Lila Abu-Lughod received her Ph.D. from Harvard, has taught at Williams, Princeton, and NYU, and now boasts the title of Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University, where she teaches anthropology and Women's Studies and is considered an expert on the Arab world. Born and raised in the United States, she's the daughter of Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, whose buddy Edward Said once described him as "Palestine's foremost academic and intellectual." She's also the author of a book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving?, which was published last year by Harvard University Press, and which I first became aware of via an excerpt in the Daily Beast and a piece by Abu-Lughod, also entitled "Do Muslim Women Need Saving?", that appeared in Time Magazine.
The thrust of both these articles is that we in the West who think Muslim women are oppressed have been misinformed. Yes, Abu-Lughod acknowledges, Islamic culture has its demerits – but hey, so does every culture. Also, she argues, women in the Islamic world are a varied crew, ranging from prime ministers to peasants, so there are plenty who don't fit the West's stereotypes. What to say about these rhetorical ploys except that they could be used to challenge any criticism of just about anything or anyone? (You could defend Nazi Germany against charges of anti-Semitism in precisely the same way that Abu-Lughod defends Islam against charges of oppressing women: "Admittedly, Hitler was horrible, but which national leader has ever been beyond criticism? True, some Jews suffered under Hitler, but anti-Semitism has been a very serious problem in many societies.")