An Imagined Letter from Hifni Malak: This Is a Self-Critique
Washington, DC, USA, and Palestine
Something didn’t feel right after submitting my previous piece on international development and the ‘empowerment’ of women. In this imagined letter from Hifni Malak Nassef, I tried to address the issues that “poked” me in an uncomfortable way.
Dear Ms. Daadleh,
After some time of contemplation and intrapersonal debate I decided to write this letter to you as a response to your last piece titled “Empowering women as a Development Tool”…What Would Hifni Malak Say?.
You may expect this to be a letter thanking you, Ms. Daadleh, for bringing my name and voice back to life after more than a century of absence. However this will not be my approach. Instead I would like to use this letter to ask a question: Don’t you think that by using my voice as a way to address the inherent flaws of the international development field and its objectification of Arab women, you might be committing the same fatal mistake?
This question, to me, was not only obvious, but crucial. Yet, unfortunately, it seemed to be overlooked by both you and your readers.
The fact that you have completed research about my work as related to the status of women in Egypt does not give you the right to write on my behalf. My voice is solely mine and as such it can only represent my personal agency, constructed and formed based on my personal experience. Not to mention that along with my voice at that time, there were diverse voices presented by different women who were influenced by different schools of thoughts, such as Al-Sha`arawi, Al-Ghazali, and many more women who may have had different perspectives on the approach presented by Western agencies.
My engagement in discourse on women in Egypt, as you will know from your research, was mainly structured and formed within the boundaries of Sharia`a laws and the teaching of the Holy Qura`an. How much do you know about the Shari`a laws? Have you ever studied the Qura`an? The fact that you were born into a Muslim family and that you grew up in a Muslim Arab community does not automatically grant you the right to represent the voice of non-Western women’s agency.
In ‘borrowing’ my voice as a way to protest against Western tendencies in presenting Arab women as one oppressed monolithic entity, you have in fact ended up presenting a one-dimensional discourse. The question of agency is one of a much nuanced nature, exceeding the basic notion of one’s capability to make a decision.
I would also encourage you to reflect on your motivation to write this piece and to address it to the Western audiences. Does it come from a subconscious (or maybe conscious?) desire to have Western acknowledgment of the existence of your agency as an Arab woman? If so, what does this desire mean? Do you feel that your agency is not valid as long as it is not recognized?
My final piece of advice for you, Ms. Daadleh, would be to try to answer these critical questions from a personal place, based on your own personal narrative, as a Palestinian woman who grew up in a semi-modernized globalized context within a specific political, social, cultural, and religious sphere.
-Hifni Malak Nasif (Ms. Daadleh’s Subconscious)
Note to readers: In using Hifni’s imagined voice for a self-critique, I am introducing the question of what “authentic voice” means – a question I hope to explore in my next piece.
Najuan Daadleh is a Palestinian woman who grew up in the State of Israel. She earned a master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, where she focused on gender and conflict, post-colonial theories, and project evaluation. Najuan has over seven years of work experience in the conflict resolution field both in Jerusalem and in Washington, DC.
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