Reading through Licia Corbella’s Calgary Herald article “Obama’s Speech filled with dangerous equivocations”, I was filled with a sense of disgust and awe. Disgust because of the assumptions and generalisations she makes and awed because, considering her experience, one would not expect such a shallow analysis of Obama’s speech addressing the Muslim people. Early on in her article she divides the world into a Muslim and a Western world, with the no possibility of overlap between the two. Clearly from her article one is backwards, and primitive, and the other civilised and progressive.
She presents the Western world as being the ideal of humanity and the Muslim world being primitive, ruled by “medieval-minded men” and with human rights “rare to non-existent in these countries”. The amount of generalisation and over-exaggeration in the article is incredible. She repeatedly implies the practise of certain Muslim countries as the practices and laws of all Muslim countries through the use of “Islamic world” and “Muslim world” as a whole, practising certain laws. She states
that women in Islamic world should not be forced to wear a hijab or niqab…
She ignores the fact that only two countries in the “Islamic world” (Iran and Saudi Arabia) enforce a head cover. Similarly she states that the Muslim world is ruled by “brutal dictators” suggesting every Muslim country is a dictatorship. Clearly this is not the case. Although dictatorships may exist in some countries of West Asia, the majority of Muslim-majority countries, are not dictatorships. (Some examples include Pakistan and Turkey, which are democracies; Malaysia, which is a constitutional monarchy; and the UAE, which is a federation.) Before the war, Iraq would have been a dictatorship, though it should be noted that it was supported by the US at some point.
Additionally, all Muslim men in this article are represented as extremely backward people with no individuality and with no hope for progression.
One stunning accusation she makes, without giving any substantial proof, is
…in all of Muslim world beating one’s wife is not just condoned but even encouraged and taught in the mosques.
Such an accusation assumes that all Muslim men beat their wives regularly and their society not only encourages such an act but also teaches them how to perform this act. This implies Muslim women have no freedom whatsoever and all Muslim men at some point in their life will be abusive towards their wife. This accusation is hard to absorb, considering that I belong to a Muslim family and have never once witnessed encouragement of wife battering in any mosque in the west or in the east. As a matter of fact, wife beating and domestic abuse are extremely discouraged and looked down upon by societies and mosques themselves. Domestic violence is part of every society regardless, of whether it is in the west or east, and it can’t be generalized to just one society.
Her constant attempt to not regard Muslim women’s struggle for rights as equal to problems faced by women in the West is quite bleak. She repeatedly suggests that problems faced by western women are minor to the problems faced by Muslim women because western laws protect them and they are literate and aware of those laws. In contrast to them, Muslim women living in the whole of “Muslim world” are supposedly illiterate, unaware of their rights or even unaware of being victimised. Hence the struggle is greater and harder for Muslim women. It is quite astonishing that she fails to recognise, being a Canadian writer, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act introduced by Stephen Harper in parliament that revokes the right of Canadian women to demand equitable pay. If revoking a right of a western woman is this easy (and, according to Corbella, minor) then how are Muslim women’s struggles greater than Western women, if even some Western women are illiterate with regards to their own rights?
In addition, she also fails to recognize the continuing plight of non-white women trying to achieve equality in the Western World. By assuming that Western women’s plight is minor to that of Muslim women’s struggle, she undermines the struggle of Native women and women of colour in trying to achieve equality. Native women’s struggle for equality is a continuing and by no means minor struggle. They have to face racism in every aspect of Western law. Hence, they are not even recognized as equal in Western law, contrary to Corbella’s belief that “before the law, all western women are equal citizens.” Western women in this article seem to be only white women who supposedly do not have to struggle anymore for their equality and rights. Maybe Corbella needs to talk to a few Western feminists. I’m sure they would clear up this misconception in a second.
By generalizing and exaggerating, Corbella creates a perception of only a misogynistic Muslim society without acknowledging the reality that Muslims come from a wide variety of cultures and countries practising their own laws. If one were to read this article without having any prior knowledge of diversity of Muslim people, one would probably believe Muslim men as patriarchal, and animalistic, Muslim women as being brutalised at the hands of their male counterparts, without having the ability to think and decide for themselves, and Muslim society as the most primitive of societies in the modern progressive world of today.