Wednesday, March 16th, 2011
By Mona Eltahawy
NEW YORK—As if further proof were needed of the intellectual as well as physical cave Al Qaeda inhabits, their new online magazine “Al Shamikha” (Majestic Woman) is the latest reminder.
As women and men, passionate for freedom and dignity, fuel uprisings and revolutions that are sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, one wonders who wants to read that a “Majestic Woman” does not “go out except when necessary” and that she always wears a face-covering niqab for protection from the sun. Call it SPF:Niqab.
What a laughable idea when you see a photograph of a woman in niqab hugging a Coptic priest in Cairo during the Egyptian revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Try telling her or any of the other women in headscarves and those women not wearing any kinds of veil that they shouldn’t “go out except when necessary”. They would laugh at you and remind you that they marched and chanted alongside men in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemeni and most recently Gaza, the West Bank and Syria.
With such a breathtaking display of women and men power, surely Al Qaeda realizes the market — albeit the literally radical fashion niche one — is shrinking by the minute.
Al Qaeda espouses an ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islam which extols “out of sight and voiceless” as its ethos for women because it considers a woman’s face and voice objects of desire to be covered and silenced. Otherwise, the group steadfastly ignored women until it became convenient to recruit them to blow themselves and others to pieces in Iraq and elsewhere where the head-to-toe covering could get them into places men fitted with a suicide belt could not.
How on earth, one wonders, could its magazine marry such an ideology with the flipped-on-its head brew of women’s magazines: fashion, sex and starvation?
Getting a man is still the goal. The right man for a “Majestic Woman” is of course a “mujahid” (warrior in the name of Islam). In one interview, a woman extols her glorious marriage to a jihad fighter who was killed and how she broke the happy news to her children.
Flipping through its online pages, I couldn’t help but think one has to have been living under a rock inside that cave to think Al Shamikha’s market is anything but a quickly shrinking one. Al Qaeda and its message that only violence can bring about change is irrelevant. The role models for millions of young women and men — not just Muslims but all across the world — are those revolutionaries in Egypt who showed how non-violence could end decades of a dictator’s rule in just 18 days.
Look no further than Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world where Al Qaeda does have a presence. The truly “Majestic Woman” is Tawakul Karaman. Dubbed one of Time magazine’s “16 of History’s Most Rebellious Women,” she was the first Yemeni female journalist to remove her face veil on the job. As chair of Women Journalists without Chains, she defends human rights and freedom of expression and has been protesting outside of Sanaa University every Tuesday since 2007.
Her goal — and the uprising that she helped to start on Feb. 10 after a boost of inspiration from Tunisia and Egypt — is to end the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power since 1978. Karaman has been jailed several times, including just days before the start of the uprising.
Who do you think young Muslim women are most drawn to? Al Qaeda’s out-of-sight “Majestic Woman: or a woman whose fierce majesty (Yemeni friends love to share videos of Karaman leading protests with her chants) poses one of the most serious challenges to a dictator in 33 years?