Director of Sharek Youth, the biggest youth forum in Palestine and member of the FIDA party. Rateeba is second in our series on women talking about their battle against Islamism in Palestine.
Interestingly Rateeba’s account has scary parallels with how Islamism presents itself in the UK: bullying and intimidation tactics, use of ‘takfeer,’ controlling what is considered ‘Islam’ and preying on ignorance.
Rateeba had been talking about the progressive women’s movement in Palestine, how it had been gaining momentum since the late 17th century and came to a sudden halt in 1987.
Why was there a change for women in Palestine in 1987?
A women’s movement began to develop in the late 17th century and was particularly prominent in 1965. Women were working side by side with men to achieve equality in the political and economic sphere. After the first Intifada (in 1987), political Islam started to influence the culture of the Palestinian people. They moved our society far away from the leftist leading parties. They used and continue to use religion to influence people, coming into conflict with our leftist political parties.
The Islamist groups started recording successes in the peace process as successes for themselves, which increased their popularity. The left has essentially disappeared and there is little to no voice for the left or middle ground. We are unfortunately so affected by states around us, e.g. the rise in Islamism in Egypt, in Saudia Arabia, Iran and now even in Turkey, there is no escaping.
Women used to get together, dancing and going out, but now that is forbidden. They have changed the attitude of the people; even the understanding of Islam has changed. We used to live together with different interpretations of Islam and different religions with no conflict between us based on religion. We used to identify with our nation, language and culture but now political Islam tries to dominate identity.
The work you do must attract opposition from Islamists; do you get attacked by Islamist groups?
Sometimes. They use the mosques and Friday speech to control the people against our ideas. Social media spreads their ideas against progress. The Islamic liberation party attacked us on social media calling us takfeer, accusing us of spreading evil ideas and destroying the community. They often say we have a ‘Western agenda’ and are ‘munhaleen’ (have no manners – like animals) or even a virus in the community. They also say their Islam is the only Islam and therefore we are against Islam.
Are people frightened of the Islamist groups? How personal do the attacks get?
Yes. They tried to use articles from my Facebook account out of context during the conflict of al Aqsa mosque: they said I was calling for the destruction of mosques and churches. What I meant to say was that we do not need buildings to express our religion, God hears us everywhere. I wanted people to understand that this land is for Palestinians not for religions using it for their own agenda.
They called for my death and asked permission from my family to kill me. Fortunately my family knows those accusations were untrue and did not support them. I defended myself with the Quran: it is better to destroy all the buildings than to loose one life. I gave my defence to my family and they debated with tahreer and the Islamic brotherhood. I then published my defence publicly upon request of the brotherhood. They accepted it originally, but now say I am working for the CIA and am using young people to spread Western ideas.
I know they are watching me but I am not afraid because I believe what I am doing and what I am saying. I am no less Palestinian than them. I am no less Muslim than them.
How do you think they have managed to control culture?
Islamists use ignorance and fear. Religion is a powerful tool when people are struggling and need a simple, powerful and reassuring message. It gives them hope in something bigger. This is an easy narrative and very accessible. There is a lack of other strong voices. The left has failed and the middle ground does not exist.