"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Arab Culture -- The Role of Fear

"Jordan is a place where men in sand-colored business suits hold cell phones to one ear and, in the other, hear the whispers of harsh and ancient laws blowing in from the desert. It is a place where a worldly young queen argues eloquently on CNN for human rights, while a father in a middle-class suburb slits his daughter's throat for committing the most innocent breach of old Bedouin codes of honor."

The place: Amman, Jordan

The characters: Norma (born Catholic) and Dalia (born Muslim), best friends since age 3

The setting: in the salon they co-own -- Not to worry Dalia's brother is there nearly full time as chaperon / informant

The ladies were discussing an inside joke - a scorebook Dalia had kept since the first time she asked a pregnant client whether she was wishing her baby were a boy or girl. The tally: out of 193 women asked, only 15 wanted girls. As Norma speculated on the reason for that, she said, "I wouldn't want any daughter of mine to grow up like this -- to be a man's slave. And I wouldn't want her to grow up in a place where she's considered a second-class citizen."

Dalia, who was a firebrand revolutionary-minded young lady agreed, "[These women] don't think they can fight it, so let's hope it's a boy."

The conversation continues:

"I believe that a lot of women think like us. And, if that's true, sooner or later things will have to change," she proclaimed, cueing me to play devil's advocate.

"Why do you assume that? There's nothing they can do to change things, just like there's nothing we can do."

"You're wrong. Our mothers' generation lived like this because they believed in the Arab way of life, not because they were afraid to take a stand. We live like this because we're afraid, not because we believe in it. So sooner or later things will have to change."

"Dalia, I think you need to face reality. For all the cell phones and computers and even some women doctors and activists -- what's changed for us? People in this country have had these customs and beliefs for centuries, and it'll take centuries to change their way of thinking," I protested.

"I don't think so. True, they've had these beliefs for centuries. But, as you said yourself, our generation of women doesn't believe, it fears. Fears can be overcome. Think about it -- when someone fears something, there's a chance she may one day find the courage she needs to force a change. But if she believes in the status quo, she has no need to change it. If our generation doesn't change things, then maybe the next one will or the one after that, but eventually the fear will be overcome and changes will be made. Change always follows, you'll see."

. . .

To Middle Eastern men, Dalia's beliefs made her an enemy, a sharmuta, and they would have only one way to deal with her. They would silence her before she had the chance to influence others with her scandalous views. The long-established way to abolish sharmutas was execution. There would be no questions, no judge, no jury and no chance for a defense. Her death wouldn't warrant an investigation or cause the filing of any criminal charges. Her death would be considered justifiable since she was a threat to the Jordanian quality of life and to the customs, morals, and values Jordanian society had upheld for thousands of years.

Then the author described how Bedouin views dominated their society, shared some of these practices and concluded the chapter with: "This nomadic, ancient lifestyle gave birth to that traditional and secretive way of life that still dominates most of the Arab world and pervades our lives in Amman. It is a way of life so important to, and idealized by, Arab men that they will not hesitate to sacrifice women in an attempt to preserve it."

Hmmm, I'm wondering what Arab men have to say about this Jordanian woman's view of them. Are most of them as she described or maybe just men in Amman, Jordan? I like what Dalia said about fear and finding the courage to finally challenge the status quo. It's amazing how fear paralyzes us and keeps us small, submissive and enduring terrible things. Fear keeps us weak. No wonder the Enemy uses it. It works!

information & quotes from pages 1, 24-27 of Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern-Day Jordan by Norma Khouri


Wafa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susanne said...

Oh no, your comment is gone. That's OK. I got it. I understand what you mean. :)

Louai said...

with, no doubt, a bit overwhelming!!

Susanne said...

Louai, what is overwhelming? The fear? The way men in Jordan treat women? The rules required for women, but not for men? The death sentences for sharmutas, but not those men who use the sharmutas' services?

Sarah said...

Fascinating post, very powerful quote at the top.

I think it's good that at least some women (and you would hope, men too) are questioning the old ways. What's scary is how protective those traditionalists are. How do you get people to think? Really think and use their brains? That's what I want to know. Because the craziness all falls away when you think!

Susanne said...

Sarah, thanks for your reply! Yes, this book is really great although it has INFURIATED me this morning!!! I only want to know if the author is exaggerating or if what she said is true. That's always the struggle, isn't it? But at least this seems to be HER experiences in Jordan. ARGH! I am so mad right now!

I loved what you said...thank you. I'll likely post more from this book soon so let me know what you think. You always add interesting things.

Suroor said...

Very interesting quotes and post!

Fear is powerful. Oh yes!