July 18

I wrote previously about the tendency of others to speak on behalf on Muslim women. Today was a symposium where everyone basically said what they think women should or should not do.

It was really uncomfortable, for many reasons:

1) The main attendees were high school kids. I got this feeling that they have only a very basic understanding of the MENA region, which is why I felt that they couldn’t grasp the fact that…

2) …America and the Middle East are not the same things. A solution that works for America will not necessarily work for us. There is a profound differences between the two areas, and I feel like this isn’t said enough. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to social issues around the world.

3) I felt like we, the Arabs, didn’t do a decent job conveying an idea of what our region is like. People took extreme examples, a couple of tiffs broke out among us, and I felt like this reflected really badly on us as a group.

4) If you can’t talk about your religion in front of others with complete conviction of what it declares, leave it. Don’t change it to suit your own personal beliefs, don’t apologize for it, and above all DO NOT LIE ABOUT IT. A persistent act I see from Muslims in America is this apologist approach when explaining something in the context of our religion or culture. I’m not saying our culture is perfect, but neither is the American one, so maybe this whole inferiority complex needs to go.

5) Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and belief. If they don’t disrespect yours, don’t disrespect theirs. If someone says something you disagree with, speak with them about it, don’t go on a witch hunt trying to denigrate them as though it will give your argument more credibility.

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Libyan women won 17% of the seats in our first parliamentary election. They achieved this after revoking the quota set up for them. No one had a symposium to discuss whether Libyan women should be allowed to be part of government. No one debated the right of Libyan women to vote. It all happened naturally, organically, part of our growth as a nation on the road to rebuilding.

This is what we need to highlight, what we need to point out. Yes, women’s rights is an issue in the MENA region, but it’s not a stagnant problem that can’t be resolved. We’re taking huge strides and succeeding. This in of itself is a testament that the Middle East can work out it’s own problems, just give us the time and space to do so.

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