Erasing individuals or groups by stereotyping them is not a new phenomenon. It is difficult to imagine a society or a period of history completely devoid of this particularly cruel method of robbing people of their humanity; an individual who could live an entire life without being a victim or villain in the process of stereotyping. Can anyone honestly claim they have never said things like: "Arabs are devious," "Jews are stingy, " "Blondes are dumb (or have more fun)," "Redheads are hot tempered,"
Still, my own experience with stereotyping makes me hopeful. People usually have no real investment in wiping away the unique qualities of another person. When one becomes aware of an individual's special characteristics, and the full richness of the culture and environment that nurtures their growth, a stereotype begins to crumble like any facade. Unless one has a need to keep another in an inferior position, he realizes that prejudice imprisons the attacker as well as the victim,
As a result of Western misinformation and lack of awareness, Arab women are unfortunately, victims of the stereotyping process. There is little understanding of either our status as women or the total context of our lives. Like other maligned groups, we do our best to understand these misperceptions and, in our own way, to confront them. I know of no Arab woman who underestimates the difficulty of changing Western assumptions. The stereotypes of Arab women, "imprisoned behind a veil of powerlessness," will not be eradicated in our lifetime.
While we are often shocked into numbness by the depth of the misunderstanding, we know that each epoch of awareness is a new beginning and a new opportunity for us and for our daughters.
This great empire eventually declined but not before it had given hard-won knowledge like threads from the rich fabric of its culture, threads that are readily discernible in the tapestry of Western culture, politics and thought. Instead of one great empire, it was divided into countries and caliphates that became smaller and smaller as time went by. This fragmenting environment produced the right climate for the successful invasion of colonialism. For Arabs, sheer survival replaced creativity as a primary goal.
Later the cycle began to change again. There was a new Arab awakening. A new independence was in the air and with it a growing evolution toward emancipation, first of men and then of women. The stirrings of this new emancipation started by the end of the 19th century in most Arab countries.
Arab and Moslem women have been a viable entity for a long time; they have struggled, realized and enjoyed emancipation in their daily lives for centuries. As for the Moslem woman, no one can take the Word of God through his Messenger from her. Her evolution is her own and she knows she can accomplish her emancipation on her own.
The Arab woman appreciates the concern of her Western counterparts. She understands the excitement that Western women feel having so recently discovered their own freedom. The Arab woman knows however that she must go at her own pace, on her own terms and within the finite reality of her own culture in its particular historic moment.