“The Syrian people had been rendered poor and isolated. They had been fed the increasingly threadbare propaganda of the Assads’ “steadfast” Arab nationalist stance. This fits oddly with a regime that sided with Iran against Iraq; and cold-bloodedly divided Palestinian ranks; agitated murderously within Lebanon’s borders, while rigorously enforcing a cold “peace” with Israel (except, of course, in standard fiery speeches that make most Syrians yawn). Even Assad’s anti-US position is compromised by his compliance with the Bush administration’s programme of extraordinary rendition, as Maher Arar and others know too well. Despite all this, Syrians have come out en masse to demand rights they have been denied for so long.”—From the Turks to Assad: to us Syrians it is all brutal colonialism| Rana Kabbani, Comment is Free, Mar 30. Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/30/turks-assad-colonialism-family-mafia
46% of Jewish Israelis justify attacks on innocent Palestinians
Ynet (the website of the popular tabloid Yediot Aharonot) published a very disturbing poll today. The poll was conducted following the Itamar terror attack that left five members of a family of settlers dead. The respondents of the poll were 504 Israelis from all sects of society. The poll discussed the practice of “price tag” (תג מחיר). The practice is basically settlers attacking villages of innocent Palestinians following house/ outpost demolitions by the Israeli government in the West Bank and at times terror attacks by Palestinians. The attacks usually involve uprooting olive trees, setting fire to Palestinian fields, hurling stones and Palestinian cars and occasionally Molotov cocktail throwing at Palestinian homes.
Overall, 48% of Jewish Israelis said that such attacks were unjustified (33% completely unjustified, 15% not so justified). 46% justify the attacks (22% completely justified, 23% somewhat justified).
The support for attacks correlates strongly with level of religiosity - while “only” 36% of secular Jews justify/support the attacks (57% do not), 55% of semi-religious (מסורתיים) support/justify the attacks, 70% of Orthodox Jews (so-called “national Zionists”) support the attacks and 71% of ultra-Orthodox Jews support/justify them.
This is a very disturbing finding, which is part of a general trend in Israeli society of growing racism and militarization. A great analysis of these trends is in The New York Review of Books blog here: http://is.gd/DexWIe
“There are soldiers here, willing to fight for us, but we have no weapons. We are walking around gathering up what we can use to defend ourselves. I am a mother, not a member of al-Qa’ida; not a mujahideen. But when Gaddafi gets to Benghazi, I will have to be a fighter, not only to defend myself and my family, but also to defend the dignity of a people who have told the tyrant that has raped our country to go.”—Hana El-Gallal: ‘He will kill everyone. Do something. Please…’ - The Independent, March 17
Notes from a Lecture about Perceptions of Sexuality among Palestinian Women
This year, the Hebrew University organized several events to mark International Women’s Day, including lectures, concerts, self-defense classes and workout groups. A number of women’s rights NGO have set up booths on campus and the university is handing out stickers (link) (that not many of my fellow students are wearing, unfortunately). The sticker says “I too support gender equality”.
In this post I’d like to talk about a great lecture Manal Shalabi gave at the university this morning about “Perceptions of Sexuality among Palestinians women”. You can read more about her research here in an interview she did for Haaretz (link) and below I’ll just describe a few points in her talk that were especially interesting to me.
Shalabi discussed her Master’s thesis for which she interviewed over 100 Palestinian (Arab Israeli) women about their views on sexuality. Despite the fact that Haaretz describes her as a radical feminist, she clearly has some problems with feminism and mentioned in her talk that feminists disapproved of her research topic since it is somewhat disconnected from politics. She also mentioned her disagreement with white, middle-class radical feminists as well as post-modern feminists which justify, in her eyes, oppression of Arab/Muslim women in their society.
Shalabi stated that Arab women have a great problem discussing their sexuality using Arabic, and they usually resort to using Hebrew or English terms when talking about such delicate matters (words she mentioned were “orgasm”, “masturbation”, “ass”, “[sexual] positions”, “sex”, “clitoris”, among others). She also said that most women she interviewed felt uncomfortable with their bodies, especially during their adolescence. Shalabi thinks that this feeling of uncomfortableness is related to the encouragement from society, and especially their mothers, at that time to cover up. Shalabi is critical of the hijab and sees it as a form of oppression, although she does mention that some women in her research feel empowered by donning the veil and chose to do so on their own. Here I’d just like to point out that many Western women feel uncomfortable with their bodies, especially during adolescence so maybe the connection to the enforcement of the hijab isn’t the cause for the discomfort.
What was interesting in her interviews with these women is that all of them described having a great relationship with their fathers, but a bad relationship with their mothers who were the ones enforcing the societal and patriarchal norms. The fact that women can be agents of the patriarchy is of course not new, but it was striking how men stayed un-involved in preserving their daughters’ “chastity”, while women did the “dirty work”. One story Shalabi described is of a lesbian woman who is now 32 who was interviewed for the research. When she was eight, her mother caught her masturbating in the shower and beat her daughter while yelling that if she does so again her father will kill her because she violated her honor. The father who was outside the door did not get involved as his wife beat and threatened his daughter.
Another interesting aspect that Shalabi described is the division the Arab society in Israel makes between sensuality and fertility. According to Shalabi, women are encouraged to quickly supplement their sensuality as single women to the fertility of married women. Mothers are seen as respectable, dignified and not sensual, while single women are seen as the opposite. Shalabi also mentioned that fertility is seen by some women as a way to demographically combat the Jews in Israel (something that is often heard in religious right-wing circles in Israel).
The most interesting part in Shalabi’s research, in my opinion, is the dominance of the term “honor” (sharaf) when discussing women’s sexuality. All the women she interviewed referred to honor at one point or another (without being prompted to do so). A woman’s honor and her family’s honor are tied to the sexuality of the women, more specifically, their “promiscuity” and hymen (before marriage). Shalabi views the concept of honor as a way to control women and enforce patriarchal norms. Based on her interviews, it was clear that women were afraid of doing certain things (pre-marital sex, for example) out of fear of “disgracing” their family and maybe even being killed. One woman she interviewed who was single (at 27), successful and lived alone in Haifa said that she grew up reading headlines about women being killed for “disgracing” their families and that she is not willing to take the risk of doing anything that might get her killed.
Shalabi’s talk did contain some optimistic points. She said that things in the Palestinian society in Israel are changing and women are gaining more independence and are able to do more today than they did before. Shalabi pointed out that this change is not widely known (among Israeli Jews at least) because the leaders of the Israeli Palestinian community don’t want to acknowledge that they’re losing power and that certain behaviors are now more acceptable (for example, women getting married in their 30s).
“Actor Charlie Sheen is a classic example of the difference in Western and Eastern values and norms…. Sheen attracted 1 million Twitter followers in just 24 hours, yet more evidence that microblogs spread the most unhealthy contagions in society like a disease. Chinese family, coworkers, or the authorities would have taken firm steps to make sure someone like Sheen did not make a public spectacle of himself…. Sheen goes on television and boasts that he has two girlfriends, who both sleep in the same bedroom. Is he too poor to set up his wives and mistresses in different houses?.. He ignored his own father’s advice to keep quiet, who was once the president of the US. Sheen is a disgrace, unfilial to his father and his fatherland.”—This is a real op-ed that appeared in a Chinese paper today. Link here.
Why do I have my doubts? Because Americans lack our Judeo-Muslim traditions of brotherhood, peaceful assembly and debate. Far from thinking of the greater good of their society, most Americans embrace a tribal ethos of “what’s in it for me and my clan?” Their loyalties tend to divide along tribal and regional lines. In recent years, for example, elected officials have mooted the idea that their state should (a) secede from the federal union (Texas), (b) create its own currency (South Carolina), and (c) enforce only those national laws with which its ruling warlords agree (Montana).
I disagree with some of my conservative friends who claim that Christianity is an inherently violent faith (we all know the litany: it has an instrument of torture for a symbol, the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc). Yes, if you read through their Holy Book you find a lot of alarming stuff, but I am satisfied that the vast majority of Christians read these passages metaphorically. For most, their religion is almost as peaceful and civilized as our own.
That said, the United States abounds in fanatics who don’t share this view. They are all too eager to turn the democratic process to their own nefarious ends. Many will claim to have renounced the gun for the ballot box, but can we trust them? Consider one Sarah Palin, an imam from a wild northern region where the central government’s hold is weak. Last year, her election literature contained images of targets on the territories of opponents, and she has said that the secular state should base its laws on a Christian version of Sharia. Obviously Iran, Nigeria and the rest of the G7 cannot tolerate such a person in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal.