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Research on Muslim Women: Impelled by the World Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University

Gender in the Public Sphere Workshop Makerere Institute of Social Research May 16-17, 2011 Kampala, Uganda I am excited to be here with you and honored to be able to contribute to a discussion of Gender in the Public Sphere. Gender Studies has developed into a vibrant field with many strands and sharp debates, and a history too complex to present in two days. Each of the other keynote speakers in this workshopall brilliant colleagues I respect and have learned from over the years--represents a major critical position and has offered breakthroughs in this field defined by a shifting object of social study or inquiry: women, gender, sexuality. There are many more topical areas and debates that could not be represented here. These include ones that you may be more familiar with or involved in because of the way African gender work is most usually fundedin terms of development, empowerment, or rights. I will try to give you a sense of how I, as an anthropologist who works in the Muslim Arab world, have developed my research and sought out, and hopefully contributed to, theorizing in what is inevitably a politicized field. Gender studies origins are political in that they are feminista questioning of why women in societies and in conventional studies of society, politics, economics, culture, and history have been ignored, marginalized, or not given a voice. These are the origins, but that is not where we are today. It has been instructive for me to look back over my thirty-year trajectory to try to make sense of my choices of what to study and to assess where I am positioned in relation to other developments in this field. I should preface my presentation by noting that being in the academy has given me the privilege of defining my own research and following my own interests as they develop. But as social thinkers we all know that the forces determining our intellectual work are multiplethey come from our disciplinesanthropology, sociology, political science, economics; they come from our locations in the worldcolonizing, decolonizing or caught between; and they come from our subjects and objects of social research, for

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me as an anthropologist this means the people and situations we study and write about. Ill try to reflect, as I go along, on how some of these forces shaped my work, even if I had the privilege of choosing what I worked on. I will begin with the three constants. Then I will trace these through three shifts in what we might call the scale in my researchfrom communities to nation-states to international force fields. Along the way, I will try to point to the forces that pushed me to expand in these directions.

(1) I have always been most interested in womenworking with them, understanding their lives, and dealing with representations and theories about them. I do not work on woman. There is no such thing, as minority and Third World feminists in the 1980s and 90s forced white Anglo-American feminists to admit. Unlike a growing majority of my colleagues in the US and Europe who have pursued since the late 1990s exciting work on gender (the system of differentiation that produces men and women, masculine and feminine) and on sexuality (that aspect of social and psychic life that is deeply tied to gender and that is the object of extensive normative pressure), I have not wavered in my interest in women. Perhaps this is because the part of the world in which I work takes the gender divide so much for granted that being a woman is so definingpossibly unlike among the Yoruba as my colleague Oyeronke Oyewumi has shown us; and because sexuality is such a charged topic in the public sphere.

(2) I have always worked from a location: in the Arab Middle East and on the ground as an ethnographer. I insist on working from the ground up, getting to know social and cultural life intimately, as these are realized in particular communities. I have thus spent a good part of the last 33 years doing fieldworkliving in small communities or villages in Egypt and talking to people. Anthropology, especially in Africa, has a bad reputation, its links with colonialism deep. But I still defend it not for its theories and the power inequalities that enabled and continue to enable it, but for its commitment to ethnography. At its best, ethnography constitutes the deepest form of respect for others and offers really rich possibilities for challenging dominant ideologies, intellectual and political through the lives of others.

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(3) I have always taken a critical stance: Questioning the cultural homogenizations in which anthropology trafficks; questioning the easy superiority of western modernity; questioning the comfortable paradigms of social science; even questioning the universalizing tendencies of a certain kind of feminism that presumes that male domination or what is often called patriarchy are the main forces shaping womens lives.

On reflection, this seems to be a stance of contrariness. Not gender but women. Not universals but particulars. Always suspicious when it comes to dominant paradigms and political dogmas. Social thinking has historically had this critical strand. But in my case, it comes less from a European intellectual tradition than from the fact that my touchstone and constant reference is what people I have known in Egypt share with me and what I see in my living with them. I use what I learn from fieldwork to ask hard questions about what I read and hear, both about people in the Arab Middle East and about how the world works. I enjoy it when I find kindred contrary spirits, like the colleagues participating in this workshop: Janet Halley, Nivedita Menon, and Oyeronke Oyewumi. So let me turn now to the shifting problematics and scales of the research and writing Ive done over the last thirty years to explore the patterns.

Shifting Scales 1. Communities and Life Worlds Based on two years of living in a small community in Egypts Western Desert, my first book, Veiled Sentiments (1986/2000) which grew out of my dissertation research, was addressed modestly to anthropologists, and particularly anthropologists of the Middle East. It focused on what womens use of beautiful oral poetry in this Bedouin society could tell us about gender, sentiment, and resistance that was surprising, given the usual way that gender, love, and honor in the patrilineal Middle East had been understood. It was a study of the complexity of cultural life and morality in one community or life-world.

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In Writing Womens Worlds (1993/2008) my second book on the same Bedouin community, I used the narratives, arguments, and everyday lives of some individuals and families to do three things: (1) to confront my discipline with the ways it has tended to typify cultural groups (a colonial heritage); (2) to challenge Western public discourse about women the Muslim Middle East; (3) and to show Western feminists that defining patriarchy is not at all a simple matter. While trying to remain true to my experiences of living with this single community in Egypt, and doing my best to convey the rich texture of what my mentor Paul Riesman (1974), who worked with Fulani in Burkina Faso, called life as lived, I deliberately positioned the second ethnography to speak to what were now to me these three imagined audiences. I proposed that ethnography should attend to the particulars of individuals and their everyday lives. I drew attention to the fact that contests and arguments are constant in peoples negotiations of social life, as we know from our own lives. These particulars and these arguments undermine social scientific attempts to generalize either about cultural patterns or about patriarchy or male domination. There are patterns, but they cannot fully account for actual experiences and the contingencies of social life. I argued in that book that we needed to write against culture. Anthropologists and other ethnographers may have become sophisticated and subtle in thinking about the workings and politics of culture. Yet we have to remember that the culture concept does not belong to anthropology alone and that it cannot be kept under control by anthropologists. Even more today than twenty years ago, when I proposed the idea of writing against culture, the idea of a culture, with its inevitable generalizations and typifications, has become a central component of a major imperial political project. If we look at the contexts in which the concept is put into play and at its historical accretions, we can see that it is inevitably contaminated by the politicized world in which it is deployed (Abu-Lughod 2008). This world includes, very prominently, arguments about the clash of civilizations, the opposition between the West and the Rest. The West doesnt have culture; the latter are nothing but their culture. In this popular thinking,

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people in the non-west are driven by their backward cultures. Ill return below to gender and the politics of culture. The book addressed something else: In the 1980s and early 1990s, despite a long history of negative representations of women in the Muslim world, what we now know to call gendered Orientalism, I could never have imagined how charged the trope of the oppressed Muslim woman would become in the public sphere in the twenty-first century. After the attacks of September 11, the rescue of such women became the partial rationale for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 (Abu-Lughod 2002). Media concern over the status and suppression of Middle Eastern or Muslim women (with a great fuzziness about the categories) exploded. Popular memoirs by enlightened Muslim women who detailed the plights of their sisters in Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia now fill the bestseller lists in the US and Europe. Right-wing American womens organizations get grants to teach democracy to women in a devastated Iraq occupied by American and British troops--a country in which women who had the highest levels of education and labor force participation in the Arab world lost everything, from jobs to security, loved ones and homes. In this new political context, what Writing Womens Worlds and ethnographic work with women in the Arab or Muslim world have to offer has become more urgent. At the very least, descriptions of the complicated interpersonal interactions, mixed emotions, clever storytelling, and surprising energy of the women in this one particular Arab community--both like and unlike any other in the region--offer alternatives to generalized portrayals.

2. Nation-States and National Development Beginning in the early 1990s, for a period after I did my work with the Awlad Ali Bedouin, I shifted my scale and focus from one small community and the disciplinary world of anthropology to a broader national scene in Egypt and the internal dilemmas of nationalism. This wider vision was forced on me by my experience of this small Bedouin community. What I had noticed among my Bedouin friends were the generational tensions that were arising as the younger girls wanted to listen to Egyptian radio, and later to watch state television. So over the next decade I began to do fieldwork on and

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around Egyptian television, especially the extremely popular serial dramas. I spread my fieldwork across Egypt from Cairo to an agricultural/tourist village in the south, and across the class spectrum from marginal urban and rural women who watched the serials to the urban educated television professionals who produced them. The confrontation I found at work was between a developmentalist national elite with modernist visions of citizenship, progress, and education and women who were at the margins of these values, themselves actively devalued by this discourse and vision even if they enjoyed television dramas that did not represent their lives or experiences. Because of my grounding in the lives of the poor urban women who could access neither the consumerist ideals gripping the country nor its political establishment, and because of my grounding in the lives of women in what is considered a backward region of Egypt where schools are terrible, poverty endemic, and their values of kinship, community, and religious piety looked down on by cosmopolitan and nationalist elites, I found myself enraged. That the struggling women trying to make good lives for their kids and themselves were patronized as inferior, because uneducated, and in need of uplift alerted me to the class politics of the modernizing discourses of developmentalism that characterize the dominant ideology of most Third World nations. Participating in this enterprise was a national feminist project to give such women rights--to professions, to divorce, to autonomy. What the women actually wanted were school fees, a future for their kids, access to healthcare, decent marriages, and dignity. So it is not just Euro-American feminists but national elites with dreams of modernization whose assumptions I came to want to challenge and unsettle. In the spirit of contrariness, I began writing against this sort of devaluation of lives, again based on my experiences with marginal women and in their lifeworlds. Parallel to this, I brought together a group of scholars to question the historical genealogy of this developmentalism in the modernizing era of the early 20th century when women were considered backward and superstitious and efforts were made to make them modern so that the nation could rise. I gave you the introduction to this book Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East (1998). What the feminist historians who wrote for that book insisted was that we had to look not just at the emancipatory possibilities of education, scientific household management, and entry into a modern

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public sphere, but also the new forms of discipline this regime imposed on women. The book was, further, about the entanglement between projects to remake women as modern subjects and the colonial enterprise, now carried over neatly into nation-building.

3. International Force Fields Finally, over the past decade and a half, my work, interests, and scope have shifted again, this time toward a more explicit consideration of the international politics of womens rights. Feminist anthropologists had, in the 1970s and 1980s, been valued outside of anthropology for the ways they provided knowledge of other cultures and thus helped Euro-American feminist theorists think about then pressing questions of the universalism or cross-cultural variation of male dominance or gender subordination. As anthropology came under attack from feminist thinkers such as Chandra Mohanty (1991) for its objectification of Third World women, its entanglement with colonialism and neocolonialism, and its relativism, the authoritative space for thinking and writing about third world women was taken over by what now goes by the name transnational or global feminism. Feminist anthropology was somewhat marginalized, limited to pressuring the discipline to include womens voices and womens writing, and eventually to attending to issues of gender (not women) and sexuality. The period just after Writing Womens Worlds was published was momentous for the development of international instruments and discourses of feminism. With the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the successful campaign to claim womens rights as human rights, papering over deep differences in the situations of women and the politics of feminism in various parts of the world by defining violence against women as a unifying target, we entered in the mid-1990s a new era of exchange, NGO activism, and involvement by western feminists elsewhere in the world. CEDAWthe UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women--provided an important framework and set of institutions. In the academy, lively debates on women in minority cultures or from other parts of the world ensued. Liberal feminists like Susan Moller Okin (1999) and Martha Nussbaum (2000) and radical feminists like MacKinnon (2006) who condemned the patriarchy of other cultures and advocated universal standards of gender equity were being countered by

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Third World feminists who exposed the bolstering of Western superiority that constructions of the plight of other women produces. They were instead urging intersectional gender analysis that pays equal attention to race, class, and geography (see Abu-Lughod 2006, 2010b; Brown 2006; Mohanty 2003; Volpp 2000, 2001). I was sympathetic to the transnational feminist arguments against a universal feminism. Unfortunately, though, many of the transnational feminists trafficked in generalizations since even if they were from particular places around the globe, they did not do intensive fieldwork there. Again, for me, it seemed critical to use ethnography from the margins to provide for these discussions precisely the particulars needed both to evaluate crude statements about patriarchy and to nuance and give substance to arguments for what they called intersectional analysis. So the subject that has engaged me for the last decade and about which Im finishing a book tentatively called Saving Muslim Women is what I call the ethics and politics of the international circulation of discourses about the oppressed Muslim woman. Inspired less by anthropological or disciplinary debates than what is happening in the wider world, including the prominent use of this sad and caricatured figure as a justification for military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, I have been exploring the social life of Muslim womens rights (Abu-Lughod 2010a). By Muslim womens rights I mean something to fight for, debate, consider historically, see cross-culturally, make happen, organize around, and fund. Using observations mostly from Egypt and Palestine but drawing on the work of others in many other places, I ask us to step back from the usual terms of debate about rights--are Muslim women oppressed or arent they? Is it good or bad that they live as they do? Are burqas bad or good? Should we save these women or not?--and instead, as social researchers and cultural analysts, to follow Muslim womens rights as they travel through various projects, circulate through debates and national and international documents, organize womens activism in NGOs and transnational cyberspace, and mediate womens lives in rural villages and refugee camps. What debates and institutions do Muslim womens rights partake in and what work do the practices organized in its terms do in various places, for various women? These are my new questions.

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The Radcliffe Brown Lecture I shared with you called Anthropology in the Territory of Rights is one element of this new project (Abu-Lughod 2011b). You can see the important role of ethnography for me as I travel between transnational initiatives for Muslim womens rights and the everyday lives of some village women I know in Egypt. I try to show that anthropologists can provide critical insight into the limits of global discourses on womens rights. Through juxtaposing the social and moral relations in one Egyptian village revealed in a case of domestic violence to another set of relations that constitute some innovative new forms of rights activism by Muslim women working explicitly within an Islamic framework, I use ethnography to question the adequacy of rights frameworks to assess or judge the lives of those they seek to redeem. I conclude that there is always a certain incommensurability between everyday lives and the social imagination of rights. No legalistic framework of rights, even the alternative one based on Islamic principles and Islamic reform, can do justice to the complexity of womens lives and suffering. And I argue, as does Janet Halley in a different way with her brilliant concept of Governance Feminism (Halley et. al. 2006), that given the current geopolitical distribution of power, it is important to be attentive to the intersection of rights work with global and class inequalities, realistic about what rights work actually produces in the world, and vigilant about the limits and locations of this work and the hegemonic language of rights.

However, one of the most important questions an anthropologist like me with experience in rural areas and among non-elite women feels compelled to ask is how organizations like those founded recently by Islamic feminists, conceived and run by educated urban elites who spend a good deal of energy studying, thinking, drafting position statements, applying for funds, and presenting Islam to the West (and the East) as something not incompatible with gender equality, relate to those in whose name and on whose behalf they work. This is a natural development from the questions I raised in my book Dramas of Nationhood about television in Egypt. These women who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of their innovative efforts are often called 'the grassroots', whereas for the television professionals they were called audiences.

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The new feminist groups that emerged in the last decade or so, working within the framework of Islam and called Islamic feminists-- hope to ameliorate the lives of women by finding locally and personally meaningful resources. They also hope to avoid accusations that they are importing foreign ideologies, devaluing womens commitments to being good Muslims, or not caring about God, even while most of them argue that religion is a matter of private faith. But how do these new reformist projects, with their constructions of womens rights in terms of Islamic law, spirit, and tradition, yet arising from these womens own social locations in global fields of feminist governance in which elites from the South have a very visible and prominent place, sit with or fit with the everyday lives of ordinary women in particular Muslim communities? I answer using ethnography. In this article, I present the story of one young troubled woman in the village community in Egypt. I show the inadequacy of any kind of global rights discourse to fully assess or judge the lives of those it seeks to redeem. And I show the necessity of being specific about the social and political locations of activists who work in the name of rights, even Islamic human rights. I dont mean to dismiss or denigrate individual efforts on behalf of women or any of the forms of activism organized in the name of improving womens rights. I see these new projects of Islamic feminism, for example, like the more secular womens rights projects and the international instruments developed against gender discrimination that preceded and accompany them, as having mobilized concerned, hard-working, creative, committed and learned individuals. And I do not deny that they may indeed contribute to improving lives by making certain critiques of social inequality and social injustice possible or provide some legal and moral remedies for intractable problems. In another article I have described the ways that some Egyptian village women I know now deploy multiple vocabularies of rights to make claims when they feel wronged. Some come from feminism, but not others (Abu-Lughod 2010a). But I insist that in addition to being more attentive to the intersection of rights work with global and class inequalities, and being more realistic about what rights work actually produces in the world (especially for those whose business it becomes), we ought

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to be vigilant about the conceptual limits and political locations of the vocabularies and hybrid imaginations of rights. For me, as an anthropologist, reducing the poignant and complex lives of women to a question of rights whether womens or human or Islamic is unsatisfying. Partly again this is because the lives of the unschooled or the poor or the rural, and the Third World, seem to be more regularly rendered legible through the legalistic discourse of rightsor their violationthan the lives of the rest of us. Partly it is because their rights are usually represented as violated because of their backward cultures or religions. Dont Muslim Women have complex feelings, tangled relations, and dreams even as they maneuver within their circumstances and constraints, and explore the creative possibilities open to them? Arent such rural women as much part of a complex modern global economy and culture as we are? Who has the power to reduce them to subjects known only by their deficits in rights, with the answersin development, empowerment, womens rights, human rights, or Islamic reform, confidently known in advance by others? What social capital enables such projects of bringing rights to these kinds of women? Unlike activists and development workers, I feel that my responsibility as a critical thinker is to intervene with my scholarship in the world of the privileged in which I participate as an equal, not in the worlds of village women. And not to save women who are different from me but to help those who want toto help them understand exactly what they are doing and what power lies behind their desires. In light of the hegemony and global reach of rights work and rights talk, I want to intervene in the worlds of power that authorize, shape, and naturalize rights work and the understandings of human social life to which it gives rise. These are both international and, just as important for the context in which all of you are working here in Uganda, national. Here I am perhaps using women against feminism. Let me illustrate through a final example how the national and international come together in womens rights work. The term that has gained the most currency in international forums and feminist discussions of women in other places-- to mark the key

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problem and to justify intervention by national elites and by foreigners--is harmful cultural practices. Whether genital surgery (FGM) for Africa, or forced marriage and honor crimes for Muslim Arabs and South Asians, or selective abortion for Indians and Chinese, such practices can now be brought before international human and womens rights commissions. They are generally represented as the problems of women elsewhere than the west. Or immigrants from those places. Culture does that political work again. Ethnography, I think, offers ways to confront what the term harmful cultural practices conceals. The 1990s marked the beginning of an era for international womens rights. Violence against women was successfully reconceptualized as a human rights issue and put on the agendas of various UN bodies. The decade also set the stage, I would argue, for a particular stigmatization of the Muslim world based on naming and publicizing the honor crime, a harmful cultural practice condemned in several UN General Assembly resolutions. The honor crime poses starkly the dilemmas of feminist rights activism in a transnational world (see Abu-Lughod 2011b). It is marked as a culturally specific form of violence. The category stigmatizes not a particular act, but entire cultures or ethnic communities. In the West today Muslim communities are portrayed as deficient, backward, and prone to violence. Complicated international conflicts are reduced to a clash of civilizations in which entire regions of the world are portrayed as rejecting values such as freedom and nonviolence. Western interventions have taken tens, even hundreds of thousands of lives, justified by the claim to bring freedom, and nowadays especially womens rights, to these cultures. Ambivalence or hostility in Europe and the US toward immigrants from such regions is rationalized by the uncivilized mostly gendered practices they bring with them. Even within many Muslim majority countries, westernized elites use the category of the honor crime to stigmatize the lives of ordinary people from the countryside, from the slums, and from certain dominated regions, like the Kurdish area in Turkey. They blame violence against women on the traditionalism and cultural backwardness of these others, distinguishing their own enlightened positions. Naming and criminalizing forms of violence may have positive effects, encouraging legal reform and the education of judges, helping governments and

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communities appreciate the seriousness of violence against women, and justifying the creation of shelters, training programs for police, and relief efforts for women. But are there ways to achieve such goals without defining acts of violence against women in a way that perpetuates a negative image of Islam or particular subaltern communities and that thus produces more animosity and violence? I began to ask myselfbecause moral horror about the honor crime was everywhere I looked: What forces produce and maintain this category of spectacular cultural violence? What elements of popular fantasy animate it? And what does the category prevent us from seeing about the social and political worlds in which violence against women is occurring? The same questions could be asked of FGM. As an anthropologist who had lived and worked in particular communities of Muslim women in the Arab world, I had spent a long time trying to understand what people meant by honor. I was taken aback when I began to read documents like Amnesty Internationals Fact Sheet because of the way they simplified moral systems, blaming violence on deep seated cultural beliefs about women as commodities or beings without autonomy. And I was shocked when I read bestselling memoirs about honor crimes, like Norma Khouris Forbidden Love (American edition called Honor Lost). This was a memoir that aligned itself with popular feminism. To lend credibility the book ended with a page titled: What can you do? that urges readers to write letters opposing the practice of honor crimes and to donate money to the Human Rights Commission. The problem is that the book was a hoax. Norma Khouri, whose real name was something else gained asylum in Australia on the basis of the events of the bookthe honor killing of her best friend in Jordan-- but investigative journalists discovered that she had not lived in Jordan since she was three years old. Rather than fleeing an honor crime, Khouri was a troubled woman (and compulsive liar) who had grown up in Chicago, had a police record, and was wanted for fraud. This piece of fiction masquerading as memoir reveals perfectly the fantasy and seduction of the honor crime. Self-righteous horror about the barbarism of the other is married to voyeuristic titillation, facilitating, along the way, the personalization of such powerful symbols of liberalism as freedom and choice. The freedom that honor crime

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books like this celebrate and that the scandalizing of honor crimes affirms is figured by the sexual transgression and public movement of women; the choice that is valorized boils down to the right to make personal decisions based on love. So the books warm and uncritical reception can be accounted for by the attractive way it affirms certain modern Western cultural values through an association of sexuality with liberation and subjectivity based on individual rights. In all these narratives of popular fiction and some bad anthropology (see Abu-Lughod 2011b for details) dealing with honor crimes, Western society and integrated immigrants are granted a monopoly on liberal and human values. This implies that the West or North does not include in itself any illiberal values, whether chastity, religious moralism, intolerance, racism, incarceration, sexism, economic exploitation, or inequality. It is therefore worth considering the ideological role the honor crime might be playing in a period when critics of American imperial interventions and of European anti-immigrant racism have questioned the liberality of existing western democracies. The honor crime seems to function as a comforting phantasm that empowers the West and those national third world elites who identify with it. Not only does it shift attention to an abjected stage where caricatured people are victims of their own violent culture but it encourages self-righteous commitment to change those backward or dysfunctional cultures. Rather than enabling us to understand social lives that, like ours, are unfortunately too often marred by violence, the honor crime produces strong distinctions. It distracts our gaze from violence within, establishes the superiority of a concatenation of cultural values associated with liberalism--autonomy, individualism, and sexual freedomandhere is my point in relation to the national, even enables cosmopolitan elites in Muslim countries to distinguish themselves from their local backward compatriots and hence gain new opportunities, whether self-respect, respect from the West, or funding for their NGOs. If popular concern with the honor crime solidifies certain violences as timeless cultural practices associated with particular kinds of communities defined by their alterity or difference, affixing values of individualism, freedom, humanity, tolerance, and

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liberalism neatly to the West and the westernized or modernized while denying these values to others (despite the actual distribution of acts of inhumanity, intolerance, and illiberalism), the sober forms of knowledge production represented by human rights or womens rights reports by and for grassroots and international organizations work differently and do a different kind of political work. Human rights reports on honor crimes arise from and simultaneously hide the ways in which state and transnational organizations penetrate the lives of people and communities. In doing so, they facilitate the expansion of certain processes of governmentalization and enhance the legitimacy of public intervention into intimate life. In such reports, one typically finds a mix of telegraphic case studies and statistics. Unlike the sensationalist romance novel, such reports have all the neutral features of scientific objectivity. Their lists and numbers convince us that there is something out there. The multiplication of cases makes it appear that all the cases are variations on each other. These incidents are not to be considered as individual aberrations or pathologies but patterned forms. Genuinely motivated by concern for the victims and committed to working on behalf of women, feminists in many organizations are often courageous individuals who offer good services and carry out research as part of advocacy. But as my wonderful late colleague, the Turkish sociologist Dicle Koacolu (2004) has taught us, we should pay attention to the infrastructure that has enabled the manufacture of this statistical and case information and the production and circulation of such reports. In Europe, for example, honor crimes are closely connected to border control and the policing of immigration and immigrants--matters of national and international administration. Nacira Gunif-Souilamas (2006) ties the stigmatization of North African immigrant mens sexual deviance to efforts to mask the new forms of social and economic domination experienced by working-class young people of non-European origin and to the precarious lives into which they are being forced, as sons of the formerly colonized (see also Ticktin 2008). In the UK, a major study of honor crimes was recently conducted by the Centre for Social Cohesion, a conservative think tank

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obsessed with religious extremism (aka Muslim extremism). Asylum cases, the extension of welfare benefits, and the central issue of visas confirm the embeddedness of the honor crime in European immigration politics. And this is not to mention the many international organizations, UN bodies, donor communities, and local grassroots NGOs that concern themselves with documenting and dealing with honor crimes. My point is that if you look at them closely, you see that honor crimes do not occur outside of these modern institutions of the state and the international community. To a great extent, the construction of the honor crime gives legitimacy and resilience not just to all the mechanisms of regulation, surveillance, discipline, and punishment intrinsic to modern state power but to the specific forms and forums of transnational governance, whether neoliberal, humanitarian, feminist or military, that are so characteristic of the contemporary global world. Any diagnosis of gender violence that attributes it to culturebackward, traditional, or barbaric-- distracts us from the local, national, and international political, institutional, cultural and historical dynamics that are essential to an analysis of violence and responsible efforts to mobilize against it. So I argue that we need to stop talking about deep-seated cultural beliefs, ancient codes from the desert, and efforts either to understand or even condemn how people in certain cultures could want to kill their daughters. Let me be clear. My intention in challenging the usefulness and accuracy of the category is not to defend or excuse the violence it tries to name. Instead, I redirect our attention to the historical conditions and precise political configurations that lead certain forms or figurations of human suffering to become objects of earnest and widespread concern, as my colleague Saba Mahmood notes (2008), while so many others go unremarked or unlabeled or are considered banal; and second, to trace the diverse impacts of this structured concern, nowadays framed in terms of the hegemonic language of our times whether in the international community or most national ones: violations of womens rights. The honor crime, I discovered, does a lot of political and cultural work.

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Which brings me to two general conclusions with which I want to leave you. First, I hope it has become clear how central women and gender issues are to society and politics, at the levels of community, the nation-state, and international relations. Gender issues should not be sidelined as marginal or peripheral themes or subjects in the big political questions of our day. So I want to commend Professor Mamdani for starting this series of workshops at MISR with one on gender in the public sphere. Second, I hope it has become clear that social research, whether focused on gender or other themes, is deeply political. We need to think about how we want our research to be useful and used. On the side of justice and against inequality and forms of domination? Or within the ideological and intellectual structures that support forms of domination and hegemony? And if one is a critic, how does one work on one form of domination without ignoring the other axes of power that shape lives? That has been for me the central challenge of gender studies, a challenge that Ive confronted working on women in the Middle East in the wake of Orientalism and in the jaws of imperialism and new forms of transnational governance.

References Cited: Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2011a Anthropology in the Territory of Rights, Human, Islamic, and Otherwise. Radcliffe-Brown Lecture in Social Anthropology. Proceedings of the British Academy 167: 225-62.

------. 2011b Seductions of the Honor Crime. differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 22 (1): 17-63.

------. 2010a The Active Social Life of Muslim Womens Rights: A Plea for Ethnography, not Polemic, with Cases from Egypt and Palestine. Journal of Middle East Womens Studies, 10 (1): 1-45.

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------. 2010b

Against Universality: Dialects of (Womens) Human Rights and Capabilities. In Rethinking the Human, ed. J. Michelle Molina, Don Swearer, and Susan Lloyd McGarry, pp. 69-93. Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

------. 2008 New Preface for the Twenty-First Century. Writing Womens Worlds Berkeley: University of California Press. 15th Anniversary edition.

------. 2006 The Debate about Gender, Religion, and Rights: Thoughts of a Middle East Anthropologist. Publication of the Modern Language Association 121 (5): 1621-30.

------. 2005 Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

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