Every woman in the Middle East has a group of men working to silence her, author Deborah Kanafani said at a speech Friday in the Elliott School.
Kanafani, author of “Unveiled: How an American Woman Found Her Way Through Politics, Love and Obedience in the Middle East,” offered insight on the current suppression of women in the region and her experience of being married to a high-ranking Palestinian political figure.
“Muslim women love their religion,” she said, “but they don’t agree with the way scholars have interpreted it in ways against them.”
Raised in New York by Lebanese parents, Kanafani said she always cherished the independence she was given as an American.
After marrying the director of the Arab League, Marwan Kanafani, she was introduced to a new way of life.
“I lived behind the scenes in a diplomatic environment watching people constantly struggle for change,” she said. “I entered an unfamiliar world and relied on the wives of my husband’s friends to be my own teachers and mentors.”
After Kanafani divorced her husband, he refused to give up his children and forced her to live on the West Bank for three years where she was further exposed to Islamic law.
Her novel, “Unveiled,” documents her own experiences in the Middle East and includes a series of interviews with several influential Arab women, including Queen Dina of Jordan; Suha Arafat, the wife of Yasser Arafat; and Baha Kikhia, the wife of Libya’s kidnapped United Nations Ambassador.
“These women were ready to tell their stories,” she said, “and I made sure to let them be heard . They are the kind of exceptional women that you just don’t hear about.”
Kanafani said that since 2000, more than 230 peacekeeping organizations have formed to stop the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to gather supporters for women’s rights. Many of the supporters are men.
“What is sad is that these are the types of things you never hear about on the news,” she said. “I really don’t know why.”
Wafa Abou Zaki, a Lebanese woman who attended the presentation, said she was disappointed with Kanafani’s emphasis on her personal experiences like her marriage, as her stories do not reflect the lives of many Arab women.
“She was married to a political figure and so her situation was much more complicated,” Zafi said. “I wish she concentrated more on the actual peace efforts she witnessed and the stories of the amazing women because those things are so much greater.”