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Cowardice reigns supreme

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Adel Heine’s weekly column

Adel Heine

Adel Heine

I am not in the mood to be funny. For many months I have filled this column with stories about things I noticed around me, overheard conversations that surprised me, or bits of news that made me question my sanity. Often I have attempted to paint an exaggerated picture of those realities to show how weird, absurd or funny it all was to me. Not today though.

For some time now I have been steadily becoming angry, and this fury has grown with each story of intolerance, of the sexual violence women are being subjected to all over the world, and each violent incident justified by religion.

The highly-publicised case of gang rape in India, a similar kind of attack in Brazil, yet another assault involving three men and tourists in India, group assaults during political demonstrations in Egypt; groups of men violently gang rape women, often in front of their male companions, as if it is the latest sport.

A lot has been written about sexual harassment and assault in Egypt and I have stayed away from the subject because it is nothing to make fun of. The continuous threat that women face simply going about their lives has become more blatant, shameless and self-righteous as time passes. When in the past respect was one of the cornerstones of Egyptian society, it now seems that vicious assault and rape have become the weapon of choice for some men when they want to make a point.

Unfortunately I learned at a young age that sexual violence has nothing to do with sex; it is about power. Those who perpetrate these attacks use sex to give them the illusion of having power over the person they assault for as long as that attack lasts. It is a dehumanising, primitive attempt to equate dominating a person to having dominance over life. But the brief feeling of false supremacy cannot lead to anything but disappointment, because nothing in their lives has changed. And so a chain is set in motion; once they step over the line there is seldom a way back.

This week a video circulated of a group of men assaulting a woman, undressing and attempting to rape her while shouting religious slogans. In broad daylight, in a street filled with people. Confusion about where and when the video was taken did not drown out the terrified screams of the woman under attack, nor the angry voices that proclaimed God to be great as they egged the assaulters on. Bystanders scrambled away from the fracas as the attack continued. The fact that the video turned out to be a few years old only emphasises how long this type of attack has been going on.

Hiding behind political motives and religion, mankind has done unspeakable things to itself throughout history. The violence we have seen in the streets this week shows that for some, committing murder of those who call God by another name is justified behaviour.

Another highlight of the week are the university students who are accusing a fellow student of adhering to another form of their religion. In response to these accusations the administration did not tell them to mind their own business, but intend to force the woman to perform her prayers in front of them to see if she is true or false. To what, I wonder.

I always thought of universities as centres of learning where intelligent people acquire knowledge. But the very youngsters that are supposedly the future of this country would rather narrow their minds and forget their humanity and stand in judgment of how one of their own gives shape to her belief in a higher power.

Everywhere I look I see individuals give themselves the right to stand as judge and jury over their fellow men and women and mete out punishment as they see fit. They fight, rape, pillage, maim and kill under banners that have been twisted to suit their purposes.

And all around them are groups that cheer them on, urging them to continue their violations, and wait their turn to have a go now that there is safety in numbers. Hiding behind bullies so for a brief moment in time they can feel bigger and mightier than they really are.

The law of cowardice seems to reign supreme and it infuriates me. Those who truly believe they are stronger and their faith is better can afford to be kind to those they think are weaker or confused. Those who are convinced that they are right are welcome to treat women and those who belong to other faiths with contempt; it only shows their ignorance.

Violence against women or minorities only proves the level of insecurity of those who use it and those who condone it. And there is nothing funny about that.

About the author

Adel Heine

Adel Heine

DNE Art & Culture, and Lifestyle Editor


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