Friday, October 8, 2010

Both Right and Left Handed

Bouthaina Shaaban holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Warwick and has served as the first Minister of Expatriates in the Syrian government. She is currently the political and media adviser to President Bashar al-Assad and has been described as the Syrian "regime's face to the outside world.

Shabaan's book Both Right and Left Handed: Arab Women Talk About Their Lives, published in 1988, is based on interviews with Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Algerian women expressing a wide range of opinions on the Arab traditions and mores and how they shape their lives and control their roles as daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, professionals, activists, and even guerrilla fighters, in the Arab society.

Neither a surprise nor a secret, yet it was still heart breaking to read about the dire conditions of Arab women regardless of the social or economic backgrounds they come from. But the most depressing fact repeated by the women interviewed was that - even as early as the 80s of last century - it was clear to them that the social gains won by women in the 50s and the 60s are systematically lost to the wave of Superficial Islam that is sweeping the Arab World.

By the time I reached page 221 and seeing that there were only a few pages left, I had given up any hope of finding a single Arab society where women were treated with the respect and appreciation they deserve. So I was happily surprised when the exception to the rule came from the least likely location in the Arab World.

The light at the end of the tunnel came from the reddish Sahara of southern Algeria. Shaaban explains: "As a woman I found in Al Tuareg society a unique type of women's emancipation which derives its mores and logic directly from the same historical source as all Arab countries' laws, namely the Koran and the sayings of Prophet Mohamed."

I suggest that Arab women read this book to find out why most of them should be extremely envious of the Tuareg women. I also recommend that all women whose fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons are typical male chauvinists spend any money they can spare on one-way tickets for those men to spend a year in Tigmar, Dirhinanen, or Askaram living among and learning the customs and traditions of the Tuareg tribe.

Return tickets will only be granted to the men who, at the end of the year, pass a thorough an extensive exam to ensure that they have fully understood and adopted the Tuareg mores. Flunking the exam means walking home.