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Jewish Journal

Arab Spring: Where are the women?

by David Suissa

June 24, 2014 | 3:45 pm

<em>Women in Tehran, Iran. AP Photo</em>

Women in Tehran, Iran. AP Photo

Every time I see something in the Middle East that disgusts me, it’s usually associated with men. It’s not that women can’t be violent and evil, or that men can’t be compassionate and kind. It’s simply that the vast majority of evil in that part of the world — or, for that matter, anywhere in the world — is done by men.

It’s the kind of evil that lobs terror missiles on civilian homes, blows up children in pizza parlors or unleashes a sea of death in Syria. It even kidnaps innocent boys and terrorizes their families. 

These conductors of evil are almost always men, weak men, who can express their worth only through brute strength. They haven’t figured out how to gain power and influence through great ideas, real accomplishments or moral leadership, so they fall back on the primitive values of dominance and physical force. 

Take Hamas, for example.

About eight years ago, they took over the Gaza Strip, a potential paradise with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With imagination and hard work, they could have turned their “Gaza prison” into a “Gaza Riviera” that would have rivaled Tel Aviv as a global tourist destination.

Instead, the male brutes in charge built a culture of destruction, a culture where killing Jews in the name of Allah is more important than building a future in the name of decency.

Go through the Middle East and you see pretty much the same pattern — male brutes wreaking havoc and destruction in the worship of personal power. Meanwhile, 50 percent of the population is suppressed simply because they are female.

It’s silly to pretend that there are no differences between men and women. In the Jewish mystical tradition, the female energy is one of nurturing and receiving. This energy is precisely what the people of Gaza needed — an energy that would have received the gift of a majestic coastline and nurtured it for the benefit of all.

When a society suppresses its female energy, it goes out of balance. The male energy, which values hunting and conquering, runs rampant. Instead of conquering greatness, it conquers enemies —  and any enemy will do. After Israel left Gaza, Hamas conquered its own Palestinian brothers in Fatah by slaughtering them and throwing them off rooftops. 

The story of the Middle East today is one of male energy gone berserk. As reported in a Freedom House survey, the region is characterized by a “pervasive gender-based gap in rights and freedoms in every facet of society.” Because women are so subjugated, they have no influence in the public arena. 

This absence of influence creates male-dominated, top-down societies that smother the dreams and hopes of men and women alike.     

When the female and male energies are in harmony, they become partners in a culture of creativity, building civil societies that are hardly perfect but that nurture the seeds of possibility.

When the female energy is crushed, the untamed male ego will seek unlimited power and build terror camps instead of beach resorts, tanks instead of schools, high-tech missiles instead of high-tech startups. 

To justify their pathology of violence, these dictators and warlords become experts at demonizing the other — any other — although, especially in the Middle East, the Jew or Zionist is all too often the Other of choice.

Israel, for all of its own macho culture, has succeeded in building a bustling, noisy and resilient civil society, thanks in no small part to its respect for the rights of women. In fact, if every woman in the Middle East had the same rights, freedoms and opportunities that women enjoy in Israel, we might see the beginning of a real Arab Spring.

Of course, that will never happen unless the callous thugs now running the Mideast carnival of violence give women their equal rights. But why should they? That would only mean they would risk losing their own power and have to cure their impulse for destruction.

Tragically, the biggest victims of this destruction are often the women themselves.

Take a look at the new documentary “Honor Diaries,” which chronicles the persecution of women throughout Arab and Islamic societies. It shows how the problem is much worse than simply the absence of civil rights — at its darkest, it sinks into noxious violence like death by stoning, honor killings and genital mutilation. (In Egypt, according to The New York Times, 81 percent of girls 15 to 19 have been subjected to genital mutilation.)

As if subjugating women isn’t bad enough, they also have to deal with brutalization. Activists of all stripes — liberals, conservatives, men, women, religious and secular — ought to stand up against the deliberate abuse of women, at any level, in any place, and fight it with the same passion they fight for human rights anywhere. 

In the meantime, let’s stop the delusions about an Arab Spring. As Brian Michael Jenkins of the Rand Corp. reminds us, “The democracy project engendered by the Arab Spring has run into the sand. Where strongmen do not rule, chaos and civil war reign.”

It’s not an Arab Spring that the Middle East desperately needs — it’s an Arab Women Spring.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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