Seminar Meeting report 14/01 “Gender and Knowledge of Terrorism in Palestine”

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Thanks to everyone who attended Carl Gibson’s talk on his fieldwork in Palestine. It was fascinating to hear about his varied experiences with interviewing local people and the information he has gathered from doing so. Carl discussed the difficulty in defining the word ‘terrorism’ and the varying use of the word in the Western and Arab media. He has discovered that media and internet discourse on terrorism is highly gendered. He noted that there is much more written about the lives of female terrorists and their motivations than on male terrorists. The sources mentioned often linked the women’s involvement with terrorism to a trauma in their past, such as the death of a child, rather than to political motivations. Yet, Carl suggested there was more of a taboo around these female terrorists as almost all of the posters he has spotted in Palestine were of male martyrs (شهيد/ shahid) rather that female ones (شَهِيدَة/ shahida).One woman in particular, named Hadeel al-Haslamun  has featured on the occasional poster, despite it being unclear whether her refusal to remove her niqab at the Palestine Israeli border was for political reasons.

The discussion after Carl’s paper revolved around the escalation of violence in Palestine and women’s involvement in such violence. We also debated why in war women and children are treated as victims and men often are not and why how this linked to a lack of  biographical information on the internet about male terrorists. As well as discussing the lives of the shahida in more depth, we also discussed the practicalities of Carl’s research in such a dangerous part of the world. It was clear that his many years of living in Palestine were vital to his success in finding interviewees and conducting his research successfully. We wish him all the best for his return to Palestine at the end of the week!

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Concerning Violence: Film screening and Panel

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On Monday 23rd March around 20 PhD students gathered in the Graduate School to watch a screening of the film ‘Concerning Violence’ written and directed by Göran Olsson. After the film there was a panel discussion. The members of the panel included the chair Carl Gibson, and other panelists Yanos Soubieski, Joshua Wells and myself (Maria Tomlinson). We spoke not only about the film but also about Fanon’s work itself. We questioned whether violence was necessary and what its effects were upon the colonised subject. After this there was a lively debate on the issues raised by the panel.

As I am the co-organiser of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network, alongside Sophie Payne who we thank for her technical support, I spoke about the relationship between decolonisation and gender. Here is a summary of the issues I raised in my presentation:

I noted that Fanon barely alludes to women in The Wretched of the Earth. He speaks only of the colonised man. Fanon writes that this colonised man learns from the coloniser that he needs to express himself as an individual. I asked, ‘And the colonised woman? What about her need to express herself?’ She is doubly oppressed by colonialism and patriarchy. I noted that the film ‘Concerning Violence’ did question the lack of women in Fanon’s work by bringing women back into the picture. We see and hear from Mozambiquan women who fight in guerrilla armies for the liberation of Mozambique. These women appear hopeful for a future of equality because they have performed exactly the same duties as men during the war. We know, however, that this emancipation did not occur. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak says in the preface of the film, when the new postcolonial state emerges women will once again be oppressed by gender structures.

I then11059401_10153183094534664_8413445246905505417_n went on, with reference to theorists such as Ann McClintock and T. Deanen Sharpley Whiting, to discuss a text in which Fanon does consider the role of women in the war, Algeria Unveiled. In this text he looks at how veiling was used during the Algerian War of Independence. He writes that Algerian women initially removed their veils and walked around in Western clothing when passing on messages or carrying weapons in order to not arouse the suspicion of the colonisers. Later, women re-donned the veil in order to conceal weapons. Fanon seems to see this as the women having agency, and using their bodies in order to liberate their country and themselves. He believes that because women fought bravely alongside men in this war they would be rewarded with emancipation afterwards. Of course, he has been proven incorrect, not only about the existence of female equality and agency after the war of liberation but also during it. In fact, Fanon’s description of a woman as a hidden resource undermines the idea of female agency he is trying to evoke, as his patriarchal language objectifies these women and identifies them as simply another weapon in the war effort. The Algerian woman is an object, as are the bombs and guns that are used against the enemy.

Finally, I concluded that Fanon may be correct in saying that the only way to achieve decolonisation is through violence. The violence of the Algerian war did lead to an independent state and indeed women played a huge part in this success. However, violence appears very much the arena of men, it brought little benefit to those Algerian women who fought bravely alongside them hoping for an emancipated future. These women are now trying to forge a path towards liberation through their voices and writing… But are the voice and pen really more powerful than the sword? This remains to be seen.

Thanks again to everyone who came and Carl for organising everything! I really enjoyed offering my perspective on the question of gender and violence, and furthermore listening to everyone’s opinions on the matter.

Please comment below if you would like to continue the debate!

Concerning Violence: Film Screening and Panel Discussion 23rd March

10991550_10101094358119719_4086808720657747900_oPostgraduate students are invited to join us for the screening and discussion of the film ‘Concerning Violence’ in Old Whiteknight’s house, room G09, 5-7pm.

‘Concerning Violence’ is a ground-breaking documentary by Goran Olsson which is based on Frantz Fanon’s essay ‘De la violence’ (On Violence) in his work Les Damnés de la terre (The Wretched of The Earth). The film has won many awards at film festivals across the globe.

See the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIQwKP3j1zc

The event is organised by Carl Gibson from the Politics department at Reading University with the support of Maria Tomlinson and other PhD students. Maria will be one of the members of the panel who will discuss the film, the works of Frantz Fanon, and the role of violence in the modern world. As co-organiser of the Gender and Sexuality Research Network and a PhD student incorporating feminist theory into her project, Maria hopes to bring a critical feminist perspective on the work of Frantz Fanon. She will be questioning Fanon’s representation of women and also more generally women’s involvement in violent combat and other feminist modes of resistance.

If you are interested in attending please email Carl Gibson at c.gibson@pgr.reading.ac.uk or Maria Tomlinson (see contacts page) by 18th March.

Looking forward to seeing you there!