Friday, October 07, 2005

Hamas is not a liberation movement

Hamas is not a liberation movement. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told that they are and that women’s rights and gay rights are not priorities in the struggle to end the Israeli occupation.

I can accept they’re not priorities, but what these apologists for oppression of another sort fail to acknowledge is that these are priorities for Hamas. They are priority enough for the group to have a stated policy on these issues. And this is what worries me.

If it were simply a case that these issues were ignored and we really had no clue what Hamas’s vision of a post-liberation Palestine was, all good and well. But we do know – and it isn’t a pretty picture.

The idea that they should be supported now and then a new struggle for women and gay (and other) human rights should be begun “after liberation” is bollocks. After liberation, those who dare to criticise the new free Palestinian government’s policies will be accused by the same apologist for undermining the government and for wanting to prolong imperialist intervention.

This is of course what they’ve accused campaigners highlighting human rights abuses in Jamaica and Zimbabwe of doing.

The African National Congress (ANC) has been one of the few genuine liberation movements who have acted in a statesmanlike ‘government-in-waiting’ manner and whose political programme included comprehensive provisions not only for racial, but religious, gender, disability and sexuality-based non-discrimination and protection. Indeed, in 1955 –almost 40 years before liberation – the ANC adopted the far-reaching Freedom Charter as the basis of their political programme – and post-liberation vision.

A year earlier, the ANC-supported Federation of South African Women published the Women’s Charter which stated: “We women do not form a society separate from the men. There is only one society, and it is made up of both women and men. As women we share the problems and anxieties of our men, and join hands with them to remove social evils and obstacles to progress.

This formed the basis for an open and equal society. But what do we have from Hamas?

Not very much, according to a report in The Independent. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas leader in Gaza told The Independent that if Hamas were to win control of the Palestinian Authority in coming elections, it would ban men and women from dancing together and deny specific rights to gay people. He also predicted that under Hamas any Palestinian State would be a strictly Islamic one.

The Times report has slightly more amplification on this, again from Dr Zahar. On the issue of gay rights he said:

“Are these the laws for which the Palestinian street is waiting? For us to give rights to homosexuals and to lesbians, a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick?”

Well, presumably at least gay Palestinians might be waiting for these rights!

His views on fraternisation of the sexes are even more peculiar:

“A man holds a woman by the hand and dances with her in front of everyone. Does that serve the national interest?”

Recently Hamas gunman stopped a rap band playing in Gaza, while an Hamas dominated council banned a dance festival. Dr Zahar defended these actions. Still he denies that Hamas wants a “puritanical regime”.

So, as long as you don’t call it that it doesn’t matter if in reality that’s exactly what it is. It is time people ask those who claim to be working towards ‘liberation’ what sort of liberation they mean – and liberation for whom?

Straight men? For the majority, that’s no liberation at all.


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