Awarding Shirin Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize this year is perhaps the greatest event, symbolically, in the history of this prize in all its fields, literary and scientific. It is the first time that an individual did not earn it merely as an acknowledgment for his/her work or creativity, however unique. Granting the award to a Muslim woman lifts this honor to something beyond--and more significant. It mandates a type of deep questioning of a culture in its entirety—of its values, relationships, human dimensions, horizons, and its roots. It is a noble breakthrough into the “harem” of this culture; it can be described as an historic shock. I do not hesitate to say that this breakthrough, at this time, is a type of generous “orientalism,” performing a role should have been performed by those within and in charge of this culture themselves.
I do not want to repeat here what has been said about the status of woman in Arab and Muslim societies, nor about her rights, education and knowledge, marriage and divorce, motherhood and inheritance, work and management. Nor do I want to discuss the vision through which she is analyzed, both human and existential. But I would like to point out that in a society in which woman has no full cultural and social presence, in all its rights, obligations, and expectations, man himself is not wholly present: he is only a mere number or instrument.
The light this time comes from the “West,” perhaps awakening those who dominate both politics and culture, as well as those who persist in keeping their “East” drowned in blindness and darkness.
Translated from the Arabic by Elie Chalala
This article appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 9, No. 44 (Summer 2003)
Translation Copyright © 2003 by Al Jadid
The Arabic version of this statement appeared in the London based Al Hayat newspaper