Cover Image: The Greater Freedom

The Greater Freedom

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Member Reviews

I found this a really interesting and worthwhile read.  It felt honest, and is well worth picking up, especially in the strange times in which we currently find ourselves.
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Alysa Mooro's work is an exposition on what it means to be 'other,' to belong neither here nor there. It considers the expectations that culture places on people, no matter how physically removed from it they are. It also touches on what it means to be at home, and how sometimes, there are not enough words to describe what home means. More than what it means to belong to a place or a tribe, it also considers what it takes to reach the full self - a lot of learning and unlearning. It is a necessary read, to remind us that we are not the center of the world; and to re-examine the prejudices and stereotypes we may not even be aware that we hold.
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I loved this book so much. I was so impressed by her writing and her perspectives, and gave me a lot to consider in a personal as well as external context. Cannot wait to suggest this to my friends so we can have a proper conversation about it (and customers ofc)
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The Greater Freedom by Aly Mooro explore is not only a book which Middle Eastern women raised in the Western world can identify with, but many women from the Asian community will be able identify with the pressures of societal, and familial, expectations and traditions they must conform to, which shapes their identity, and their way of being. 

The book is largely a mix between Alya discussing her own life – her childhood and growing up as a British Egyptian – and the interaction between these two cultures. She looks at how the clash of cultures impacted on her as she became an adult. She examines the impact on her relationship with her family and with the people she dated interwoven into the various thematic chapters that covers themes such as family, sexuality, feminism, marriage, etc. This made the book a poignant and personal piece of non-fiction. 
She doesn’t shy away from her journalistic background and plays to her strengths with lots of academic references as well as the voices of other women who share her experiences and backs the points she raises in the book. 

It is interesting how Alya says she doesn’t fit in to either place. Despite the endless tug of war between dual identities, people belong to neither and this is something we tend to brush aside while zooming in on oppression, patriarchy, control, and stereotypes. Alya didn’t fit into British expectations because she has Arab parents who still expect her home earlier than her British friends and it is frowned upon for a woman to party hard, have tattoos, and get drunk. On the other hand, in Egypt she was the ‘Western kid’ because she wasn’t Arab enough. It’s an interesting issue that surrounds individuals with dual identities, and one which is not addressed enough. We claim to be multi-cultural and cosmopolitan in the UK, but then we fail to accept all sides to a person’s identity and culture, and we do not allow them to be British Egyptian or British Indian without questioning and highlighting their differences. 

Alya makes some fantastic points that are applicable across all cultures to women, particularly around sex, relationships, and sexuality, which were thought provoking. She talks about shame associated with sex, and the pressures young girls face. Sex is a natural thing, which contributes largely to procreation, but it is frowned upon and viewed as shameful and sinful. Sex is used as a tool for male oppression and continues to be used against women, as women face rape, arranged marriages, genital mutilation, and all kinds of sexual harassment and sexual violence. These themes were discussed throughout the whole book as Alya opened up on a personal note about her relationships and some of her sexual history (which is a huge deal, considering how many women are slandered for being open about their sexuality), made these themes even more poignant. 

In The Greater Freedom, Alya mentions that in some parts of the Middle East, a woman’s virginity is a pretty big deal. It is infuriating that a woman has to provide a testament of her virginity either in the form of a virgin certification from a gynecologist or the bedsheet with a bloodstain as proof she had bled during sexual intercourse on her wedding night (even if bleeding after loosing your virginity is a myth). Despite being completely covered as Middle Eastern women do not show much skin, they are still subjected to street harassment. 

This book gives you an insight into a Middle Eastern woman’s life and her dual cultural identity. Not only is The Greater Freedom a piece of non-fiction that Middle Eastern women can identify with, but it is something which women across all Asian cultures can connect with too. It is books like these that you can connect with that unites us as women with shared experiences, and there is great power in the understanding that women share with one another.
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I was elated to come across this title: Finally, a feminist book about the women of the Middle East that is actually written by a woman from the Middle East, I told myself. I couldn't believe my luck when I requested this book on NetGalley and got approved for an early edition. Overall, I found the book well-written and heartfelt. The candour and honesty from which the author's experience stems was refreshing and, at times, heartbreaking in a very good way. But I still had some scruples about its contents.

The author, like me, had a cross-cultural upbringing; she might be a few years younger than me, but I found that our experiences are very different. Of course, I could relate to and second what she exposed so valiantly in this book: the hypocrisy regarding gender roles, the preferential treatment of male children, the sexual repression and cultural misconceptions. Still, our experiences were different. This is why I will argue here that this book should be titled [My] life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. 

1. The book is not all-encompassing of the challenges ME women with multicultural backgrounds face either in the Middle East or in the West. It is limited to the challenges Mooro met growing up. A wild teenager whose parents' attempts at instilling discipline in her got her all the more wilder. Growing up between London and Zamalek (Cairo's Belgravia), the book clearly speaks of someone with economic privilege. And in all the accounts in the book, the socio-economic factor was not part of the argument. It wasn't factored in by any measure. The set of challenges facing immigrants and refugees and their extent differ from one class to another. But this truth wasn't part of this book. And in that the book was limited and lacking.

2. The book leans heavily on testimonies of women Mooro interviewed, loosely acknowledging their background as someone who grew up in London or was born in Iraq, sometimes mentioning their age, sometimes not. I don't know what sort of jobs these women have or, again, what's their socio-economic status; how representative they are of the wide ME female spectrum.

3. Some points in the book were well researched and supported by valid studies. However, to support her argument on many occasions, Mooro considers Instagram polls as evidence/indication. Towards the end of the book, Mooro admits to living in a  social media bubble of her own making. According to EUROSTATS, 2.4 million immigrants entered the EU from non-EU countries in 2017 ALONE. Mooro's Instagram following is around 17k. I can only ask, how can an Instagram poll of followers who share Mooro's lifestyle or an interest in it be regarded as evidence to support or debunk an argument? This was where the book was at its weakest.

4. The freedom of ME women to wear their headscarves or Burqaa's in the West was totally absent from the conversation. While the oppression towards women in the MENA region to wear this or that is undeniably true, bullying women into taking off this or that was left out of the conversation here. Why? So was shaming ME girls and women into having sex. Many reported being called "virgins", "old hags" and much more derogatory terms to shame women who had a sincere wish to honour their heritage and traditions. This too was absent from the conversation here.

5. The use of the elusive term OPEN-MINDED was really problematic. Sometimes the word pops up to describe a man who is sexually active in a repressed environment, but then that man ends up not wanting to marry a woman who practices the same attitude towards sex. which means here that OPEN MINDED = SEXUALLY ACTIVE and/or HYPOCRITE. On other occasions, it describes a Muslim who consumes alcohol. Anna Wintour and Bradley Cooper are teetotalers, does that make them closed-minded? I think Mooro misused the word here.

6. Citing a study that looks into pre-marital sex in the MENA region, in which one-third of male participants admitted to having pre-marital sex opposed to one-fifth of women, and taking in consideration the chapter's content regarding the hypocrisy surrounding pre-marital sex in the region, in which men are looked upon as more manly while women become whores, Mooro concludes that fewer women are inclined to admit it to the exclusion of the possibility that men can also be lying to gain that all-knowing manly attribute.

7. The light in which Mooro perceives fashion labels that try to include women in Hijab or designing a doll with a headscarf is negative. Mooro argues that Hijab is used here as a demarcation of Muslim women. I don't see it that way. I see it the same a plus-sized woman sees herself when a brand decides to employ a plus-sized model to advertise the brand. I see it as something friendly not hostile: a sign of inclusivity of visibly Muslim women.

8. There was some redundancy of testimonies and personal accounts that dragged on and didn't add much. I am inclined to believe that the book was deserving of another round of editing.

Finally, I appreciate the author's effort and commend her candour in sharing such intimate details about her life, the painful moments and realizations of her coming of age. It was brave of her, to say the least. I do believe that navigating the world with our multiple cultural heritage, there is still a lot to learn and Mooro would do so good if she exposed herself to other circles of society east and west.
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I hoped when I chose a review copy of The Greater Freedom from NetGalley that Alya Mooro's writing would be thought-provoking for me and that absolutely proved to be the case. I would happily put this book alongside We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik and My Past Is A Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani as timely and essential reading for everyone who is seeking new ways to understand our social history and alternative directions for the future. Mooro explores in depth how Middle Eastern women are socially conditioned to have certain life expectations, and how those us from Western countries are conditioned to view Arabs, particularly Arab women. I appreciated Mooro's candid honesty in recounting episodes from her own life, divided as it was between Cairo and London, which allowed her to develop insights into both cultures.

The Greater Freedom is a strong blend of personal memoir, philosophy and social commentary. Mooro includes the words of dozens of other women as well as quotations from a dizzying array of written sources to illustrate and support her ideas. (This is one of those books whose bibliography added lots more reading suggestions to my TBR!) She writes from a perspective which is uniquely her own, however I enjoyed recognising elements of her strict childhood from my own experiences. As women, regardless of where we were born or raised, I agree that we all have a lot more in common than perhaps we have been led to believe and we need to build upon this shared bedrock to support each other achieve our individual life choices. I feel The Greater Freedom is an inspirational call towards the creation of fairer societies where women's lives are no longer restricted by fear of what Everyone Else might say.
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This book was okay. I liked that it wasn't just written by the author but included in interviews from other muslim women as well. It was a good lookat a variety of subjects that effect muslim women today. It was okay overall.  

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
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this book was a great insight into Arab culture and gender issues in Egypt and neighbouring Arab countries. I greatly enjoyed that Mooro supported her own arguments with the experiences of other Arab women, it gave such a depth to her arguments. I would have loved to see how lesbian relationships exist in Mooro. Perhaps my inability to connect to her chapters around sex was because of my own sexuality. I would have loved to see some more perspectives for queer Arab women. But this book is a great insight into gender for Arab women of colour:  how they contrast against the white norm. Thank you Net Galley for providing me with book!
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I really enjoyed this book and Alya Mooro's perspective and writing. That said it's almost like something written for a college class--it blends research, personal narrative, and interviews from other Middle Eastern women. It's described as "part memoir, part social exploration" and I suppose that's very apt. The hybrid genre works though, it's compelling and rounded in a way that it wouldn't be without each of the pieces. Definitely worth reading.
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