Paradise Beneath Her Feet
by Isobel Coleman
Published February 26, 2013
Since Paradise Beneath Her Feet was first published in 2010, the stories of the activists profiled by Coleman have become even more relevant. Across the Arab world, popular uprisings have overthrown secular regimes and brought Islamist parties into the political mainstream. Demands for sharia are already clashing with existing rights for women.
In a new preface, Coleman places the main themes of the book—the struggle for women’s rights and the broader reform movement within Islam—within the context of the Arab uprisings. She argues that as the political landscape of the Middle East continues to evolve, how effectively women’s rights are incorporated into broader demands for social, economic, and political change is a bellweather for the region.
Many fear that reconciling Islam and women’s rights is an impossible task , that the Arab upheavals will only spread theocracy. But Paradise Beneath Her Feet describes how that reconciliation has been happening for years across the Islamic world in a growing movement of “Islamic feminism.” Muslim women want to practice their faith, but not at the expense of their rights. Increasingly, they look to their faith as a source of those rights.
The fact is that young Arab women today are more overtly religious than their mother’s generation, but they are also significantly better educated, they are marrying later, having fewer children and more likely to work outside the home. Their demands for greater freedom have been building for years. The Arab uprisings have undeniably mobilized women. The defiance of brave female activists has surprised many in the West who have long viewed Arab women only as oppressed victims of conservative patriarchy and religion. But as the inspirational stories in this book attest, women have long been at the forefront of social change throughout the Islamic world. Despite uneven progress, new media is giving voice to their demands and aspirations in unprecendented ways, and history is on their side.
Paradise Beneath Her Feet
by Isobel Coleman
Published April 27, 2010
Over the centuries and throughout the world, women have struggled for equality and basic rights. Their challenge in the Middle East has been intensified by the rise of a political Islam that too often condemns women’s empowerment as Western cultural imperialism or, worse, anti-Islamic. In Paradise Beneath Her Feet, Isobel Coleman shows how Muslim women and men are fighting back with progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism.
In this timely book, Coleman journeys through the strategic crescent of the greater Middle East—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to reveal how activists are working within the tenets of Islam to create economic, political, and educational opportunities for women. Coleman argues that these efforts are critical to bridging the conflict between those championing reform and those seeking to oppress women in the name of religious tradition. Success will bring greater stability and prosperity to the Middle East and stands to transform the region.
Coleman highlights a number of Muslim men and women who are among the most influential Islamic feminist thinkers, and brilliantly illuminates the on-the-ground experiences of women who are driving change: Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan educator, runs more than forty women’s centers across Afghanistan, providing hundreds of thousands of women with literacy and health classes and teaching them about their rights within Islam. Madawi al-Hassoon, a successful businesswoman, is challenging conservative conventions to break new ground for Saudi professional women. Salama al-Khafaji, a devout dentist-turned-politician, relies on moderate interpretations of Islam to promote opportunities for women in Iraq’s religiously charged environment. These quiet revolutionaries are using Islamic feminism to change the terms of religious debate, to fight for women’s rights within Islam instead of against it.
There is no mistaking that women and women’s issues are very much on the front lines of a war that is taking place between advocates of innovation, tolerance, and plurality and those who use violence to reject modernity in Muslim communities around the world. Ultimately, Paradise Beneath Her Feet offers a message of hope: Change is happening—and more often than not, it is being led by women.
Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President
by Stephen Biddle, Daniel Byman, Isobel Coleman, Steven A. Cook, Richard N. Haass, Martin S. Indyk, Suzanne Maloney, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Kenneth M. Pollack, Bruce Riedel, Gary Samore, Steven Simon, Ray Takeyh, Shible Telhami, Tamara Cofman Wittes
Published December 13, 2008
Brookings Institution Press
The next U.S. president will need to pursue a new strategic framework for advancing American interests in the Middle East. The mounting challenges include sectarian conflict in Iraq, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, failing Palestinian and Lebanese governments, a dormant peace process, and the ongoing war against terror. Compounding these challenges is a growing hostility toward U.S. involvement in the Middle East. The old policy paradigms, whether President George W. Bush’s model of regime change and democratization or President Bill Clinton’s model of peacemaking and containment, will no longer suit the likely circumstances confronting the next administration in the Middle East.
In Restoring the Balance, experts from the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution and from the Council on Foreign Relations propose a new, nonpartisan strategy drawing on the lessons of past failures to address both the short-term and long-term challenges to U.S. interests. Following an overview chapter by Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center, individual chapters address the Arab-Israeli conflict, counterterrorism, Iran, Iraq, political and economic development, and nuclear proliferation. Specific policy recommendations stem from in-depth research and extensive dialogue with individuals in government, media, academia, and the private sector throughout the region.
Strategic Foreign Assistance: Civil Society in International Security
by Isobel Coleman
Published July 1, 2006
Hoover Institution Press
The emergence of global terrorism has created a new reality in national and international security. Governments and peoples must come together to encourage economic, political, legal, and social change within weak societies in which terrorists take refuge and to assist deadlocked governments in overcoming the explosive legacies of religious and ethnic conflict.
In Strategic Foreign Assistance the authors show that, to do this, the United States must develop a strategic international cooperation and assistance policy that fosters strong civil societies. The book details the key role that civil society organizations (CSOs) could play in mitigating the conditions that promote terrorists and terrorism. The authors reveal how CSOs can help nations overcome internal conflicts by attacking the roots of violence and empowering people directly affected by the conflict to develop culturally appropriate strategies to pacify violent regions. They explain the value of informal society-based, nonstate initiatives–including initiatives aimed at religious leaders–in recruiting a country’s citizens in the efforts for peace. And they show how CSOs can help accomplish strategic objectives for promoting social development and changing state policies in such critical areas as economic and educational policy reform, empowerment of women, property rights for the poor, and other vital areas. A. Lawrence Chickering is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Isobel Coleman is a senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy and director of the Women and U.S. Foreign Policy Program of the Council on Foreign Relations. P. Edward Haley is the Wm. M. Keck Professor of International Strategic Studies at Claremont-McKenna College. Emily Vargas-Baron directs the Institute for Reconstruction and International Security through Education. “This is a profound and greatly useful exposition on a critical question yet strangely unexamined: how to use civil society to advance strategic objectives abroad, especially when government-to-government relations are incapable of moving adversaries away from conflict. The approach is useful and challenging and original, at once profoundly conservative and yet bound to be deeply appealing without regard to party to the most perceptive of those responsible for American foreign policy.”