Two recent tragic incidents shook the Arab world to its core. First, a young woman in Egypt, Nayiera Ashraf, was stabbed multiple times in front of her university in Mansoura. Her murderer was a young man who proposed to her and couldn’t handle her rejection.
A second incident followed of another young woman Eman Ersheed, in Jordan. Eman was shot inside her university campus by a man experiencing unreciprocated love.
A slew of commentary has been haemorrhaging, especially from Western news outlets written primarily by Arabs living abroad. They lamented not merely the tragic death of these young women but the sorry state of women in an oppressive region. Being told that those incidents manifest how little women are worth in the Arab world is silly.
That both Nayiera and Eman aren’t anomalies but victims of their patriarchal societies is tragic. Two young men didn’t brutally murder Nayiera and Eman. Instead, it was the apathy of their respective communities that murdered them.
A plausible narrative holds all the elements that can appeal to a western audience. There’s the oppression of women in our less civilized societies.
There are the beautiful young women who were scapegoats placed on the altar of a prevailing patriarchal system. And there are the Incels, the males that believe and object to being unattractive to women.
These creepy young men lurk in the shadows of virtuality, waiting to pounce on their objects of desire because they harbor an innate need to harm women. A narrative appropriates all the particularities of what happened and weaves it into a coherent story that attracts western ears.
Yet one can only wonder about the impact of such commentaries fueled with anger towards “less civilized” societies. The first problem from this account is that the victims are glossed over in a hurried rush to fit into the larger schemes of things. Their horrendous murders become symbolic. It is as if it erased their identities. Their individuality vanished, and their deaths became a vehicle to tell the world how inferior Arabs are.
The second problem is that the language used to describe the crimes is from a different culture that writers impose upon our reality regardless of the context. The word Incels stands for involuntary celibates. The term refers to groups of young men who are present online and express abhorrent views regarding women they believe are the cause of their celibacy.
The word assumes a society where premarital sexual relations are allowed and accepted. In Egypt and Jordan, premarital sexual relations are frowned upon. Incels are angry because they are frustrated. Not to mention that the men who perpetrated the crimes weren’t probably part of an online hate group or were motivated by a general hatred for women.
Some might accuse me of providing apologetics to heinous crimes against innocent women. Quite the contrary, I would say. We should not reduce Nayiera and Eman’s deaths to another time of women murdered in the Arab world. Their death demands an investigation that reveals the true causes that led two empowered young women to their tragic end. Perhaps we should search for the reasons beyond the blanket statements and overarching narrative condemning the region.
Nayiera and Eman both said “no” to men. They were empowered by their families and by their education to say no. The men, however, were unable and unwilling to accept their rejection. Maybe the problem doesn’t reside in a society that doesn’t value women but in the discrepancy of messages communicated to women and men.
The issue at the heart of these tragedies is the lack of education. Various initiatives have targeted girls and their families to ingrain the idea that women can choose to be anything they want. Girls have agency over their bodies and their future.
Nevertheless, there is minimal effort to inform boys that they aren’t naturally entitled to whatever they desire. Instilling aspirations in boys is lacking, while girls aim for the sky. Antiquated beliefs then fill this vacuum about male entitlement reinforced with poor parenting that convinces the boy that he is the center of the universe.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have no reason to doubt the positive purpose of the commentaries written. However, writers of all people should be mindful that imposing alien notions on realities might muddle the public view rather than inform it.