Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly


Al-Ahram Weekly

Zero tolerance

When it comes to East-West relations, misconceptions abound. Now that the region is being buffeted by seen and unforeseen forces, misconceptions have become the norm.

The media messages coming from the West have been frustrating and often unbalanced. Offered from afar, or by journalists who drop in and out of the region, looking for the catchy interpretation to offer, or the hackneyed position to reiterate, while missing the footwork of fact checking and in-depth analysis, the misinformation comes thick and fast.

This region, it seems, invites exaggeration in reporting and on some occasions the oddity finds its way into the mainstream. Just like the time, after 9/11, when some writers in the West started finding links between violence and sexual frustration in the region. The assumption offered was that our young men, inhibited from normal sexuality by layers of social and cultural constraints, are so upset that they take it out on the West. And so they take off into passenger planes to blow up the biggest Western buildings they can aim at, killing thousands in the process. This was one line of analysis, and it attracted a following, at least for a while, being seriously debated on par with well-known grievances against the West, grievances that are hard to deny: Israel, years of occupation, continued exploitation, unfair treatment, etc.

When you blame Muslims and Arabs for their sexuality, and how twisted their minds are in consequence, you hit two birds with one stone. You denigrate and debase them, making them worthy of no sympathy and deserving of any turmoil that befalls them. You also absolve the West from all the horrors inflicted on this region, many of which are connected with the vested interests of major Western nations.

Another version of sex-motivated violence surfaced once again during the Arab Spring. Now it was the turn of the liberal young men to take the lead in drastic action motivated by inadequate sexual satisfaction. The liberals, goes the narrative, toppled the existed regimes because they wanted some of the freedom the West offers to its young people.

Unfortunately for the liberals, hopes for the freedoms they longed for were dashed when the Islamists — whose margin for sexual freedom is even more restrictive than that of the authoritarian regimes that had been overthrown — took over.

So now, without much hope for emancipation, young men are going around harassing women, this time without any particular political agenda — or so it seems.

In all these versions of the story, the region’s legitimate claim for freedom, sexual or otherwise, becomes mired in myth and coated with prejudice; a new form of Orientalism that bypasses the issue in favour of the fantasy.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have a problem with sexual aberrations. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to address our systems of education and the manner in which the sexes interact and learn to respect each other.

We must fight harassment, but without turning it into a political issue. We must fight harassment, while we strive for democracy, human rights and the rest of aspired to freedoms that are not just Western, but universal in essence.

We understand the right of individuals to do as they please so long as they don’t trample on the rights of others. This freedom is not confined to one culture, and it mustn’t be denied for any community, whether it suffers from violence or not.

Rape and harassment, the whole gamut of sexual aberrations, exist in the West, and yet it is no excuse for an assault on individual freedom or a justification for violence in any way.

Fighting unsocial behaviour is a necessary practice, whether you live in this region or other parts of the world.

So let’s not think of fantastical relations between sex and violence among Arabs and Muslims. Let’s do the long and hard work of educating the young and punishing the culprits. Zero tolerance is not politically motivated, nor does it have anything to do with the fight on terror. It is a moral duty.

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