As any policy debater would be doing the wee hours of the morning before a tournament (insert lame, self-deprecating joke here), I recently found myself watching YouTube videos of Slavoj Zizek’s musings. Zizkek’s comments from this Q & A segment, particularly on polyamory and psychopaths, were entertaining as hell, but I found myself getting distracted by the mushrooming debate taking place between Egyptian-American activist and blogger Mona Eltahawy and Australian journalist Greg Sheridan over the Arab Spring. Given that previous debate topics had already sparked my interest in the so-called “Middle East”, particularly the Arab Spring, I was hooked. Who is this Mona Eltahawy and what else does she have to say about the Arab Spring and feminism?
To preface this post: This semester, we were invited to write a post that explores identity politics. I don’t know about you, but for me, exercises of this nature can be rewarding, but terrifying.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem stepping outside the comfort zone of my feminism. But, I am perpetually afraid of the, “Well, you don’t know what it’s like because you’re not Black/Queer/Muslim/insert other identity here!” Doesn’t it matter that I’ve allied/questioned/researched/insert supportive past tense verb here‽ I realize this question is for another day. But, I just wanted to explain my fear since you all are a feisty pack of heartless wolves…only kidding.
Anyway, while I have your attention (I hope), I want to take this time to discuss the interaction between identity politics and free speech.
During my initial research, I quickly learned that Eltahawy was arrested in September for vandalizing a pro-Israel (IMO, anti-Muslim) advertisement in a New York subway station. The plot thickens.
Now, dear readers, what if I told you that I have a video of Mona Eltahawy’s vandalism heard ‘round the world from not one, but two perspectives?
Well, here they are:
As you open new windows to explore the links I have (awesomely) provided, hear me out. I think it’s important to show you both clips for a few reasons. You may or may not notice the, shall we say, law enforcing (?) citizen exercising her authority (body) to preclude Eltahawy from defacing the advertisement which states, “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man” (I really am not making this up).
Here is where I get to put my Free Speech 346 skills into practice. True, the First Amendment does NOT guarantee Eltahawy’s right to spray paint the sign. Although she is in a public space, the First Amendment does not allow her to vandalize public property (essentially, it defeats the First Amendment’s goal of protecting speech that is not necessarily favorable). But, what do you think of the following:
- The clearly cray-cray woman (IMO) harassing/shoving Eltahawy with her camera stick thing.
- The police looking at each other quizzically when seemingly trying to decide why they’re arresting Eltahawy (IMO).
- The police neither telling her why she is being arrested nor reading her Miranda rights before taking her into custody.**
- Where was this woman’s arrest for assaulting Eltahawy?
To be honest, I don’t mean to poke fun at New York City’s finest. That job must be extraordinarily difficult. But, the whole thing reminded me of some of my atrocious attempts at high-school acting (it wasn’t pretty). Granted, I have never seen an arrest quite like this. I mean, we’ve all seen Cops…but that’s different. This was almost surreal.
I also want to point out the difference in these two clips. The order I provided them to you is the order to which I saw them. Do you notice a difference in your perception of the two? I certainly did. When I saw the first video (and the slew of heinous comments), I almost looked at Eltahawy as the villain. “Why would she be shoving this woman?,” I thought to myself. Also, if the woman was there, why didn’t she just come back later? Fortunately, I took a step back and watched the second video, which shows the event how it actually occurred. For me, the second clip clearly shows this “Pamela” physically harassing Eltahawy (IMO-ugh, how many times can I say that?***). Also, as mentioned in the second clip, Eltahawy started protesting solo and this woman interjected. I also like that the first video accidentally left out the part where she was asked to (basically) BTFU during the arrest.
I want to direct your attention to a second comparison between Eltahawy and the ad’s creator, Pamela Geller…not the same Pamela. If you have a second (or 770, to be exact), check out this interview of Geller on the advertisement. Aside from the hilarity of watching Erin Burnett basically school Geller using Geller’s own remarks (including those on Obama’s birth certificate), it is also interesting to note the following:
- Geller’s win over the right to post the ads is absolutely unsurprising. She absolutely has the right to publish those ads. But, as Burnett ponders, does that mean she should?
- Geller implies that Burnett implies that Geller is implying racism through her implementing of metaphors like “savages”….That’s a lot of implication, but what does it mean? Could Geller’s word choice be nothing more than coincidence? I mean, when we hear the word “savage,” don’t we all just think of Boy Meets World?
- According to Geller, she is the victim of blatant messenger-killing. I mean, somebody has to say imply that jihad causes terrorism, that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., and that U.S. aid to Israel is preventing the apocalypse. I mean, there were tons of anti-Israel ads, weren’t there?
- Denouncing Joan Rivers is basically fighting words to the Jewish community. Did I hear that correctly?
I think these two comparisons demonstrate that free speech can definitely become a locus of conflicting political activity that exposes unique identities. What I find provocative is how these differing identities use the First Amendment as a conduit to express political freedom. It is interesting to examine Geller’s use of the First Amendment. Her method relies on using intellectual and legal tools to get her message across. When her message is presented, Geller is not present and the message is articulated with the subtlety of a black background.
In contrast, for Eltahawy, the First Amendment is a crucial mechanism for expressing candid thoughts on the Arab Spring, particularly the situation in Egypt. What strikes me about her arrest in New York (well, one of the things), is that her strategy for raising awareness about the racist ad directly parallels the protests of the Arab Spring. Every video that I have seen of Eltahawy is filled with passion and a deep personal advocacy for change, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere. Her seemingly instinctive willingness to put her body in harm’s way is a kind of embedded advocacy that I can deeply appreciate, but don’t know if I could emulate. For me, I thought it was a beautiful act of solidarity that I will most certainly remember.
*I say feminist here reluctantly. I’ve read several articles by Eltahawy and seen (many) YouTube clips of her interviews, panel discussions, etc. Although I think this video suggests that Eltahawy adopts a feminist identity, I don’t want to impose that label.
**We only see them taking her away for a few seconds, so we never see whether they read Eltahawy her rights or formally charge her with a crime. I don’t mean to insinuate they don’t, but I am left wondering why they didn’t do it immediately.
***Apparently 4, according to CTRL+F.