An an interview with Bernard Lewis, he said:
The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West?
He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.”
It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.
That is why I am looking with great interest at Tunisia. Tunisia is the one Arab country that has really done something about women. In Tunisia there is compulsory education for girls, from primary school, right through. In Tunisia, women are to be found in the professions. There are doctors, lawyers, journalists, politicians and so on. Women play a significant part in public life in Tunisia. I think that is going to have an enormous impact. It’s already having this in Tunisia and you can see that in various ways. But this will certainly spread to other parts of the world.
Elsewhere, the question of women and the role of the women is of crucial importance for the future of the Muslim world in general.