Last week Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech on honor. However, this speech was not about the honor of resisting occupation or the honor of the Palestinian cause. The Sayyed’s speech, rather, focused on how the Special Tribunal For Lebanon had threatened the honor of Lebanese citizens by requesting gynecological files from a women’s clinic in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The day before, when the STL investigators arrived at the women’s health clinic, a group of women attacked them and confiscated one of their briefcases. Finally, the STL investigators retreated. Of course, when the Sayyed said that the honor of Lebanese citizens had been violated by the STL, he meant that of Lebanese male citizens.
During his speech the Sayyed stressed that the sanctity of female medical records and their connection to the question of honor (he used the word `Ard in Arabic, which is more directly linked to the female body) is a value shared by all men, Christian and Muslim, in the country and in the region. On this point, I am sure that he is (mostly) right; a discourse and practice of patriarchy saturates the entire political field in Lebanon and is articulated legally, socially, and economically. This became clear when March 14 leaders took to the airwaves to denounce the “mob” of women who had acted in such an uncivilized fashion and had damaged the image of Lebanon internationally. They speculated that because they were wearing chadors (proving once again that Islamophobia and sexism are allies) there was no way of really knowing if they were in fact men disguised as women and whether these men in chadors had initiated (and won) the physical altercation. No real woman, the assumption goes, would behave that way.
A confession. I am not a fan of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. I did not support its creation in 2005 (preferring a national option), and I have not supported it since. In fact, since the 2006 war, its aftermath, and the stance adopted by the international community during and after that war, I have resented and opposed the STL. Similarly, I did not support the March 14 movement in 2005, and I do not support it now. While I am politically closer aligned to the March 8th movement, I am also not their supporter. I demand, and I represent, the possibility of a third way. At least I hope I do.
The Sayyed revealed many disturbing facts. Apparently the STL has asked for and received the files of all Lebanese citizens who attended public or private universities in their country since 2003. The STL has also requested Lebanon’s entire telecom archive beginning in 2003- including land phone lines, sms messages, and cell phone lines. This archive was also compiled, copied, and sent to the tribunal. The Lebanese government`s entire DNA database has likewise been copied and sent. What the STL asks for, apparently, the STL receives. It turns out that the red line for the Sayyed and, as he said in his speech, for all male citizens in Lebanon, are gynecological files. On the surface I agree. Medical files should be confidential. However, the Sayyed stressed “if these had been eye doctor files, or ear doctor files, we would have remained quiet but we cannot remain quiet when it comes to the question of women’s health files.” He continued, asking if any citizen would acquiesce to their mother’s, sister’s, wives’ or daughter’s gynecological files to become known evidence.
He had me at university files. But he lost me (or perhaps, he amputated me) when he discursively constructed me, a female Lebanese citizen, as a repository for the `Ard of my brother, my father and my future husband. Had he stressed the sanctity of medical files, or had he just added the fact that the privacy of all citizens was being violated by the STL, he could have kept me, or at least a part of me. Now, let me be clear again. I am confident that the STL is at this point just amassing whatever data it can. I am also confident that this amassed data is being (actively or passively) leaked to other interested parties. They are building a database and turning the most detailed information on citizens’ lives into an evidentiary terrain for the “security assessment” of Israel, the United States, and the War on Terror. What do gynecological files have to do with this?
As the Sayyed said, the “women of” the leadership of Hezbollah use this specific gynecology clinic. While the STL initially asked for over 7,000 patient files from Dr. Sharara, she argued with them (and she should be commended for this) until they whittled their request down to 17 files. These files presumably list the addresses, phone numbers, and other detailed information related to the families of Hezbollah leaders. I say presumably because honestly, we really don’t know. Just like up until last week we didn’t know that the entire database of Lebanese university students was in the STL’s hands. Why didn’t we know this? While I am angry because my right to medical privacy has no currency in Lebanese political discourse beyond being an index of male relatives’ `Ard, I am infuriated that politicians are deciding when, how and what information to “leak” to us regarding what data on our lives is being transferred to the STL. If university files are not a red line to the Sayyed or to Prime Minister Hariri (and we could add, to the presidents and provosts of these Universities), they sure as hell are to me, and to many other citizens and residents of Lebanon.
A few weeks ago, I attended President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut. I waited at the women’s entrance, where the army had provided just one electronic sensor that we were all supposed to file through and prove that we were not carrying anything “dangerous.” The women around me grew frustrated and began shouting at the female soldiers, sarcastically asking them how many sensors the males had been provided with and why the women were being treated differently. Finally, when it became clear that we could miss the beginning of the evening’s festivities, the women pushed, smashed, and finally broke through the search line. Here we were, using our bodies and our voices to move through an ineffectual security apparatus that had been deployed in a discriminatory fashion; one for the women, several for the men. As I write this, it makes me think of the women who attacked the STL investigators at the women’s health clinic. Were their concerns limited to the `Ard of the men in their families? Were they mobilized, robot style (as many March 14 pundits claimed) by men in leadership positions? The night of Ahmadinejad’s speech, I moved with the women past a Lebanese soldier who was smiling and shaking her head, staring at the useless electronic wand in her hand with bemusement. I smiled back at her, and we both shrugged our shoulders. I was, in a strange way, proud to be there. I promise you, there was not a man wearing a chador in sight.