On Mona El Tahawy and ‘Native Informants’

The problem with Tahawy’s article, as others have pointed out, is that she attempts to depoliticize the patriarchy and make it about emotion–hatred–because, you know, Arabs are all ‘hot-blooded’ and whatnot. Such a reductive argument would never be accepted as an explanation for patriarchal practices in the West. But her thesis seems to fold in on itself: if oppression of Arab women is rooted in hatred fed by a uniquely misogynistic religion and culture, then oppression in other places is rooted in what, general malaise? To say misogyny is rooted in hatred is just redundant. Misogyny isn’t rooted in hatred, it IS hatred, and hatred of women is a symptom, not a cause, of the patriarchy in which both men and women participate.

Mona el Tahawy’s arguments are rickety at best, and she deserves to be called out for them. I also think there is an argument to be made that she should have written this piece in Arabic. If she truly is motivated by concern for Arab women, then shouldn’t she include them in this conversation? Instead, she very deliberately addresses non-Arab readers, explaining that “…when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think” and ‘”You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our ‘culture’  and ‘religion’ to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman” [emphasis mine].

Mona el Tahawy! YOU are the woman who just told them that X,Y, and Z abuses are “fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion”! Tahawy’s presumption in speaking on behalf of Arab women and then telling her audience to ignore the voices of anyone who disagrees with her is truly enraging. That being said, I have a problem with the term ‘native informant’ and any criticism implying that her stance somehow makes her less Egyptian. The point is not that she’s a traitor, it’s that she’s an idiot. I get that it’s frustrating to watch an Arab woman get up on a soapbox and tell racists and Islamophobes exactly what they want to hear, but calling someone a ‘native informant’, even when it’s wielded by Arabs against Arabs, is just another convenient way to dismiss people of color without actually addressing the content of their arguments. If we’re going to start disqualifying people for being ‘too Westernized’, whatever the fuck that means, then half the Arab blogosphere would be out of the game, including many of Tahawy’s esteemed critics.  ‘Native informant’ invokes someone’s non-white status in order to discredit them, which does nothing to subvert the racist power structures Tahawy’s argument speaks to.

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One Response to On Mona El Tahawy and ‘Native Informants’

  1. Adam says:

    I love your short thought on the term “native informant” here – I have also felt for a while that people use it in the way you describe, so thank you for putting it into words here.

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