Monday, January 19, 2009

Echoes of the Intifada

As I mentioned in previous posts, the Middle East solidarity organization I'm a part of wrote a reflection on the Gaza solidarity rallies we've been attending these past 3 weeks. We've been circulating this piece among local organizers and it's posted over at BlakOrchid: A Blog by Asian rebels

As I've been arguing, there is an ethos of Islamic liberation theology at these rallies that has been very inspiring. In his comments on my previous post, my friend Eli pointed out that at the rallies he's been to it's mostly been Muslim men chanting Takbir-Allahu Akbar (God is Great). He warned that such religious chants could reinforce patriarchy. But in our group's experience this hasn't been the case. Recent rallies have been energized by a dynamic group of youth and the most consistent leaders of this crew have been young women from local high schools. As our group reflection describes, this is similar to the first Intifada where women and youth played a central role in the democratic resistance.

At the most recent rally (yesterday), we brought a banner that read "Youth for Palestine" and it was mostly young hijabi women who carried it and got on the megaphone to energize the crowd. At points when they were shy about leading, women from our group shared the mic with them and encouraged them, which worked well. We got a nice cypher going with other groups behind us echoing their chants.

At several points the young women shouted Takbir- Allahu Akbar. Some of the uncles did seem puzzled at first to hear women leading this, but once a few enthusiastically responded more were won over. One middle aged man in particular seemed ecstatic that they were chanting it, and he responded vigorously.

One of the young women also started chanting La Allah Ila Allah - There is no God but God. At that point, a man presumably from the group leading the march came over to complain that we were being disruptive. He said "there are Jewish and American people here supporting us and we don't want to alienate them, this is not a Muslim event." By "American" he must have meant white Christians - as if all of the South Asian, East African, Southeast Asian, and Arab Muslims there are somehow not real "Americans." In any case, I told him straight up, "look man, I'm a Christian, I'm obviously not offended by this or I wouldn't be holding the megaphone for the folks chanting it." I also think it was ironic that he was saying we're being disruptive and alienating since it was a speaker from the group organizing the rally who had earlier said some b.s. about how the "Jews control the media" and even suggested that the Holocaust wasn't as bad as people say- at which point our group shouted "down with anti-Semitism!" In any case, K. El Bathy, who wrote the piece below, pointed out that if the movement is going to be democratic then folks should be able to do Muslim chants if they want. Needless to say, we didn't stop and the organizer went away disappointed.