…and he beat her, and….

Today I heard a truly amazing, even Hollywood-worthy love story. My friend promised me all the details of his unusual romance weeks ago, just after the young woman in question appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in Jordan. It involves all the old motifs: lovers kept apart by family and tradition, free spirits determined to escape the narrow confines of cultural norms and restrictions, and a surprisingly young Middle Eastern woman of extraordinary courage who dared to run away from home for love, which in this part of the world can literally be a death sentence. Fortunately, it is also a story of a family progressive and loving enough to forgive and reconcile and dismiss old constraints.

There was one bit of this story, though, that I found quite disturbing. While it is my intent in this blog, at least in part, to try to ameliorate the typical American stereotype of the “evil A-rabs” and the “backwards Muslim world,” there is a definite dark side to the Arab society I’ve come, in many ways, to love. So today, I want to join kinzi‘s blogger jihad and show a bit of the dark underbelly of life here.

My friend was describing how his girlfriend’s mother and then her father came to find out about their Internet relationship and the real reason why she wanted to go to Jordan. Her parents demanded that she end this relationship, and for awhile she kept it concealed from them. In a very matter-of-fact, almost casual tone, my friend said, “But then her father found out, and he beat her, and he smashed her computer and her cell phone, but he’s a Kurd, and you know, when he gets angry, he gets really violent.” It was delivered in such a dismissive way, as if the father could hardly have been expected to restrain himself in the face of such circumstances. And he said that the daughter had been surprised, because her father had never beaten her before, but after all, it’s the way things are here. And I cringed inside, but I know that it’s all too often true. At least in this story, the father eventually came ’round to the daughter’s side, and it didn’t end in the honor killings that happen every few weeks here for far lesser infractions.

Of course, I realize that my friend has been carrying this around with him for weeks, processing it and all the myriad serious implications it’s had for him, for his girlfriend, and for both their families. No doubt he’s become somewhat desensitized to the idea, because this is the kind of thing I would expect him to be upset by. I very quickly came to do the same thing in talking about the beatings my very best friend used to get from her husband (now ex), because I couldn’t always deal with the emotional overtones.

To his great credit, my friend did everything you could ask of a man in his position. He pleaded with his girl to consider carefully the implications of her actions, to not throw her life away on a chance with a man she’d never even really met, who could be something very different in real life than the man she imagined him to be over the Internet. He urged her to be patient, to be prudent, to be safe. But when it became clear that her convictions simply couldn’t be shaken, he did everything he could to support her. When she arrived in Jordan, and her family shortly after, he did everything he could think of to protect her from potentially lethal consequences of her actions. And in the end, he facilitated reconciliation with her family.

Nevertheless, there is a prevailing attitude here that these things happen, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and we even come to expect it. It reminds me of a family down the street from me in my Peace Corps village in which I know that the father beats his children, and probably his wife, and I’m certain that he’s sexually abusing the girls as well. He’s not a man, though, that anyone in the village would confront. He has too much power and too much loyal family.

I find it odd, in a culture which values machismo so highly, that men are not expected to be able to control themselves. Perhaps it’s not odd. Perhaps machismo and a certain lack of self-discipline and restraint go hand in hand. Still, I heard still someone else this week say what Lynn always used to say in Peace Corps: if women have to cover their hair and conceal their bodies because men can’t restrain themselves, how weak does that make the men?

Well, I know one man here at least who isn’t weak. My hat’s off to you, my friend!

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