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Modern Arab Women

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Arab Today, arab today Modern Arab Women

Dubai - Arabstoday

For some it is their sense of having got something right that fuels the desire to write a book. For Judith Hornok it was the realisation that she had got something completely and utterly wrong. \"My perception [about Arab countries] was very one-sided\" she admits. \"Radical, domineering men oppressing women and forcing them to cover themselves. I judged something I had never seen or experienced. I wasn\'t critical enough. I made a big mistake.\" It is a refreshing starting point, this mea culpa, and a \"big mistake\" that Hornok sets out to rectify with her book, Modern Arab Women: The New Generation of the United Arab Emirates. The book, which is available across the UAE, is in 20 chapters, each a stand-alone interview with an Emirati woman from disciplines as varied as business, film, medicine and politics. It is the result of eight years of travel on Hornok\'s part, moving between the UAE and her home in Vienna, Austria, building relationships, trust and understanding. But, far from the completion of a task the book is, as far as Hornok is concerned, only the start of a life mission. She feels it is her personal responsibility to address the misapprehension she herself once held wherever she finds it in others. It has taken her across Europe and into the United States, where she has lectured and hosted discussions on the realities of being a modern Arab woman. And the thing that sparked all this happened, as so many life-changing revelations do, purely by chance. She says, \"I never wanted to come to the Arab countries. I was working as a journalist for a big newspaper in Vienna, covering Formula One, business stories, big celebrity profiles. \"I thought of Arab countries and I could think only of the women covered and oppressed. I remember even when a girlfriend went there for business and came back and said, \'Judith, you would like it.\' I rejected it. But then my old life brought me to it in spite of this.\" Her old life - a whirl of glamour and high pressure - saw her sent to cover a European Class 1 Powerboat race. There were people there from Qatar, from Bahrain and from the UAE. \"I met my first Emiratis,\" Hornok recalls. \"And I was really impressed. They treated me with respect. They were highly educated and straight away they were not what I thought they would be. I wanted to learn more. That is how it began. That is how the UAE became the first Arab soil I set foot on and you know I am really grateful to the country and the people because they totally changed my outlook and my approach to life.\" It is rather a grand statement but, as she sits sipping water in the lobby bar of the Shangri La, Abu Dhabi, it is quite clear that she absolutely means it. Hornok is not a woman who does things by half. It just isn\'t part of her emotional make-up, as she later explains, \"When somebody shows me a glass half empty I don\'t see that. I see it as completely full.\" She wants to see the best in things - in people, in situations - and she feels the onus is on her to share the results with as wide an audience as possible. It is an endearing - if slightly exhausting - trait, this chatter of energy and it comes through on every page of the recently published book, thanks to the idiosyncratic format chosen by its author. Rather than editorialise her subjects Hornok has chosen to simply transcribe her conversations with the women complete with insertions noting smiles, laughter, the offering of gifts and so on. So the opening interview with Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, starts with such niceties as the sheikha enquiring after Hornok\'s health. \"I wanted it to be as pure as possible,\" Hornok explains earnestly. \"I don\'t want to tell all the time what I\'m thinking. I want it to be so that you take your time and you know who these people are and you hear them, not my interpretation.\"

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