Response to Jadaliyya’s “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine,” article re: DAM’s new video

Tonight, I came across this article by Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi on Jadaliyya. It is entitled, “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine: DAM Seduced by the ‘Honor Crime.'” The article expresses disappointment with DAM’s latest video condemning honor killings. I would advise the reader to read the Jadaliyya article and watch the video prior to reading my response.

I was excited to read an article from two of my favorite Arab scholars. Yet, slowly – I couldn’t help but disagree with almost every claim made in the article, and reject nearly all premises that their arguments were founded upon. Below is a point by point summary of my thoughts. Excuse the poor grammar and writing style, I really was writing in a hurry.

…not freedom from the state or from the violence of settler colonialism that shape her community, but freedom from her family’s decisions about her marriage.

Yes. Freedom from her family’s decisions – true, real freedom starts in the household. If we cannot achieve that first, what makes us think that we can attain freedom from anything else? We live in ecosystems, and the ecosystem closest to us is that of the household. It affects us in the most direct manner. Yes, she protests and fights this type of ignorance first – it is only then that she can partake in broader struggles healthily and fully.

…Young Palestinian women do all of these, every day, in particular places, under specific historical conditions.

In producing this video, I don’t think DAM’s goal is to highlight (the very admirable, strong) women of Palestine. Rather, they were shedding light on a very important issue that some women suffer. Further – the video is about violence against women, not settler colonialism. You can only address so much in 4 minutes.

…What solution is this?

The scene represented a “heaven” of sorts where women who suffered domestic violence, or who died because of an honor killing, go. Not a solution. I think the purpose of this scene is to bring some sort of comfort to the woman who was killed. As in – “Many women suffered your fate.” This is what these women would have liked to be, see, or do in their living days. But instead, they all ended up dying because their father/brother/uncle/cousin killed them.

DAM ignores the committed Palestinian feminist activists who have been working for decades on the various forms of violence Palestinian women suffer.

Dude, really? How? How can the (+) positive addition of one video condemning violence to a wealth of activist expressions against violence insinuate an ignorance of all other efforts? This statement is so unfair.

They have been analyzing what comes together to produce familial violence: economic strangulation; the frustration of occupation and unemployment; the militarization of society; the physical barriers that disrupt movement and police life; the lack of legitimacy of laws and authorities.

Sure. But have all those things ALWAYS existed? Honor killings have been happening for quite some time all over the world. I think of all the factors listed above, the following holds the most merit: lack of legitimate laws and authorities. This factor holds true across several generations and political atmospheres.

But other than that – the authors are forgetting that “physical barriers that disrupt movement,” and “police life,” and “militarization of society” are factors that exist all at once only in today’s Palestine. How do you explain honor killings in Algeria? In Jordan? The authors forget that honor killings happen all across the region, and not just Palestine.

They uncover a long history of Israeli policies to freeze patriarchal family forms to facilitate control.

Again, this is not only about Palestine / Israel. Honor killings exist elsewhere. Moot point.

… the music video disappoints by further depoliticizing this violence and relying on cultural narratives that have served to racialize and ethnicize Arabs as one of liberalism’s “others”

No, no, no! It’s really due time we, as Arabs, identify our issues and address them head on. We cannot keep relying on an occupation to explain everything in the Middle East. Yes, it affects a whole lot, and any commentator worth his or her salt acknowledges this. But it is absolutely crucial that we understand the root causes of such violence. Why is it acceptable that men can catcall on women on our streets? Why is it acceptable that a woman is expected to and sometimes forced to marry whosoever her parents want her to? Sure, the issue cannot and should not be depoliticized, especially in Palestine. I just don’t find this argument convincing for other countries that do not suffer an occupation, but instead suffer the incompetence of their own state to protect its people, an inadequacy of state-sponsored anti-violence educational programs, unavailability of shelters, and sheer ignorance. This argument does not hold – not temporally, nor spacially. Honor killings are no new concept – they have existed in several cultures spanning the centuries.

In the wider international discourse of saving Muslim women, the “honor crime” plays a crucial role.

Yes. And I, for one, am sick of countries of the Global North telling us what to do. So why not make it a domestic discourse? Why not raise awareness on our issues from the ground up? Each country has its own unique nuances that affect why and how this type of violence occurs. To equate Palestine with Morocco, Jordan with Sudan, etc, is dangerous. DAM, in this video, is bringing the issue home. The members of DAM are not American, British, or French. They are Palestinian. If anyone should and could shed light on our problems, it is folks from our own society – us. We need to change our MENA, nobody else.

It locates the problem in culture and tradition. It isolates this form of violence from any others.

We cannot actively exclude culture and tradition from the equation. I will not pretend to know how exactly they contribute to such violence, yet – I can tell you that it has a thing or two to do with it. Folks that engage in such violence will cite God, honor, and community. Who are we to completely bypass what they present and link the violence to other factors altogether? Clearly, tradition has at least a little to do with the makeup of the offender’s psychology. And what about some sermons that are given in state-sanctioned mosques, in front of hundreds of men? How do we ignore this? Why would we?! Let’s take it way back too: patriarchal attitudes existed across several cultures and generations. Take, for one, societies that require a “blood price” on newborns (the ancient Hebrews were one of these societies). When the new born is a female, only a very small sum is demanded from the family: her value compared to that of a male’s is insignificant. This comes not from a political occupation, but from a culture, a tradition. So many more examples. And for the record, it was in Egypt that women have historically enjoyed more freedom. For one, because the married couple was considered the founding social and religious unit, women were on equal standing with men, and were afforded the same rights as men in court in regards to property and inheritance.

Look, at the end of the day – this video is made by a Palestinian group raising awareness. No matter what, it still brings to light issues that our Arab society generally shies away from discussing. The video is poorly produced. It ignores a few things. But the video is also no academic treatise. It is a 4-min video that aims to raise awareness on an important issue that must be looked at objectively. No woman (or man for that matter) should be killed because of her romantic inclinations – or any life decision. Let us stop trying to minimalize the inhumanity that comes with honor killings.

It is wrong. Full stop.

5 responses to “Response to Jadaliyya’s “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine,” article re: DAM’s new video

  1. Pingback: Muftah » No Excuse for Honor Killings – Reflections on a Music Video from “DAM”

  2. Good piece. I’m glad somebody did a systematic line-by-line rebuttal of that article. I wouldn’t have had the patience. 😛 Reading the article, I got the impression that the authors were deliberately using a lot of big words to disguise the lack of substance. The core message – “Mention the occupation if you’re going to talk about violence against women, because otherwise you make us look bad” – is pretty frightening. I did write a response to that aspect of it:

  3. you wrote this in a hurry? well done, Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi’s article needed a proper reflecting on, you are a true humanitarian! thanks

  4. Without the external initiative/funds granted, Dam would have produced this video? How long since the establishment of their musical band that they tackled this issue?

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