- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Muslim women are potentially important allies in the war on terrorism, but the United States must avoid pushing Western values to win their support, according to data presented yesterday at the Gallup Organization.

The Bush administration has promoted women’s rights throughout the Muslim world to gain support in the region, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a worldwide Gallup project found that many Muslim women are not as concerned about changing their status as Westerners might think.

In Lebanon and Turkey, 9 percent to 11 percent of women said sexual inequality was a major problem, but negligible concern about the issue was found elsewhere. Jordanian women did not mention it when asked what aspects of society they disliked, and 2 percent of women cited the issue in Egypt and Morocco.

Far more often, Muslim women were worried about the same things as Muslim men — lack of unity, extremism and political corruption.

Dalia Mogahed, a Gallup Organization analyst, said a majority of men and women expressed opposition to extremism and terrorism and said they were conscious of the rights that women deserved. The key, she said, is how the United States approaches the issue.

“The imposition of Western values alienates both men and women, because it is strongly associated with colonialism, like the British policies of unveiling in Egypt,” Mrs. Mogahed said.

“Westerners need to understand how to reach Muslim women through their own value systems, by using the positive aspects of their own beliefs to encourage increased rights.”

Mrs. Mogahed noted that Muslim women admired women’s legal rights in Western countries, but thought that Western society degrades women by tolerating pornography and encouraging promiscuity. Muslim women do not want to adopt Western values because they think moral decay is present in these societies, she said.

Andrea Rugh, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, said in a telephone interview: “We need to understand that we have very different concepts of rights than Muslims do.

“In the Muslim world, the focus is on the role within the group, not the individual. A Muslim man will receive more of an inheritance than a woman, for example, but the woman has the right to be taken care of by a man.”

Another aspect of the Gallup project highlighted this lack of understanding between the two cultures. When interviewers asked Americans what they most admired about Muslim societies, more than 50 percent answered “Nothing” or “I don’t know.”

Ms. Rugh said too many Americans rely on outdated information about the Muslim world and have difficulty understanding how those societies work.

“When I worked with Afghan women after the fall of the Taliban, they often said that they didn’t understand why we wanted them to go out and work,” she said.

“Most of them were not educated, so work meant construction work or hard labor. Improvement in the education system for both males and females should be the focus here, not imposition of our model of right.”

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