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Shadia: Islam for enlightenment, liberation

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

May 02, 2012|By Mona Shadia

There's been a storm of controversy in the Arab and Muslim community over a recent Foreign Policy magazine article.

The essay, "Why Do They Hate Us?", outlines the atrocities many Arab women suffer at the hands of men. In short, the writer posits that Arab men hate women.

That writer isn't me, though we share the same first name (Mona) and native and adopted (Egypt, the U.S.) countries. Her name is Mona Eltahawy.

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As if we needed it, this article divided the Arab and Muslim-American community into two groups: those who hailed Eltahawy for her courage, and those who admonished her for being yet another writer appealing to Western sensibilities with a subjective, narrow, emotionally gripping list of atrocities directed toward women by Arab, Muslim men.

And then there's me, hanging out somewhere in the middle, playing devil's advocate.

On the one hand, I know what it's like to be in Eltahawy's position.

My mom was married off by my grandmother to a man 22 years her senior, a man she couldn't stand and never loved. He beat her, even as she carried me in the womb, and generally humiliated and embarrassed her until she divorced him in the Egyptian courts — not an easy thing to do in that era. I remain proud of her for breaking free.

Growing up, my uncles helped raise me. One, who regular readers know as "Uncle Beautiful," hit and emotionally abused me. He once punched me in the face, dislocating the bone above my left eyebrow. He also once beat me so hard that it was difficult for me to move afterward. And he sometimes allowed the neighbors' kids to watch as he hit me.

After moving to America, I spent a decade not speaking with him.

Like Eltahawy, I too can recite a list of tragedies and injustices toward Arab women, but I also have good memories of my uncle teaching, encouraging, believing in, empowering and defending me. As cruel as his hand could be, he took pride in my achievements, and, to this day, cheers me on in my career and in life.

He made it his responsibility to protect me. He enriched my life with books and stories. He served as a role model with his honest way of life and work ethics.

Does he hate me?

I don't think so.

Is he a product of a collective, cultural ignorance that allowed him to both beat and praise me, to be compassionate and decent, to be emotionally and physically cruel?

I am leaning that way.

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