When something like this happens in public in Amman, I think it highlights one of the main reasons why the so-called honour killing law has still not been changed. Family is turned on its head, and the reverence for family becomes a reverence for psychological and physical abuse.
Of course, the situation described is also very much gender-specific. I seriously doubt that a sister would get away with treating a younger, smaller brother like this. The violence of male relatives, however, is not an aberration, it’s viewed as something natural and right and, most importantly, it is supreme. “She’s my sister,” he says as he’s grabbing her, and we automatically think, “well, she must’ve done something to piss you off then, eh? None of my business anyway. Who knows what might happen to me if I get involved? Let sleeping dogs lie.”
The bystander effect only reinforces the given situation.
I wish I could tell you that the incident Luma has described is shocking to me, but it isn’t. After being in Jordan for more than a year, it feels oddly natural, the way a broken bone feels natural after a while, inasmuch as it’s still a part of your body. This is what happens in a society where women’s worth is tied to a completely arbitrary and convoluted idea of sexual purity, and men are meanwhile charged with upholding this idea of sexual purity at all costs. And don’t you dare interfere with their duties! These are all private matters! Look away, unless you want to get into trouble yourself. Don’t you dare question it! You just want to destroy the moral fabric of our society and turn all of our women into whores!
“She’s my sister” really means that “she is a thing.” The words are like a magic curse, turning a flesh-and-blood human being into a kind of rag doll you can publicly rip apart.
I don’t blame the male witnesses for upholding the brother’s “right” to publicly abuse his sister. It’s a survival tactic as much as anything. It feels better to look away and pretend as though the woman has earned such treatment. If you don’t look away, you might very well get into trouble. The brother’s right to harm his sister is practically sacred. After all, brothers are cast into the impossible and equally dehumanizing role of shepherding their sisters as if the latter are livestock.
I think that all of this warrants a closer look at to what being a part of a family actually means. Is in abusive family still a family? At what point do we say – “these are not the actions of a brother”?
Also a closer look at womanhood is needed. What defines a “good” woman? Is it her mind and her integrity, or is it her hymen? You can’t have it both ways.