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Opinion

On men and war

Misogyny and racism run parallel to Israel's militarism.

Last updated: 31 Jul 2014 16:26
Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
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'This projection of male domination into collective violence and hatred through terrible physical abuse is widespread in the United States and Israel,' writes Bishara [Reuters]

"Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u - u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.." tweeted American comedian and satirist, Bill Maher, who's once again, even in jest managed to demonstrate his worldly ignorance and bigotry. 

This presumed progressive continuously picks on women and ridicules Muslims and other people at the receiving end of power. He argues, rather ignorantly, that all religions are bad, but Islam is worse than the rest.

One dismayed writer responded to Maher with stunned incredulity, "So much sexism packed into one tweet!" adding: "his Israeli-Palestinian conflict commentary is dumb." Amen. 

Bill Maher and his ilk are either indifferent or refuse to see the full picture. They can't see how the "crazy woman" is merely resisting rape under the gun; how a military occupation, like rape, is a horrific forceful violation, whether it involves one person or an entire people.  It's just not funny. 

But then, idiocy, misogyny, vulgarity, and racism are not uncommon bedfellows. And these are mostly, but not exclusively the specialities of men, and in this case western men.

Misogyny and racism

Sadly, when it comes to this war, there are more than a few American and Israeli Mahers. Like-minded misogynists in Israel are usually thrilled by the war and amused by the abuse of women.

David Sheen reports that the city council of the coastal city of Or Yehuda hung a public banner that read: "Israeli soldiers, the residents of Or Yehuda are with you! Pound their mother and come back home safely to your mother." 

Such voices also make it to the mainstream Israel media and academia. Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer from Bar IIan University, told Israelis during a live radio broadcast that if Israel threatens to dispatch agents to rape a Palestinian militant's mother or sister as retribution for his crimes, it would serve as an effective deterrent. 

Inside Story - The US and Israel: A strained relationship?

Similar misogyny and racism was also expressed on social media with Gaza portrayed as an erotic woman to be violated.

This projection of male domination into collective violence and hatred through terrible physical abuse is widespread in the United States and Israel. In the latter, 61 percent believe that forced sex on an acquaintance is permissible. Indeed, Chris Hedges, in his two recent contributions: War is a Force That Gives us Meaning and Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, attempts to understand why support for war is so pervasive and how for men, war and pornography are intertwined. In both cases, violence or abuse is endemic.

"Porn has always primarily involved the eroticisation of unlimited male power, but today it also involves the expression of male power through the physical abuse, even torture, of women. Porn reflects the endemic cruelty of our society. This is a society that does not blink when the industrial slaughter unleashed by the United States and its allies kills hundreds of civilians in Gaza or hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan." 

It's estimated that porn makes up as high as a third of all online traffic; users spend more than double or triple the time on porn sites than on average news site. One major porn site generates 4.4 billion page views a month, more traffic than the most popular sports channel, ESPN or CNN. The same goes for the pervasiveness of violence and its glorification in cinema and other forms of entertainment - a subject for another day.

Abuse of women in Israel isn't limited to political slogans. Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was indicted for sexual harassment, and as Sheen reports, two potential presidential candidates, Silvan Shalom and Meir Sheetrit, were both accused of committing serious sex crimes during the presidential election campaign.   

No wonder, the feminist and the peace movements have long been mutually inclusive and intertwined causes.

As for the Palestinian women, the suffering has been too great to imagine and gets even worse with each and every war. They are at the centre of the family, the community and the nation. And it's they who tend to bear the brunt of the consequences of wars and violence. As the scholar Hamid Dabashi commented recently, nothing can express the terrible ordeal of children than "the reflection of their terror on the face of their grieving mothers."

That's not lost on other women, no less in the United States where a majority of men polled reckon Israel is justified in its offensive against Gaza. A recent Gallup poll shows that greater number among women and youth, believe Israel is not justified in its war in Gaza. Only a minority among the two demographics think the opposite. This is particularly important considering the government and mainstream US media are terribly slanted towards Israel.

As the Canadian writer, Naomi Klein noted two decades ago: "So long as Israel continues to usurp Palestine, it will be a country with racism and misogyny at the core of its being. Until this brutality ends, Israel is a country with blood on its hands and on its profile. […] Women's concerns about rape and brutality are considered trivial when men are busy worrying about death and war. But, in Israel, the feminist and the peace movements are closely connected."  

War is the "macho extension of diplomacy" argues the prolific Duch-Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, who is anything but a feminist and perhaps an anti-feminist. While he dismisses all bleeding hearts that loathe war, he reckons how, at the end of the day, war is about bored men looking for excitement.

Indeed, it's a man's war. But that's all to the reason why it's high time for women to step in and help end the horrific spectacle.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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