Manal al-Assi: A Victim of the Patriarchal Culture of Silence

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One woman dies while another survives, despite her pain.(Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Thursday, February 6, 2014

This story is not just about husbands beating their wives savagely. One woman dies while another survives, despite her pain. The story goes beyond Roula Yaacoub – a woman beaten to death by her husband in July 2013 – or Manal al-Assi, who passed away yesterday after being beaten severely by her husband, as reported by security and judicial investigations.

The bigger story, it seems, lies in our culture. In a society where people, even when they are in agony, insist on hiding their pain under the pretext of social conventions, customs, traditions, religion and so on. When a victim conspires against herself, remains silent out of respect for traditions, does not raise her voice, does not revolt because she wants to avoid the scandal and preserve her modesty, it means we are facing a problem more dangerous than the evil of domestic violence.

What does it mean for Manal’s mother to give a false statement before the investigators saying that her murdered daughter fell in the kitchen and died, even though she had heard her suppressed cries when her husband was beating her? What does it mean for the murdered woman’s sister to remain silent and say in her statement that her sister fell and hit the edge of the sink? What does it mean for her brother – and he is a man in the patriarchal sense, just like the husband – to not react more strongly against his brother-in-law and instead help him take Manal to al-Makassed Hospital in Beirut where she died a few hours later?

If it were not for another sister who refused to remain silent about her sister’s suffering, we would have had today an investigation that led nowhere. Manal’s death would have been ruled “sudden” or of “natural causes” or any other label. But her sister spoke in front of the investigators and told them what she knows. The judiciary took action against the husband, ordering his arrest. He disappeared, but they are still looking for him. Hiding from the authorities, under the law, is usually used by the courts to prove the charge against a suspect.

After the news of Manal’s death spread yesterday, some activists issued statements denouncing domestic violence. The news was also widely shared on social networking sites. Rumors mixed with facts, as has been customary lately. But the facts started emerging little by little, even though the truth is not completely out yet.

Al-Akhbar learned from security and judicial sources that no calls were made to the Internal Security Forces (ISF) or the Tariq al-Jdideh police station, the area where the incident happened. After Manal, a mother of two daughters aged 15 and 11, was taken to the hospital, the examining doctor became suspicious upon seeing the bruises on her body. He immediately called the Tariq al-Jdideh ISF branch.

It was said earlier that a Red Cross vehicle came, before the victim was finally taken to al-Makassed Hospital, but her husband stood against everyone and refused to let his wife go to the hospital. Some said that “he had a weapon and threatened whoever gets close to him” but this last detail was not verified in the investigation. Relevant sources point out that the husband called his mother and sister-in-law and told them to come over. When they arrived, he held them in a room and “started torturing and beating his wife like he did in the past.”

The public prosecution in Beirut was following the details of the case with the security forces. After Manal’s death at the hospital, it had a coroner examine the corpse. The report this time, unlike previous cases like that of Roula Yaacoub, confirmed that there were “bruises on her head and other parts of her body and that she was beaten with a metal object (not a knife) on her head that led to internal bleeding, which was the direct cause of death.”

The investigators were surprised at “her family’s resistance to talk about what went on although they knew exactly what happened. That is why it was necessary to break the fear barrier. When one of the sisters spoke out, they all followed suit.”

A person following Manal’s case said, “In a case like this, the security forces cannot know the truth unless someone tells them what happened. It is a problem in the culture and customs prevalent among many people. They don’t tell the truth about what happens with them under the pretext that it is a family or marital issue. Perhaps that is understandable in cases of normal marital disagreements or fights, but when a woman gets murdered and the silence continues, then we are facing a predicament of gargantuan proportions.”

Manal was buried yesterday in a huge funeral procession in Tariq al-Jdideh with palpitating public anger in the street. The husband is being pursued and investigating patrols are looking for him because “the judiciary is convinced that he is directly involved in killing his wife, regardless of whether there was an intention to kill or not. What is believed right now, based on investigations and statements, is that beating her violently with a metal object was the direct cause of death. However, the investigation has not been finalized yet. ... It will be determined by the end of the investigation.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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