Why should I be accused of being Westernized?

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                                     (photo: Sameeha Elwan)

“Westernized” is very often the first accusation pointed in your face when attempting to discuss or even try to raise gender matters in our society.” Especially if it stems from someone who has just come back from abroad, let alone it being a woman.

I cannot deny that being abroad for the first time in my whole life has put me in a very serious confrontation with my own identity not only as a Palestinian, or as a Muslim but also as a woman. It has confronted me with different “choices” which for me have always been taken for granted and have been part of my cultural identity. Being exposed to different cultural diversity has made me question the reasons behind those choices, and whether they were made by me or by the social and cultural context I was raised up in, especially after the Israeli blockade which meant being raised in a society, a concentration camp, which has been closed for the past six years with devastating consequences on both the social and the cultural life. I should not say that I am over this identity crisis because I am not. And I am not ashamed of those changes because I am confirmed that they would eventually lead me to the person who I want to be.

Writing my thesis on women bloggers have made me realize that I have almost never written as a woman, thematically-speaking. Being here again has made me realize that it is important that I do. Blogging is a way of releasing one’s emotions, of pouring down ideas, of coming to terms with one’s experiences.

After today’s humiliating experience in which I was rejected from working in an academic institution, one of the reasons given being my dress code outside the campus, I decided that I would no longer postpone it. I should be just to say that I was also given the excuse that studying a Masters in Culture and Difference, which is an interdisciplinary course, means that I cannot teach in the Literature department. However, even if I had the intention of teaching at the institution, I had to abide by a certain dressing code not only inside the campus, but also outside the campus as well. To teach at the university means that you have to abide by its own ideology.

Wearing pants in a public meeting should not be the concern of an academic institution even if that academic institution holds within it a supposedly “Islamic Ideology”. When education is “religious-based”, when teachers are also considered not because of their intellectual capacity and their contribution to knowledge but by how much they conform to the Islamist ideology in an institution, when decisions are made based on a patriarchal discourse that does not see women who choose not to cover their heads or to wear pants in public meetings, when the social pattern is being unified into a certain ideological vision, then how would that academic institution develop an intellectual understanding of diversity?

Being a blogger, writing has always portrayed the ways I, as a Palestinian, face different forms of oppression committed by the occupation. For long, I have been accusative and suspicious of women who raised gender-based issues for fear of diverting the discussion from our national struggle. Simply, writing back was merely an act of speaking against the occupation which is undoubtedly the first and most threatening initiator of violence and oppression in our society. The national struggle has necessitated a very nationalistic discourse that marginalized the importance of discussing gender and social matters.

However, this is not only the case, but even when we would be writing on gender matters, our narrative is usually that of resisting a Western narrative that objectifies Arab women and portrays them from an Orientalist perspective. An article on one of the Western mainstream media outlets suggesting the rise of conservatism in Gaza and the rise of the percentage of violence against women is usually confronted with comments which denies an already existing phenomena.

I agree western media might not be interested in providing a just portrayal of the situation, but unless we were courageous enough to raise those issues, we’d always be the object of representation not only by western Media but by our own dominating nationalist discourse that gives very little voice to the oppression we face within.

Speak out against oppression. All sorts of oppression.

P.S. I wish I could write this post in Arabic! I promise I should give it a try.

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