A friend of mine who works in India recommended I pick up Nine Parts of Desire back in the summer. I just got around to reading it this last month and found it really fascinating.
The author, Geraldine Brooks, is an Australian-born, Jewish reporter who was sent to the Middle East to cover the emerging newstories of the 90s. Based in Cairo, but traveling throughout the Middle East (including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, Palestine, just to name a few), she was able to push the limitations normally ascribed to women in the culture in the name of "journalism" to get her stories. Granted unprecedented access to some of the regions most notorious figures, Brooks delivers a capitvating memoir and analysis of her years covering the politics, culture, and religion of Muslim-dominated countries. And she specifically revisits her interpretations of the role of women in the region, which varies from country to country.
Having a journalism degree myself, I always appreciate the unbiased investigative look into places and traditions that I find fascinating in their own right. Her Jewish religion (which she does not actively practice) never interferes with her covereage, her Western (Australian) heritage never skews her view, and she does not become enamoured with the culture in a way to twists her reporting.
The biggest critique I have of the book is of no fault to the author... Nine Parts of Desire was published in 1995 after six years of living in the Middle East covering news for international reporting conglomerates. The region, the religion, and the movement of both have been drastically affected post-9/11. So, I am curious what a similar experience would look like for Brooks had the dates of her journey been the last 8 years as opposed the 90s. The world is a very different place since Sept 11th. I imagine the book would be as well.
In the conclusion, Brooks writes a brief analysis of the "fight" Muslim women have against countries which "oppress" them in the name of religion. This is obviously a hot topic and a sensitive one across the world. But she spins the concept of this "fight" in a new way for me that really made me stop and think.
"As Westerners, we profess to believe that human rights are an immutable international currency, independent of cultural mores and political circumstances. At a Geneva conference on the International Declaration of Human Rights in 1993... Iran, Cuba, China and Indonesia (among others) argued that the West had imposed its human rights ideology on nations whose very different religious and political histories gave them the right to choose their own. To me, the argument boils down to this ghastly and untenable proposition: a human right is what the local despot says it is.
"Is it even our fight? As a mental test, I always try to reverse the gender. If some ninety million little boys were having their penises amputated (the equivalent to female genital multilation), would the world have acted to prevent it by now? You bet.
"Sometimes substituting race for gender is also an interesting exercise. Say a country-- a close Western ally and trading partner-- had a population half white, half black. The whites had complete control of the blacks. They could beat them if they disobeyed. They deprived them of the right to leave the house without permission; to walk unmolested without wearing the official segregated dress; to hold any decent job in the government, or to work at all without the permission of the white in control of them. Would there have been an uproar in our countries by now? Would we have imposed trade sanctions and subjected this country to international opprobrium? You bet. Yet countries such as Saudi Arabia, which deprive half their population of these most basic rights, have been subjected to none of these things." (pg 237)
Just makes you think of the struggle in a different light, I think. I highly suggest picking up this book!