By Samah Salaime
March 1, 2016
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 rumours that the movie includes sex, violence, and religion.
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!”
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 honour 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 neighbourhood. 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 honour, 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.