MUSLIM WOMEN BETWEEN
HUMAN RIGHTS AND
MIRIAM COOKE AND BRUCE B. LAWRENCE
None of the three major topics to be addressed in this essay is self-evident, and while we hope to open up new perspectives on Muslim women as a group, illumining both differences and convergences on universal norms, we must begin with the knotty but pivotal topic of this volume as a whole: human rights.
Can human rights be universalized beyond specific historical and cultural contexts? Or have they come into prominence in the late twentieth century precisely because they do mark a specific if elusive context, namely, the transition within the world system from generalized warfare in the two world wars to bipolar conflict in the cold war, and now with the West vs. the non-West? In the context of Western global hegemony under siege, can human rights ever find expression except as a reflex of power so pervasive that it feels no need to account for its own interests, but only for the deviance of noncompliant others?
These are the questions that elites throughout the world debate today. Yet, they remain unanswerable as long as the prism of inquiry reflects only irreconcilable opposites. Instead of talking about We vs. They, we need to identify who is concerned about human rights. Many are people like us, two professors in a major American university, who recognize the limits as well as the benefits of concern for human rights. The limits are internal and evident: despite good intentions, we recognize that at best we reflect the views of other elites, and not the views of all strata of American or European society. The benefits are diffuse and conjectural: as elites advocating change, we hope that