Shattering the notion that Muslim women did not play an active role in armed resistance national liberation struggles
“In order to carry on with life in prison, you must believe you will be there forever.”
In the haunting and inspiring Memoirs of a Militant: My Years in the Khiam Women’s Prison Nawal Baidoun offers us her first-person account of the life of a young woman activist imprisoned for four years, as well as the events leading up to her arrest and detention. Born into a nationalist family in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, not far from the location of the prison itself, Baidoun, like so many others, found herself compelled to take up arms to resist the Israeli occupation. Her memoir skillfully weaves together two stories: that of the oppressive conditions facing ordinary people and families in South Lebanon, and that of the horrors of daily life and the struggle for survival inside the prison itself.
Arrested for her role in planning the assassination of the well-known Israeli agent and collaborator, Husayn Abdel Nabi, Baidoun was at one point detained with Soha Bechara, a fellow militant whose similar operation is better known. Her activism rooted in her Islamic faith, Baidoun shatters the notion that Muslim women did not play an active role in the armed resistance. Much like her sisters in Algeria and Palestine, Nawal Baidoun belongs to a generation of Muslim women in the Arab world who played a significant role in their national liberation struggles. She describes the intense mental and physical torture she endured, and her refusal to confess despite this. Memoirs of a Militant offers us rare and unique insight into the strength and courage of Baidoun in extreme circumstances and conditions. Nawal Baidoun herself has said that she wrote this book as a sort of history lesson for the generations who come after her, to show the ways in which women actively took part in the resistance and struggle against the occupation. Her strongly abolitionist message about prisons and the need to liberate all prisoners and detainees resonates strongly today, as does her call for solidarity in the face of injustice.
About the authors
Nawal Baidoun is a lifelong militant and activist from Bint Jbeil, South Lebanon. Before the occupation she graduated from law school; she subsequently worked as a teacher; and today is the Principal of the High School in Bint Jbeil. She is a founding and active member of the Lebanese Association for Prisoners and Liberators (LAPL). A firm advocate of freedom and liberation for all, Baidoun continues to be active in the struggle for prisoners’ rights and other social justice causes in Lebanon and beyond. This memoir is her first published work.
Caline Nasrallah is a Master’s student at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University, where her research focuses on language as a feminist tool. She also works as a translator, mostly from Arabic to English, and has an MA in Translation from the École de traducteurs et d’interprètes de Beyrouth (USJ).
Michelle Hartman is a professor of Arabic and francophone literature at McGill University in Montreal. She is the translator of several works from Arabic, including Radwa Ashour’s memoir The Journey, Iman Humaydan’s novels Wild Mulberries and Other Lives,Alexandra Chreiteh’s novels Always Coca Cola and Ali and His Russian Mother, Shahla Ujayli’s novels A Sky So Close to Us and Summer with the Enemy as well as Jana Elhassan’s IPAF shortlisted novel The Ninety-Ninth Floor.
Malek Abisaab is Associate Professor at McGill University in the departments of History and Classical Studies and the Institute of Islamic Studies. A historian, his work focuses on gender, labor, Islamism, and the nation-state in the Middle East. His books include, Militant Women of a Fragile Nation (Syracuse UP, 2010) and (with Rula Jurdi Abisaab) The Shiites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Islamists (Syracuse UP, 2017).