Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Violence and Religio-Social Background

I wanted to do a follow up post for a conversation some of us had over lunch last Sunday at CRBC.  We got started talking about the Israel-Gaza conflict, including the breakdown of the cease-fire, apparently from the Hamas side (see this take and this one).

I mentioned to the folk at my table that this brought to mind a passage from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir Nomad (Free Press, 2010), which I am reading as a follow up to her first memoir Infidel (Free Press, 2007) in which she describes the typical attitudes towards and experiences with violence among Somali Muslims.  At one point she gives an anecdote from when she was working as an interpreter for the Dutch government and was called in to help a Dutch teacher meet with the parents of a Somali boy who had attacked his Dutch classmate.  The account leads to this reflection on her own experiences:

To the Dutch teacher I explained that, in Somalia, strong clans teach their children, both boys and girls, the merits of physical aggression:  how to be the first to deal a blow; how to respond if you are surprised with a blow; the art of deception in aggression; how to pretend you are down and then strike; how to pretend to apologize and then regroup, change your tactics, and hit back.  My older cousin used to take me to “fighting practice” after school when I was about five or six.  I was encouraged to pick a fight with a classmate, who was encouraged to pick a fight with me.  We poked out our tongues at each other, made faces at each other, and called each other names, “You are a low, accursed, shameful, dishonorable, kinteerley.”  Then, surrounded by cheering older relatives, we went at each other.  We kicked, scratched, bit one another, wrestled until we were covered in bruises, our little dresses torn, our knee caps scraped from all the falling.  You were defeated if you gave up first or if you cried or ran away.  In all three cases you would undergo a severe verbal and physical beating from your fighting coach.  In my case my coach was my older cousin, the only daughter of my mother’s twin sister (p. 188).

Her comments bring a new understanding to the apparent Hamas action.  It also made me think of the video that went viral a few weeks ago showing a Lebanese boy mercilessly hitting a Syrian refugee boy, at the urging of older children and adults [warning:  some will find this unsettling]:

To me this opened a window on cultural differences and how these should not be looked at in a value neutral way.  It also brought to mind the wide ranging impact and influence of the one who taught "love your enemies," "turn the other cheek," and "do unto others, as you would have them do to you."   

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