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1980s postmodernism provided a viable theoretical alternative to existing discourses. Where pre-postmodern second-wave feminism subscribed to prescriptive notions of what a woman should or should not be, postmodern feminists (or post-feminists) instead articulated a much more diverse, malleable, morally and culturally relative notion of what it means to be a woman. This new relativist approach meant that feminists were now making a conscious effort to engage with third-world women in a way that acknowledged cultural particularities. Today Muslim women are struggling to find a place for themselves. Western feminists have the potential to play an important role in the process of change in the Muslim world. The nature of this role has yet to be determined. In recent decades, Western feminists have had a tendency to superimpose their own culturally specific notions of equality on the Muslim world. Now, there is the risk that a new generation of postmodern intellectuals will decide to slowly disengage. With this in mind, finding the middle ground has never been more urgent.

In: Hawwa

Debates over the Syrian civil war and the role of u.s. policy have brought into sharp relief the dilemmas of policy research. When the basic thrust of policy seems immovable irrespective of events on the ground, how should researchers respond? Should influencing policy be the animating objective of policy research? Who exactly should our work be directed to? This article considers the evolution of the Obama administration’s u.s.-Syria policy and what it has meant for those of us in the policy community who (apparently futilely) wrote in favor of a fundamentally different course of action. Two approaches to policy research are discussed in detail as they relate to Syria. The first is to accept the narrow constraints of policymaking and tailor one’s recommendations accordingly. The second is to not accept “reality” as a given and to write about what should happen, however unlikely it might be. In the second approach, the priority is on shaping public debate as well as influencing internal dynamics within government, rather than on tangible policy outcomes.

In: Middle East Law and Governance