As I dwell on [how I wish I spent more time finishing] my dissertation, I often avoid reading interesting pieces, tucking them away as treats for future reading. One such piece, “Nashville presentation focuses on homosexuality and the Islamic culture, Author Nonie Darwish will lead discussion of ‘The Rights of Women and Homosexuals Under Shariah Law’” by Blake Boldt, ended up frustrating me more than informing me. Not only does the article replicate some of the usual tropes about Sharia and Muslims, but it also contributes to the misrepresentation of illiterates as obstacles to development and democracy. How tiresome.
In this rant, I will focus on her assumptions and logically flawed claims about the Arab Spring and illiteracy.
Here is the offending passage:
“The Arab Spring (Editor's note: Arab Spring is a wave of demonstrations and protests that began in December of 2010) did not bring the freedom and democracy that many young men who protested wished for. Unfortunately they are the minority in Egypt, where the illiteracy rate is over 50%. In a recent poll, over 75% of Egyptians said they wish to live under Sharia law, which is against freedom of speech, thought, religion, sexual freedoms, and discrimination in the application of law on the basis of gender and religious affiliation, where non-Muslims live as second class citizens.”
The first MAJOR problem with this passage is that it wasn’t just ‘young men who protested’ during the Arab Spring.
The second and third problems here are with syntax and logic. In the first sentence, she says “many young men who protested wished for” freedom and democracy. In the second sentence she says, “They are the minority in Egypt”. I assume she is referring to her previous, spurious declaration: “many young men who protested” (I cannot refrain from another frustrated mention that it was not just MEN, who protested, and it CERTAINLY wasn’t just YOUNG men.) Furthermore, Nonie Darwish elides right into the sloppy assertion that these young men exist in contrast to illiterates in Egypt. Clearly, no illiterate would have or could have or did participate in the protests in Egypt. Indeed, we might even extrapolate ridiculously from Nonie Darwish that no young man in Egypt who participates in calls for freedom in democracy is illiterate. And, only illiterates “wish to live under Sharia law”. This is clearly untrue, if we take Nonie Darwish’s figures as true and accurate. If the illiteracy rate in Egypt is over 50%, but more than 75% of Egyptians wish to live under Sharia law, then CLEARLY it is not just illiterates who wish to live under Sharia law. If illiterates are obstacles to the development and evolution of democratic governance in Egypt (an assumption which I STRONGLY challenge as ridiculous and untrue), then they are not the ONLY obstacles, based on Nonie Darwish’s data. She also says that “Sharia law…is against…discrimination in the application of law on the basis of gender and religious affiliation.” This claim is discontinuous with her other claims of that which Sharia law “is against”. Sloppy.
The third major problem is the typical, unquestioned, unchallenged dismissal of illiterates as obstacles that pervades media and popular representations of illiterate people. In the interview, Nonie Darwish indirectly declares that illiterates do not support “freedom and democracy”, because only “young men” support democracy and freedom, and according to Nonie Darwish, young men are the minority. Or is it young men who support democracy and freedom are the minority? It’s impossible to tell with all of the fallacious and logically inconsistent claims she makes in the interview IN JUST THIS PARAGRAPH. What is true is that young men are in no way a minority in Egypt. What is also true is that those demonstrating in person and via social media, both men and women, young and old, across social classes, are a minority in Egypt.