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Does Obama's 'Audacity Of Hope' Apply To Muslim Women?


When establishing the new Turkish republic, Ataturk asked, "How can a nation soar when one half remains chained to the ground?"

When establishing the new Turkish republic, Ataturk asked, "How can a nation soar when one half remains chained to the ground?"

I was not born in the United States. Like millions of others before and after me, I chose to come to the United States hoping for freedom, prosperity, and a better life. In short, for the promise of the American Dream.

That is why I have been frustrated -- in fact, rather terrified -- to witness America's compass starting to malfunction. As the country has gone off course, I have wondered why and how -- since I know the American people have the right intentions and have been asking the right questions. However, they have been misled by false ideas and by false gurus.

How will President Barack Obama know how to differentiate among them? To know the truth in any confusing situation, he needs to understand the dynamics of gender. How a man treats women should tell him all he wants to know. The French are right when they say "cherchez la femme"; women are the key to opening all secret doors. Moreover, they also embody the true spirit of freedom. That is why America's most powerful symbol is Lady Liberty.

Since ancient times, women have symbolized truth in much of the world's mythology and literature. However, this has not been the case in the Islamic world.
The defense and protection of women needs to be the guiding principle for the incoming administration. Its core message must then be communicated broadly, especially to the so-called Muslim world.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been trying to figure out what this war is about and who the enemy is. There are many explanations and many labels; different experts give different answers, and, accordingly, there is more confusion than clarity.

That is probably why there is so much buzz overseas over the possibility of Obama giving a historic speech from a Muslim capital within a few months of taking office. All the false gurus are lining up with their suggestions. How will he choose the location? How will he reach out to hearts and minds in the region?

'Chained To The Ground'

Since ancient times, women have symbolized truth in much of the world's mythology and literature. However, this has not been the case in the Islamic world, where women have historically been feared and hated by those who cannot deal with their own personal truths. Men, unable to deal with their inner demons, attack women -- spiritually, mentally, physically, and sexually. Women are covered and brought under submission -- through enforced illiteracy and through a form of veiling: the burqa, niqab, or hijab.

Those terrified of the sight of a woman's hair are always creating new ways to subjugate her. In one way or another, they are always trying to control that which is both so attractive and so dangerous to them: free women. In some cases, the fear is so great that girls are buried alive or stoned to death -- after being brutally raped. And all this is done while shamelessly invoking the name of God.

Unlike so many Muslim girls, I had the opportunity to receive an education -- and one that prepared me to follow my dreams from Istanbul to Stanford to Washington. I have enjoyed the liberty to choose what to do with my own body, mind, and intellect. I now also realize I have been blessed with two amazing guides: my mother and grandmother.

President-elect Obama has inspired millions of people with his "audacity of hope." Now, tens of millions of girls and women in the Muslim world will be watching and listening to him, waiting for the inspiration to dare to dream.
We were among the lucky few to have been born in a country that views itself -- with some justification -- as a "city on the hill" for the Muslim world: Turkey. Our founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, raised a proud nation out of the ashes of an empire and laid the foundation for the Middle East's first democracy. When establishing the new Turkish republic, Ataturk reasoned: "How can a nation soar when one-half remains chained to the ground?" Unlike so many men throughout Islamic history, Ataturk did not fear women; he respected them. He saw his adopted daughter become the first female Turkish aviator and the first female combat pilot in the world. He gave Turkish women the right to vote and be elected to office.

Sadly, such examples of enlightened Muslim leaders are few. More often than not, they bring despair and death for women. What else can come from a man too afraid to look a woman in the eye or to shake her hand?

America's Real Power

As mainstream Christianity deals with its past sins toward women (including the Original one and countless more that followed) and promises them a better future, mainstream Islam is moving in the opposite direction: its promised future lives in the past. Even within mainstream Islam, men are in denial. It simply is not possible for a man to call himself a Muslim and not allow women to learn to read: the Koran starts with the command "read" -- which is for both men and woman.

Many men say they follow the path of the Prophet, but do they? The Prophet's first wife, Khadijah, was an accomplished businesswoman 15 years his senior when they married. In fact, Muhammad originally worked for her! Muhammad had no other wives during Khadijah's lifetime (she died when he was 52). All these examples were exceptional for men of his time, but they receive little attention in present-day mainstream Islamic circles.

Even some of the most respected moderate Muslim men are concerned more about the "image" of Islam than its essence. They do not ask themselves why so many people can so easily lose all common sense over cartoons, yet remain unmoved at the sight of girls and women being violated every single day in so many ways.

As with the witch burnings of past centuries in the Christian world, Muslim women suffer brutal killings because of an extreme misunderstanding of religion among mainstream believers. As long as we continue to tolerate this violence, we will never see the end of this terror. Our silence -- along with the "us-versus-them" mentality -- needs to be replaced by a loud "we." Only then can we build a better future for all.

President-elect Obama has inspired millions of people with his "audacity of hope." Now, tens of millions of girls and women in the Muslim world will be watching and listening to him, waiting for the inspiration to dare to dream. Ronald Reagan will forever be remembered for having challenged the Soviet Union to tear down its walls; Obama can inspire the tearing down of the next set of walls.

President-elect Obama unleashed America's real power -- the enlightened one -- at his historic speech in Philadelphia on March 18, 2008, when he reminded Americans what they have always known: at any moment, it is possible to say "no more."

Zeyno Baran, director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute, is writing a book on integration of Muslim youth in the West. This piece was adapted from a longer version that originally appeared on "The Huffington Post." The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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