The little women’s flotilla

Lebanon has been threatening since the ill-fated Turkish flotilla to send its own version of this summer’s high profile efforts to demonize Israel.  At one stage it was a journalist’s ship with room for no more than seventeen passengers and at others it has been a ‘woman’s flotilla’  – or more correctly, a single ship, called variously, Mariam, Julia, or Junia.

The Guardian’s essay mentions two ships Mariam, the first an all-woman ship and Naji Ali, presumably a journalists’ ship.

As Elias Youssef Bejjani, writing for International Analyst Network, has argued:

“Hezbollah’s scheme in this flotillas charade is to hide behind a ship that carries only women. Hezbollah’s security apparatus assigned the task to Mrs. Samar Al Hajj, wife of  Ahmad Al Hajj, one of four retired pro-Syrian Lebanese high-ranking security officers accused of planning and executing the assassination of late Lebanese Prime Minister Raffic Hariri and committing horrible atrocities during Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. Meanwhile, the close relation of Mrs. Hajj and her husband with both Syria and Hezbollah is well-known all over Lebanon.”

If the ship does indeed exist, whether it has permission to leave or to dock is also not clear.

But al-Haj says the mission is purely humanitarian.

“Our goal is to arrive in Gaza,” she said. “It is the responsibility of the government to deal with the politics. We are not political.”

Considering that the Lebanese government is at pains not to have any dealings with Israel it is not clear how that is supposed to be done.

Asked on Radio A-Shams by Zohair Bahloul why the ship, Mariam, would only be carrying women,  [Al Hajj] said,

“We are women in order not to give the thieving enemy an excuse to use arms against the ship.” She said the ship would be carrying cancer medication for children, and women suffering from breast cancer and cancer of the uterus due to “chemical bombs” dropped on Gaza by Israel.

It is not clear why, in the twenty-first century, Lebanon should imagine that women are any less likely to be attacked or, from Israel’s point of view, to attack.  Perhaps It has to do with the image of its women that Lebanon wishes to foist onto its sympathisers and indicates how big the gap is between concepts in the Middle East and in the west.  Women to us are no longer delicate creatures universally averse to using physical force to gain their desired ends, nor human beings with inferior brains more suited to dealing with cooking and children than with the serious issues of life-like deciding who to make war on.  This was indeed the image in the public’s eye in Victorian days but I wonder why, even then, anybody ever really gave it credence in fact.  Anyone knowing how women in the Middle East are regarded certainly doesn’t expect to see the courtesy and admiration extended to them that distinguished the attitudes of the leisured Victorian classes.

The League of Arab States, Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights, May 22, 2004, entered into force March 15, 2008 states:

Men and women are equal in respect of human dignity, rights and obligations within the framework of the positive discrimination established in favour of women by the Islamic Sharia, other divine laws and by applicable laws and legal instruments.

So what is the positive discrimination that Sharia law gives them?

“According to the Sharia, despite declarations of the equality of the sexes before God, women are considered inferior to men, and have fewer rights and responsibilities. A woman counts as half a man in giving evidence in a court of law, or in matters of inheritance. Her position is less advantageous than a man’s with regard to marriage and divorce. A husband has the moral and religious right and duty to beat his wives for disobedience or for perceived misconduct. A woman does not have the right to choose her husband, or her place of residence, to travel freely or have freedom in her choice of clothing. Women have little or no autonomy and are deemed to need the protection of their fathers, husbands or other male relatives throughout their lives. Any conduct that undermines the idea of male supremacy will fall foul of the Sharia.”

Saudi Cleric Muhammad Al-‘Arifi Explains Wife Beating in Islam to young Muslims in a Ramadhan Show, in 2007.


Most of the media, it seems, have learned to ignore the fools’ gold of the sporadic announcements of ships packed and laden with goods and women but the Guardian – perhaps out of current articles directed at their readership hungry for the sexy spice of Israeli horrors – yielded to temptation and informed us that the Mariam would be leaving that weekend.  Now the weekend is over, there are no signs of Lebanon ladies, judges, actresses or those heavily pregnant, braving the Israelis’ determination to block Hamas’s lifeline to the arms suppliers of the world.

Considering the common Arab view of women as being so inferior to men – perceived, presumably, as sex goddesses so potent that not even an inch of their skin should be viewed by men or as beasts of burden – one wonders precisely who is being tasked with the jobs involved with actually operating the ship.  Surely it needs a man’s brain to run a ship?

Perhaps that’s the reason for the delay.

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