"We are a secular community. Religion has never been a practice in our code of life," says Eileen Kuttab, director of the Institute of Women's Studies at Birzeit University. "Our lifestyle has been more of an open lifestyle."
This is the kind of lazy feminist talk that drives me nuts! Maybe if Kuttab ventures a bit out of her insulated office into campus (I wouldn't suggest going outside the Ramallah-Jerusalem area because that may prove too much of a culture shock for her), she may see a different reality shaping up. She can keep saying we are "secular" from now till kingdom come, and that will have no effect on advancing women's rights. This is as wrong as saying that Palestinian society was and is and will always be "religious." Palestinian soceity and culture is not some reified thing that does not change. It's dynamic and subject to many forces and effects. Since the 1980s, the Islamist have been, and continue to be, the one major force which developed a coherent discourse about women; it is conservative if not reactionary, grounded in the "sacred" and effective in mobilizing women for the groups' political agenda.
When will feminists like Kuttab roll their sleeves up and counter the Islamists' social agenda head on? If they want Palestinian soceity to be secular, then they need to work on making it one, not assume that it is one.
And particularly because Hamas will not "force" the veil, it is crucial that feminists mobilize for good old fashioned grassroot work: this is were the fight is.
But that is dangerous work. We all know that.