Their silence about Ahed

January 10, 2018

IN AN excellent article, published by Al Jazeera, Shenila Khoja-Moolji wonders why the West (including its stalwart feminists) have not been galvanized to protest and demand the release of a 16-year old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, detained by Israeli authorities for defending her home and family from Israeli soldiers, soon after they had shot her 15-year old cousin in the face with a rubber bullet.

Khoja-Moolji contrasts this egregious silence over the imprisonment of a clearly empowered girl, fighting for her rights under a brutal military occupation, with the massive global outcry that followed the Taliban's attack on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, back in 2012. Malala too was resisting the patriarchy by fighting for her right to education. Why this disparity in how these two acts of courage and feminist resistance were received and parsed by the West?

Khoja-Moolji explains the difference between normalized state-conducted violence (including American drones, Israeli rubber bullets or bombs, and police killings in the U.S.) and the uniformly denounced violence committed by non-state actors, such as the Taliban or Boko Haram. (In 2014, then-First Lady Michelle Obama took to Twitter to protest the abduction of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram).

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Khoja-Moolji also talks about "bodies that matter" or have value versus those that don't, creating a hierarchy of humanitarianism.

Finally, Ahed's feminism is political (a direct challenge to settler colonialism), rather than based on sex and consumerism, a kind of liberation that does not seek to overturn or seriously damage the system.

ANOTHER ANALYTIC lens is particularly instructive here. It is provided by Sherene Razack's astute unpacking of the torture and decade-long imprisonment at Guantanamo of 16-year old Omar Khadr, in her case study, "The Manufacture of Torture as Public Truth: The Case of Omar Khadr."

Razack asks how in a democratic society where even spanking is seen as unacceptable violence, the prolonged torture of a Muslim child can become not only normalized, but part of a unifying moment for the West to rally against the East and turn the world into a battlefield.

She explains how "we reconcile ourselves to the cries of a boy locked up in Guantanamo" through two "blood narratives."

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The first depends on the stereotype of the Muslim as quintessentially anti-modern. It is based on the old colonial adage that natives can only understand force. They carry the "seeds of violence in their blood" and therefore nothing is more dangerous than the body of a child, with its budding potential for barbarity.

This line of thinking is particularly apparent in the Israeli state's treatment of Palestinian children. It makes it possible for Israel to prosecute 500-700 children (some as young as 12) in military courts each year, imprison hundreds of Palestinian children in the Israeli prison system, and kill 1,800 children across the occupied Palestinian territories since the year 2000. This is also why the Israeli police demanded an extension of Ahed's detention on the grounds that she "poses a danger."

The second blood narrative is rooted in the same premise of inherent native violence but it appeals to the West's nobler instincts, their civilizing mission, or "civilisatrice," whereby interventions are launched in order to save Muslim children, particularly Muslim girls, from their own brutish cultures. Malala's enthusiastic rescue and subsequent championing by Western leaders reinforce the West's own self-image as benevolent intercessor.

Since Ahed and Malala exist within two separate, yet interdependent, constructs of reality, the Western elite's doublethink is not surprising. Sherene Razack explicates how "each narrative enables white citizens to feel that they are the normative citizens who must defend themselves against racialized groups or who must engage in saving children of color who are salvageable."

It might be an uphill battle to shame the Western elite into sabotaging their own narratives of superiority, but it is essential for those of us whose bodies "don't matter" (because they are raced, gendered, disabled, classed, aged, exploited and oppressed) to look beyond dominant fictions and deploy our solidarity in uncompromising, meaningful ways. It is particularly urgent to unmask and stop the obscenity of state violence committed on the minds and bodies of our children. It's nothing less than a matter of survival.
Mara Ahmed, from the Internet

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