CAIRO: In Tahani Rashed’s award-winning “El Banat Dol (Those Girls), a documentary about street children, a teenage girl describes how she doesn’t fight back when men gang up and rape her, one after the other. By giving in to their assault, she explains, she avoids being locked up in a room to be raped repeatedly for weeks or even months and also avoids ‘getting marked’ with a mutilating scar on her face.
On the street, it’s all about ‘survival of the fittest’. The girl’s attitude helped get her through numerous rapes unmarked, and may seem to be the most reasonable decision she could have taken. She chose the lesser of two evils.
But this “reason is, in itself, an admission of her weakness, and an admission of her assailants’ rightful superiority over her. Such girls’ continuous sense of defeat has inadvertently strengthened their rapists, giving their beastly and criminal assault a sort of de facto legitimacy.
This haunting scene shocked me at first, but upon deeper pondering, I realized that this ‘rhetoric of reason’ is manifest in all our lives, whether we’re rich or poor, educated or illiterate.
Many of us leave our homes every day trying to be as invisible as possible, as ‘reasonable’ as possible. If we don’t get the service we paid for we rarely complain, be it at a restaurant or at a bakery queue. If a woman gets harassed on the street, we try to convince ourselves not to put an end to this because she probably provoked it. If a political activist is detained for protesting against crippling inflation, we look the other way and say they should have known better than meddling in the risky business of politics in the first place.
For years and years, we’ve found “reasonable excuses to justify our apathy, our sense of defeat.
Nothing made this clearer than the Gaza discussions I witnessed or took part in over the past two weeks. I was surprised to hear this sentence over and over again: “Hamas brought it upon itself by breaching the truce through firing these ineffective rockets.
Not only is it laden with misinformation – even Western commentators and negotiators have repeatedly pointed out the fact that Israel had breached the ceasefire in November, twice; not to mention that the blockade (a type of collective punishment outlawed by the Geneva Conventions) is an act of war, a war crime; and that Israel was going to attack Gaza regardless of the nature of the “provocation so its current top ministers could win the February elections – but this view is an unfortunate reminder of “El Banat Dol’s teenager, carrying the sense of eternal defeat and a sorry attempt to justify inaction.
Many seem to have forgotten that Israel is still an occupying power and Palestinians, like many nations throughout history, are entitled to their right to resist this occupation. Many seem to deny Palestinians their right to fight back, hang on to their land and history, or even make any sort of public statements that could remotely challenge Israel’s power; basically cease to exist.
What we need to realize now is that this rhetoric of defeat (or reason) can only lead to the same results the women featured in “El Banat Dol are all too familiar with: the de facto legitimization of unlawful assault, and a loss of dignity.
Since those who have advocated “reason throughout these debates aren’t exactly an authority on wisdom and the ability to make informed decisions, the only explanation I found for these sudden bouts of “reason, is that they are a manifestation of our generation’s total loss of resilience. Sometimes it feels like the gene of dignity, of resilience, has skipped a generation or was forced to remain recessive by forces of political and social decay.
Our local history and human history in general is filled with stories of people who refused to remain content with the status quo and defied powers that surpass their own, acting against the wise advice of their “reasonable critics. Without them – their resolve to do the right thing and act on their intuitive sense of dignity – the world would have been a very different place.
Young Egyptians need to be reminded that had our leaders in the 60s and 70s not decided to fight back to reclaim our occupied land, challenging one of the most powerful armies in the world, Sinai’s famous tourist attractions wouldn’t have been the same havens they are now; not for us anyway.
What if Sadat had decided to be “reasonable, taking the safe way out before imposing the terms of a lasting peace he was only able to gain through asserting Egypt’s power? What if he opted for the lesser of two evils to go through life “unmarked just to avoid being shunned by the rest of the Arab countries for having the moral strength to seek peace with Israel?
What if Ghandi never challenged the British occupiers? What if Oskar Schindler had no list to save the lives of so many Jews from the brutal persecution of the Nazis? What if Rosa Parks had stayed at the back of bus? What would have been the fate of the American civil rights movement?
I hate to even try to find answers to such questions.
The number of Egyptian, Arab and foreign doctors trying to cross the border to help their counterparts in Gaza and the activists continuously trying to reach the border with their truckloads of supplies, despite the numerous checkpoints, security intimidation and safety considerations are all refreshing reminders that I don’t have to find answers to such questions. Those people’s resolve to do the right thing is a consolation. It’s proof that the dignity gene hasn’t skipped a generation, that the sense of defeat isn’t the norm.
And just to clarify, I’m not asking anyone to go to war; just don’t deny other people’s right to exist, resist occupation, and hold on to their land.
Don’t blame a rape victim for scratching her assailant’s face.
Sarah El Sirgany is the deputy editor of Daily News Egypt.