Price of Honor - Jan Goodwin

The first thing to know about Price of Honor by Jan Goodwin is that it was written in 1995 and last updated in 2003. This is a substantial challenge for a book that is all about the "current status of things" in the Middle East. It's certainly understandable that the entire chapter on Egypt seems fairly dated as it talks about the long term issues of the "current regime" and Murabak. It was only February 2011 that the revolution happened, and I'm reading the book in August 2011, so even a freshly written book would have trouble keeping up with that. Similarly, reading the book's guesses about Osama bin Laden and where he is are understandable since he died in May 2011. It's harder, though, to read about the long term issues of Saddam Hussein, who died back in 2006. It's even more challenging to be reading about the face-offs between Yasser Arafat (who died in 2004) and Ariel Sharon (who has been in a vegetative state from a stroke in 2006). Those things happened so long ago to seem almost ancient history in a sense of modern politics. The book is greatly in need of some updating.

So let's put all of that aside and accept that this book is a glimpse into the mindset of what it was like to be in a variety of Muslim locations in 2003. The book goes chapter by chapter through life in Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Jordan, and other locations. In each place the author talks to real men and women about the lives they are leading and the struggles they face. She generally tries not to judge and lets the individuals speak for themselves. One man admits he keeps his college educated wife locked in a tiny apartment with his two children and aging parents. He feels he is not being cruel; far from it, he feels he is gentle and kind with her, and is keeping her safe from the dangers he sees all around.

The story heard time and time again is that women are thought of as weak-brained inferiors who need the guidance and protection of men. If a man feels physical discipline is the only recourse for a given situation, then that is his duty. As one grandmother sadly stated, watching her granddaughter being beaten, "a man has the right to beat the women in his family. There is nothing you can do."

The story intertwines a great deal of politics which can sometimes make the reading become dry, especially when the politics are far out of date. Still, it's important to put much of the situation into the oil-context, as Goodwin explains. The US used to only import 36% of its oil in 1973, and by 2003 it was up to a whopping 60%. Most of this of course came from the Middle East, fueling a vast gulf between rich and poor. The US also uses 25% of the world's oil. The US's thirst for oil in vast numbers is in essence causing many of the problems seen in the Middle East, because the US has not learned how to be as frugal and efficient as other nations have done.

As the poor get poorer, women and children are often the ones to suffer. Men do not want to let women out of the house, or to see a male doctor, and instead they die. 97% of pregnant women in Pakistan are anemic, causing high maternal deaths during and after childbirth. 72% of women in Pakistan who end up in police custody end up being abused. 80% of sex workers are HIV-positive and most only survive 2 years once infected. They are continually replaced by other women who have no other recourse to feed their families.

Many chapters in the book explain how the laws intended to protect women from harm end up preventing them from being able to feed their families or themselves, and they die. In Saudi Arabia a woman can't stay alone in a hotel room unless she produces documentation proving she's not a prostitute. This could cause women not to be able to get to a distant hospital that took more than one night's journey.

Baby girls are thought of as worthless burdens, since they cost the family dowry money and their skills are all handed over to the husband's family once she marries. Many fathers blame the mothers for the birth of a child - even slapping them when the sex of the newborn is announced - even though it's the man's sperm which determines the gender. A woman who produces girls often gets pushed aside for a "second wife" who will hopefully do better. In Islam, the prophet Muhammad had about 13 wives including one who he first began sleeping with at age 9. Modern Islamic teachers usually instruct that a male should have only 4 wives maximum, treat each one equally, and the purpose of having more than 1 is to help support widowed and abandoned women who would otherwise be without care. However, Goodwin's research found that in practice most Muslim men she met tended to "trade up" every few years, getting younger and younger versions, and neglecting the older wives as they acquired the newer ones. While Muslim instructions should indicate that the existing wives should always be consulted and give permission for any subsequent marriage, Goodwin found that many men engaged in "secret second wives" who were only found out about by the main family at the man's funeral.

I think Goodwin does a reasonable job of trying to make the point that *Islam* as a religion has many great teachings about treasuring women, caring for them, and giving them rights. Muhammad's own first wife was a businesswoman, smart, well educated, and he was loyally monogamous to her for the 25 years of their marriage, until she passed away. Goodwin finds, in her interviews, that it is the *interpretation* by various men who often have never read the Koran that causes many of the issues we find in our modern world. In addition, the horrific poverty and continual violence found in some locations make it unlikely that women would be treated well regardless of what religion was in place.

I give the book four stars because the dated material is so infiltrated throughout the book and often has to be read past in order to get back to the meat of the story. I would love to see an updated version of this that retained the stories and polished out some of the long political what-if scenarios which are no longer applicable.

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