When a prominent Muslim leader starts blaming women’s organizations for corrupting Arab society, it is time to say loudly and clearly: we cannot wait for the occupation to end to deal with women’s issues.
I am neither a criminal nor a terrorist. Yes sir, I’ll admit it: I founded a women’s organization, and I wish to be judged severely for my actions. I want, once and for all, to hang the dirty laundry for all to see and be tried in a court of law.
I recently came across a speech given by Sheikh Kamal Khatib, the secretary-general of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, in which he blames a young girl who was taken advantage of on social media. “You crazy idiot, you are superficial and hollow,” he tells her, before continuing with his scaremongering over what can happen to young “idiot” women like her on social media.
Until this point I was not surprised by his remarks. What worried me, and what requires an immediate response, is the portion of his speech in which he starts blaming women’s organizations, “the criminals and the terrorists, those who receive dubious dollars from Western countries in order to destroy our society.”
And just like that our fate was sealed. With one miserable sentence, the honorable speaker decided that I am a criminal, a terrorist and a traitor! How unfortunate that someone like Khatib uses his position of influence to incite against women’s organizations. What kind of space for action does he leave me in the face of the crazy reality we live in?
And if we’re already on the topic of settling accounts, I would like to admit to my wrongdoing: I am a woman. This is how God created me and not you, alhamdulilah. My body is absolutely my own. I am responsible for it, and I will use it and take care of it according to my values.
The “Your Body Belongs to You” campaign, which you mocked while preaching from your pulpit, was started by Al-Siwar, an organization that provides support for victims of sexual abuse in Arab society. Do you support sexual abuse, sir? Shouldn’t you, as a religious figure, be supportive of this struggle? Do you want me to be afraid that a man will touch me without my consent? I support this campaign, and wish to be judged severely before judgement day. I demand justice from my God, because it seems that humans have forgotten what justice means.
Where were you when women were murdered?
No, I am not a traitor, nor am I a terrorist against my society. You accused me of destroying our society with the aid of foreign money, but I have something say about this issue: our perfect, little society was ruined from the beginning. We in our women’s organizations are trying to fix what you men have done for decades to make us reach this point.
I am a woman who sees the truth and is not afraid—I struggle against injustice without blinking. I do not want to fall victim to violence and refuse to allow men to abuse women. I am against rape and child marriages. Yes, I stand behind many women and push them to study, work and live the life they were given by the creator.
In my society, sir, dozens of women are murdered, and not at the hands of the security services or the weapons of the occupation. And what do you do about it? The bullet that murders an Arab woman was shot by a gun held by a man who may have heard you speak before.
While you were busy preaching, those same women’s NGOs you defamed and blamed for the destruction of Arab society may have enrolled a young woman into a self-defense class or a group dedicated to women’s empowerment. Perhaps they even advised her on opportunities for higher learning.
While a crowd of fawning men sat silently and became wiser due to your remarks, sir, there sat a volunteer with an abused woman in the hospital after an angry man put out his cigarette on her “weak” body.
While you organized mass demonstrations of men to protect Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinian women in Jerusalem protested against the separation wall on both sides, in order to demand the removal of that large piece of concrete that separates them.
While you unrelentingly incited against Arab women’s organizations, brave women drove to faraway villages in order to gather and market crafts and embroideries by impoverished Palestinian women.
When you wrote that no one apart from Muslims have a right to Jerusalem, Christian and Muslim women cooked Iftar dinners together in the Old City.
And through it all, our manly leaders kept their mouths shut. Not because they agreed with you, but because of the might of the religion that you pretend to represent.
I am not a foreign agent of the West, sir. I am an Arab Palestinian and a Muslim just like you, who struggles from within my society just like you, and does everything I can to advance the women around me. I am a feminist and an activist and there are many like me, who work day and night to help lift women and teenage girls out of poverty, from violence and primitivity toward progress and development.
We won’t wait for the occupation to end
For many years I stood behind the front lines of my people’s struggle. I hid myself from the cameras and was never elected to a venerated public position. I do not own a newspaper and have no stage or audience.
I had hoped that you would be more fair and responsible in your declarations, and that your conscience would lead you to support positive, women-based activities for the sake of our society. I thank God that there are responsible men and religious figures around who are different from you. Ones who are guided by tolerance and see what we do and what we support. These men have reached the necessary conclusion that there is no way to make social change without real partnerships. With you, however, I have no place.
In a hypocritical society, which you blame me for, I need to be at the protests—but only if I am not photographed near the men. I am allowed to struggle against home demolitions—but only if my voice is silenced. We demand justice from an oppressive regime—but the future scientist or doctor is locked in her room.
Don’t you understand that it no longer works this way? I cannot wait until the occupation ends and all the other problems in our society are solved before it is my turn. Not only do I refuse to wait, I am sure that I am part of this nation, and that without me, nothing will progress.
This article was first published in Arabic on Al-Itihad and The Times of Israel. Samah Salaime is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod/Lyd and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. She is also a blogger at Local Call.