Our Week in Review, a newsletter emailed to subscribers every Friday. To subscribe, sign up here.
Ordinarily, this newsletter is dedicated to commentary about one of our flagship essays published over the past few days.
I couldn’t do that this week, because I was so angry. Let me tell you why.
On Monday, an Egyptian college student named Naira Ashraf was slaughtered by another student in the middle of the day outside her campus in the city of Mansoura. The criminal, Mohamed Adel, stabbed her multiple times with a knife while within ear and eyeshot of dozens of people in a public place, because she and her family had refused his entreaties for marriage.
Then on Thursday, news surfaced of another murder on a college campus, this time in Jordan. Iman Arshid, a student at Amman’s Applied Science University, was apparently shot to death on campus. Details are still murky, but the shooter appears to be at large.
I will focus in this newsletter on the Egyptian case, simply because we know more about it right now.
Security camera footage and social media videos of the horrific murder are all over the internet. The most complete video, which I regret to say I have seen, shows him stabbing her as she lies on the ground, her head propped up against the pavement. Onlookers intervene, but he holds them at bay with his knife before leaning down and stabbing her again, after which he is manhandled by a college security officer. Now imagine the grief of her parents and family, who witnessed through video footage the brutal slaughter of one they loved so dearly. The rest of Egypt saw it too.
The video left me with an indelible sadness, a sadness that I can already tell, as I write the words of this newsletter, will likely shape who I am for the rest of my life. It’s the kind of sadness that makes you wonder whether you will ever be truly happy again.
Social media has been abuzz with commentary on the horrific crime, this time one in which every painful thrust of the blade was caught on tape. To be fair, most of the commentary has been condemnatory, mournful or shocked, though I am at a loss as to how one can be shocked when one is steeped in cultural and social mores that unabashedly view a woman’s life as inherently worth less than a man’s. Naturally, some imbecilic commentators, such as a celebrity televangelist preacher (in a Freudian slip, I initially wrote “creature”) named Mabrouk Attia, saw fit to publish a psychotic video on social media urging women to wear the hijab to avoid being slaughtered by “drooling” men without means. Others saw little reason for the local media hubbub over the murder since the man had been arrested and took issue with those pointing to broader societal ills to explain the broad-daylight savagery.
But while the crime is horrific, it is not senseless. It is a perfectly logical outcome when society sees women as mere accessories who serve at the pleasure of the male master race.
It is an attitude that pervades societal convention in Egypt, Jordan and the Middle East more broadly, and we should acknowledge it and work to dismantle it instead of hiding behind the victimhood narrative of Arab- and Islamophobia. It is a cultural attitude ingrained in the personal, communal and state structures of our society, and it enables everything from catcalls to an incel like Adel or his Jordanian counterpart thinking nothing of impulsively stabbing a young woman to death outside her college campus or shooting her to death for the temerity of saying no.
Other factors reinforce the attitude: laws that allow me to give my son my citizenship but do not allow his mother to do the same; imams and preachers who justify a man beating his wife because of Scripture; all the people who, having learned of yet another crime of sexual harassment or assault against a woman, ask why she was outside by herself or whether she was dressed in a revealing manner (this latter point has always puzzled me ever since a female relative was harassed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca while dressed in full Islamic garb).
And more: all the countries where honor killings still happen and where laws reduce the severity of such crimes; every family where a failed, useless, trash son questioned his sister after she came home late from work or presumed that divine ordinance gave him control and authority over her life, education and relationships; the images in the family photo albums where the uncovered women have been erased; every hand raised in violence; every unpunished utterance that demeaned and harassed — a plague that almost every woman in Egypt has had to endure; every entitled shit-stain who insisted that the woman’s place is the home while he whiled away his pointless existence at hookah cafes playing cards with other morons of his ilk.
Violence against women is of course not just the province of Arab and Muslim countries. It is also pervasive in the “civilized” West. So is sadistic inhumanity. In America psychopaths wielding legally purchased assault rifles gun down children in schools, protected by psychopaths in power who are determined that they retain the right to do so. In Russia, government troops helped orchestrate starvation sieges in Syria and bombed civilians in Ukraine. China has concentration camps for millions of its Uyghur population. Inhumanity is not a trait unique to one culture or one society.
And yet. The scriptural and legal justifications for both the violence against women and the culture of impunity that are a natural outgrowth of these calamities infuse aggression and violence with a veneer of righteousness they enjoy in our part of the world.
It is that veneer of righteousness — that certainty that she is yours to do with as you see fit — that is the rot and the cancer at the heart of this enterprise.
There are crimes of such gravity that they leave an indelible mark, shaping who you are and how you perceive the world for the foreseeable future. I had thought I was beyond that. I didn’t often flinch when for years as a journalist covering Syria I would scroll through my phone past photos of my fiancée and my cats interspersed with images of dead children or victims of chemical attacks. But I can tell that these twin crimes in Egypt and Jordan have already changed me and will continue to do so in the harshness and pessimism of the worldview one can’t help but conjure in the face of such brutality.
From this week (June 20 – 24, 2022)
Podcast: Retranslating the Poetry of Ibn Arabi | Listen here
Unaccountable in Lebanon: How a PM’s Killers Got Away With It | Read more
A Changed Journalist Returns to a Changed Beirut | Read more
Backlash on a Story of Xenophobia | Read more
Archiving History During War | Read more
Libya’s Escalating Power Struggle | Read more
Western Homophobes Denigrate Others But Act the Same | Read more