There is no safe space.. about the violations of our progressive circles

Last June, Lebanese activist Fatima Fouad published a harrowing testimony detailing her sexual assault by a Palestinian musician and an Egyptian musician in the capital, Beirut, at the reception for the New Year 2020, and shameful collusion that she experienced afterwards. Fatima tries to complain to the management of “Barzakh”, which hosted the concert, in collaboration with “Maazif”, the Arabic music magazine, where she also works. They cooperate and claim that the rapist is Palestinian, and her testimony will reflect negatively on him because of the security conditions of the Palestinians. To Fatima’s surprise, despite being aware of the incident and despite the presence of other regular testimonies about the person, the magazine continues to work with him and “polish” him. After two and a half years, Fatima decides to reveal and then isolate.

Fatima’s testimony and the murders of a number of women he witnessed last month in places considered safe for women, such as the university or workplace, at a concert or among friends who share our thoughts and struggles, emphasized that the idea of ​​a safe space is not actually safe for women and still poses a direct threat to their lives.

Fatima Fouad’s testimony reveals this duality between security and exploitation, and this is not an individual case. Before that, there was what was known in Egypt as the “email girl” incident, when a left-wing party conspired to nominate a member accused of sexual violence for the presidency; Its members accused the feminists of contributing to the security targeting of party members. We see Mada Masr interview Khaled Youssef, who used his privileges to escape punishment while his partners were in prison and lost their reputation forever because he is “a symbol of the opposition.” While the Palestinian website “Matras”, which previously collaborated with a Palestinian queer institution, supports the social attack on it with hate speech filled with homophobia. And the “Meem” website, which claims to be a feminist, has spread around it testimonies of former workers who were arbitrarily fired. also

It is a human rights organization that does not accept the appointment of feminists because they “raise unnecessary problems”. It is a feminist institution that reports on violations against its female workers. It is a political movement that refused to issue a statement condemning the prosecution and arrest of lesbians because it would anger their conservative audience and cause them to lose “the popular back”. It is a group of friends that survivors will only believe if their friend is not the accused. And a handful of women defend a rapist because he is my right and because they have not experienced it with him, disregarding their positions and privileges that protect them – relatively – from him.

Forms of discrimination and violence within civil circles
As part of our ongoing efforts to find an escape from our conservative traditional societies, we have tried to transcend the patriarchy with the corpses of women killed and abused every day in our Arab countries. Our refuge was people like us in thought; We share spaces with them, we share goals: safe spaces and alternative communities for those we left behind to survive.

The most attractive of these spaces were the progressive circles interested in establishing the values ​​of justice and equality and criticizing all forms of power and unequal power relations. The most visible were those whose members are active in the fields of politics, culture and individual and feminist freedoms. It was not naive of us to assume that these people apply the same values ​​in their personal and professional relationships. We are not disappointed in our effort to share and be active in extending these principles to what is beyond them. But year after year we discover that safe spaces and alternative communities are the micro-extension of this outside, and reproduce it as if they deliberately adopt values ​​to promote themselves, and violate the same values ​​inside. And when I say progressive values, I mean standing against all forms of discrimination, hierarchy and inequality of power and opportunity. Values ​​whose adopters try to create – as much as possible – alternatives to the prevailing oppression.

To speak more specifically, these spaces/circles/alliances are based on informal privileges and power relations and power, creating an unsafe or comfortable environment in which marginalized women feel doubly marginalized; Especially if it is a work environment. In order for a person to be accepted into the “circles”, they must prove that they deserve this position, either through absolute dedication to serving or attracting other people who have privileges, which increases his balance among the rest. Either he or she already has privileges in place: class, personal relationships with important people in the field, or by seniority.

Repeated abuses in civil circles place them in the suspicious position of reproducing patriarchy, using the same instruments of power, but with knowledge, understanding and intent: violence, exclusion and dominance. Extortion is added to them in the name of preserving the movement.

As for newcomers, they face a great deal of discrimination, starting with class and education, going through sexual violence, ethnic racism, and religious sectarianism. This also extends to job opportunities in those areas. Getting accepted into a job depends on how well known you are in this field, then experience and finally ability. Oh, and if you/m have a personal disagreement with the job posting (if it’s advertised; most jobs are uncontested), or his/her girlfriends, forget about hiring.

All this makes progressive circles highly exclusive and exclusive groups. This is not for reasons of fear of security and occupation, but rather to maintain the hierarchy of these circles, their class position and the social capital that is exchanged in very, very limited ways. In addition, the type of cases accepted. For example, women’s issues and queers occupy a marginal position in political circles such as parties and movements. The fewer the privileges, the greater the violations.

As for confronting these violations, the templates are ready when the public talk takes place. Many of us do not speak openly about the violations they have been subjected to for fear of being discredited within the field/constituency, and as a result limited opportunities will be lost. As for the templates and justifications, there are many: sometimes burdens are placed on the victims by the need to remain silent and not to turn to the mechanism of disclosure or the official complaint to protect the independent civil movement from the suppression of the security and military agencies.” Sometimes they are accused of cooperating with security and condemnation, explicit denial, obstruction of complaints, extortion or collusion to protect the aggressors because of their privileges.

Our safe circles are not safe
If you are involved in these spaces, you must have come across many oral testimonies of clear violations committed by the people who control these spaces against the underprivileged individuals.

The primary motivation for our involvement was to find alternatives to violence and abuse, and to feel accepted, validated and in solidarity, especially women and queers. However, these values ​​now seem impossible if these spaces / circles / alliances are not restructured. Because unlike what is promoted, these spaces are not far from reproducing power relations and more tortuous. These spaces acquire the two most important characteristics; The first: the alleged understanding of power and its definitions that are not limited to governments and official positions. The second is the ways to resist this authority.

We need a restructuring that blows up the hierarchy on which these circles are formed. We need a self-criticism of the concept of power and power relations.

The current generation of our fathers and mothers may be the last generation that committed violence by other names, such as education, morals, honor and love. Yes, these are empty and violent paternalistic arguments, so we wanted to get rid of them and destroy them for our own sake and for the sake of younger generations. And if our “traditional conservative” societies committed violence unconsciously and sometimes because they were convinced that it was love and protection, and the reason for this was that the governments of our countries impoverished and marginalized our societies and entrenched this violence with laws. What is the argument for “alternative societies and progressive circles” that understand so well what violence is, what power relations are, and what are the instruments of subjugation, control and abuse? Our civil movements, with their diversity and richness, see governments and security services as the only opponents, distinguishing themselves from traditional societies by being more liberal. But the repetition of abuse in civil circles puts it in the suspicious position of reproducing patriarchy, using the same tools of power and traditional societies, but with knowledge, understanding and intent: violence, exclusion and dominance. Extortion is added to them in the name of preserving the movement.

All the crap about the need to join forces in the face of political tyranny, we hear when it comes to the sexual abuse of women and queers. All political priorities that do not prioritize women and their issues in the name of political struggle use and exploit us to fight for power. And the matter before us becomes clear: they do not criticize authority and its tools, but rather seek to be the authority. The evidence is these abuses, this recurring and common violence in “progressive” and political circles, and the constant disqualification of women’s issues and queers. This is not a testimony that feminist and queer circles are free from these abuses, this violence and complicity. This is a power relations game in which social capital plays the main role. If the state monopolizes violence and politics with its security instruments, social capital in civil circles is monopolized by personal relationships and interests.

Towards truly safe circles for all
We need a restructuring that blows up the hierarchy on which these circles are formed. We need a self-criticism of the concept of power and power relations. We need to understand the dynamics of power relations that depend on social capital or personal relationships within the movement. The need for clear policies within civil institutions that take complaints seriously; Most do not yet have policies for reporting sexual violence. Donors must understand that these are serious conditions to be agreed with the grantees/individuals, and grants are at risk of cancellation if evidence of wrongdoing against others/others is circulated by the grantee. These funders need to be more familiar with how their policies contribute to reproducing power relations within civil circles, when every newly founded institution or individual is forced to submit letters of recommendation from persons known to the funder.

And must recognize that no space is safe. Fatima Fouad’s testimony is not just a tragic rape testimony; It is a slap that warns us that we need a civil movement that does not use the tools of power and does not reproduce them just to replace them. A slap with which we can say that the break between the so-called progressive circles and the queer feminist movements is inevitable. And that this new movement will support the old movement’s position on the governments and the security and military agencies. And our resistance remains.

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