Agents for Change
PARADISE BENEATH HER FEET:
How Women Are Transforming the Middle East.
By Isobel Coleman.
Random House. 309 pp. $26
As the United States continues its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, promises to broaden women’s rights in these two predominantly Muslim countries have not materialized. Millions of women in the greater Middle East still lack access to schooling and a political voice, are forced into child marriages, and are victims of honor killings and genital mutilation. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman argues that in this traditional, deeply religious region, change is coming from within, but not in the ways many Westerners may expect or desire. Muslim women are running for office; starting careers in banking, law, and medicine; and taking to university lecterns by embracing Islam, the very belief that many in the West see as subordinating them.
But the women she profiles offer us a rare peek into changing cultures in the Muslim world, and Coleman is an expert at homing in on the tiny details of a scene and then teasing from them a larger meaning.Paradise Beneath Her Feet is a pleasurable read and a scholarly work that will be of interest to those who champion women’s causes abroad. Islamic feminism may not please everyone, but, Coleman writes, “if the advancement of women’s rights in the Middle East depends on the removal of Islam, Muslim women will be waiting a long time indeed.”