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Domestic violence is a cancer in Lebanon's heart Open in fullscreen

Najwa Barakat

Domestic violence is a cancer in Lebanon's heart

Lebanese women demonstrate in favour of the new anti-domestic violence law [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 December, 2014

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A recent law to protect women will only go part of the way towards changing attitudes and rectifying the misogyny in Lebanon.
Nisrine Rouhana was killed on 24 November, the day after her 36th birthday. The mother-of-two is yet another name on the list of domestic violence victims in Lebanon.

Her ordeal started when her estranged husband abducted her from outside her workplace at gunpoint, tortured her, and then shot her twice - once in the shoulder and once in the eye - before throwing her body in the Abraham river.

Let's suppose the husband found something out about his wife that he could not bear to live with. Let's suppose that he killed her out of jealousy, passion and torment that she was now with someone else. Let's suppose that love was the primary motive for his crime.

But if it was, wouldn't he have killed himself at the scene of the crime because he could not continue living without her? But he killed her, threw her body in the river, and went home to shave his beard before turning himself over to police. Love was probably not the motive.

Domestic violence on rise
When asked, a significant number of Lebanese men said women have to be dealt with violently.

Crimes against women in Lebanon have increased this year, even despite the passing of the Law on the Protection of Women and Other Family Members from Domestic Violence. 

Having the word "women" in its title was a victory of sorts, but it still stopped short of criminalising marital rape, beating, abuse or threats, and used the term "conjugal rights" without mention of consent.

In a report on Lebanese television, Lebanese men of different ages and backgrounds were asked whether they supported the law criminalising violence against women. A significant number of them, for various reasons, said "women have to be dealt with violently".

Some said it jokingly and changed their minds when the journalist asked the question again disapprovingly, but others did not. They answered with a smile, as if a smile would somehow offset the harshness and brutality of their answers and put them beyond accountability.

They said publicly what they thought privately, speaking with no restraint, pretence or modesty: violence against women was necessary to discipline them so they did not question their partners or raise their voices against them.

They said this believing that Lebanese public opinion was on their side, and that they were sure what they were saying was socially acceptable. Perhaps they thought that saying something different might have brought their masculinity into question.

Victims of hyper-masculinity

If there were a tiny part of me that felt sorry for the murderer, I would think the criminal behaviour was a manifestation of this disease, the disease of masculinity. But this is as far as I will go with my compassion, as it is more than I can tolerate. I think Nisrine's ex-husband killed her because she had enough of his abuse, because she put a stop to it and spoke up.

I think he killed her because he was scared of appearing to be emasculated. Nisrine and other Lebanese women were killed after they were pushed to dress up, look beautiful like a doll, a toy, a plaything, until they pass their use-by date and are thrown in the rubbish.

All of this is happening as we say our final farewells to the amazing singer and actress Sabah. We remember that she was criticised because she got old and continued to live her life, and to love life. She was attacked because of her free spirit, which broke tradition and violated custom.

If we turn our backs on what she represented, we are saying goodbye to the wellbeing of half of our society, the sanity of all our society, and preparing to live the rest of our days with a cancer eating at the heart of our society.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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