I recently read an article online about a family in Ohio where a father shot his daughter twice in the head. The family claims in the article that the father is suffering from diabetes, but is not under medical care.
(Last time I checked, there is no link whatsoever between shooting your children and diabetes).
The family is Arab from the description and names in the article. Doing the work I do around gender violence in a predominantly Arab American and Muslim American community, the article stroke deep with me. Then I made the mistake of going to the comments section.
Well-meaning brothers and sisters are encouraging others to not make assumptions, but make duaa (prayers). That’s fine, make duaa for this slain sister and her family, but then talk about the issue and take action. We have to face an ugly truth in our communities; domestic violence does affect Arab and Muslim Americans.
Gender violence is a real thing in Arab American and Muslim American communities, and affects women and girls at a disproportionate rate like a lot of other places around the world. We cannot ignore or pretend this does not happen to us. By silencing the issue, it does not make it go away, but makes another headline.
The words honor-killing was thrown around a lot in the comments. Muslims and Arabs mostly defending this incident as nothing of the sort. Non-Muslims, mostly white, exclaiming the tragedy as nothing but the barbaric practice. This made me feel very conflicted as a Muslim Arab American.
On one hand, I felt compelled to defend my religion and culture against false stereotypes and refute any argument that could perpetuate Islamophobia. I know that violence does not have a place in Islam.
On the other, as a woman, I could not deny the social and cultures attitudes in an Arab community that can be harmful for girls especially when traditional gender roles are being challenged.
Then someone commented. An Arab guy actually, stated, “You never read about Arab fathers killing their sons like this.” We cannot deny that specific cultural norms marginalize our girls. That some of our traditional gender norms create gender disparities and inequities.
Our culture teaches us girls are held to completely set of standards than boys. Not always a bad thing, but we have to admit that when a girl does something deemed explicitly “haraam”(forbidden) in the eyes of the community, she faces very different consequences than a boy. She may face gossip, slut-shaming, mental abuse, be ostracized, and suffer physical abuse. This does happen, stop saying it doesn’t!
I do not know if this was the situation in this tragic incident. I am not assuming that this incident was a case of gender violence based on inequitable cultural norms. I do not know if the father suffered mental illness. I do know that this article can spark a conversation around gender disparities and domestic violence and move us to take action.
It’s important that cultural-specific communities call out their own so these issues can be tackled by the best suited strategies for their communities.