How does Syrian society respond to gender-based violence?

Expressive imagery (Shutter stock)

Expressive imagery (Shutter stock)


 Enab Baladi-Sakina Mahdi

Motives to commit murder vary between people based on their age and environment. Psychological factors also contribute to homicidal aggression. Yet, the motivations for and reactions to gender-based crimes are particularly variable across different cultures, customs, and geographical regions. It is natural for people to sympathize with the victim; when they do not, this indicates that there may be a societal dysfunction. 

A young man killed his brother on 29 September. The Syrian regime’s Interior Ministry said that the young man was killed due to family disputes. The defendant threatened his sister-in-law and her children to kill them, forcing them to say that the victim died after falling from a ladder in Damascus countryside.

The story of this man’s tragic death quickly went viral on Facebook. Although most users expressed their dismay about the young man’s death, several Facebook users mocked the crime and the method of killing.

Dr.Hadeel Arraj commented that it is good that he does not have a bomb like the rest of the  Syrian people, while another user called Abu Samer Omar commented: “Where are the Kalashnikovs, bombs and bullets, I did not like the scenario.”

On 15 September, Hawar News Agency, an online Kurdish news service based in al-Hasakeh, reported that a girl named Dylan Abdul Rahman was shot right in her heart and killed by her brother, in the village of Sermisax Fawqani, in al-Hasakeh countryside. 

Dylan’s family had forced her to marry her cousin in early March. After a few days, she ran away from her husband’s house to her family’s, asking for a divorce and refusing to return to her husband’s house. Therefore, her brother killed her. 

After Dylan’s death story spread on social media sites, most users sympathized with the victim. However, some comments were sarcastic. 

Ismail al-Fazza commented on a Facebook page that published this piece of news, saying, “This happened because they [the girls] are adversely affected by watching Turkish series.” 

Mohammad al-kannas, another social media user, expressed his sympathy with the perpetrator. He said that, hopefully, Dylan’s brother would not be held in prison or get hurt.

Gender discrimination affects everyone

Psychiatrist Ismail al-Zallaq told Enab Baladi that feeling of guilt cannot be regarded as a standard in the Syrian society, mainly in gender-based crimes. Usually, the male, who commits gender-based violence, feels that this is a duty incumbent upon him by society. This is due to the fact men and women are treated differently by their families and by other societal institutions, such as exaggerating mistakes made by women while mitigating the men’s mistakes. Society blames women for their wrongdoings and even insults them. On the other hand, men’s mistakes are justified or ignored; men can make mistakes because they are seen as the protector of the family, and nobody has the right to disturb them. This is why deep down, the men feel that they have the right to hold any member of their family accountable when a mistake is made. Thus, the social role and social perception of males and females have a role in justifying such violent behavior and crimes.

Empathy based on the gender of the perpetrator can be noted; women show greater empathy for the female perpetrator while men show more sympathy for the male perpetrator. This is also due to the social role given to men; men believe that they have the right to use violence to protect their families. Thus, when a man commits a violent crime, those of his gender sympathize with him. And in case the woman is the perpetrator while the man is the victim, women show empathy for the female perpetrator and blame the male victim more. They say that women are not to blame when committing crimes against men because they must have long endured the injustices done by men; some men prevent women from exercising their fundamental rights. Thus, from the women’s perception, the behavior of female perpetrators can be justified. 

However, crimes and violent behavior cannot be justified based on gender; crimes are crimes. However, empathy for the perpetrator, whether male or female, is actually based on the social background, according to psychiatrist Ismail al-Zallaq.

Psychologist Muhammad Shakhees told Enab Baladi that people feel guilty when they realize that they have made a mistake. But, people who believe that committing murder is intelligent and strong may have personality disorders. And maybe they experience relatively little (if any)guilt. 

Social researcher Muhammad Salloum told Enab Baladi that in most violent crimes, people show more empathy for the male perpetrators because of the patriarchal mindset. They consider women to be consistently wrong even though women are more peaceful and vulnerable. This unjustified empathy arises from the social structure and moral codes rooted in patriarchal societies.

Effects of turning tragic crimes into comedy

Psychiatrist Ismail al-Zallaq believes that committing violent crimes cannot be funny because this makes crimes seem to be less serious. Moreover, people become more accepting of crimes and more than willing to commit them. Instead, people should percept crimes as aggression and injustice; crimes cannot be justifiable under any circumstances. Crimes can be discussed and explained but not justified. When a person makes fun of a crime, this reflects concealed criminal behavior.

It is noteworthy that violent movies and media can trigger violent criminal behaviors. Here comes the role of media institutions to discuss crimes and their impacts on society more clearly and professionally.

Researcher Salloum says that when people make fun of crimes and think they are funny, maybe because of the large number of crimes committed recently, people lose their sense of grief. The rate of empathy with victims was greater than when the news was only broadcast on TV. People used to sympathize more with female victims in the past, maybe because people have now far greater access to news via social media platforms. However, apparently, ethics must be reconstructed in the gender-discriminatory societies that spread in the entire world. 

Psychologist Muhammad Shakhees believes that mocking crimes is wrong. But, the long years of war have clearly affected how Syrians deal with crimes and violence. Plus, the idea of death and its occurrence in society has become very common. The violence has become alarmingly normalized in the Syrian reality, even though its tolerance is not logical.

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