The Hefty Price of Honor, as shown by Jan Goodwin

Not since Fast Food Nation have I read a more epic, cringing and flat-out astonishing (not to mention well-written) piece of non-fiction than Price of Honor, written by Jan Goodwin. Goodwin, an investigative journalist, spent four years in the Arab world interviewing everyone from poor peasant women on the street to high-ranking shiekhas to even the Grand of Al-Azhar himself, in order to (as it states on the cover) “lift the veil of silence on the Islamic World” regarding Muslim women.

The result is mesmerizing: whereas it takes me just a few days to finish a book, this one took me a few weeks. Several times I wanted to put it down and not continue, for I felt that every chapter was more crushing than the next. The

A personal photo taken in Egypt with my husband and some of his family. Hard to believe these women once dressed in mini-skirts like me!

book is so loaded with information and observances that one could easily write a paper on each chapter. What is nice about Goodwin’s style is that she doesn’t simply throw the facts at you, nor does she simply make a list of all the horror stories (although they are a-plenty). Instead, she includes an overview of each country she visits, giving time to their political and economic situations which play a very large role in the treatment of women; as is stated several times, “When Islam is powerful and strong, the treatment of women is good; when Islam is weak or precarious, women are the first to feel the burn.”

Price of Honor was first published in 1994, and a revised edition came out in 2003. My copy happened to be the first one published in 1994; thus, there was no talk of 9/11, no talk of Saddam Hussein being overthrown; Osama Bin Laden was not mentioned anywhere.  One might dismiss this earlier copy as useless, given that it is quite behind current events, but I found it intriguing to see this snapshot of the Middle East from more than 10 years ago. It was interesting to compare what I know now of today’s Middle East with the Middle East that is described in the book.

A surprising note: reading about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gaza did not tear at me as much as the other nations did, even though the conditions for women in these countries are by far the worst. I understand that these were/are war-torn countries, countries that were/are poor and where everyone lives in deplorable conditions. What galled me more was the injustice taking place in the countries like UAE, or Egypt, or Kuwait. These countries are exposed to Western people and values and yet still women are looked down upon.  The thought of being able to live a life materialistically identical to any Westerner’s and yet to be fully deprived of your right to even leave the house without permission is beyond comprehension. I guess it was because I identified with these women’s lifestyles the most, and the thought of having to bow down to family tradition chilled me.

Perhaps the worst of all the various quotes that stood out to me were those uttered at a Koran class in Kuwait. The women attending the class were not Kuwaitis: they were American women married to Muslim Kuwaiti husbands, and all remained heavily covered. The hostess, Mia, was a blatant anti-Semite and uttered such disturbing and untrue statements as:

“The American media are controlled by Jews. Prostitutes in the United States are Jews; men who run the striptease industry are Jews….Islam should be the religion that controls the world!” (p. 184) -Mia
 How can an American-born woman be so ignorant? Aren’t there prostitutes of every race and ethnicity-and religion-here in the US? And no religion should control the world; everyone is entitled to their own way of thinking. The backwards-thinking reached a zenith with Hind, their Kuwaiti teacher who had been educated in the West:
“A woman’s beauty should only be seen at home by her husband…A Western woman has to go out by herself, do everything by herslef. This is not freedom. Freedom is to be safe. I do not want eyes following me as i walk….my voice should not be heard by a male who is not my relative….A woman does’t need to work, her husband should take care of her, provide for her.” -Hind (p. 187)
It is nice that most Arab women have such tight family networks and never have to venture out alone for something as simple as going to the corner grocery, but this is not realistic. What if a woman isn’t married? What if her parents are dead? What if she moved across the country for a job? She thus needs to provide for herself. This way of thinking might be nice in theory, but it severely limits women the ability to make something out of themselves. If a woman cannot even go out to buy groceries because the cashier might be a man and will thus “her voice will be heard by him,” well, that is ridiculous and it is certainly not mentioned in the Koran!
As one can see, there is a dearth of quotes in Price of Honor. Here, a look at both anti-women and pro-women sentiments:

“In the United States there are so many different religions that it must be confusing.” -Lubna, a shiekha in the United Arab Emirates. (p. 141)

“It will give my children a bad idea if they see their mother out in the world, working in an office.” -Amal, a young student in the UAE. (p. 143)
“I could never live as you do in America; I would be afraid….you are alone. No, I don’t want what you foreign women call freedom. Our way is better, kinder, i think.” -Sarai, an Afghani woman. (p. 91)
“The role of women has deteriorated because of so-called modernization in the West. Your fashions, short skirts, dancing, women having boyfriends and not husbands, having babies and not being married–this is unlawful. It is also against all women.” -Muslim Sisterhood founder Zeinab al-Ghazali of Egypt. (p. 328)
“Medically, doctor’s say a man’s heart is stronger than a woman’s. Women’s bodies and brains are weaker than man’s, and they are particularly weak when they have their menses.” -Mullah Azad of Pakistan. (p. 64)
“Doctor, we care for you, but we are afraid you will go to Hell because of the way you dress.” –Several Islamist students at a Jordanian university to their professor, Aaara al-Amiri.
“I am sixteen, this is my youth. I should be having fun. Instead, I am here dressed like a peasant grandmother to mourn a dead old man who hated beauty.” -A young girl at the Iranian celebrations of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. (p. 127)
“I am not against Islam. It is part of my identity, but it is also time that educated women read the Koran for themsleves and make their own interpretations of it, not live with the misinterpretation of Islam that goes against their rights.” -Professor Aara al-Amiri of Jordan (p. 279)
“The Saudi’s are blockheads regarding women and driving. What is better, to have a woman travle in a taxi with a male drivrwho is a stranger or for her to drive her own car.”–A religious man in Jordan. (p. 275)
“As if the government shouldn’t be engaged in more important things than who cuts a woman’s hair.” -A Kuwaiti woman. (p. 160)
“Morality has nothing to do with hiding the face…the fundamentalists always focus so much of their energy on women because they want to divert people from the serious problems of the day.”-Nawal al Saadawi, an Egyptian woman. (p. 332)

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