Middle East Quarterly
`Iyad as-Siraj: "We teach our children to express anger with muscle"
Members of the Palestinian Authority (PA)'s security forces, including Chairman Arafat's personal guard, have assaulted, and in certain cases shot, high-ranking officials, including ministers and legislators, sometimes under order from other high-ranking officials. Many in the PA and throughout the Arab world criticized this phenomenon and called for rule of law in the PA. In a particularly bold statement, Dr. `Iyad as-Siraj, a psychiatrist and political activist in Gaza, urged Palestinians to examine their value system in which violence pervades every sector of society. Published originally in the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-‘Arabi on April 24, 2000, it was reprinted, with minor changes, two days later by the Arab Media Internet Network, an independent website that serves as an electronic podium for Palestinian intellectuals located at www.amin.org. The text was translated into English by Aluma Skolnik of the Middle East Media and Research Institute.
What brings a high-ranking official to beat his superior or even his minister to overrule a decision? Why does a student throw stones at his professors, or at students from another university? How can we explain an assault against a member of the Legislative Council? How can the murder of an oppressed woman be explained? And what about the popularity—[only] sometimes—of the death penalty? And, what is the common denominator between all these and the torture in the [PA] prisons?
These questions are not a request for information or an IQ test. Rather, they revolve around issues that concern us from time to time when we hear a news item about this or that story. We "hear" because the press serves as [only] a limited source for such news, while the TV and radio are enthralled by the repetition of slogans about the rejection of our defeat and the defense of peace by threats to declare a state! The number-one source for news remains private conversations between people, where, until everyone returns to their business, astonishment and amazement absorb some time.
Searching for the reason, I do not ignore the depth of rage that was inflicted on our lives because of the [Israeli] occupation; but I do not want to hang everything on this peg, [a complaint] that is like a broken record in which Zionism, or the great imperialism, or even petty bourgeoisie, are blamed [for everything]. I want to be clear: one of the main reasons is within us, the result of the education in our homes. Aren't you, my dear reader, one of those fathers who are filled with happiness when your beloved two year old child pronounces the expression "... [damn] your father?!" Don't you dance with joy when he proves his virility by beating another child? Moreover, aren't you always encouraging him by saying "beat this guy, man. . . ."; or maybe you even act the role for him so he can follow your footsteps—for after all you are the supreme example for him – saying "watch how I beat this guy."
[Don't you] go berserk when you learn that your well-bred son was beaten by another kid at school and you would go there and grab the villain by the throat if you could, and teach your son how not to be a sheep amongst the wolves?!
In case you are not one of these, my dear reader, then you belong to the minority. Therefore, don't be surprised if you hear that a greengrocer pulled out a knife and stabbed one of his clients just because he dared to doubt the sweetness of a watermelon.
Don't be surprised, my dear, if you see a student beating up his professor, an official beating up his minister, a soldier beating up his parliament member, a teenager beating his mother or killing his sister, or university students fighting with stones and clubs.
We teach our children that it is permitted to express anger with muscle; we even encourage them to do so in the belief that it is part of the meaning of courage and honor. By doing so, we forget the best part of our Arab heritage and Islamic religion, as well as all that is in Christianity: forgiveness, self-control, overcoming feelings of rage, patience, restraint, and using the mind. Don't be surprised that we shoot our guns and pistols at our festivities and we don't even learn when there are casualties - as if the gun has become a symbol of virility in the eyes of those who mislead themselves, those who also believe a mustache is the symbol of virility.
Unfortunately, some of what the PA does doubly damages the rule of the law. On the one hand, the PA tries to use the familial and tribal arrangements in various ways that neutralize the law, spread an atmosphere of nepotism, and encourage some to gain strength using the Authority itself, a political party, or the tribe. On the other hand, sending defendants in different cases to military courts [in the PA] undermines the independence and authority of the civilian judicial system. We must ask ourselves how we can establish a state ruled by the law when some of us were taught and encouraged to use beatings in order to take what they are entitled to, or what they delude themselves that they are entitled to.