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How Counter Protests in Universities are Using ‘Feminism’ to Justify Violence

How Counter Protests in Universities are Using ‘Feminism’ to Justify Violence

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions of hate speech, violence, misogyny, and sensitive language.

By Amanda Kang

I will start by saying that I am a current college student at a university with ongoing protests regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. For this reason, I have had an up-close view of much of the rhetoric weaponized against student protestors, which has been disturbing, to say the least. An Instagram video posted by @theimeu, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, compiles clips of counter-protestors at UCLA. The video showcases a wide variety of hate speech and slurs aimed at student protestors. However, I want to focus on a particular type of anti-Palestine rhetoric that employs violent anti-woman ideas to justify the violence in Gaza and toward student protestors.

Crowd marches at the George Floyd protests 6/2/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)

In the video, a female-presenting counter-protester yells, “...They would slaughter you like that. You’re not a woman there. You’re a slave there. A whore. A whore there. You’re a whore.” 

Another male-presenting counter-protestor tells a female-presenting protestor, “Hamas would rape and murder you. For what you’re wearing, sweetheart. Yeah. And they’ll kill your daughter for not covering her hair. Hamas would rape and behead you for what you guys are wearing.”

Hearing this language weaponized against members of my community was very disturbing, leaving me feeling angry, saddened, and shocked all at once. However, after my initial reaction, I began to think more deeply about what these counter-protestors were saying. In essence, they were using the violence against women in Middle Eastern cultures to justify the destruction of Gaza.

Growing up on social media, post 9/11, my feed has always been flooded with images and stories of violence against women in the Middle East. Images that stay with me are the faces of women who have endured acid attacks in Pakistan or of child brides in Sudan. Overall, I have been taught this one-dimensional story about the Middle East as a place that inflicts violence upon women and other minority groups.

To be clear, I absolutely condemn these acts of violence and support institutional change to improve women’s safety and rights overall Nonetheless, I recognize that this institutionalized misogyny does not deny any group of people their humanity and subsequent rights. All this being said, it has become increasingly clear that many people have used such examples of violence in the Middle East to justify racist ideology.

Let’s break down the first woman’s statement. Telling a woman that she would be considered “a slave” or subhuman in Gaza, in turn, dehumanizes the people of Gaza, a predominantly Islamic population. Therefore, the underlying theory under her messaging is “they do not consider you human, why should you consider them human.” In my opinion, this is an absolutely false statement that paints all Middle Eastern people as extremists. It hinges on racism and islamophobia, failing to acknowledge any nuance that may exist in an entire population. Every religion, like Christianity or Judaism, has varying levels of devotion and extremism. However, we would never use the most extreme Christians to justify the genocide of an entire culture. 

This statement paints the United States as a completely just place for women. However, this is the same country in which a woman’s right to choose has been revoked, where societal misogyny prevents women and girls from pursuing the same career paths and human rights as their male counterparts. We do not exactly set a very high standard for women’s rights as much as we love to preach about it.

Furthermore, this idea completely denies the bombardment and starvation women in Gaza currently endure. Put succinctly by Researcher Maryam Aldossari in her article, “Western feminism and its blind spots in the Middle East,” Aldossari writes:

“Your brand of feminism, which seemingly applies only to a certain subset of predominantly white, Western and Western-aligned women, is difficult to stomach. You rightly condemn the violence Hamas inflicted on Israeli women. Yet you are not only silent on the suffering of Palestinian women, but are trying to silence anyone else who is brave enough to speak up for them.”

Aldossari perfectly articulates how calling for the end of violence in Gaza does not disregard the violence inflicted on the Israeli people. Rather, standing against genocide is a feminist act.

Interestingly, this type of feminist rhetoric is comparable, but not the same, as the type of homonationalism used by Israel to justify the genocide. Homonationalism is the association between nationalist ideology and LGBT people and their rights. However, beneath this seemingly favorable description, it is a form of systematic oppression that can be used to justify violence against minority groups, including the LGBT groups it claims to support. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel has used LGBT rights as justification for their invasion of Gaza. In a November 13, 2023, Instagram post, an Israeli soldier stands by a tank holding up an Israeli flag with rainbow borders. The post is captioned, “The first ever pride flag raised in Gaza 🏳️‍🌈.” This denies the existence of any LGBT presence in Gaza and furthers the idea that Israel is a progressive nation that is justified in committing genocide. In reality, Israel is governed by an extremely conservative body that faces increasing levels of violence against LGBT individuals. For example, an article by the Jerusalem Post described an 11% increase in the number of harassment reports against members of the LGBT+ community in 2022. For further listening, I highly recommend the episode “Queer Palestine & the Power of Pinkwashing” from the podcast A Bit Fruity with Matt Bernstein.

Overall, both of these instances demonstrate how easily social movements can be co-opted alongside forces like racism, nationalism, and xenophobia to become powerful forces of oppression. In this conflict, I would argue we can hold space for the rights of both Israeli and Palestinian people rather than evaluating one group of people as more human or deserving. To the reader, I would encourage you to consider how your feminism is showing up in the world and how our biases can sometimes blind us to the complexities of an issue at hand. 

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