|Guns & Roses 3|
Likewise, in the Arab countries, nationalism, necessary for the young Arab states gaining autonomy from colonialism nevertheless, like fascism, reclaimed many of the most patriarchal values of Islamic traditionalism as integral to Arab cultural identity as such. Mai Ghousoub in Feminism or the Eternal Masculine in the Arab World states that the political rights of women, nominally granted by the national state, are in practice a dead letter, since these are military dictatorships of one kind or another, in which the suffrage has no meaning. Her analysis explains how: Colonialism was lived by the Arabs not simply as a domination or oppression, but as a usurpation of power. The principal victims of this complex were to be Arab women. For the cult of a grandiose past, and the superiority of our values to those of the West, inevitably led to a suffocating rigidity of family structures and civil codes. Everywhere, under the supposedly modernising regimes of national revolution, the laws governing the domestic and private sphere marriage, divorce, children continued to be based on the Sharia (Islamic law). The justification of this relentlessly retrograde nexus is always the same. She adds a very significant remark which struck me because I, too, was hit by it several times in my life: How many times every Arab feminist had to listen to mens arrogant refrain: Do you want to become like Western women, copying the degenerate society that is our enemy? Such comments are meant to make Arab womens criticism of their society weaker, by playing with the political forces at stake, setting them against each other, a tactic of divide and rule: East against West, oppressed against oppressor, colonised against coloniser, etc. It is not that these issues are unimportant or should not be discussed seriously, but in this context, they show the weakness of the one who uttered them, his using them to divert the real issue because he is unwilling to look at the problems of his society.
In the Middle East, nationalism and feminism have never mixed very well. Women were used in national liberation struggles Algeria, Iran, Palestine, to name only a few only to be sent back to their kitchens after independence had been gained. As Monique Gadant expressed in her Introduction to Women of the Mediterranean: Nationalism asked of women a participation that they were quick to give; they fought and were caught in the trap. For nationalism is frequently conservative, even though it appears to be an inevitable moment of political liberation and economic progress which women need to advance along the path to their own liberation...What does it mean for women to be active in political organisations? The example of Algerian women is there to remind all women that participation does not necessarily win them rights. From the point of view of those women contributors who have grown up after a war of liberation, everything is still to be done.
Many important studies by women and men in the last few years see a link between sexuality and national/international conflicts. In the article previously quoted, Jean-William Lapierre sees a real deep connection between masculine predominance and the importance of war. According to him, most civilisations are based on conquest and war. The importance of hunting, then of war, in social existence, in economic resources, in cultural models (which valorise warrior exploits), are at the roots of masculine domination and of womens oppression. He explains how in so-called modern societies, politics, industry, business, etc. are always a kind of war where one (mostly men, and sometimes women imitating mens behaviour) must be energetic, aggressive, etc. It is not only capitalist societies which carry war like clouds carry the storm, but productivism in all its forms, including the so-called socialistic one. In all societies in which the economy and politics require a spirit of competition (while its ethic exalts it) women are oppressed.
The importance of incorporating a discourse on sexuality when formulating a revolutionary feminist theory became even more evident as I started analysing and writing about the Lebanese war. The war itself seems closely connected with the way people perceive and act out their sense of love and power, as well as their sense of relationship to their partners, to the family and to the general society. Usually, the argument has been made that wars create such conditions of despair that, within this context, womens issues are unimportant, and that if the right side in a war were to win, womens problems would automatically be solved. I would like to argue the reverse.
I would suggest that sexuality is centrally involved in motivations to war, and if womens issues were dealt with from the beginning, wars might be avoided and revolutionary struggles and movements for liberation would take on a very different path. Justice cannot be won in the midst of injustice. Each of the levels is connected to the other.
The whole range of oppression women suffer from in the Middle East: forced marriage, forced virginity and the codes of honour, claustration, the veil, polygamy, repudiation, beating, lack of freedom and the denial of the possibility of achieving their aims and desires in life, etc. Practices some of which motivated me to run away from Lebanon at the age of twenty-two which are closely connected with the internal war in Lebanon (I am not referring to the Israeli and Syrian occupations, nor the foreign interferences). There are at least seventeen political parties with many subdivisions fighting each other in Lebanon. Each of these parties has different interests; each tries to dominate a small piece of territory and impose its vision of Lebanon onto that territory. They do it largely through the control of women in a way I will try to formulate.
One of the codes of Arab tribes is sharaf (honour) which also means the preservation of a girls virginity, to ensure that the women are kept exclusively for the men of their tribe. Womens lives are regulated not by national laws but by community ones. All legal questions related to individual status are legislated by denominational laws. Each creed has a different legislation according to its religion. For example, there is no civil marriage in Lebanon. Marriage, divorce, separation, custody of children and inheritance are resolved according to ones confessional-religious denomination. A couple is obliged to marry in any one of the official religions: Maronite, Greek-Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Shiite, Sunni, Druze, etc. A couple wanting a civil marriage because they are from mixed religious communities or atheists, for example will have to go to Cyprus or to another country for it. Each of the groups laws, rites, practices, psychological and sexual pressures aim at keeping their women exclusively for the men of their community.
Evelyne Accad is a novelist, folk song writer and Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois. She divides her time between Paris and Urbana-Champaign