Friday, May 2, 2014

Loubna Qutami Speaks at UC Irvine: To tape or Not to Tape

Gary Fouse

Last night concluded the Muslim Student Union's week of anti-Israel events at UC Irvine. The featured speaker was Ms. Loubna Qutami of the Palestinian Policy Network. The audience was almost all MSU members with a few non-Muslim students. Prior to the talk, a film was shown called Duna (Dolls). I was told last night that the film was shot in the West Bank-in Nazareth, but the above link makes reference to Palestinans living in Tel Aviv. The topic was sexual violence against Palestinian women within their own society. (I highly recommend viewing this film. It is is Arabic with English sub-titles. More on this later.)

Before the event started, there was the usual issue of videotaping. (This event was in a classroom.) Aside from myself, another individual, a journalist, was also present. He had set up a video camera on a small tripod. I was also nearby and was prepared to videotape with my own hand-held recorder. An MSU student came up and said that videotaping would not be allowed. At that point, I gave my now-standard response that it was a public event at a public university, that the issue had been decided in past events, and that people had the right to videotape. I added that if a campus police officer or university official instructed me to stop, I would comply.  A few minutes later, I walked outside and continued the discussion with the young man. He requested that I not videotape the film because of copyright laws. I agreed not to do that and added that I also would not videotape students as is my policy. A few minutes later, one of the female MSU members came to where the other cameraman and I were sitting and repeated the request not to videotape. I repeated my contention that we had a right to do so, but that I myself would not tape the film or videotape students. She then asked what if the speaker asked that we not videotape her talk, would I comply with that, and I answered "no", only if a campus police officer or university official directed me not to tape.  I also voiced the opinion to her that they might be inviting legal problems if they prevented people from videotaping. I repeated my promise that I would not tape the film or the students.

The event began and the movie started. A few minutes later, three campus police officers entered the room and asked to speak to both of us outside. It was their position that if the event organizers did not want any videotaping, we should comply with that wish. I repeated my contention that we had the right to do so at a public event at a public university. I also told them that the previous year, the MSU had tried to prevent me from taping (which were at indoor events) and that the campus police and the dean of students had backed me up and informed the MSU of that fact. One of the officers told me that was erroneous information. He also asked who the officer was that told me and I described the officer. (I didn't know his name, but I think he is a senior officer in the UCIPD.) It was clear from the outset that the officers were going to support the MSU's position, so I told them that I was going to follow their (officers' ) directions. The other cameraman  stated his case, but we both agreed to abide by the campus police directives. One of the officers added that it would be ok to videotape in an open outdoor venue but not in an enclosed room if that were the wish of the sponsoring organization. The two aforementioned MSU members, who were both present, agreed that there was no problem with us returning to the room as long as we didn't videotape. I should underline that the officers were all courteous and professional, and the discussion was civil at all times. I mentioned to the officers that on both sides we should research the legal question in order to avoid future problems. We then returned to the room.

The film

As stated, this film is highly recommended. ( I missed about ten minutes of it due to the above discussion with the campus police.) It is about one hour long and contains interviews with Palestinian women (their last names and faces not revealed) who had been the victims of rape and or violence at the hands of Palestinian men. Statements made by the women included references to women being blamed for the rape if they complained, being shamed, or even killed. It showed the funeral of a female, but we missed the part of how she died. There was a filmed and tape-recorded call made by a victim to her attacker years later, which was poignant. There was also a conversation between a victim, who had been raped by someone else's uncle, and a sympathetic female official of some type with whom she was going to lodge a complaint. At one point in the conversation, the female told her that, "This is a problem we have in Arab society." I did not see any reference to Israel in the film though, as stated, I missed about ten minutes due to the discussion with the campus police.

The speech

Then came Ms Qutami, who opened by repeating a request that she not be videotaped. Though she was not connected to the making of the film, she followed up by focusing her talk on gender violence within the Palestinian society.

I am paraphrasing her statements (unless quotation marks are used) since I was unable to videotape.

Make no mistake, Qutami, who comes from Palestinian parents, is an ideologue. While acknowledging the problem of gender violence, as she termed it, she laid the blame on guess who-the Israelis. You see, according to Qutami, gender violence arises as a consequence of the Israeli settler colonialism or the settler colonial project, as she termed it. She then went on to talk about the cycle of violence that occurs within indigenous populations by the colonizers or oppressors. She then talked about the Western mentality toward Eastern peoples as being uncivilized vis-a-vis the civilized West, using such terms as "colonial feminism". She
said that the West looks at Arab women as ones who need to be protected against this type of gender violence. She also said that they (Palestinians) could not talk about issues like gender violence because it reinforces Western stereotypes of Arabs. At one point, she referred to Edward Said's book, "Orientalism".

Going back to Israel, she said that Palestinian violence is embedded in the Zionist settler colonialism. "Occupation is violence". This has, according to Qutami, created a society of violence and intimidation. She stated that "violence is a tool of genocide" and made reference to the feminization of Palestinian men. She added that people of color don't talk about these things because it buys into the racist stereotypes of the West.

Qutami then launched into talk of Palestinian survival being the biggest threat to Israel and the worry that Palestinian women are giving birth. She then went back to 1948 and referred to threats of rape by Israel soldiers if Palestinians did not leave the territory during the fighting. She referred to a Palestinian woman who wrote of those days and was imprisoned by the Israelis for (terrorist acts) and later immigrated to the US where she is now under deportation proceedings by DHS. That led Qutami into references to the "US security structures".

Qutami then went into the usual horror stories of Israeli torture and the tactic of fear toward Palestinian women. referring to checkpoints, roadblocks, threats of rape, demolition of homes, and the apartheid wall. As her talk droned on (too long), her delivery suffered as she began quoting from books and reading her speech. She was losing her audience, and at 8 pm, the males left to pray. She was starting to lose her audience, literally and figuratively. What started out as impressive became boring.

Finally came the Q and A. As usual, I was the first to raise my hand. Due to what had happened earlier, I wanted to keep it civil yet make a point even if indirectly. After asking where the film was made (I was told Nazareth), I complimented the film as being important and courageous. I then asked Qutami if there were similar problems of gender violence within other Arab societies in the region, such as Egypt, Sudan, Iraq etc and also within the Arab diaspora in the West.

Qutami answered in the affirmative. Beginning with the US, she said that Arab women are being violated. Within the community, there is resistance in acknowledging the problem because too many want to maintain that the problem "doesn't exist within our community". She also said that Arab immigrant women have problems accessing the US court system. As an example, she said that sometimes, court translators come from the actual family involved. She also complained about the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women with a vague reference that resources are not available for Arab women because they are considered white. She also complained about the involvement of the FBI as investigators (presumably since the FBI is involved in investigating domestic terrorism).

As for the Arab world itself, Qutami mentioned Egypt as an example where gender violence is not criminalized and offers no support to women victims, so violence against women continues. However, she called Egypt an example of a "neo-colonialist regime". She added that the Arab world has never gotten out of the "neo-colonialist structure". It is the root of violence against women, she added.

In answering other questions, Qutami predictably brought in the litany of other complaints, such as illegal immigration, the "war on the poor" in the US, and US prisons. "Palestinians cannot be free as long as these conditions (in the US) continue".

At one point, she made a reference to the Judeo-Christian culture in connection with an attitude of conquest of indigenous peoples of other lands. There was no mention of any Islamic conquest. Again, I am paraphrasing.

To summarize, Qutami blames the problem of Palestinian gender violence on the "Israeli settler colonialism". She also blames the problem within the Arab world on "Neo-Colonialism". In the US diaspora, she lays at least partial blame on the US justice system for not providing sufficient access to abused women.

In other words, it's someone else's fault that the problem of gender violence against women exists in Arab society. The point I wanted to make with my question was that these problems do exist in other Arab societies, where one can hardly blame Israel. I think the point was made.

As to the video issue, I do intend to follow up with UCI and outside legal sources on this issue of videotaping. It has to be resolved from a legal point of view.

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