Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hamas feminism again

Mrs Naeem, a 37-year-old social worker at the Islamic University in Gaza City and a mother of four, is one of six women elected to parliament on the Hamas ticket in the Islamist party's landslide victory last month....

Women played a crucial role in getting out the vote for Hamas, knocking on doors and often getting a sympathetic hearing. Hamas's strategy to build political support through its social programmes - the provision of health clinics, nurseries and food for the poor - sealed the loyalty of many Palestinian women.

Shortly before the election, Hamas launched a women's armed wing and pictured its members brandishing guns and rocket-propelled grenades in its campaign posters. But the women MPs say their priority is reform, not armed struggle.
Many of the male leaders of Hamas favour the extension of sharia to cover civil as well as criminal codes. Some have said they want to segregate schools, others favour a ban on the sale of alcohol. They also want to see women dress in accordance with Islam.

Mrs Naeem says changes should come only after Hamas has taken time to explain the benefits of religious law. "Our sharia is great if it's practised according to its values. It's not like they say about only cutting off hands," she said.

"It's not going to be forceful but anybody who believes in the religion has to be educated in it. At the end, what matters is fighting corruption, not what people wear."

Then there is an issue unlike any other. The most controversial of the newly elected Hamas women is Miriam Farhat, known as the "Mother of Martyrs" after losing three sons fighting Israel. Her campaign video included a scene of her bidding a son goodbye before he died killing five people in a Jewish settlement. Mrs Farhat said later that she wished she had 100 sons to sacrifice as "shaheeds" - Muslims who die in a holy war.

Mrs Naeem, who named her youngest child after a Hamas leader assassinated by Israel, says there is nothing illegitimate about suicide bombers. "[The Israelis] bomb our neighbourhoods with high explosive. What kind of weapons do we have against F16s?" she asked. But would she encourage her own 16-year-old son to die killing Israelis? "Yes, as soon as his homeland calls for it. I am preparing him to be a shaheed," she said.

How pragmatic and forward thinking!