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Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Hardcover – 8 Nov 2013

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"Lila Abu Lughod's book is a critical reflection on this mushrooming industry [of saving Muslim women], and its representatives, representations and bureaucracy... Abu Lughod's aim is to disentangle our concern with saving Muslim women from the multiple realties of women's lives." --Madawi Al-Rasheed, Times Higher Education, 7/11/13

[A] beautiful book. It is a riveting account by an academic who has spent many years observing women in the Middles East [...] Abu Lughod is a great listener and a sharp observer of everyday life [...] and has an ear for stories that don't make headlines. --Elif Shafak, Literary Review, 1 December 2013

Abu-Lughod reverses the usual direction of inquiry by focusing on those who advocate Muslim women's rights, rather than the women they seek to help. The book answers its title by pointing to the problem with the way the question is posed. --Times Literary Supplement, 24 April 2014

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Reasoned, provocative, and well-researched 23 Feb. 2014
By Clio - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Please allow me to preface my comments: I have read the book start to finish. I have also read the footnotes. Other comments on this book, are not well acquainted with the work and have little ability to shed light on the book or its merits. Indeed, references to Hitler without having read the book are laughable. Please see "Huffman's Hitler Hypothesis" or "Godwin's Law" to see how little credibility or usefulness such claims have on an intellectual argument. They do, however, help to make Abu-Lughood's arguments that there is a gendered orientalism at play in how we think about Muslim women and their 'bondage' in an imaginary place, "IslamLand." the author has done 20+ years of field work in Egypt and other places, and she speaks based on her rich and varied field research. She takes to task the "pulp non-fiction pornography" peddled by many mostly journalists speaking on behalf of 'other women' in the last 20 years. In assessing this genre she laments the focus on the individual and the ways in which that focus on one, 'horrible' story fills in for the whole of the Muslim Woman's experience authorizing the West and 'governance feminists' (page 79) to intervene via 'honor tote bags' and other feel good capitalist ventures. It might be useful for people to watch Chimamanda Adhichie's TedTalk, "The Danger of a Single Story," The [...] <[...]> to gain a sense of the need for multifocal stories, community knowledge and longterm, rich ethnography that Abu-Lughood is working from and arguing for in her work.

The book ultimately explores the political work done and allowed to be done on 'behalf' of women when we make claims on behalf to he universal at the expense of actual women's lives and experiences. Indeed what are the investments of NGOs as varied as the Women's Global Fund and the foundational work done by Laura Bush in the lives of 'suffering Muslim Women' in whose name the US has intervened in Afghanistan and waged a 10+ years long war? What violence--structural and immediate-- has happened because we in the west sent military operatives to Afghanistan? She noes that "women's rights provide a useful conduit for foreign intervention and government involvement" in the reordering of the social fabric of Muslim communities (page 171). Moreover, she works against the violence occasioned when we fight for justice as a removal from culture, as rights an a prior rather than culturally constructed and situated framework. She challenges feminists, NGOs, and various western to governments that "We should want justice and rights for women, but can we accept that there might be different ideas about justice and that different women might want, or even choose, different futures from ones that we envision as best?" (page 43) She cautions that "secularism has not brought about women's freedom or equality in the West." (page 19) and that it secularism in the Middle East or elsewhere would displace kinship bonds and framings that might prove more useful, and liberatory for many women.

Ultimately poverty and globalization seem to be powerful forces that are tearing apart communities and leaving them vulnerable to forms of predation and exploitation. How do we women and their communities reposed in the face of multi-national corporations and elites who upend traditional patterns of sustainable life? (p.176, 194, 196)

The book is admirable in its analytical abilities, but it is not without fault. One wonders what would have happened had she engaged her ethnographic subjects in more sustain dialogues about what they wanted their rights and freedoms to entail. Time and again her subjects dismiss notions of their repression, and invoke a narrative of progress--better access to education, more opportunity to have their rights protected both at the local/familial level, and by some government laws and regulations--but what more did these women want or need? We don't know. Additionally the issue of female genital cutting/mutilation is left unexamined--a small reference, but it is the elephant in the room. If choice and consent is a fraught concept as Abu-Lughood argues, then how should we frame our understanding of this practice that too often is performed on young women and girls without their consent without a clear choice of "no" being available to them? How might we have a conversation about this practice that allows us to critique the rhetoric of 'women held in bondage of IslamLand' as so many 'pulp non-fictions' do without resorting to the othering and rescue narratives she decries? It feels as if she left us in the lurch without a clear way through this issue.I should say that throughout the work she challenges us to look at the violence experienced by women in what we might call the Global North and she may respond that FGC/M are less prevalent than the domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse, etc. faced by women in the Global North, but that answer would feel too trite and unpersuasive.

In sum, the book is a terrific and learned critique of "women's rights are human rights" discourse and the work done in the name of rescuing muslim women.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
cultural insights 4 April 2014
By Allen Holder - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In trying to understand the complexities of human rights in a global world Lila Abu-Lughod brings many experiences and insights to helping the Westerners learn and understand these dilemmas. With many examples from Egypt and even Palestine the reader sees the complexity of issues and how difficult the prognosis of remedying the perceived problems can be. Although I did not agree with everything in this book that the author brought up many great points that are worthy of contemplation.

The most powerful lesson learned in this book is one of humility, patients, and taking the time to listen to other cultures before we engage in trying to fix what we don't fully understand.

And as those born in affluent countries we need to understand the power that we have and the responsibility that comes with it. Lila Abu-Lughod would challenge us to not be hasty with our conclusions and to try to understand where women in other cultures come from. Far too often outsiders come in trying to fix perceived problems in ways that may actually hinder those who are trying to be helped. Instead we must come in with humility seeking to learn first and asking important questions to those who we are trying to help.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has the desire for humanitarian work or helping others.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Mind-opening, forever changed my perspective of the Middle East 19 Sept. 2014
By Alison - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The first Middle Eastern/Islamic-related book that points out the truths that has permeated our culture for so long. Lila Abu-Lughod makes a convincing case that opened my mind to the mistreatment of Islamic representation, as well as First world "savior-complex". From reading Abu-Lughod's book, I took a step back of what truths I genuinely knew of other cultures that weren't biased or altered from our own.
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
From a different perspective 29 April 2014
By mamaincharge - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
-Although the people in my discussion group were very critical of this book, I rate it highly because it gives a very different perspective, and we all need to look at serious subjects from different angles.
-My peers' concerns seemed to be mainly two-fold: one was a distaste for the complex and confusing sentence structure with the overuse of semi-colons and one was a strong disbelief that women in any culture would hold values other than theirs.
-Since I am a Christian woman living in the Southern USA, " saving" implies to me Christian conversion. That is not at all what Lila Abu-Lughod means. She is referring more to liberal women's libbers wanting to save Muslim women from oppressive male-dominated societies. Her contention is that, although all people ( men and women) in all cultures crave safety and respect, we also value such things as community,family, religious norms, etc.
-If I understand correctly, this author advocates finding more options than the two opposites that seem to be generally proposed. That is one being Muslim extremism and the other being Western individualism.
-My major disappointement was that I had expected we would have Christians, Jews, Muslims and agnostics in our discussion group and that we might have opened the door to cross-cultural dialog. That did not happen.
6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Strong Dissertation that Examines Freedom and Relativism 5 Dec. 2013
By Isabella Cuomo - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Lila has always been one of my favorite academics on the issue of Muslim women in modern day society, both in the West and the Middle East and how this relates to the recent wars. She takes a very relative approach to the argument and yes some of her points are a bit far stretched but overall she presents an argument that makes you think twice about oppression and judging someone's freedom status based on their style of dress and religious beliefs.
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