"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Winston Churchill
Noticed a little rant in today's Australian by The Jerusalem Post's tame Arab, Khaled Abu Toameh. Nothing exceptional, mind you. Just your run-of-the-mill Islamophobic rubbish: "Almost every day, a new atrocity is committed in the name of Islam. 'One can understand why so-called 'moderate' Muslims living under Arab and Islamic dictatorships are afraid to speak out. but what about those living in the West?... These 'moderates' need to understand that Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qa'ida and the rest of the Islamic terror organisations will kill them first on their way to murder the 'Zionists', 'Crusaders' and 'infidels'." (Moderate Muslims need to speak out)
But this caught my eye: "In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Palestinian women have been banned, in the name of Islam, from smoking and laughing in public."
Smoking and laughing banned in public - but only for women - and in the name of Islam! The nerve of those Hamas guys!
OK, so let's deal with the alleged ban on smoking first. You're probably imagining, as Abu T expects you to, the already downtrodden women of Gaza now being set upon by male chauvinist Hamas goon squads whenever they dare light up in public. Such a picture sort of detracts from the Israeli blockade, doesn't it? Well, hush my mouth, did I mention the Israeli blockade? Abu T doesn't. Which is precisely the point of his slimy little propaganda piece. It's only when you realise that cigarettes have to be smuggled into Gaza through tunnels and sold for God knows what exhorbitant price before you find yourself thinking about whether the women of Gaza can even afford cigarettes in the first place. But Abu T's little deception doesn't end there.
What Abu T doesn't let on here is that the ban only applies to the water pipe or nargila, a fact which only emerges in another of his 'reports' in The Jerusalem Post: "The Hamas-controlled Ministry of the Interior on Sunday issued an order banning women from smoking the nargila in public places in the Gaza Strip." Nor, it seems, has the ban on smoking the nargila in public got anything particular to do with Islam either: "Ehab Ghissin, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that the decision to ban women from smoking the nargila in public was taken because the practice 'violated social norms and traditions'." Nor is such a ban applied exclusively to women: "[T]he ban also applied to minors under the age of 18." (Hamas bans women from smoking in public, The Jerusalem Post, 19/7/10)
So let's amend Abu T's original sentence: In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, Palestinian women and under-18s of both sexes have been banned from smoking the nargila in public in an attempt to maintain traditional social standards. Discriminatory, sure, but nothing to put the criminality of the Israeli blockade in the shade.
And why do I have the feeling that the following would not find its way into an Abu T 'report': "Police in the northern West Bank district of Salfit detained and charged 6 men on Wednesday for smoking in public during the fasting hours of the Muslim holy month. Police charged the unidentified men with 'violating the sanctity of Ramadan'." (PA police detain 6 for smoking during Ramadan, maannews.net, 19/8/10)
OK, now what about Abu T's claim that Hamas has banned women from laughing in public?
This allegation (which, through the magic of the internet, has become almost a meme) revolves around a Palestinian woman named Asma al-Ghul. Before we examine Abu T's own spin on al-Ghul's story, let's see how her story is presented by others:
"Hamas security forces detained a Gazan journalist at a beach over the weekend because she was not wearing a headscarf. Asma al-Ghul, who writes for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayam [sic], said she was at the beach... with a mixed group of friends when men in civilian clothing asked her why she was not wearing a headscarf. When she asked them who they were, they showed her Hamas security forces identity cards. She said that when questioning her, the men accused her of 'laughing out loud' and walking around the beach without a male escort. They would have arrested her, Al-Ghul said, if she had not phoned the Hamas authorities. She was released after her Palestinian passport was confiscated. Al-Ghul also said the men threatened her life and that she cannot leave her home." (Hamas arrests Palestinian woman for not wearing headscarf, Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz 6/7/09)
Accused of laughing out loud, but no hint of a ban there.
"An attempt by Hamas police to detain a young woman walking with a man along the Gaza beach has raised alarms that the Islamic militant group is seeking to match its political control of the coastal territory with a strict enforcement of Islamic law... Freelance journalist Asma al-Ghoul says a group of Hamas police sent a clear message that certain behaviour would not be tolerated when she went to the beach one evening in late June. Al-Ghoul, 26, said she was spending time with a group of friends, 2 women and 3 men on the northern Gaza shore. Al-Ghoul is fairly exceptional in Gaza because she does not wear a headscarf. On that evening she wore jeans and a T-shirt, a dress that is considered fairly provocative in Gaza's conservative society and which could have easily attracted the attention of the plain-clothes Hamas vice police who patrol the beaches. Al-Ghoul swam, fully dressed, with a girlfriend, and then asked a male friend to walk her over to a nearby beach house rented by another couple she knew to shower and change. Three policemen showed up and waited for al-Ghoul in the beach house garden, said an eyewitness who asked to remain anonymous because of security concerns. They took her identity card and demanded she accompany them to a nearby station, an order she refused. The eyewitness said the police did not say why they wanted to detain al-Ghoul, but were insinuating that her behaviour was unbecoming. Under Hamas' strict interpretation of Islamic law, a woman should not go out in public with men who are not related to her. The police eventually returned al- Ghoul's identity card after the home owner contacted a senior Hamas official who intervened and spoke to the officers by telephone..." (Hamas tries to detain woman walking with man, Diaa Hadid, The Guardian, 8/7/09)
No mention of laughter there whatsoever - let alone an Islamically-inspired Hamas ban on women laughing in public.
Now here's Abu T writing in The Jerusalem Post for 6/7/09 under the hading, 'They accused me of laughing in public' (+ my comments in square-bracketed bold): "A Palestinian female journalist complained over the weekend that Hamas policemen attempted to arrest her under the pretext that she came to a Gaza beach dressed immodestly and was seen laughing in public. The journalist, Asma al-Ghul, said that the policemen instead confiscated her passport. Since the incident, she added, she has been afraid to leave her home, especially after receiving death threats from anonymous callers. 'They accused me of laughing loudly while swimming with my friend and failing to wear a hijab', Ghul told a human rights organisation in the Gaza Strip. 'They also wanted to know the identity of the people who were with me at the beach and whether they were relatives of mine'. In a phone interview with the Dubai-based Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya News website, the journalist said that the policemen who stopped her belonged to the [alleged] Hamas government's Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice security force. The special force reports directly to the Ministry of Waqf Affairs and is said to be [!] a copy of units that have long been operating in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. The Hamas government, according to local reporters [who shall remain nameless], has refrained from publicly admitting that the force exists out of fear of being branded fundamentalist. The Hamas force consists of dozens of plainclothes police officers who patrol beaches, public gardens, restaurants, hair salons and coffee shops to make sure that males and females are not mixing together and that the women are dressed modestly. Ghul said that many Palestinian women have noticed the presence of the police officers at the beaches and other sites. She said that the talk in the Gaza Strip these days was about Hamas' intention to impose the hijab on all female school children from first to 12th grade. She said she was astonished by the fact that the Hamas security forces were providing security to hotels that are frequented by women wearing miniskirts while at the same time targeting 'common people' who go to beaches and public parks. Ghul said that Hamas has banned men in the Gaza Strip from swimming topless. 'And as in my case, Hamas has banned women from laughing while swimming', she added. She and her friends were stopped by Hamas policemen while swimming in the sea. She said that the policemen confiscated her passport and laptop after accusing her of laughing loudly and appearing in immodest clothes in a public place. Two of her male friends were detained for questioning for three hours. They said the police officers beat them and abused them verbally before releasing them. Hamas security commanders initially said that the journalist and her friends were stopped because they were having a mixed party at the beach. Later, one of the commanders said that Ghul was stopped because she was not wearing a hijab while swimming. Another commander [My God, this Hamas is all chiefs and no Indians!] claimed that the journalist and her friends were stopped because they had been seen smoking nargilas and partying in a public place. Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas security forces, said that policemen had been deployed at the beaches at the requeset of the Minstry for Waqf Affairs. He said the policemen's task was to impose law and order and prevent harassment of families picnicking and swimming at the beaches. 'We are there for the safety of the people', he said. 'We operate there to prevent men from harassing women. We've received many complaints about these negative practices'. Shahwan said that Hamas does not interfere with the way women want to dress. However, he stressed, 'we must preserve our Islamic culture and traditions. If there's a woman who wants to dress as she wishes, she must go to a private swimming pool and not to a public place'."
Al-Ghul says Hamas has banned women from laughing while swimming. And if al-Ghul, as 'reported' by Abu T, says Hamas has banned women from laughing while swimming then it must be so. But, hey, no mention of public places!
I rest my case.