Sabria S. Jawhar
THE other day I saw the face of American journalism and it wasn’t evil. It was just plain dumb. And that face belongs to Sally Quinn of the Washington Post.
Quinn managed in less than four minutes in an MSNBC television interview to insult every Arab woman with broad generalizations and stereotypes about who we are.Quinn, an editor and columnist for the Post and who runs the newspaper’s “On Faith” blog, is half of the American journalistic power couple of Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn.
Bradlee was the editor behind the historic news coverage of the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon in 1974. Journalists far and wide make pilgrimages to the Bradlee-Quinn household to hear their words of wisdom.
Quinn recently returned from Doha, Qatar, where she was a panelist in the three-day 6th US-Islamic World Economic Forum. Her attendance in Doha apparently makes her an expert on all things related to the Arab female.
It’s kind of like those Western journalists who visit Riyadh for eight hours, go to a mall, see the Hai’a strolling down the street, talk to their Pakistani cab driver and some low-level Saudi bureaucrat for 15 minutes, and then rush home to write a five-part series on the so-called Wahhabi threat to the Western world.
But Quinn is much more offensive. By virtue of her journalistic pedigree she should know better.In her MSNBC interview, Quinn said that “oil-rich” countries make Arab women lazy.“They can shop, they can gossip, they can go to lunch,” she told her fawning interviewer.
But apparently Arab girls can’t do much else. Since all Arabs are bathing in oil there are few manufacturing jobs available where women can find meaningful work, she said.Quinn adds that, “I think a lot of women, and this certainly goes for women in this country, too, would probably rather spend more time at home when they have little children and not have to work full-time.
But I think that most women would prefer a more fulfilling life than just siting around eating bon-bons all day.”Thanks, Ms. Quinn, for that image. Apparently the harem sits around all day trapped in a patriarchal society where we feed our husbands chocolate-covered dates, belly dance for him and his friends, and then cool them off by fanning them with palm branches on the veranda.
Quinn shores up her empty-headedness with the faulty 2007 study “Oil, Islam and Women” by Michael Ross, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who states that oil-producing countries make Arab women second-class citizens.
She also uses the United Nation Human Development report on female empowerment. Unfortunately, Quinn mangles her facts.She says countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman oppress their women.
Well, for one, Bahrain doesn’t produce much oil, so exactly how does it get lumped into making Bahraini women second-class citizens? She also neglects to mention that oil-soaked Oman has far more employment and academic opportunities for women than the oil-starved Yemen.
For another, the UN survey states that the UAE ranks 29th worldwide in female empowerment (jobs, education, etc.). That’s well above such countries as Poland, Mexico, Russia and Greece. And the UAE ranks just one notch below Israel.So this oil-equals-female-subjugation argument doesn’t fly.
Quinn also seems to forget the dynamics of human nature. If a Saudi woman is at home eating bon-bons and watching Oprah or Tyra Banks on TV while the nanny puts the kids down for a nap, does Quinn honestly think that Saudi mom will get her butt off the couch to work at a job making widgets for SR50 a day?
The MSNBC interviewer, probably using her extensive research on Wikipedia, announced solemnly that only 5 percent of Saudi women are employed in the Kingdom, forgetting somehow that unemployment among men across the entire Middle East region is extremely high.
And both the interviewer and Quinn ignore that cultural issues and family tradition – not oil – play a huge part in whether daughters, wives and sisters find meaningful employment. As repugnant as Westerners may find it, our culture places women in the home to care for the children.Never mind that is also the case for much of rural America.
And never mind that those cultural attitudes are undergoing a sea of change as more Arab women are earning their graduate and post-graduate degrees abroad.Many of my friends and colleagues believe there is a vast conspiracy in the Western media to destroy Islam and our culture.
I don’t believe it for a second because Western journalists are too lazy to make the effort. But liberal journalists like Sally Quinn can be dangerous. At least with American and British neoconservatives you know what you are getting.
They want to bring us democracy and their vapid Western culture even if it kills us.With liberals like Quinn, however, the danger is much more subtle. She wants to save the poor Arab girl through her 21st century version of colonialism.
If a Western woman wants to have kids and a job, well, then it must be true for the Arab woman. I have some advice for Ms. Quinn: Ikhrassi (shut up).Don’t do us any favors. Don’t call us, we will call you.