Monday, October 31, 2005

Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks

Published in 1995, this book was written in the late 80's and early 90's while Geraldine Brooks had her journalistic posting in the Middle East. With its pre-9/11 insights and exploration, it ranges in views of and from Muslim women across the Arab Peninsula and Egypt. Brooks realized that one of the ways to take the pulse of the Middle East was to talk to the women - people with whom she could have near unrestricted conversations with, since she also is a woman. An all-access pass to life behind and without the veil. The discussions run the gamut of veiling, driving, sex, working, education and the religion of Islam.

Using the Koran as a resource to draw from while inquiring into the history of the treatment of women was very illuminating. Granted, without reading the Koran itself, in Arabic, it is hard to really get an accurate snapshot of its writings but it was still very helpful in pointing out the contradictions of the Prophet's words and actions. It is easy to see why much of Islam has gone the direction it has - in its cycles of revolutions tilting towards fundamentalism, away from fundamentalism, and back again. It is more clear how some conclusions are come to about the veiling of women, restricting them from leading in the practice of religion (like in Catholicism) and even to the splitting of property and education of women. More clear doesn't mean it makes sense, though. Just because I have an idea of how men come to the conclusion that it is good to cut off a young girl's clitoris doesn't give it any more validity.

Since much of the Koran itself is supported by the Hadiths, or day to day living practices and words of the Prophet and his women, there becomes a problem in translating what it is he meant for all followers of Islam and what was meant only for his household in order to deal with internal conflict and issues. Rather like God telling the Old Testament peoples not to eat pork and other particular items - at that time it was likely necessary to preserve health. At the time there was an appropriate reason for the requirement, but now it is not as necessary. Or is it?

Nine Parts of Desire was a captivating read which I had a hard time putting down when it came time to go on to other parts of my daily life. It made me think more about the women of Islam and the difficult controversial things they have to live with, fight against, choose to accept, etc. There is a certain level of acceptability in veiling when it keeps away unwanted attention from men. I know there are times when I would love the privacy that the more intense forms of veiling offer women. But I would not want it forced upon me. It should be a choice. Conversely, if men did not behave the way they do towards women, would we feel the need to cover ourselves to such an extreme extent? Or does covering so much just make us more tantalizing, adding to the "wanting what we can't have" philosophy of life. It certainly is all about Desire - who causes it in whom? Whose fault is it we desire? Do we put out of sight what it is we desire? Or do we find a level of appreciating that which we desire and can't have?

Will the women of Islam always be running back and forth along the spectrum of the religion's dogma - from a practical, flexible end to a stifling, literal end? Will there never be a balanced growth that continues to move in one solid direction?

Brooks offers us no specific answers, but leaves us to question, ponder and simply explore the lives of these women: women most of us will never be or truly understand, no matter how hard we try or how intensely we want to.

*Highly Recommended*

No comments: