‘I think it’s best if you don’t tell anyone’: how Arab men get away with domestic violence

Tuesday 7 May 201902:20 pm

“I think it’s best if you don’t tell anyone. It’s best for you and your family.”

This is a sentence that we hear every time we are exposed as women to harassment, insults, verbal abuse, physical or sexual assault. We are brought up on these regressive ideas and we become obsessed with them – not out of conviction in them but for fear of society’s censure and prejudice.

I will allow myself to tell the story of "Lubna" (a pseudonym), one of my close friends who wanted to share the story of her seven-year relationship that was marred by violence. For years she was forced to endure, unable to put an end to the ordeal, because of a threat constantly echoed by her partner: “Remember the photo of us in bed? Think about that.”

“Remember the photo of us in bed? Think about that.”

He who claims to be a progressive and boasts of his social values, but in reality is a vile hypocrite who hides behind the facade of the "liberated man,” the "feminist man" and the "courageous defender of women's rights."

Lubna had not yet turned 18 when a chance encounter brought them together.

"I did not know that this moment would be followed by seven years in which love would mix with violence and all kinds of blackmail," she told me. “The first time he stubbed out a cigarette on my face I was in agony, then I got used to it, and my skinny body became his ashtray. When he stubbed it out on my left cheek, my tears trickled on to the wound, and he apologized.”

Later, Lubna went with him to the pharmacy, where he told the pharmacists that she fell and burned her face by mistake. Lubna smiled at them and took the ointment they prescribed. He grabbed her hand, and they went home together.

Lubna forced herself to believe his apology. She told herself: "I love him. He just had too much to drink. How could I not love him? He’s the same man I decided to lose my virginity to!"

“As an 18-year old, I could only think of that,” she told me.

The days went by and the methods of violence evolved, from putting cigarettes out on her body, to slaps, and then into something more akin to a wrestling match. The only difference was that it was just one fighter who hits, hits, hits, then gets tired and stops. But like all episodes in this series of violence it would always end with an apology and the infamous sentence of all men who abuse women: "I couldn’t control myself."

"I could not work up the courage to get away from him," said Lubna. "I was stuck for three years in the cycle of fear. I loved my murderer, turned him into my prison warden and for every slap I found him a new excuse.”

“Yes, I was afraid of the threats,” she added. “If I left him he would go and tell my family about our sexual relationship and I couldn’t bear that happening. We are a conservative family, and premarital sex is unacceptable, a sin. And of course the most important thing is what will people say about our daughter.”

Lubna decided to live with the idea that he loved her, but that he could not control himself. She became an alcoholic, which she found was her only escape from the pain.

But there was one episode that rivaled the others in Lubna’s mind during those seven years.

"We met at home with some friends, we chatted, we laughed, and just after midnight they left,” she said. “He walked them down to the building entrance and when he came back he discovered that the elevator had gone up to our floor.”

“To this day, all I can remember are the countless blows that he inflicted on me with the excuse that I was trying to provoke him,” she added. “I remember him saying, ‘Did you call up the elevator to make me mad?’”

In that three-bedroom house, Lubna decided to hide in a dark place between the closet and the wall so he would not see her. She passed out there from fatigue and the beatings, and he fell into deep, drunken slumber. Lubna woke up in the morning, her body covered with bruises. She could not look into the mirror for more than a minute. Then, for the first time in seven years, she was the one who apologized to him: "I kissed him on the forehead and that was the farewell kiss," she said.

"I told them that I was not a virgin and that my sexual relationship with him had prevented me from leaving him because I had been afraid to make them feel ashamed.”

She added: “Seven years of fear, anxiety and pain. I decided then to end it. I decided to tell my family that the sadness that they had been asking me about for years was the result of my violent relationship. I told them that I was not a virgin and that my sexual relationship with him had prevented me from leaving him because I had been afraid to make them feel ashamed.”

"I did not know that they would hug me so lovingly, I did not know that they would stand by me,” she said. “Maybe if I had known I would have spared myself years of pain and torment.”

Do the people that we live amongst know that if they give up their worn-out traditions, despicable mores and prejudices, that the number of victims of crime, rape, murder and "honor killings" will decrease? Does the society in which we live know that we women have the right to be free in our bodies and way of life? Does the society in which we live know that without the existence of these customs and traditions, we could have stood up and said:

I'm being physically abused!

I'm being raped!

I'm being harassed!

To say it without fear or anxiety.

Have mercy on us. Stop it with your platitudes and moralizing because your antiquated ideas make us suffer. Because my honor does not consist of a drop of blood on a bedsheet.

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