Two Scenes between East, West

Levantine Masculinity, Abolition of Right to Abortion are Killing Women
A person holds a sign during a protest against the ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that imposes a near-total ban on abortion, outside the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Pro-choice and anti-abortion both demonstrate outside the United States Supreme Court as the court hears arguments over a challenge to a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Anti-abortion protestors hold a demonstration outside the United States Supreme Court as the court hears arguments over a challenge to a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Take two scenes that are worthy of contemplation and comparison. There is an Arab scene with the following names: Shaima Jamal, Lubna Mansour, Iman Arsheed, and Naira Ashraf. They were the victims in a series of murders, which provoked rage followed by a cultural/communal division at a crisis moment on the Arab and global levels. Examining the social media space, the features of a real Arab societal crisis are unraveled. Its severity varies from one country to another. Nonetheless, it is a disparity that confirms that the values and criteria that can be invoked in evaluating facts are a reflection of the difference over the extent to which the Arab culture needs a deep reform, as well as a sharper difference about the destination of this reform and its reference points.

The second scene is from one side of the Atlantic when US President Joe Biden warned that abolishing the right to abortion puts the lives of American women at risk. On the other side of the Atlantic, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed his concern about the decision of the US Supreme Court to abolish the right to abortion in the country, stressing that “women's rights are under threat.” Spain, meanwhile, has been experiencing protests in solidarity with similar demonstrations in other capitals to denounce a bill that significantly reduces the right to abortion, which the conservative Spanish government wants to ratify. In 2021, Élisabeth Moreno, the French Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, condemned “in the strongest terms” the screening on a private television channel in France of the US movie, “Unplanned,” which denounced abortion. She considered that the channel that showed the film “made a mistake,” describing the film as “misleading the viewer beyond any doubt,” and that it “constitutes a hateful propaganda tool against abortion.” Produced by evangelical Christian studios, “Unplanned” tells the story of the transformation of a woman from providing birth control services to becoming an anti-abortion activist.

Does this mean that women’s lives are threatened by both modernity and tradition?!

Between Generalization and Specification

At the heart of the scene is man’s relationship with woman. The latter is vocal in her accusation of the predominance of violence hovering over this relationship, which has become caught in the whirlwind of major economic, social and cultural changes. Women often end up paying the larger price. Arabs on social media have created a whirlpool of interpretations, throwing accusations at each other. These include masculinity, religious extremism, violence in drama series, economic crises, feminist discourse, social media, social failure ... until the last point in the list of impressionist judgments that summarize a societal division over what is acceptable within the framework of interpretation and what constitutes justification or even incitement.

One method of specification is the focus of some on the fact that the connection between perpetrators with victims is a relationship (whether it was emotional or marital). In the book “In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims” written and published by a group of psychiatrists at the University of Oxford, the authors point out that the prevailing explanations for a man’s murder of his wife go back to the “male possessiveness and jealousy,” in addition to another motive: love. The book denies male violence, but discusses the existence of another psychological motive behind the killing, as love and despair may push one party in the relationship to kill the other. According to the well-known American psychiatrist Park Dietz, other factors may push the partner to kill the other, most notably the fear of abandonment and loss. Those who kill because of this motive have emotionally disturbed personalities. A study by a British expert who researched 372 murders found there is a process that comprises eight stages that the murderer goes through before committing murder. She told BBC that “they relied in the search for the causes of the killing, on factors such as emotion and spontaneity,” and that “in view of all these cases, there is planning and determination.”

The Similarity is an Explanation but not a Justification

In March 2022, the Swiss news agency Swissinfo tackled the widespread interest in many French-speaking Swiss media about “crimes committed against women.” The term “femicide” entered the lexicon of our daily life years ago. More specifically, the word “Féminicide” was introduced to the French dictionary in 2015. Within a fair and objective framework, the term means “the killing of women or girls in connection for being females.” Based on this specification, generalizing the phenomenon in other broader frameworks (political, cultural, or religious) may be a form of misleading in the interpretation of facts. In this regard, the European Institute for Gender Equality notes that “being aware of the motives and circumstances ... helps governments to better protect potential victims, as well as to punish and deter perpetrators.” Therefore, the discussions in the public space are not the way to stop the cycle of bloodshed, which may be related to crises of a more general nature, but part of it remains a “qualitative problem” that threatens the lives of women in particular. Globally, only 60% of femicides are committed in the private space. A recent study by the Swiss government showed that the vast majority of spousal homicides are committed by men (90%) with women victims (96%). In 2016, an analysis of violent deaths published by the Geneva-based NGO Small Arms Survey indicated that Switzerland was among the few developed countries with a significantly higher rate of homicides of women, of all kinds, than that of men. This is still applicable today.

This similarity among the murder cases of women in Western societies means that there are global commonalities that may contribute to explaining the extent of the phenomenon in the two worlds. However, it does not justify its occurrence in our countries. The transformation brought about by modernity and reinforced by the globalization of the vocabulary and forms of the relationship between the sexes, means that modernization was not free of threats to the security and safety of women. This is no different from the danger posed by traditional cultures, even if the impact of the modernization threats, in terms of relative weight, is less than the danger represented by traditional cultures.

A Carnival of Throwing Accusations

Some of the reactions to the series of events in Egypt, Jordan and the UAE during a short period were swayed by biases that reconfirmed some certainties.

One of the pre-prepared stances is to limit the causal relationship to one factor, foremost of which was politicization. The most obvious example may be what the Egyptian politician Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei wrote about the horrific murders in Arab societies, as he asked: “Where are we going?” ElBaradei considered that the Egyptian society was losing a distinctive feature, as it was “a society that was largely free from violence and a sense of security and safety prevailed.” He cites reasons, including “many political, cultural, social and economic” ones, and places the phenomenon on the same side of the “difference in religion, sect. Certainly, they are phenomena that represent a violation of values that are almost unanimously agreed upon. However, it is a matter of an intellectual current to which he belongs (Liberalism), which barely refers to the fact that these crimes are a facet of the dearth of any inner moral impulse, and that it is impossible to separate it from religion, especially in Arab societies. In the context of politicization, ElBaradei refers to a “societal fragmentation in many countries of the Arab world,” without clearly referring to individual moral responsibility: the point of intersection between the rule of law and the moral foundation upon which the monotheistic religions were built.

On the other hand, the public space is brimming with a discourse full of fallacies that utilize religious diction and its vocabulary to justify the transformation of the duties and rights of a Muslim man (especially the husband) into a license that seems legally justified to legitimize even the murder of women. In the face of warranted wrath - for example, as in the case of Naira, who was brutally murdered by a colleague - there was a justification that argued for the importance of the veil and its religious justification ... as if the veil alone protects the life of a Muslim woman!!!

It is Everyone’s Mistake but Mine

The disputes over the assessment of these events and what can contribute to their evaluation have reflected the predominance of settling accounts (ideological and social) at the expense of objective consideration of a problem, which is in one aspect an extension of a major global transformation. The problem, on the other hand, is a scene of conflict among traditions, values, and patterns of social organization that have shattered and have not changed naturally, and the new is creeping in to replace the old. It is worth noting that many Arab-speaking Western media directed to an Arabic-speaking audience published several analyzes and readings, most of which were characterized by a clear presence of the voices of scholars and specialists, especially in the fields of humanities. These reports were also an acknowledgment that the killing of women takes place “there” just like it takes place “here.” While there is a consistent moral and ideological standard (even if it reflects the difference in many values), the balance between analysis and evaluation is not absent.

On the other hand, a significant part of the public discourse in the Arab media (traditional and social) is the affirmation of the limits of social and cultural retrenchment that preceded these facts. Some of the most vocal voices have been of those who insist on drawing a stereotype that includes an overwhelming generalization: “Arabs kill their women!”

The absence of objectivity was also characterized by the reference to what could be considered the responsibility of economic and social factors and the potential impact of violence in drama series and the effect of the so-called “masculine culture,” in a way that almost eliminates the individual responsibility of the perpetrators at all levels: legal, moral and legitimate. What might be considered “compulsions” or pressures on perpetrators—regardless of the accuracy of the effect of these factors—remain means of interpretation and understanding and can never be accepted as justifications for murder. Perhaps the phenomenon that deserves a separate pause is what we might call the female “pyramid-climbers,” a term I coined in contrast to the famous American term: the (male) “pyramid-climbers.”

The term “pyramid climbers” refers to ambitious people who act in a selfish and harmful manner towards their social environment without any appreciation for social considerations. A considerable number of these people were willing to give up any social, human or moral responsibilities - without the slightest mercy – in return for a thousand dollars in salary increase that would make them move from one state to another, leaving behind their entire social surroundings. These people have become a symbol of the cruelty of the modern age human being, who is only motivated by absolute expediency. In the recent murder cases, the (female) “pyramid climbers” who only care about their ambitions made an appearance. It goes without saying that no blood shedding is ever justified, even if it was the blood of the female “pyramid climbers”!!

The Victims of Abortion and of Its Prohibition

One of the many surprising revelations in the book: “Religion and the American Presidency” (Rozell, Mark J. and Gleaves Whitney. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) is that the US President Donald Trump exploited in his election campaign an “invisible” factor to win the votes of one million Catholics!!

As the book narrates, there was a strong feeling among many Catholics that the core elements of Obamacare's health plan intrude on religious freedoms. Obamacare regulations have forced Catholic charities to pay for contraceptives, in contravention of the beliefs of many devout Catholics. These Catholics understood that had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, such payments would continue. Therefore, Trump won nearly a million Catholic votes!

Forward to the present, when the US judiciary revoked a woman's right to abortion, it was turning the page on decades of granting women what the conservative US right called the “right to kill.” It is one of the many faces of the American division (which recently had its counterpart in our Arab countries) over the limits of rights, duties, permissible and forbidden things. It ends up exploding in a “clash of values” whenever something calls for alignment. The US court overturned the historic decision known as “Roe v. Wade” issued in 1973 to guarantee a woman's right to abortion, and now rendered an opinion that said that every state could allow or restrict the procedure as it saw fit, as was the case before the 1970s. Many commentators in the Arab public space emphasized that “Arabs kill their women” because of the rejection of complete equality between the sexes. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz considered that the road towards this equality around the world is still long. He added that “the rights of women are threatened and we must defend them decisively,” praising the German parliament's decision on the same day to repeal Section 219a of the German Criminal Code, which had prohibited the advertising of abortions.

The substantial reactions in the West - official and unofficial - in protest against the abolition of the right to abortion in the USA confirm that the decision threatens the life of the woman. Almost no one indicates that abortion itself is a crime against fetuses, which means that the answer will not be unanimous to questions such as: Who kills women? Who kills fetuses in abortions?

In contrast, Democratic-led US states such as New York, California, Oregon, and Washington pledged to be "sanctuaries" for abortion. With the considerable growth of digitization of all aspects of life in the West, there has been much talk about the “digital effects” that may constitute an obstruction against women and their supposed “partners” in abortions. Because we live in an era of unprecedented online surveillance, conservative-led states are planning to ban voluntary termination of pregnancy on their soil and may utilize digital data from apps that help provide abortion services. Some laws passed in some states even encourage ordinary citizens to sue women suspected of having abortions or those who helped them, even a taxi driver who reportedly drove them to the clinic!

In a letter sent at the end of May to the head of Google, 42 elected US officials warned that Google's technologies could become “tools for extremists who want to suppress people seeking reproductive health care because Google regularly retains and shares information about the geographical location of hundreds of millions of smartphone users with government agencies.

Victims with No One to Mourn Them

The concurrence between the uproar in the Arab world due to the series of murders of women in several countries, and an uproar caused by a legal amendment that will protect the lives of children who are victims of abortion, reflects a global split: Liberal vs. Conservative. According to an entry on the World Health Organization website on September 28, 2017, there were, globally, about 25 million unsafe abortions (45% of all abortions) each year between 2010 and 2014. The majority of unsafe abortions (97%) occurred in developing countries. In Greenland, official statistics indicate that since 2013, about 700 births have been recorded annually, compared to 800 abortions. In Germany, amidst lower rates of legal abortion, the year 2021 saw the lowest abortion rate in the country since 1996. According to the Federal Statistics Office, nearly 94,000 abortions were performed.

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