There are many reasons why someone interested in the topic of “Democracy in the Middle East” would want to attend one of Amaney Jamal’s public lectures. She is a Princeton professor, Carnegie scholar, published author, and noted authority on the issue. But she is also a Muslim woman, two points that distinguish her from her contemporaries, who are predominantly white males. This is not to say that her gender and religion validate her hypotheses, or that her personal experience in the region is the only aspect of her talks we should be interested in. However, she does provide a unique point of view that is often missing from the current debate.
As she is a Muslim woman, she offers an important perspective and interest in the way that traditional Islamic gender roles influence the progression of democracy throughout the region. This is another area where most political commentators or theorists either gloss over, or use as ammunition against the idea of a possible Islamist state. Most of Jamal’s research does point to a direct correlation between traditional, unequal gender roles and a resistance against democratic ideas, but by placing this issue in context she provides valuable insight into the potential inroads that the younger generation of Arabs, who generally do not hold these views, can have for instituting a new political framework.
Her lectures are interesting, engaging, and have a uniquely balanced view of Arab-American relations, a rare feat in a world inundated with speakers who hold increasingly contentious views on Islamic democracy. This issue is not simple, straightforward, or cut-and-dry. It is not an issue of “us against them”, or an ideological fight between freedom and religious authoritarianism. Rather, it is a highly complex issue, involving religious belief, social constructs, and over a millennium of history. To get the chance to hear the perspective of someone with a real understanding of the history and its effects on the region is truly valuable, and for this reason I would highly encourage anyone interested in this issue to see her speak.