One thing about the global polarization between western imperialism and Islamic anti-imperialism, factions in each camp rely upon and feed into the ongoing subjugation of women, especially women of color. Opposing sides in a unified system of exploitation, the dynamic tension created by their mutual hostility takes form in various moves to control women’s choices over their bodies, their attire, their lives.
This week Hamas, the duly elected government in Gaza, announced a ban on women publicly smoking the hookah. According to government spokesman Taher Nouno, “The government made the decision in order to restore the religious rules and traditions of the conservative Palestinian society, which doesn’t allow for women and teens to smoke the shisha in public places.”
Last fall as part of its “virtue campaign” Hamas passed a ban on women riding behind men on motorbikes. “To preserve citizen safety and the stability of Palestinian society’s customs and traditions,” they said.
This “traditional conservatism” is in fact being imposed, as a distorted vision from a non-existent past, on a dynamic society – when a society is as frozen-in-time as these right-wing men like to pretend, there is no need for new laws and edicts to “restore” these religious rules. But when a society is traumatized by violence as the Palestinians have been, ever since the nakba, and the worldwide left that was tied to the Soviet camp has disintegrated, men like that find that they can get their way.
At the same time, imperialism – which in a shakespearean kinda way is actually responsible for the rise Hamas as the symbol of principled resistance – is busy working out its anxieties about women and cultural predominance by imposing bans on various forms of Muslim attire across Europe. France and Belgium have both passed laws banning the burka in public (expected to come into force in the fall), similar legislation is expected to be passed in Spain (where it already exists in Catalonia and Andalusia), and there are calls to extend it to England and other countries, too.
Imperialism dresses itself in the liberal garb, claiming that such legislation is intended to “free” women and counter “Muslim sexism”. Some leftists actually believe this, and go for the ride (ten years ago the French anarchist newspaper le monde libertaire even carried the banner headline “Ni Dieu Ni Voile”), but in doing so they’re ignoring whose tune they’re dancing to. As in the case of Palestinian women being told what they can do and what they must wear, the regulation and control of Muslim women in Europe is a symbolic way for particular nations and classes to mark their territory, to show that they’re the ones who say what goes. And once they feel they have the power, “our” bigots will gladly show themselves to be “real men”, just like their brothers on the other side of the imperial divide.