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Dear Arab men, leave us women out of your holy wars

An Arab teacher was recently attacked and fired for screening an ‘immodest’ film for his students, all in the name of protecting women’s ‘honor.’

Palestinians citizens of Israel Israel participate in a demonstration in the arab town of Ramle on November 26, 2015 against domestic violence and rising number of women getting murdered. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians citizens of Israel Israel participate in a demonstration in the arab town of Ramle on November 26, 2015 against domestic violence and rising number of women getting murdered. (Activestills.org)

This is the kind of article I am hesitant to publish in Hebrew or English. But out of my wholehearted belief that there are Jews in this world who can be part of our struggle, I decided to air our dirty laundry in other languages, after hanging it out to dry in Arabic here.

The story about Ali Muasi, the teacher from Baqa al-Gharbiya, has already made headlines. Muasi was fired for screening the much-heralded film “Omar,” which apparently goes against the principles of Islam, to his students. The man who led the attack belonged to the “Hidaya Group” for new converts in the city.

All the who’s who in Arab society condemned the decision. Everyone is disgusted: some by the fact that the teacher was attacked in front of his students, while others are horrified that the teacher dare show movies featuring nudity to his students. The film, of course, has nothing to do with sexual relations between men and women, but there is only so much one can do against rumors that the movie includes sex, violence, and religion.

‘Would you show this kind of thing to your sister?’

The teacher was immediately fired by the mayor, prompting a battle over freedom of expression and occupation, protection of teachers, religious control over the public sphere, secularism and progress in the face of religious coercion and silencing. The entire conversation took place in the freest sphere in Arab society: Facebook.

That’s where everyone speaks, condemns, supports, analyzes, and responds. There are those who said “finally someone is stopping the educational anarchy,” and there are those who think that those who attacked Muasi are nothing more than a few bullies. There were those who saw the religious man who spearheaded the attack as the man who would save the city from secular ideas against conservative Islam.

To tell the truth, this week I was rather pleased by the passionate debate among my people. Finally we are talking about social, moral issues in public — and there is a plethora of opinions. Furthermore, this is an internal discussion that ostensibly has nothing to do with Israeli or Jewish society.

Everything seemed fine until I heard the recording of the violent event in question. I couldn’t believe it. The bearded man who stormed angrily into the Muasi’s classroom said not a word about Islam, the Qur’an, or the commandments of the Prophet. Nothing of the sort. Instead the man yelled “Shame on you, you scum! You have sullied our daughters’ honor, you embarrassed our women, would you show this kind of thing to your sister? Shame on you!”

Women from the West Bank city of Bethlehem march to protest honor killings and other forms of violence against women, Bethlehem, November 16, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Women from the West Bank city of Bethlehem march to protest honor killings and other forms of violence against women, Bethlehem, November 16, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

This, I said to myself, is the the basis of the issue. This is what drove this Muslim man crazy. His masculinity was harmed by the fact that young women would watch a film which includes a scene where a young woman has sex with her lover. His response had nothing to do with the respectable religious man he purports to be. Respect for women, in his eyes, has been tarnished. This is the traditional, conservative Arab man — not a religious man who speaks in the name of Islam. He is still connected with an umbilical cord to the woman’s sexuality, dreaming at night about the hymen, and obsessing over the body of his wife, sister or any other female in his immediate surroundings.

This hot-headed macho man cannot allow teenage women to know how a woman falls in love with a man, or how to make love — even if it comes from a movie focusing on the struggle against the occupation and liberating Palestine.

The man must first take control of the woman — only then can he liberate the land. The same man, like all men in this world, sees himself as the ruler. He decides what is moral and what is immoral. He does so in the name of tradition and religion, sometimes in the name of conservative values or customs. As long as this entire war takes place over the woman’s body.

Time to speak honestly

The man, it seems, didn’t seem to mind how the film would affect male teenagers. Not a single word was said about their honor or their privacy. Do they not have such things? The real Arab men — do they not have any shame or red lines? Or are they allowed to do whatever they want in our chauvinistic and paternalistic culture?

And what about me — a woman who is raising three boys in this society? A woman who suffers alongside my fellow women from this boundless oppression? Do I not have a say in what is done and said in the name of my protection?

I wonder whether the teens who were exposed to this violent act are excited by Omar, the protagonist, who struggles for his homeland and is also in love with a young woman from the neighborhood. Or do they see the man who violently came into the classroom and yelled at their teacher as an example? What message did they carry with them on their way home from school that day?

The recording included several women who tried calming down the situation, telling Ali not to respond and ordering the students to go back into the classroom, while a group of men tried to gain control of the religious man.

These women were the only sane voice in a fight between two men: one who wants to challenge teenage minds, both boys and girls, through an important film on the Palestinian people that won numerous prizes and gained national exposure, while the other tries to shut down the film so that they don’t, God forbid, learn about romantic ties between the sexes. There is no need to state that these teens learn about sex from the cheapest movies they can find on the market.

If this is the conversation we are having, let us talk openly about men and women in the public sphere. Let’s talk about the freedom to create and religious coercion. Do not build your crumbling masculinity on the shoulders of Arab women while hiding behind a veneer of religiosity. Do not defeat your national oppression by pointing a sword at me. Want to fix the world? Go catch those who murder women. Go punish those who sexually harass women in colleges, malls, and everywhere.

Go, Great Protector of Arab honor, and fire a lecturer who physically touches our women — you’re not here to stop people from viewing a film. Go find a teacher who beats and destroys the life of a helpless child.

Be brave and let’s start talking about the Tira women’s marathon. Come tell us what bothers you so much about men and women dancing dabka in Umm al-Fahm, even when it happens in a closed venue.

Are these “women’s” issues? Do these events have to do with women’s power in the public sphere? Don’t tell me about your religious sensitivities. You must know women who fight in the name of Islam, the first female Islamic judge, the Egyptian Sultana from the 13th century, or the rich businesswoman whom Muhammad chose as his wife.

You have finally become acquainted with our power: our knowledge, presence, bravery, and opinions. This, my friends, won’t change anytime soon. I am a feminist and a Muslim woman. You will not wage your wars on our backs. I am part of this struggle, and I have the right to say and act. You have no choice but to recognize me as equal to you, and prepare adequately.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Lauren

      I commend you, Samah Salaime, for writing this piece and sharing your views with us. Too many wars are fought over “religion” and over the backs of women. As an educator, working in Negev Bedouin high schools, I stand strongly with Ali Muasi and you. We are all Ali Muasi.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      “You have finally become acquainted with our power: our knowledge, presence, bravery, and opinions. This, my friends, won’t change anytime soon. I am a feminist and a Muslim woman. You will not wage your wars on our backs. I am part of this struggle, and I have the right to say and act. You have no choice but to recognize me as equal to you, and prepare adequately.”

      That gave me goosebumps. I haven’t read such a powerful statement in a while. I’ve got a lot of respect for you Samah and can appreciate your quandry – keep this under the carpet or share it with the world. I think you made a choice from your heart and soul and will bear the slings and arrows from those people who might not be too happy with this with the same strength and sumud as Muslim women have for centuries. Maybe at some point when you have your Muslim brothers more up to speed with the fact that women are more than capable of protecting our honor ourselves, without interference, you could revise it to include all women, i.e, “I am a feminist and a woman, of all complexions, ethnicities and faiths…..” Thank you for sharing this.

      I hope Ali Muasi’s students will always remember who the real man was that day, and it wasn’t the fool who disrupted the class.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        Samah – don’t change a single word; it was presumptuous to even make a suggestion. Its up to the rest of us to take our stand, but I know that all women can read this and feel inspired and motivated by the strength of your words.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Czar

      Am the only one who finds it amusing that a call to Arab men from an Arab woman was published on a Hebrew site? Kind of makes you wonder what the real target audience was.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        “Israel’s domestic violence problem is not getting better”:

        “The wide scope of violence is against women,” says Gila Oshrat, the chair of WIZO Israel. “Alongside the low number of men receiving treatment, there are signs that the mechanisms to deal with and eliminate the phenomenon are stagnating.”

        The numbers paint a grim picture: In the last 12 months, 10 women were killed by a partner, and 19 were killed the year before. During the year, 14 shelters for abused women around the country hosted 641 women and 932 children; 7,640 protection orders were taken out against violent men; and WIZO received 700 calls about domestic violence through its hotline.

        http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4596052,00.html

        Reply to Comment
        • Samson

          Somehow you manage to make everything about Israel. With you its always Israel, Israel, Israel ad nauseam. Do you ever think of anything else but Israel? Every and anything published by +972 – no matter the topic – is ceased by you to start copying and pasting all and anything negative against Israel anyone can find on the internet. This article is not dealing with violence against women in Israel, but with religious fanaticism, censure, oppression and repression of women that originate from within specific culture/religion, the fact that basically NO ONE cares about what happens to Muslim Arab women and the racist nature of that indifference. Are you too foolish and blinded by hatred of the Jewish State to realize and address that – for the sake of your people, Achmed?

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Remember all the grumbling and pecksniffery about “the new regime” from guys like Czar?

        “Oh my god Sheizaf is going to let *an Arab* run +972? Who ever heard of such a thing? Is he nuts?” “She wants to destroy Israel!!!”

        What did we get?

        Arab feminists. Those dastardly Arab feminists.

        “Oh my god Khalifé is giving space to Arab feminists telling Arab men where to go. It’s an outrage. Why it’s feminist-washing of terror! It’s a terrorist plot!!!”

        Reply to Comment
        • Samson

          You’re hyperventilating again, Achmed, babbling and rambling. What is this latest mumbo jumbo all about? Pls. explain if you can.

          Reply to Comment
    4. Jane

      This story is hallucinating. However I guess it’s not about Arab men exclusively, but about violent bigots and about violence generally.
      The movie in question is not in the least ‘immodest’ – and the most ‘indecent’ scene is that of a (barely sketched) KISS. But, of course, don’t expect a fanatic to really know what he / she is raging about.
      I’ve watched ‘Omar’, it’s a great movie, although a bit more commercial than the director’s previous movies – it was made to tell a Palestinian story to all of the world, including western audiences. And it speaks mainly of the Israeli violence against the Palestinian society. It’s not offending for the ears of either Palestinian women or Palestinian men, nor is it for anybody who believes in justice, humanity (and love).
      I think the teacher who decided to show the movie to his students deserves the respect of his community. Like teachers from all Palestine deserve it – and should not be obliged to protest (or get fired) in order to receive it.

      Reply to Comment