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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hate is a four letter word

Nadine had heard just about enough. She reached for her purse and headed for the door. She was only a few steps away when her father grabbed her arm and..
This post is very closely based on recent events and deals with a somewhat sensitive issue. Any advice you might want to share is welcome, as the person involved will be reading this post. Thank you
A girl in her mid-twenties sits in her room surfing the net, when her brother walks in:
"What's this ?" he asks holding her cell phone, "planning to see him this evening? We told you he's not right for you. You still want to date this filth?!"

Not a moment later the voices of her parents join in on the symphony. She barely has time to recover from the initial shock that her brother has in fact gone through her phone messages when she hears her mother calling her names: "Ya Charmouta! Chou baddik t2oul 3anna el 3alam, bentna dahra ma3 wa7ad mejweh ?" [You whore, what do you think people will say about us when they learn our daughter is dating this kind of filth ?].

Nadine had heard just about enough. She reached for her purse and headed for the door. She was only a few steps away when her father grabbed her arm and barked:

"Where do you think you're going ?"
- I'm going out
- No. You're not going anywhere. This is for your own good.
- I'm going out !
- Nadine we love you, and we want what's best for you.

Before she could get a chance to formulate a response, her brother sneaked up behind her, pulled her by her hair and dragged her towards the living room. "Dad said you're not going anywhere and that's exactly what's going to happen, you understand ?"

The minutes that followed were all a blur. She could hear her mom dishing out all sorts of profanities, her brother's grip on her only tightened as her father charged towards her and started beating her. For the first time in her life, she was being physically abused by a family that she loved, a family that had become her enemy at home ever since she told them about her boyfriend. When it was all over, her body was aching and her skin was red. The room fell silent, only echoing her muffled rage and her racing heartbeat as she fought back the tears. A few moments later, her mother broke the silence and said:

"Go wash your face. We're all going out to dinner. As a family"

At first I thought this story was about racism and bigotry. After all Nadine is Christian, her boyfriend is Muslim, and her parents disapprove of him.. or rather disapprove of his religion. I tried to imagine what her family's reaction would've been had she brought home someone brown, black, or perhaps of the same sex. I'm almost certain it wouldn't have been any better. Nadine's family wanted someone for their daughter that they could show their face with. Someone.. just like them, someone.. their circle would approve of.

Then I thought maybe this story is about more than just racism and bigotry. Nadine's family, otherwise caring and supportive, resorted to a range of measures starting with insulting her and escalating to inflicting physical harm.. to their own daughter. and for what ? There are certainly tones of an overreaching parental authority in this story: Just because Nadine still lives with her parents (as one does usually until marriage in Lebanon) doesn't mean they should be in control of her intimate decisions. There are also tones of domestic abuse. This might have been the first time physical harm has been inflicted, but what's stopping it from happening again ?

Then I remembered: Nadine called me to tell me what had happened. I wonder, what about all those times when something similar happens but nobody gets a call, and life goes on and it's business as usual ? What if this story is actually about silence ?

When Nadine called me my first piece of advice was "Go to the police". She didn't. I guess it takes a lot more rage to press charges against your own family. But then again, the law in Lebanon - in its current state at the time of writing of this article - is such that if she did press charges her family would barely get more than a slap on the wrist (they would have had to break one of her bones for the punishment to be more serious..).

Growing up I was always told about the importance of family values in Lebanon, values that are "absent in the west". But perhaps it's not entirely wrong if our laws are updated to protect us from getting the shit beaten out of us. Perhaps it's not entirely wrong for some of us to move out of our parents' house if their definition of how we should be happy does not fit within our vision for ourselves. And perhaps, just maybe, in Lebanon, the land of family values, we should take a long look at ourselves and realize that many of the things we do out of love are in fact inspired by another four letter word.. Hate.

Recommended media:
Fasateen - Mashrou3 Leila (really good song by a Lebanese band, check the video)

"بتتذكري كنت تحبيني مع اني مش داخل دينك، بتتذكري كيف كنا هيك ؟"
[Do you remember that you used to love me, even though I'm from a different religion, do you remember the way we were ?]


August 23, 2011 at 10:39 AM Anonymous

This is Nadine. Thanks for putting the story out there, although it's extremely embarrassing. The thing is, although you described what happened pretty well, it was even more violent than that. They were both hitting me at the same time and they're both twice my size. I didn't have a chance to even run or protect myself. I still can't sit properly from the bruising on my legs and today I discovered fresh scars on my arms I hadn't noticed before. I don't know what they expect from all this. Do they really expect me to continue to love them as before? Do they expect me to do as they say and let things go back to what they were? I don't know...all I know is that everything is broken right now and I don't know if it can ever be fixed. When people talk about abuse you always think "it could never happen to you". But when it's just so embarrassing. Anyways, thanks for sticking by me Fadi and writing about this.

August 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM Anonymous

Abuse does not have to be physical..I'm really sorry your case turned out to be a shameful one, to your parents of course. Yet, not so many consider these actions as untolerable, needless to say look down upon physical and especially emotional abuse as simple parenting. I've faced a similar case, I'm an only child mid-twenties with parents in their early sixties. We got to the point that I was denied money, my own car, phone and etc. I could not even commute to work if I wanted to make my own living. Hence, the relationship became very formal between us, and my life is completely sheltered from theirs, I simply stopped sharing and went along with any stupidity they were faking in public. I'm currently planning on traveling next year and completely move out. I do not love them any less, yet understand that they do not see things as I do. They do not have any peer pressure or similar life experiences that I managed to get from here and there to understand that humans are more valuable than your regular daily investments. Stay strong and just consider that you click with some people and they stick by your for life better than family while others pass by. Give your parents some time and they will come back to the first category!

August 23, 2011 at 6:20 PM Anonymous

Nadine, abuse is not embarrassing for the abused but should be for the abuser. However your family probably doesn't see this as abuse as it's more or less 'normal' in our culture to act that way, and fathers-brothers think they have a right on their female relatives. Women are still viewed as objects unfortunately, but I hope you will keep your heart open and know that this is not the case everywhere. I personally lost faith in my Lebanese compatriots (although there are exceptions to the rule such as Fadi) and I want to tell you that life doesn`t have to be that way. It's not supposed to be that way, and they have no rights over your heart and body. In any other country they would all face jailtime for what they've done to you that night.

September 15, 2011 at 12:35 AM Anonymous


September 21, 2011 at 12:05 PM ritakml

You are an adult. Most families do not get that they do not OWN their children. It's YOUR life. No one will live it for you. I can't believe that your bro laid a hand on you instead of calming everyone down. They could have talked about it and discussed it like adults. Things will never be the same. You may have to face the hardest decision in your life now, you have the choice... stay or leave. Time will tell you soon enough. Good luck!

December 26, 2011 at 2:38 PM Anonymous

Dear Nadine,
I recognize your feeling of embarrassment and the shock of people you love and even are supposed to respect suddenly act in contrary to the values they say they cherish. But as long as you are the one that feel embarrassed and don't stand up for those values (in this case violated against you, so meaning standing up for yourself) what do you think this will do for you and your family. Act and go on further like a victim and you'll be victimized later again and again (if not by your family others later on). Keep silent, they can go on (not only with you, but others as well). It is you're life, you're choice and it is difficult one when it is opposed in a way you know it is not based on the right values or even common sense. How hard it seems to forsake those values and comply to you're family attitude, it is harder in the end and serves injustice. Take inspiration of people that did stand up and remember, the biggest fear is fear itself. Many have encountered what you went through, try to get their support, they are out there, although perhaps not in you're circle right now. I wish you all the best and lots of strength.

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