Posted by: istop4books | July 28, 2009

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks

nine partsThis book was written in 1994, pre-9/11 and pre my interest in the Middle East. I mean I knew a little bit about a couple of countries, but not much. This book changes that. I had read Brooks book, Year of Wonders about the plague, and March, about the Civil War – both excellent books, but I had no idea she was an accomplished journalist whom the Wall Street Journal had sent to the Middle East as a foreign correspondent – and not for six month, but for 6 years. Her curiosity, open mindedness and intelligence turn what could have been a scholastic, academic subject, into a readable, understandable short enough to get through work of nonfiction. The fact that she wrote it before 9/11 gives it perhaps more of an unbiased view, although I dare say I think it would have been unbiased anyway. It is, however, one woman’s experience – hers and hers alone. She donned the abaya, the scarf and whatever other garment she needed to wear and introduced herself into the lives of these women to further understand it. She herself is not muslim, and it is strictly her perspective that dominates the book. The book is well researched. And as Salmon Rushdie said to her “make no mistakes.” It’s the kind of book which is easy to criticize as it touches on the touchiest of subjects, Faith and Religion. There is only one thing worse than a critique of someone else’s religion – it’s a critique of your own faith. And so it seems to me that Brooks dotted all her I’s and crossed all her t’s. She researched and explained all her points, and illustrated them with real people. Brooks organizes the book into chapters that talk about childhood, education, female genital mutilation, politics, work, family life , to name a few, and gives a wealth of historical background information on the Koran, on Mohammed and his wife Fatima – to bring the reader to the point of understanding how the Islamic world has arrived at their positions regarding women now. She also distinguishes between the different countries (although she doesn’t much touch progressive Turkey), she does go into a bit of the history of Jordan, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia being the most repressive of the Middle Eastern societies, Iran and Egypt being the most progressive. To me, in particular, I see the world of Islam, and most especially fundamentalism, as female apartheid. It is a world of rules set by men for the betterment of men. Men who cannot keep it zipped if they hear the voice of a woman, who cannot contain themselves if they see an ankle, or a bit of hair. Men who place so much emphasis on their lack of self control, that sexuality (or lack thereof) permeates every aspect of every bit of their lives. And in doing so, deny 50% of their human population the right to live, the right of choice, to make decisions, to fulfill their dreams to create a purposeful life, to make mistakes. In the end, I just don’t get it.


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