Posted by: bahareiran | February 25, 2011

Gaza’s Islamist rulers hounding secular community

By DIAA HADID Associated Press – 25 February 2011, GAZA CITY—After nearly four years of Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip’s small secular community is in tatters, decimated by the militant group’s campaign to impose its strict version of Islam in the coastal territory.

Hamas has bullied men and women to dress modestly, tried to keep the sexes from mingling in public and sparked a flight of secular university students and educated professionals. Most recently, it has confiscated novels it deems offensive to Islam from a bookshop and banned Gaza’s handful of male hairdressers from styling women’s hair.

Gaza’s human rights organizations, art collectives and youth groups.

Since the Hamas takeover, their numbers appear to have shrunk. There are no firm statistics, but their public profile has certainly diminished. Many left to study abroad and never returned. Others obtained refugee visas in Europe or found work in the Gulf.

“In the end, the people who think differently are leaving,” said Rami, a 32-year-old activist in one of Gaza’s few secular groups. He refused to give his last name, fearing retribution.

The Gallery Cafe, one of Gaza’s last secular spots, is a freeze-frame of their lonely fortunes.

The trend toward religious fundamentalism preceded the Hamas takeover. In recent years, hard-liners have burned down the cinemas. Their charred remains are still visible in Gaza City. Militants blew up the last bar in 2005.

Gaza women, whose attire once varied from Western pants and skirts to colorful traditional embroidered robes, began donning ankle-length loose robes. Women with face veils, once rarely seen in Gaza, are now a common sight.

After winning the 2006 election, Hamas vowed it wouldn’t impose Islamic law. But within two years, bureaucrats began ordering changes that targeted secular Gaza residents.

During the summer of 2009, plainclothes Interior Ministry officials on beach patrols ordered men to wear shirts.

Today, plainclothes officers sometimes halt couples in the streets, demanding to see marriage licenses. Last year, the Interior Ministry banned women from smoking water pipes in public. Islamic faith does not ban women from smoking, but it is considered taboo in Gaza society.

Pockets of dissent remain. Gaza human rights groups frequently and publicly denounce Hamas campaigns.

One group of Gaza youth issued a call for support on Facebook, raging against their Hamas rulers, the U.N., and Israel. Most people who joined the effort live abroad.

Jamal Sharif, an English-language lecturer, said many Gazans live two lives: They submit to Hamas rules on the streets, but keep their own, more secular, ideas alive at home through the Internet and satellite TV. “That’s where we learn to be cultured,” Sharif said.

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