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MSNBC: Mona Eltahawy vs. Leila Ahmed

FP Sex Issue

Mona Eltahawy is no doubt an engaging and well-spoken woman, and although her recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine was inflammatory and lacking in nuance, she’s raised some important issues about women’s rights in Egyptian society and the broader Arab world. Danios challenged Eltahawy’s sweeping generalizations in a feature article, Why Do They Hate Us? They Don’t.

Dr. Leila Ahmed, Harvard Divinity School’s first women’s studies professor, also challenged Eltahawy during an interview with MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.  Eltahawy said during the interview that Dr. Ahmed is one of her personal heroes.

However, the two women don’t see eye-to-eye on some key issues. For example, Eltahawy supports a ban on the burqa, but in the summer of 2011, Dr. Ahmed wrote her own article for Foreign Policy Magazine, Veil of Ignorance, advancing the notion modern feminists had gotten it wrong when it comes to the veil:

These are just the first stirrings of a new era in the story of Islam in the West. Historically, religions undergo enormous transformations as one strain of belief and practice gains ascendancy over another. Living religions are by definition dynamic: Witness the changes that have occurred in the last decades as women have become pastors and rabbis. A similar process is now under way within Islam, as the veil, once an emblem of patriarchy, today carries multiple meanings for its American and European wearers. Often enough, it also serves as a banner and call for justice — and yes, even for women’s rights.

Some of Eltahawy’s fiercest criticism has come from Arab and Muslim women, and it’s refreshing to see the mainstream media showing opposing views. The video starts out with a thoughtful discussion between Perry and Eltahawy, and the part featuring Dr. Ahmed begins about halfway through.

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  • Mona initially strike me to malign Islam, however, after cornered by Dr. Ahmed she started to sign a different tune. I am sure she is well informed by Islamic detractors as to what it takes to pitch a book sale in the U.S i.e always blame the Muslim religion for every social problem in the M.E.

  • Just Stopping By

    @khushboo: Apology accepted. And it’s not as if you made the original mistake, so I don’t blame you at all.

  • khushboo

    JSB, I apologize. My mistake.

  • Just Stopping By

    @Khushboo and Sal: Sigh. The link wasn’t mine. It’s Sarah AB’s. Check her name at one of her comments.

    As for that link, I did a quick check and nothing really jumped out at me. Perhaps someone could link to a particularly offensive post there.

  • Sal

    Kboo, why should that link be snipped? Petty of you, to equate the two, DrM is a proven liar hence everything he says is suspect, JSB is not

  • Senor

    DrM is awesome. Enough said.

    Mona is somebody who is only on American television, because she has critical things to say about Islam and makes it look bad. It serves the purpose for the political climate here.

    The kinds of Muslims being propped up on American television are the likes of Mona. If she made Islam look good, she would be useless. She is one of those “Progressive Muslims” who thinks Islam is ancient and should be upgraded like a computer program. Of course, she wants Islam to be to her liking.

  • Just Stopping By


    Thanks. Believing Atheist pointed out to me that DrM presumably meant Sarah AB, whose direct link here is to harry’s place. I guess we do both end our screen names with a “B,” but I would think that that shouln’t be enough to confuse someone.

    Still waiting for the apology…

  • Believing Atheist

    Harry’s Place is not racist. Sarah AB writes for that blog. It has attacked Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller several times for their bigotry against Muslims.

    It has also published an Amnesty International Report showcasing the discrimination Muslims face in Europe.

    It has attacked Israelis for assaulting Arabs during soccer games.

  • Sal

    DrM you did not substantiate this

    Eltahawy only calls herself a Muslim to lend her regressive views credibility. The “secular” label is just to curry favor from ignorant westerners.

    Back this up. Source? What is Mona if she is not a Muslim? Why do you never back up your ‘facts’? Waiting..

  • khushboo

    er, JSB just gave the link. Shouldn’t that be snipped as well? Let’s be consistent.

  • khushboo

    methinks there’s favoritism going on here.

  • Danios

    @ DrM:

    Eltahawy only calls herself a Muslim to lend her regressive views credibility.

    I don’t think there is any way you can know this, and as such, it is just a baseless and inappropriate accusation.

    I think Sarah AB’s comment is basically correct: secular could mean atheistic/agnostic or it may simply be someone who believes in the separation of church/state. Either way, someone who takes an academic approach would label such a person as Muslim.

  • Danios

    @ Just Stopping By:

    I snipped it for you.

  • Just Stopping By

    @DrM says, “I wouldn’t pay much attention to JSB comment since she links to the racist Zionist site, ‘harry’s place'”

    Where do I do that? (And, since I know nothing of harry’s place, I am neither accepting nor denying the claim that it is racist.) Please either provide a link to where I do so or an apology.

    Throwing around accusations of racism is serious and it’s shameful if you did so without checking. I actually did the legwork for you, and it may be that you are confusing me with Yitzhak Goodman and his judeopundit site, which does link to harry’s place.

    Again, proof or sincere apology please.

    Also, LW, if there is either an apology or no proof presented, can you please insert an editor’s note into that comment noting either the retraction or failure of evidence?

  • DrM

    @Ilisha ,

    Thanks about clarification regarding the spam post. I wouldn’t pay much attention to [snipped] comment since she links to the racist Zionist site, “harry’s place.” Eltahawy only calls herself a Muslim to lend her regressive views credibility. The “secular” label is just to curry favor from ignorant westerners.
    Eltahawy worships the not-so-almighty dollar.

  • DrM

    Loonwatch, my comment was likely caught as spam. It details how Eltahawy had no problems working for a Saudi rag. Please approve it.

    [None of your comments went into spam or trash. I do see a similar comment posted on the other Eltahawy thread. Ilisha]

  • Asif

    She is neither engaging nor attractive. In fact, I wish I had not seen her as she looks very much like a fish out of water in the interview…Really foxy lady who knows how to fool the naive west and make money representing the helpless east….

  • rookie

    Zakariya Ali
    “Mona Eltahawy strikes me as yet another one of those ‘native experts,’ who channels her accent, ethnic sounding name and dark skin to appeal to naive westerners.”

    I believe, her first step in this direction was, as she said, removing her headscarf.
    And I am quite sure she intentionally mentioned her decision in the debate concerning headscarf-something like “I am now liberated”.

  • I think the word ‘secular’ is important here. It is sometimes used almost as a synonym for atheist, and if someone described themselves as a ‘secular Jew’ I’d probably think that was intended. But ‘secular’ can just mean a belief in the complete separation of church/religion and state to ensure optimal freedom for those of all religions or none. I’m a strong believer in secularism, though it’s got different shades of intensity – for example, I’m opposed to bans on religious dress in the public sphere – I see that as the state interfering in one’s religion. In the context of Islam, and Islamist parties in Egypt, it seems particularly likely that Eltahawy was referring to the separation of religion and the state. That cover is a bit sensationalising – I’m less naturally inclined to take issue with her than most others here, but I can see why the way the piece has been framed has alienated people.

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