As part of this year’s Montreal Israeli Apartheid Week, Nahla Abdo, a Palestinian professor of sociology at Carleton University, spoke about the need for anti-colonial, anti-imperialist feminism at a talk titled “Imperialist Feminism and Arab Women’s Struggle: The Palestinian Case,” held on March 23 at Concordia University.
Abdo’s talk focused on the Western feminist rhetoric on Palestinian women’s struggle and the push-back to this discourse by Palestinian women. Abdo also discussed the importance of using oral history as a research method to highlight the struggle of Palestinian women who are political prisoners.
Land and genocide in the Palestinian struggle
Abdo introduced the concept of “politicide” as important to understanding Palestinian women’s anti-colonial struggle. She explained that politicide is a form of genocide committed against Palestinians by the state of Israel through the erasing of Palestine as a political entity and through erasing Palestinian geography – for example, Israel’s renaming of many Palestinian towns and villages with Hebrew names.
“At the heart of the [struggle against] settler colonialism is the loss of land and struggle to regain the land,” Abdo said.
She linked the politicide of Palestine with the lack of criticism of Israel in the Western world. “Such politics have gone hand in hand with an Amero-European politics of a deafening silence toward Israel’s policies,” Abdo said. “We all have, as academics, in one way or another felt the pressure on our freedom of expression when it comes to [when we] critically think and publicly speak about the Israeli state.”
“At the heart of the [struggle against] settler colonialism is the loss of land and struggle to regain the land.”
Abdo also mentioned that a result of such a a lack of an anti-colonial analysis in discussing settler-colonial states like Israel and Canada leads to the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
“You criticize Canada left and right, but you are not to touch Israel,” she said, referring to some activists’ propensity to speak out against Canada’s policies, but their silence on Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Orientalist and imperialist feminism
More specific to the topic of women’s anti-colonial struggle, Abdo spoke about “orientalist feminism,” which she defined as the essentialization of Arab and Muslim women. Orientalist feminism, said Abdo, imagines Arab and Muslim women to be under patriarchal and cultural oppression. In addition to problematizing this type of feminism, Abdo also spoke about imperialist feminism. While orientalist feminism focuses on culture, Abdo argued, imperialist feminism is a result of a political ideology.
“Imperialist feminism is a 21st-century feminism developed in response to the so-called War on Terror. [It is] the linking of resistance to colonialism [to] acts of terror; everyone who resists colonialism becomes a terrorist,” Abdo said. “[Imperialist feminism] uses women’s bodies and sexuality for ideology, for racializing and dehumanizing Palestinian freedom fighters.”
Abdo concluded her talk by saying, “While the state can erase the physical marker [of Palestinian land], they can’t erase [the Palestinian] vision and memory. Memory of the land, the home, the olive and the cypress trees, of the hills and mountains from the collective conscience of Palestinians.”
“I sometimes find that Western interpretations of people’s experience can be a colonial one, whether intended or not.”
Amal, a Concordia student present at the talk, told The Daily in an email that she disagreed with Abdo’s point that one doesn’t have to have lived an experience or be from a community to write about it.
“Very often the voices of those concerned are drowned out by Western academics because they have more opportunities to publish and discuss their work,” said Amal. “Basically, there are enough academics and writers who can give a more complete representation and analysis of an experience, and I sometimes find that Western interpretations of people’s experience can be a colonial one, whether intended or not,” she continued.