need saving by the west' as her book is limited to ethnographic study despite having many opportunities to discuss religion- she misses many of the Islamicly valid positions of gender roles and escapes islam in general. There is a strong push within her argument to present cultural differences for her claims with heavy focus on discussing the rights of the west to intervene- rather than the rights of intervention on struggling women themsleves with limited philosophy backing her argument.  There are however some strong points to counter act popular belief on honour crimes, foreign intervention strategies etc. I do however feel her article written a decade before the book can be read in its place available here: https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.2002.104.3...  She victimises women within the book not acknowledging women are often the gatekeepers to honour abuse, FGM and other gendered abuse targeted towards men (hyper agency) and women. She also conflates modest dress as signs of religiosity rather than a cultural dres scode (which does have islamic roots but she conflates spiritual and experiential 'islamic' people with those who look 'muslim' enough even though she stresses the dangers of generalisation within her introduction- due to the limited text on the topic it is more of a 'make do with' untill another author attempts to fill the gaps. Just to add- a friend refused to give the book back after I allowed her to borrow so must be worth a read!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Noor Saadeh

    Still making my way through this book but the focus is eye opening and I believe the author simply finds more evidence to support her theme throughout. I am not one to blame colonization as the only reason for the decline of Muslims in the world. Yes it definitely plays a part as most colonized peoples must adhere to the ways of the colonizer. To be fair, Muslims have simply let go of their belief and contrary to media and pundits, Muslims would be far better off, more literate, more advanced, mo Still making my way through this book but the focus is eye opening and I believe the author simply finds more evidence to support her theme throughout. I am not one to blame colonization as the only reason for the decline of Muslims in the world. Yes it definitely plays a part as most colonized peoples must adhere to the ways of the colonizer. To be fair, Muslims have simply let go of their belief and contrary to media and pundits, Muslims would be far better off, more literate, more advanced, more peaceful if they simply adhered to their Book. Typically those who cause terror know their religion very little, if at all. That being said, this book gave new thought and also more information when speaking on Islam and Muslim women. The author's theme is that Islam brought gender equality to the world, at least those in the Muslim world, starting as early as the 600's. Women according to the Qur'an and Prophet Muhammad's example were considered equal to men with differing rights and responsibilities. Women had the right to inherit, own property, retain their family name, accept marriage or seek divorce, the right to education, employment, vote and hold office, yet men were still wholly responsible financially for their upkeep and their children. Pretty radical for the 7th century. However centuries later when the West entered the East and in many instances conquered it, the conquerors were still in the Dark Ages concerning the rights and position of women and enforced their ideas on the Muslims. So little by little what Muslims believe to be the God given rights of women have been chiseled away over the centuries and continues today. To the victor go the spoils. A pity most of us know so little of history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Heather Reads Books

    A really well-written study on post-9/11 rhetoric on Muslim women and how the Bush administration framed human rights discourse to justify interventionist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lila Abu-Lughod is one of my faves from grad school. She writes in a straightforward way and is quite clear that critiquing Western methods purported to help people in need is not an excuse to do nothing and leave them in suffering. We just need to be smart about this and not fall into all-too-common pitfalls that A really well-written study on post-9/11 rhetoric on Muslim women and how the Bush administration framed human rights discourse to justify interventionist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lila Abu-Lughod is one of my faves from grad school. She writes in a straightforward way and is quite clear that critiquing Western methods purported to help people in need is not an excuse to do nothing and leave them in suffering. We just need to be smart about this and not fall into all-too-common pitfalls that reinforce old imperialist power structures. Loved the analysis on gendered Orientalism and how it was operating in foreign policy politics in the 00s. I found the part on the "pulp nonfiction" of women being abused by Muslim men especially fascinating, as well as the discussion of "honor crimes." Went down a real rabbit hole tracing the story of the hoax memoir written by Norma Khouri – that's definitely worth a few googles to see how that saga played out. I wish there had been a little more discussion of just how many of those pulp nonfiction books might have been deliberate frauds. So many of them sounded sketchy af and I thought that was ground ripe for investigation. Ah well, add that to my list of things to research, I suppose...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Greet

    I picked this book up at Stanford University Bookstore and started reading. It started as a promise to be a good book, so I bought it. Now after having read it, it took me 31 months, I’m rather disappointed. There are good ideas developed that made me reflect about the way I look at it, a lot of references included, some stories to illustrate her statements, but… it got too repetitive, too much dwelling on the same subject, too one-direction-conclusion-minded. The conclusion gives a fair idea ab I picked this book up at Stanford University Bookstore and started reading. It started as a promise to be a good book, so I bought it. Now after having read it, it took me 31 months, I’m rather disappointed. There are good ideas developed that made me reflect about the way I look at it, a lot of references included, some stories to illustrate her statements, but… it got too repetitive, too much dwelling on the same subject, too one-direction-conclusion-minded. The conclusion gives a fair idea about the opinion of the author.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Muhned Bnana

    When theory misrepresents reality! how about you wear a hijab and live in a patriarchal society where you have less political and sexual rights? instead of living in the USA ( a secular country) The slaves were happy. many sick people are happy. The fact that you defend cultural sexism and racism under the label that it is just heir cultural is just a type of Salafism (irrational conservatism) Humans strive for freedom and equality, and your argument is just what I would call a Europhobia intellec When theory misrepresents reality! how about you wear a hijab and live in a patriarchal society where you have less political and sexual rights? instead of living in the USA ( a secular country) The slaves were happy. many sick people are happy. The fact that you defend cultural sexism and racism under the label that it is just heir cultural is just a type of Salafism (irrational conservatism) Humans strive for freedom and equality, and your argument is just what I would call a Europhobia intellectualism. some sort of hype

  23. 4 out of 5

    Allison Willey

    If you're ready to move beyond the ideology of Western Feminism and open your mind to new worldviews about women's rights; this is the book for you. I found it an enlightening read to realize that there cannot be any "blanket rights" because our cultures and religions stipulate and shape who we are. 10/10 would recommend to any women or men interesting in exposing themselves to activist anthropology. If you're ready to move beyond the ideology of Western Feminism and open your mind to new worldviews about women's rights; this is the book for you. I found it an enlightening read to realize that there cannot be any "blanket rights" because our cultures and religions stipulate and shape who we are. 10/10 would recommend to any women or men interesting in exposing themselves to activist anthropology.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Zhao

    Recommended to me a while ago, finally got around to read it. I like the arguments and love the writing, none of that annoying academic style but absolutely enjoyable. The part referring to the popular writings got slightly repetitive, but the conclusion does a fair job. Quoting Butler on 'consent', the conclusion really speaks for the complexity of thinking about what should be the foundations for feminism(s), when we also think about interdependency, contingency, care, love, and so on. Recommended to me a while ago, finally got around to read it. I like the arguments and love the writing, none of that annoying academic style but absolutely enjoyable. The part referring to the popular writings got slightly repetitive, but the conclusion does a fair job. Quoting Butler on 'consent', the conclusion really speaks for the complexity of thinking about what should be the foundations for feminism(s), when we also think about interdependency, contingency, care, love, and so on.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Can't decide whether this book is brilliant or a crock. It probably depends on where you fall in terms of reading about women's issues. It definitely was not what I expected. She condemns Western attitudes toward oppression of Muslim women, feeling that we overstate it to justify foreign intervention. Can't decide whether this book is brilliant or a crock. It probably depends on where you fall in terms of reading about women's issues. It definitely was not what I expected. She condemns Western attitudes toward oppression of Muslim women, feeling that we overstate it to justify foreign intervention.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jherane Patmore

    Very academic-heavy but such a great read. I'd love to get my hands on a critique of this work because even though it's very very informative, it tends to be one-sided. Brilliant anthropological work that I think will stand the test of time. Very academic-heavy but such a great read. I'd love to get my hands on a critique of this work because even though it's very very informative, it tends to be one-sided. Brilliant anthropological work that I think will stand the test of time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Reread. Still excellent.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    Read this for a paper and really enjoy it (also found it helpful for my thesis) very intriguing dialogue on common « save Muslim women » biographies

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jey

    really badly wanted to like this book, it had such promising potential but the author really doesn't make solid conclusions to her considerations. really badly wanted to like this book, it had such promising potential but the author really doesn't make solid conclusions to her considerations.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Saima

    Very academic, some new info but also redundancy throughout the book.

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