Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971


Women and the Political Process in Twentieth Century Iran

Parvenu Paidar, Women and the Political Process in Twentieth Century Iran (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

This book argues that in neither the Pahlavi nor the Islamic eras have Iranian women enjoyed direct and independent control over the establishment of gender policies. “By destroying the independence of the women’s movement through cooption and coercion, both secular and Islamic states aimed to protect the nation…from the negative side effects of women’s social emancipation” (p. 358).


Barbara Daly Metcalf, ed., Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

Moroccan Youth, Sex and Islam

According to official statistics from Morocco’s Ministry of Public Health, from the beginning of the AlDS pandemic to 1997, 450 cases of HIV infection had been recorded in the country. At the same time, a minimum of 100,000 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, chancroid and genital herpes are reported annually in Morocco. [1]

Power and Sexuality in the Middle East

In early 1993, news of President Clinton’s proposal to end the US military’s ban on service by homosexuals prompted a young Egyptian man in Cairo, eager to practice his English, to ask me why the president wanted “to ruin the American army” by admitting “those who are not men or women.” When asked if “those” would include a married man who also liked to have sex with adolescent boys, he unhesitatingly answered “no.” For this Egyptian, a Western “homosexual” was not readily comprehensible as a man or a woman, while a man who had sex with both women and boys was simply doing what men do.

An Islamic Women’s Liberation Movement?

Heba Ra’uf ‘Izzat, 29, is a teaching assistant in the Political Science Department at Cairo University. Active in the Islamist movement, she is known for her academic research on women’s political role from the perspective of political Islam and its theory. She edits the women’s page in al-Sha‘b, a weekly opposition newspaper published by a coalition of the Muslim Brothers and the Labor Party.

Universalism and Solidarity

Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam (Addison-Wesley, 1991).

Hisham Sharabi, ed., Theory, Politics and the Arab World: Critical Responses (Routledge, 1990).

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Indiana, 1991).

Is the “Fatwa” a Fatwa?

In saluting author Salman Rushdie and expressing solidarity with his plight, I would like to put on the table the question of whether the notorious “fatwa” issued by Ayatollah Khomeini against Rushdie is really a fatwa in the first place. This is neither an academic exercise nor a purely theoretical investigation, but a matter of great practical relevance to any strategy (and tactics) for helping Rushdie the prisoner, writer and human being transcend the debilitating impasse in which he finds himself.

The New Orientalism and the Democracy Debate

The “collapse of communism” in 1989 and the victory over Iraq in 1991 sparked a wave of triumphal declarations by Western pundits and analysts who believed that all “viable systemic alternatives to Western liberalism” had now been exhausted and discredited. Some then tried to sketch a foreign policy appropriate to the “new world order.” [1] A consistent theme of this “new thinking” was that the peoples of the developing countries must now acknowledge that liberal democracy is the only plausible form of governance in the modern world. Accordingly, support for democratization should henceforth be a central objective of US diplomacy and foreign assistance. [2]

Islam and Human Rights

Kevin Dwyer, Arab Voices: The Human Rights Debate in the Middle East (Routledge, 1991).

Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics (Westview, 1991).

Fischer and Abedi, Debating Muslims

Michael M.J. Fischer and Mehdi Abedi, Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition (Wisconsin, 1990).

In the older literature on the Middle East and the Muslim world, Islam almost invariably appeared as a religion of fanaticism: austere in its outlook, menacing in its proselytizing tendencies, intellectually impoverished, antagonistic toward reason and monolithic in its structure. Above all it was described as essentially different from Western rationalism, capitalism and democracy.

Binder, Islamic Liberalism

Leonard Binder, Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies (Chicago, 1988).

Zubaida, Islam, the People and the State

Sami Zubaida, Islam, the People and the State: Essays on Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East (Routledge, 1989).

Modem Western literature on political Islam in the Middle East today generally falls into two categories: US-style think tank writing and intellectual proselytism.

Think tank “scholarship” addresses Islam as a threat. Its essential concern is how Islam as represented by the Moroccan, Pakistani and Saudi governments, so congenial to the West, could suddenly tum into the hostage-taking, anti-Western Islam of the Iranian revolution. “Why did Islam become an enemy?” is the question; the answer can only be as bad as the premises within which it is formulated.

Editor’s Bookshelf (July/August 1988)

The defeat of the Arab states in the June 1967 war was more than a military setback. It was also a blow against the radical nationalist project and its modern and secular cultural orientation which bonded the Arab world and the West even as it provided a framework for resistance to Western economic, political and cultural domination. Since 1967, only the Palestinian national movement has continued to advance the flag of radical nationalism. Elsewhere, a romantic Islamism, brandishing the slogan of cultural “authenticity,” has posed the most consistent challenge to continuing Western domination of the Middle East.

Apprehensions of Islam

Bruno Etienne, L’islamisme radical (Paris: Hachette, 1987.)

Gilles Kepel, Les banlieues de l’islam: naissance d’une religion en France (Paris: Seuil, 1987.)


The “Turkish-Islamic Synthesis”

The Hearth of Intellectuals, a small organization comprising some 150 conservative journalists, academics and other intellectuals, has functioned as a sort of fountainhead for a new legitimizing ideology for the Turkish Republic. Gencay Şaylan refers to them as the “Turkish Opus Dei” in his 1988 book, Islam and Politics. Indeed, the Hearth resembles this Spanish Catholic institution in its goals of providing the intellectual and moral foundations for an authoritarian political system.

Turkey’s Tarikats

Tarikats are religious orders established to “search for divine truth.” They have been part of Turkish cultural and social life for centuries. The groups discussed here are Sunni. Turkey’s Shi‘a do have their own religious orders, but as a result of the persecution they suffered during Ottoman rule and later at the hands of rightwing forces in the 1970s, they support secular principles and are generally non-political.

The Political Uses of Islam in Turkey

For the past several years, the Turkish press has seemed obsessed with irtica, a word of Arabic origin meaning religious reaction and obscurantism. The media has reported incident after incident in which hoca and imam urged their followers not to stray from the path of true Islam, where men and women were not allowed to sit in the same classrooms, where secularism and Atatürk came under explicit attack.


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