Photo: Over the last few years, a strong anti-FGM movement has taken root in the community, with a large number of women speaking out against the practice, and pushing for a ban. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)
Sindh Police Recruit Women for Ant Terror Operations
The Humiliating Truth about the NH House ‘Handmaids’
Iraqi-Canadian Mom, Daughters Paint New Picture Of Arab Communities
Dublin Woman Reveals How She Married Man from Muslim Dating Site Half an Hour after Meeting Him
Sharjah Ladies Team Crowned Basketball Champions at 9th Ramadan Women’s Sports Tournament
‘Wonder Woman’ Lebanon Ban Is the Latest Chapter in a Long History of Censorship
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
A New Generation Of Bohra Muslim Women Is Speaking Out Against Female Genital Mutilation
June 4, 2017
Though a new generation of Bohra Muslim women is speaking out against female not everyone believes a petition in the Supreme Court is the way forward.
Over the last few years, a strong anti-FGM movement has taken root in the community, with a large number of women speaking out against the practice, and pushing for a ban. (Illustration: Subrata Dhar)
Twenty-six-year-old Sakina remembers the day “in vivid detail”. Her mother had made her wear a pink dress, and set off for the dargah. “I was just seven, but I was still baffled because I had never worn a dress to the dargah. We were in Bhendi Bazaar, Mumbai, and instead of going to the dargah, we entered a damp, dark house in a dingy lane. Inside was a woman, wearing a hijab. I was made to lie down. The woman held my legs and told me there was some haraam in my body, and that we need to get rid of it. I cried for days, because of the pain,” says Sakina, a Bohra Muslim woman who now lives in Mumbai.
Long after she became an adult, Sakina thought that khatna or female genital mutilation (FGM) was the religious obligation of every Muslim woman. “Just a couple of years ago, I realised that only we (Bohra Muslims) are subject to this.” Agitated at what she calls a “betrayal of faith”, she confronted her parents, to understand why they didn’t take a stand against the “horrific process”. The only answer that she got revolved around “traditions and customs”.
The Bohra ritual of khatna involves snipping off the tip or hood of a young girl’s clitoris, which is defined by the World Health Organisation as Type I FGM or clitoridectomy. This is done when a Bohra girl turns seven, in a clandestine manner by midwives or doctors in Bohra-run hospitals. It is rooted in the patriarchal belief that the sexuality of girls need to be curtailed so that they do not become “promiscuous”. Soon after a girl is cut, mothers hold a small celebratory lunch, where only girls who are “cut” are invited, and it is seen as a sign of growing up.
Over the years, a wave of disquiet has swept the community, as a new generation questions the discriminatory practice — and comes to terms with the trauma caused by this childhood violation.
Five years ago, Mumbai-based Samina, 26, came across an article describing the ill-effects of FGM. She confronted her mother, who apologised, admitting that she too had no clue why her great-grandmother insisted that all girls in the family to do it. When her best friend, also a Bohra, told her that “it’s done to enhance a woman’s sexual pleasure”, Samina was eager to believe it. “Truth is, I didn’t want to accept that my body had been violated beyond repair even though I could feel something was amiss,” she says.
“It’s like when you are molested, you know your body has been violated. You can’t prove it to the world but the trauma stays with you. I spoke about being cut after 40 years — it’s not like I wanted to but it still haunts me. Moreover, it is done unjustly,” says Masooma Ranalvi, who has been leading the anti-FGM movement under the banner of Speak Out On FGM since 2005. “Though there is no scientific proof and I can’t pinpoint it to FGM but the number of women in the community who have told me that they don’t feel aroused during sex is appalling,” she says.
A recent Supreme Court notice is forcing the community to confront these accounts of violence. Last month, the court sought a “detailed reply” from the Centre and four states — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi — in response to a petition seeking a ban on FGM. While Bohra Muslim women have been working to mobilise the community against the practice for a few years now, the petition was filed independently by Delhi-based advocate Sunita Tiwari, who works in the field of child rights. “This practice violates children’s rights. I have nothing to do with the religious aspect but children should not suffer.”
There is disagreement within the community whether seeking a judicial fiat on khatna is the way to go. Ranalvi admits that the petition, which will come up for hearing in June, has left her unsettled. “Although it quotes us, we were never consulted. We have been working with the community, sensitising them, speaking out for a long time now. I am just apprehensive that if it is rejected, the doors of judiciary will be completely shut for us.”
Ranalvi, with the help of senior counsel Indira Jaising, has just released a law report. They plan to intervene in the petition in the Supreme Court to strengthen the case for a ban on FGM by demonstrating that only a separate law is the way forward. It has been submitted to the Women and Child Development Ministry. “Since we are right at the centre of this storm, we are in a better position to put facts on record. Most importantly, our voices should be heard,” she says.
The petition has also led to a backlash against activists by staunch supporters of the religious head, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin. Many women have been abused and threatened on social media.
Another group, called the Dawoodi Bohra Women for Religious Freedom (DBWRF), has been formed to counter the anti-FGM campaign. “Yes, many of us may well be circumcised, as were our mothers and grandmothers before us. The Constitution of India gives us this right to freedom of conscience and religion,” says Rashida Diwan, founding member.
Despite several phone calls and attempts to reach out, the Syedna’s office did not respond to our queries. In 2016, the Syedna’s office had released a press statement: “Male and female circumcision (called khatna or khafz) are religious rites that have been practised by Dawoodi Bohras throughout their history. Religious books, written over a thousand years ago, specify the requirements for both males and females as acts of religious purity. This religious obligation finds an echo in many other Muslim communities, particularly those following the Sunni Shafi’i school of thought…” Everyone does not have the right to perform khatna. To be a cutter, you require a razaa from the Syedna.
But as Irfan Engineer, 55, who has been actively involved in the anti-FGM movement for the last couple of years, explains, there is no mention of it in the Quran. “The Bohra religious leadership, however, refer to a text called Daimul Islam, written 300 years after the death of the Prophet by al-Qadi al-Nu’manin. It mentions khatna of seven-year-olds just once, on the authority of Imam Ali, the son of Prophet Mohammed,” he says. FGM is practised by all Bohra sects — Dawoodi, Sulemani and Alvi Bohras.
Over the last few years, a strong anti-FGM movement has taken root in the community, with a large number of women speaking out against the practice, and pushing for a ban.
In 2011, an anonymous Bohra woman filed a petition, also addressed to the government of India, asking for a ban on the practice, which also leads to medical complications. The petition gathered support from almost 3,000 people. Though the petition inspired other Bohra women to come out and talk about the gruesome practice, it soon withered as the movement had no face to it. On December 17, 2015, a group of women, a part of Speak Out on FGM, launched an online petition, which has till now gathered almost 90,000 signatures. This is significant as the community is extremely closely knit, and keeps a low profile about their problems, for the fear of being ostracised. The women have also sent several letters to the religious head of the Dawoodi Bohra community. They have not got any response.
Farzana (name changed) is a doctor, who has a razaa, but stopped conducting khatna five years ago. “I cut girls for over 20 years. I even cut my own daughter. But once she grew up, I realised what I had done to her. She was livid. She made me rethink the whole issue. I have stopped cutting since then,” she says.
Naeema (name changed), a 53-year-old resident of Rajasthan, says sensitisation is the key to eradicate this practice. She was cut in Kolkata at the age of seven. “I remember something had happened.
But I was so young that over the years, I forgot about the incident. It never stayed with me,” she says. But when a girl was born to her sister, both of them took a stand. “We ensured she doesn’t have go through what we did. It was a rebellious act, our protest. But it was worth it,” she says.
Sindh police recruit women for antiterror operations
June 4th, 2017
KARACHI: For the first time ever in the history of Sindh police, more than 40 women have been recruited in the Counter-Terrorism Department and Rapid Response Force of the law enforcement agency to take up the challenge of combat operations and intelligence gathering, said officials and documents reviewed by Dawn on Saturday.
Not only women from major cities but also from rural backgrounds have been selected after various tests, interviews and medical examination, the officials said, adding that they would receive training from Pakistan Army.
After six months’ training, the women recruited as police constables would be part of the regular police force, the officials said.
The names of 46 women were finalised along with 1,461 male candidates after due process, according to a document recently prepared by the police titled ‘Final results of recruitment as police constable in Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) & Rapid Response Force’.
Women from both rural and urban backgrounds to receive training from army
“After advertisement in newspapers in October 2016, a total of 50,562 candidates applied for the post of constables and finally 30,821 appeared in physical test,” said an official citing details of the recruitment process. “After different tests, interviews and medical examination finally 1,507 were selected who would be joining the force soon. The new recruits would become part of regular force hopefully after six-month training,” he said.
The official said a positive sign in the recruitment was the selection of women from rural and urban areas, as the candidates hailed from Mirpurkhas, Khairpur, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Shaheed Benazirabad, Jamshoro, Naushahro Feroze, Badin, Tando Allahyar, and Ghotki besides major cities such as Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.
It is worth recalling here that the percentage of women in police remains below two per cent though the country’s legislatures adopted several laws in recent years for protection of women’s rights. According to the National Police Bureau, out of 391,364 police personnel across the country, only 5,731 are women.
The NPB data shows that at 3.4pc, Gilgit-Baltistan boasts the highest percentage of policewomen when compared to other regions and provinces. In one of the provinces, the percentage of women in the police force is as low as 0.48pc.
The officials at the helm of affairs admitted that apart from cultural norms and traditions, a lack of encouragement `from within the government institutions’ contributed to the low ratio of women in the force. They believed it should at least be 10pc and that the fresh recruitment by the Sindh police was a move in the direction to make their institution a preferred choice of educated women as well.
“A few of these 46 recruits will be deputed at the Rapid Response Force, while most of them will serve at the CTD,” said Additional IG CTD Dr Sanaullah Abbasi.
“It’s the first such kind of batch of the Sindh CTD as we have recruited women for our specialised unit. And I tell you that they all will be doing the same job being assigned to male team members. They will receive physical training, intelligence operation and combat training from the army.”
He said that the CTD needed services of women personnel in the neighbourhoods where cultural bindings and certain lifestyles prevented its male members to operate freely, thus affecting the overall scope of its operation.
The humiliating truth about the NH House ‘Handmaids’
On Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted on a fetal homicide bill, Senate Bill 66 (SB 66), that seeks justice for unborn babies who are killed in a violent act. The unborn baby would apply to those who are viable, after 5 months of pregnancy, and the bill specifically states that pregnant mothers, abortion doctors or anything that results as an intentional termination of the pregnancy due to medical causes, are not part of this legislation.
In other words, if an unborn baby of a mother, who plans on birthing her child, is murdered or killed whether intentionally or unintentionally by another human being, the mother can seek justice for the death of her unborn child. Currently, if an unborn baby is murdered in the mother’s womb, there is no justice.
An out-of-state extreme left-wing faux feminist organization, UltraViolet, ascended upon the state house dressed as ‘handmaids’ from the book The Handmaid’s Tale in some sort of protest against mothers seeking justice for their murdered babies. These women were dressed in the full garb of the handmaids with white bonnets and red capes. As if to further mock their own selves, they even had a man dressed as one of the handmaids, beclowning themselves to all new levels.
NH women beclown themselves using men as ‘handmaids.’ Photo by Beth Scaer
In another humiliating case of irony, handmaids, in the book, were only those women who were able to conceive children. Clearly a man and the older women as handmaids are unable to conceive children (handmaids were forced to be surrogates for the elites whose wives couldn’t bear children). It’s quite the horrific and evil twist that they are protesting mothers who chose to have their babies and are seeking justice for their deaths at the hands of another.
Aside from the complete ignorance of the legislation by these women, who clearly prefer women abort their children rather than give birth, they obviously haven’t actually read The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a fiction book written by Margaret Atwood in 1985.
Atwood describes a society in which religious extremists take over the country (at one point even mentioning Islamic terrorism) and deeming women as second-class citizens unable to work, have their own money or have any rights (men also lose rights as well, it’s based on class, in an Authoritarian, Communist sort of irony). The true hypocrisy of these embarrassing New Hampshire House Democrats is the book perfectly describes Islamic regimes all over the world. The same regimes that were supported and propped up by their beloved Obama Administration as well as Hillary Clinton while Secretary of State.
Even the uber left wing site Salon, calls left wing women out for their complete ignorance to the truth. From Salon:
By thinking about the parallels between the culture of power and oppression in the “Handmaid’s Tale” and societies such as Saudi Arabia today, we can see a fuller picture — that under the right circumstances, these tendencies are universal. They are not bound by religion or geography. They could take hold in Eastern Europe, or in the Middle East, or yes, even here in America.
Perhaps America is adopting some of the personality traits of our notoriously self-centered leader as we become less and less able to think outside of our own political situation. Yes, we are at an important point in our history, one that demands constant analysis and reflection. There is much to be lost, much to fight for. But addressing today’s crises also requires perspective, particularly for liberals and feminists. Ignoring the current circumstances of very real women as we sit on our couches, binge-watching Hulu, reading think-pieces and feeling sorry for ourselves isn’t the way forward.
These faux feminists started their little ‘Handmaids’ protest during the ‘Red Pill Scare’ regarding state representative Robert Fisher who anonymously wrote misogynistic and outrageous anti-women comments in a forum before becoming an elected official. They conducted a witch hunt on Fisher, not because of things he ever said in the house; not because of actions he ever made towards any women in the house but because of things he may THINK.
More irony is that in the book, the handmaids are presented with a man who they are told is accused of rape – no trial, no due process – the handmaids then proceed to murder him in cold blood. All because they are told the man raped someone. What the faux feminists of the New Hampshire House and out-of-state organizations did to Fisher wasn’t much different.
These women are nothing but hypocritical misandrists. Misandry is defined as the following:
Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men
hese faux feminists not only tried to figuratively murder Fisher in cold blood because of his thoughts but they then attributed HIS thoughts to all Republican men in the legislature and they continue with their misandry on a daily basis. These are women who are not reasonable but delusional. They are a mirror image of what they claim men in the legislature to be. They are exactly the people they claim to be fighting against and they prove it on a regular basis.
Not only did these women make fools of themselves with their clear lack of understanding of the actual book The Handmaid’s Tale but they humiliated themselves, the legislature, women and the entire state of New Hampshire with their out-of-state funded shenanigans. Nothing these misandrists claim can ever be taken seriously because they simply cry wolf where no wolf appears. They are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, only this time it was white bonnets and red capes.
These faux feminist Democrats like Representatives Debra Altschiller, Sherry Frost, Jan Schmidt, Ivy Vann, Allison Nutting, Ellen Read, Katherine Rogers, Cindy Rosenwald and others have contributed absolutely nothing to the legislature but misandry, propaganda, hatred and vitriol since the session began. Rather than be truthful or honest to their own constituents, they have chosen to lie, repeat those lies and then make a circus of those lies by playing ‘dress up’ like small children.
These same women who were hypocritically wearing p*ssy hats in protest of Trump are switching out their childish costumes to push yet another lie that anyone is trying to take away their rights. These are the same women who don’t actually support women’s rights like ending almost 100 years of state-sanctioned discrimination against women with Senate Bill 12. These are the same women who don’t support women’s rights when it comes to worker freedom and right to work. These are the same women who don’t support women’s choice when it comes to free speech as seen with the Buffer Zone Bill. The list could go on about the women’s rights these faux feminists don’t actually support but you get the idea.
There’s a quote in the book that is applicable here but the message is for Republicans in the legislature:
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Only in this case it’s more appropriate to say ‘don’t let the faux feminist misandrists grind you down.’
Iraqi-Canadian mom, daughters paint new picture of Arab communities
Jun 03, 2017
Family art exhibit, Generation, sheds light on Arab identities and media misrepresentation towards communities
By CBC intern Kateryna Gordiychuk, CBC Arts Posted: Jun 03, 2017 9:00 AM ET Last Updated: Jun 03, 2017 10:25 AM ET
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In a world of art, inspiration doesn't come easy. But for sisters Sundus and Tamara Abdul Hadi who grew up surrounded by music and painting, a career in the arts was a natural choice.
After more than a decade of independent painting and photography projects, two Iraqi-Canadian sisters joined forces with their mother, Sawsan Al Saraf, also a multimedia artist, to launch their first collective exhibit Generation.
"Generations" Exhibit Image 1
A view of the Generation exhibit. (Submitted by Sundus Abdul Hadi)
"This is something that my father planted as a seed," Sundus Abdul Hadi told Cinq à Six host, Nantali Indongo.
Sundus and Tamara spent their early years in Abu Dhabi and Montreal, but their work has always had a connection to their Iraqi heritage.
With Generation on display at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia, the two generations of women hope to build a visual conversation about displacement and the representation of Arab communities.
Sawsan Al Saraf Painting
Sawsan Al Saraf's painting from the series Behar Al Jame'e (Submitted by Sawsan Al Saraf)
According to youngest sister, Sundus, the museum's goal is to reach out to Savannah's growing Arab population and recent refugees to create a space for engagement.
As a part of the museum's initiative, big sister, Tamara, facilitated an art workshop in Arabic, a first in the museum's 134 years of existence.
For the three families that participated, the Arabic language was a way to communicate with each other, Stephanie Rains, the museum's Interpretation and Audience Engagement Coordinator told CBC.
Correcting misrepresentation through visual narrative
The main motivation for the multimedia installation Generation was to create a space for discussions about belonging, identity, and the representation of Arab communities.
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With her 2007-2010 Warchestra Series and 2011 Arab Winter, Sundus Abdul Hadi aimed to open a conversation about the post-war life in the Arab world and highlight the aspects ignored by the mainstream media.
The paintings from both of these projects are now included in Generation.
Tamara Abdul Hadi "Picture an Arab Man"
Tamara Abdul Hadi's photograph from series Picture an Arab Man. (Tamara Abdul Hadi)
"I saw this as my duty to really do something about it as an artist [and] to start recording the events that media ignored or events that media misrepresented and try to correct them," Sundus Abdul Hadi said.
Tamara Abdul Hadi "Picture an Arab man" exhibit
Tamara Abdul Hadi's photograph from series Picture an Arab Man. (Tamara Abdul Hadi)
Her sister Tamara Abdul Hadi tackles similar issues of misrepresentation by focusing on the portrayal of Arab men.
Based in Beirut, the documentary photographer travelled around the Middle East during 2009-2014 and depicted them "in a more gentle way," similar to how she saw her father and uncles.
Her goal was to change the visual narrative of violence and oppression surrounding Arab men in the media.
The two sisters and their mother hope to bring Generation to Montreal and continue building a common narrative of displacement and Arab identity.
'Art is a part of who we are, a part of our family.'
- Sundus Abdul Hadi
"There is something really in common between us, there is this engagement between our work," Sawsan Al Saraf said about the exhibit Generation.
"Seeing all of those conversations being physically manifested in the space — that was really special for me," Sundus Abdul Hadi said.
"Because art is a part of who we are, a part of our family."
Dublin woman reveals how she married man from Muslim dating site half an hour after meeting him
4 JUN 2017
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A Dublin woman who converted to Islam and moved to Libya married a man she came across online thirty minutes after meeting him in person for the first time.
Joanna Golden, daughter of famous Abbey actors Máire Ní Dhomhnaill and Geoffrey Golden, was signed up to the dating site SingleMuslim.com by her daughter a week after finalising her divorce.
Joanna (56), an Irish Muslim living in Libya, is originally from Rathfarnham.
Her eldest son Sam fought in the uprising against Gaddafi and wrote a book about his experiences.
She made a promise that if Sam was to come home safe, she would do all she could to make Libya a better place.
Joanna Golden with her husband Fazel Patel on Skype
Joanna moved to Libya with her husband in 2012 and while the marriage didn’t last, she stayed on to run an English school.
She tells her extraordinary story on a new TV series Missing You, beginning next week on RTE One.
“I remember where I was living at that time in Libya, the divorce had just been finalised and we did a happy divorce party.
"Unheard of on that side of the world but most of my friends and family came and it was good.
"Less than a week after that Marian (my daughter) signed me up to that website.
"And then, without my knowledge, she goes and puts in all my details.
"The very next day she says, Mom, there’s a guy called Fazel Patel here, he’s answered your ad,” Joanna recalls.
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Her now husband, Gloucestor-based Fazel, had all but given up on finding someone on the dating site.
“I’d just about given up hope completely on SingleMuslim.com, I thought, 'I’ve had enough, I’m tired of this, it's just not getting anywhere',” he said.
But Joanna’s ad - featuring pictures with an Irish flag - caught his attention. The pair eventually met two years ago and married immediately.
“I’ll never forget coming down in the car that first time to meet you in Gloucester. Feeling like a teenager, laughing at myself. Saying 'Am I out of my mind...'” Joanna says.
Upon meeting, the couple declared their feelings for each other and were married thirty minutes later.
“I said: 'I love you, Fazel',” Joanna recalls.
“And I said: 'I love you too Joanna, more than you think',”Fazel said of their first face-to-face encounter.
The pair live in separate countries but stay in touch via video calls between Tripoli and Gloucester.
Their story features in a new six-part series exploring relationships through the confines of video calls.
Missing You begins on RTÉ One on Wednesday, June 7th at 8.30pm.
Sharjah Ladies team crowned basketball champions at 9th Ramadan Women’s Sports Tournament
June 04, 2017
The Sharjah Ladies team has been crowned champions of the basketball competition of the ninth edition of the Ramadan Women’s Sports Tournament, which concluded on Friday.
The team clinched the tournament’s title after defeating the Bin Hamooda Chevrolet team with a score of 55-38 from four rounds of 13-12, 16-9, 14-9 and 12-8.
The Al Nasr Ladies team was in third place after defeating the Kuwaiti Salwa Al Sabah team with a score of 62-26 from four rounds of 17-9, 17-3, 6-3 and 12-11. The two teams played a close game, with the Al Nasr team’s players including professionals from the national women’s basketball squad.
With the three disciplines of volleyball, basketball and shooting, the ninth edition of the Ramadan Women’s Sports Tournament was held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of H.H. the Ruler of Sharjah, Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs and Chairperson of the Sharjah Women’s Sports Foundation, SWSF, the organisers of the event.
The closing ceremony was held in the presence of Khalid Eisa Al Midfa, Assistant Secretary-General of the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, Abdul Aziz Al Noman, Secretary-General of the Sharjah Sports Council, SSC, and Nada Askar Al Naqbi, Director-General of the SWSF and member of the SSC, and Abdul Latif Al Fardan, Vice President of the Emirates Basketball Federation.
Al Midfa praised the organising of the women’s tournament for the ninth consecutive year in Sharjah during the holy month. He said the event contributes in elevating the readiness of its sportswomen to participate in national teams and the credit for this should go to the SWSF.
He highlighted the Foundation’s role as an invaluable partner in the evolution and excellence of women's sports in the UAE.
Al Noman said that the annual tournament is a premier event that helps develop women's sports in Sharjah and across the UAE. He referred to the increasing number of female players participating in different disciplines and stressed their involvement in shooting, which has resulted in the nurturing of an elite group of professional female target shooters.
He also revealed that two women’s shooting clubs were recently inaugurated in the UAE one in the central region and one in the eastern region bringing the number of ladies shooting clubs in the country to three. He said that these new organisations will have a positive impact on the development of sports in the country.
Al Naqbi expressed her appreciation to H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed for her unremitting support to women’s sports in the country and for her patronage to the event.
She also thanked the SSC for supporting the tournament, as well as all the other parties that contributed to making it such a success. She noted that the tournament has been instrumental in preparing players for the forthcoming fourth edition of the Arab Women Sports Tournament.
Noor Diab, administrator of the basketball team at the SSC, thanked SWSF for organising the tournament, which she said has proven to be highly successful. She attributed her team’s win to perseverance, respect for opponents and team spirit.
The week-long Ramadan Women’s Sports Tournament saw the participation of 350 female athletes from 20 sports clubs and private institutions from across the UAE. The ninth edition of the event also saw a women’s basketball team from Kuwait participating for the first time.
‘Wonder Woman’ Lebanon Ban Is the Latest Chapter in a Long History of Censorship
Jun 3, 2017
"Wonder Woman" is only the latest film to face problems in Lebanon, where censors are ubiquitous.
“Wonder Woman,” the latest addition to DC’s blockbuster superhero universe, was scheduled to be released in Lebanon on May 31. The day of it was meant to open, the movie’s theatrical run was abruptly halted by the announcement that Lebanon’s interior ministry had banned the film because actor Gal Gadot (aka Wonder Woman) is an Israeli citizen.
This wasn’t a complete surprise: Lebanon and Israel have been in an official state of war for decades; Lebanese law boycotts Israeli products, and bars Lebanese citizens from traveling to Israel or having contacts with its citizens.
And it has happened before, albeit on a smaller scale. “The Attack,” Ziad Doueiri’s 2012 adaptation of Yasmina Khadra’s novel, was ultimately denied screening permission in Lebanon because the Lebanese-born filmmaker had shot the film in Israel and Palestine with an Israeli cast and crew. But unlike “The Attack,” “Wonder Woman” has nothing to do with Israel.
Lebanon is not the only Arab state officially at war with Israel, but it is the only one to ban Gadot’s film. (After the measure was announced, “Wonder Woman” was released on schedule in Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait and is scheduled to open in Oman and Bahrain later this month.)
Lebanon’s ban, and the way it was carried out, in part reflects the workings of the state censor. Lebanon is distinct in the Arab world in that, historically, its political parties have sometimes been more robust than the state, which has made the operation of the state censor unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the region.
When vetting films, stage plays and print media, the rulings of Lebanon’s censor often hinge on preventing artists from offending the sensibilities of the polity’s various interest groups. In practice, the censorship committee has been particularly sensitive to depictions of religion and sexuality — no surprise in a sectarian polity — as well as Israel. In this, the Beirut Cinema Days Arabic film festival, staged in March, provides a convenient case in point.
The censor denied screening permits for two programmed films: One was the Egyptian feature “Mawlana” (Preacher), by veteran writer-director Magdy Ahmed Aly. The film follows the story of a witty young preacher whose rising popularity and influence attracts the attention of the state, which tries to influence his positions on certain issues.
The denial of the permit was surprising, since “Mawlana” had had a theatrical release in Egypt, where its box office returns were among the strongest since the 2011 revolution. It seems the censor had required certain cuts, which the festival was loathe to make. Ahmed Aly’s film has since had a theatrical release in Beirut, after someone made the cuts demanded by national censors.
The other title denied screening permission was “The Beach House,” the feature film debut of Lebanese artist Roy Dib. It tells the story of a late-night dinner party in which two sisters play host to an old friend and his male companion. Dib’s script is dialogue-heavy and the revelation that the two male characters are lovers is an exercise in cinematic discretion. “The Beach House” is yet to have a theatrical screening in Beirut.
The “Wonder Woman” ban happened because the censor heard from another interest group — the Lebanese chapter of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel. Speaking to AP on behalf of the CBSI, academic and activist Rania Masri said the boycott campaign is an expression of resistance to efforts to normalize relations with a state that is at war with Lebanon and occupies Palestinian land.
The CBSI’s intervention found Gadot’s online expressions of patriotism helpful for its cause.
A former Miss Israel who transitioned to modeling before acting, Gadot served her mandatory two-year military service. The media picked up on the actor’s Facebook posts praising the Israeli military’s 2014 operation in Gaza and sending prayers to soldiers “who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas.”
It’s likely Gadot’s enthusiasm for the Gaza operation (which the BBC estimates killed over 2,100 Palestinians, more than 1,400 of them civilians) made some impression upon state (and sub-state) actors resentful of the Israel army’s history of incursions here, routinized between 1979 and 2000 as a kilometers-deep South Lebanon occupation zone.
In the summer of 2006, Israel commenced a month-long bombing campaign of South Lebanon and Beirut’s southern suburbs — where the forces of the militant political party Hezbollah had, and has, great influence. The 2006 war killed around 160 Israelis, mostly military personnel, and displaced about 500,000. Some 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and a million more displaced. Lebanon’s southern border has been largely peaceful since 2006, but tension between the two countries has grown since Hezbollah intervened in the civilian uprising against the Assad regime, prompting Israel’s air force to target Hezbollah forces operating in Syria.
Geopolitical issues aside, many Lebanese find the “Wonder Woman” ban absurd. Some who oppose the measure criticize it for being arbitrary, noting that other movies starring actors with Israeli affiliations — Scarlett Johansson’s vocal support for Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, for instance, which are otherwise deemed to be violations of international law — escape the censor’s notice.
Gadot herself appeared in several Hollywood movies before “Wonder Woman,” including four “Fast and Furious” movies and “Batman vs. Superman.” All these titles were released in Beirut, though the Lebanon chapter of CBSI did try to secure a ban of “Batman vs. Superman.”
The present interior ministry ban was somewhat unusual insofar as the country’s censor had granted the film screening permission. This cleared the way for exhibitors to launch an (ultimately pointless) ad campaign for the film, increasing the ban’s financial burden upon exhibitors.
Spokesmen from Circuit Empire and Grand Cinemas (two of the country’s major exhibitors) have released separate statements saying the ban discriminates against them.
“They are not harming anyone by banning [“Wonder Woman”] … except the distributor,” the film’s Lebanon distributor told Reuters. “They are making the movie theaters lose, the employees, the Lebanese economy … What did they get out of this?” Local tastes don’t ape those of American moviegoers – it’s hard to know how many Lebanese would be lured to the unusually strong feminine hero praised by some western critics, for instance – but Beirut audiences have plenty of reason to indulge in escapist cinema. Hollywood blockbusters are reliable stock-in-trade here; while official numbers were not available, local exhibitors have confirmed that a sizable number of “Wonder Woman” tickets were sold in advance of the ban.
There is some precedent for works to be exhibited after the censor’s injunction, including the 2007 instance in which Rabih Mroue’s play “How Nancy Wished that Everything was an April Fool’s Joke” was briefly banned after the playwright refused to submit to the censor.
In this instance, an active and well-connected minister of culture intervened to overturn the ban — which may have been facilitated by Mroue’s growing international profile, and his practice of never staging his work in Beirut more than a handful of times. Indeed, between (pirated and legal) DVDs and streaming services — which state agencies may monitor but do not interrupt — any Lebanese who wants to watch “Wonder Woman” will be able to do so. The Middle East thrives on hyperbole. The political narratives surrounding Arab relations with the state of Israel are as nuanced as any 3D tale of super heroism and super-villainy.
There is, however, little in the way of mindless escape — and so far, “Wonder Woman” won’t get the chance to change.
Jim Quilty writes about the film, visual and performing arts in the Middle East.
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