A debate over at the Guardian’s Comment is Free looks at the issue. Soumaya Ghannoushi:
Representations of the Muslim woman serve a dual legitimising function, at once confirming and justifying the west’s narrative of itself, and of the Muslim other. The victimised Muslim woman is the lens through which Islam and Muslim society are seen. In medieval times she was cast as an intimidating powerful queen or termagant (like Bramimonde in the Chanson de Roland, or Belacane in Parzival) reflecting an intimidating powerful Muslim civilisation. And when the power balance began to shift in Europe’s favour in the 17th and 18th centuries, she was made to mirror her society’s fallen fortunes. She turned into a harem slave, leading little more than a dumb animal existence, subjugated, inert, abject, powerless, and invisible. She is the quintessential embodiment of a despotic, deformed, and backward Islam.
Brian Whitaker responds:
In their articles, both Mahadin and Ghannoushi set out a broadly non-interventionist argument – that we should heed “the cries of the downtrodden” but not appoint ourselves as their guardians or benefactors (Ghannoushi’s latest article) or, as Mahadin puts it, “that the politics of resistance can only be formulated by those ‘who wish to be otherwise than they are'”.
These are not merely the views of a couple of Cif writers: they reflect a broad swathe of opinion in postcolonial countries and particularly in the Middle East – not only among Islamists but also among the more secular nationalists and, of course, the authoritarian regimes that tend to rule there.