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When norms clash with concerns of a supreme power

Oct 11,2018 - Last updated at Oct 11,2018

I have recently read Kelly J. Shannon’s US Foreign Policy and Muslim Women's Human Rights, a book which comprises 7 chapters: Chapter 1, “Battling the Veil: American Reactions to the Iranian Revolution”, focusing attention on the Iranian Revolution and on the American concern with the Muslim women human rights and its relation to US foreign policy. Chapter 2, “Muslim Women in US Public Discourse After 1979”, looks at the Muslim women in the US news, scholarly studies and popular culture. Chapter 3, “Sisterhood Is Global: Transnational Feminism and Islam”, examines the development of NGOs and the honing of women’s rights as part of human rights at large. Chapter 4, “The First Gulf War and Saudi ‘Gender Apartheid’”, concentrates on the Gulf War of 1990-91 and Saudis’ treatment of women. Chapter 5, “Female Genital Mutilation and US Policy in the 1990s”, is concerned with the institutionalisation of women’s rights into the American foreign policy toward the Muslim East at large. Chapter 6, “The Taliban, Feminist Activism, and the Clinton Administration”, traces the US’s decision to put women’s rights at the centre of the policy toward the region and its countries and the consequences thereafter. Chapter 7, “Muslim Women's Human Rights and US Foreign Policy Since 9/11”, assesses the US’s involvement in women’s rights and the affairs of the Muslim East countries since 9/11 in a way that edges into imperialism and orientalism.

The book is, without doubt, a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion of a very timely subject that covers women’s rights as an issue in American relations with the Arab Muslim Middle East. As America has sharpened its involvement in the affairs of Islamic countries, its relationship with the region becomes more edgy. The American policies toward Muslim women show how cultural, religious and political norms become entangled with the concerns of a supreme, global power!

As it endeavours to examine American policies, the book also tries to understand how the American debate about Muslim women's human rights was formed in the years following the Iranian Revolution and how that debate, together with certain feminist concerns, affected US foreign policy, revealing the manner in which knowledge and power can be intertwined, particularly those stereotypes and preconceived ideas that are widely accepted as a truism and that shape what sorts of relations, political and otherwise, nations should be anticipate to opt for. In addition, it shows how America perceived Muslim women, as overpowered, repressed, veiled and burqa’ed creatures. The US formal discourses often reflected these representations and it unwittingly structured the way Americans looked at Muslim women's rights.

Research on the foreign policy of the US has explored how international activists influenced and were influenced by that policy, how America characterised human rights and why American policymakers contextualised human rights in the middle of this complex-in-demands argument. Women's rights activists from the United States and the Muslim Arab Middle East countries meditated the notion and eventually developed the concept to include social, economic and cultural rights as well. By spreading the allegation that women are inferior to men, the global civil society declared that women's rights are human rights that include women's education, marriage, family rights and freedom of dress, eventually to find new ways and means to create an exceptionally supreme American “empire”.

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