Nearly a century after the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood or The Society of the Muslim Brothers, Western countries still generally stereotype Middle Eastern countries for unfair treatment of women without examining their own mistakes.
The Arab Spring, a grassroots movement for democracy and human rights, has been demonized, while social progress remains unclear.
Two professors gave a panel presentation on "Women, Religion and the Uprisings in the Middle East" to shed light on this controversy yesterday at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.
Sponsored by the Rutgers Department of Women's and Gender Studies and Center for Middle Eastern Studies, each professor took a different approach in analyzing problems.
Beata Kowalska, a professor at Jagiellonian University in Poland, centered her presentation on the struggle Jordanian women face for equality in citizenship.
"Feminist sisterhood and feminist solidarity [are crucial] in times of huge conservative backlash and religious waves all over the world," Kowalska said.
Only a Jordanian male may pass on his citizenship to his children. A foreign wife can obtain citizenship after three years of marriage if she is an Arab and after five years if she is not.
"The marriage of Jordanian women to Palestinian men is seen as disloyalty to the nation," she said.
Such policies are supported by religious tradition. Kowalska cited section 33 of the Quran, which says "call them by the names of their fathers." This becomes a serious political problem when there are 84,711 Jordanian women married to non-Jordanian men.
The result is thousands of lives destabilized by fear. The children of these families are always under threat of being expelled from school.
Kowalska recounts the heartache of one woman who had not seen her son because he was denied reentrance into the country after visiting Egypt. She had not seen him for eight years and hopes to see him before she dies.
There are two opposing forces at work: socioeconomic and political changes brought on by Western influence against the traditions of tribal and religious law, Kowalska said.
Unfortunately, women do not play as much of a role in the Muslim Brotherhood either, she said.
"The biggest problem is economic dependence," she said.
Political participation is difficult given the stigma against working women. Yet, Kowalska is optimistic because women represent 65 percent of university students in Jordan.
Regardless of outside opinion on this policy, religion and the Muslim Brotherhood actually win much public sympathy in Jordan through hosting mass wedding ceremonies that make them integral to communities, Kowalska said.
What many Americans do not understand is that the Muslim Brotherhood was a reactionary group formed to fight American and British Christian missionaries, said Beth Baron, co-director of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at the City University of New York.
Baron had a mission to deconstruct the Western view of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.
Her book, "The Orphan Scandal," detailed the story of a Muslim orphan beaten in a Swedish orphanage in the 1930s in an attempt to convert the child from Islam to Christianity. This served as a rallying point for Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Baron believes the Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization, and the British and Americans should be looking at their connections with it.
Taking advantage of British occupation, both the British and Americans promoted Western rhetoric and religious conversion thinly veiled under social service projects, Baron said.
Hassan al-Banna, founder of the brotherhood, copied these conversion tactics by setting up schools and hospitals to win back Muslim believers.
Whereas Egyptian state schools had previously excluded religion, Western missionary schools taught religion and actually appealed to Muslim believers.
Saffo Papantonopoulou, a recently accepted student for the graduate program in the Rutgers Department of Women's and Gender Studies, criticized the American public for its lack of accountability.
"Many of these groups are recipients of U.S. aid money," she said. "When American tax dollars are playing this role, people have a responsibility to inform themselves and think critically."
The panel speakers echoed this sentiment.