Real Violence in a Virtual Space

Ahd Omar Zarzour

A human being, by nature, seeks safety, but when one is at one’s strongest position, his/her safety is dependent on scaring the “other,” whether this other is a foe or a peer that one needs to surpass or whose superiority is a source of anxiety.

In recent times, violence has proved its supremacy in expressing the human will and the wide cyberspace has reflected the repercussions of violence on the screens. The damages remain unrecorded, listed against persons unknown, and lost. Moreover, sometimes, the offense is committed with the consent of a wide audience who watches delightfully the e-crime.

Women in the Face of e-Violence

Social media sites have created a facile range for users’ places and times to converge. However, with all the positive opportunities that put the world in one room to converge and share experiences, there is, on the other side, a series of gaps in the discourses targeting many issues and symbolic references.  This has pitted women in particular in the face of violent electronic encounters.

We have witnessed repeated instances of a shift in women’s fight from their wide human existential battle to small battles concerning their personal experiences.  This has coincided with the first deliberate attempt to put pressure on women, which eventually turns into a collective siege.

Any anonymous perpetrator can simply stir a fabricated rumor or upload a personal photo of a woman activist to start attacking her via her “feminine” attributes, even if there is a small door that the public can open to debate about a certain issue, a certain negligence in a public task, or an ideological stance.  Thus, the discourse is distorted and boxed in to take on a facile form of attack and real societal marginalization and away from the more difficult rational reasoning.

The same thing is repeated with the personal choices of women who consider it a personal matter whether to observe a particular dress code, such as the Hijab, the Niquab (the face veil) or the fashion codes of a particular culture, or to be liberated from all such.  Even when the woman concerned refuses to discuss the issue, it is raised as a public concern for slander without making the offenders accountable to this violation of privacy.

Political differences on their own are not enough to reason against a woman and to shed light on the aspects of disagreement with her, rather the abuser resorts to prove his masculinity though a long boring list of imagined attributes that women must have.  Even some women who are not interested in public affairs stoop low to reinforce these narratives.

At the level of language used, the virtual debates have registered a large number of sexual swearwords with the first inkling of a difference.  This makes any debate deteriorate to a vulgar and closed off level that one cannot emerge from to see the light of reason.  A large stratum of society is guilty of this despite being well aware of this heinous thing.

Offences plunge, sometimes, to reach the level of real threats of killing or slandering, and in case of male activists, they may be threatened by taking their closest women relatives -mothers, sisters, wives, daughters- as hostages with a view to exiling them from their cause.  The passive and scared reaction of the victims, who refrain from holding the aggressor accountable or taking legal action against him/her, always results in bad consequences.  Despite the setting up of committees and bodies in some countries to investigate and track down those abusers, the pirates of discourse remain difficult to convict.

The Personality of Pirates of Discourse:

This personality is interested in putting forward a discourse which stirs up the concepts of patriarchal society or defiles its archaic beliefs that are associated with female honor.  It seeks to pit women against challenges to deeply-rooted mores and ideas that are reflected in the language of demagoguery directed against certain individuals to undermine the superiority of their existence or struggle.

 This personality formulates a structure for violence and paves the way for a populist marketing thereof on a misogynistic basis, such as that women are more driven by feelings than by reason, the low level of intelligence in women, their lack of common sense, their lack of equilibrium in judging things, and their unsuitability for politics or leadership. Alternately, it puts forward judgments and theological Fatwas against women’s dappling in public affairs, doubting their mental aptitude, and capacity for practicing moral virtues in the same way that men do, practicing religious rituals, their imperfect religion. Moreover, it states that the paradise and hell alike are full of women.  All of these classifications have filtered slowly via the influence of figures with philosophical weight behind them, such as the influence of Plato and Aristotle in the patriarchal ancient Greece, up to Schopenhauer, Weininger and Nietzsche passing by the Ottoman culture of the Sultan’s harem culminating in our modern Eastern culture with its baggage of deformity of a cultural mix combining  ossified ideas that break the minute one tries to set them straight with our  “Paradise Lost” scene that puts on Eve the onus of the whole human race’s eviction from the Gardens of Eden into the labors of life on earth.

A massive heritage that is not criticized or reviewed, and is still presenting a negative image of women that cannot be easily undone.  We need to restructure the symbolic image of the status of woman created and pirated throughout the ages by our Eastern society.  A woman has a right to express such status in her own uncontaminated way.

There is a hidden desire behind the push to use the virtual weapons following the manner of yellow journalism. This promotes the narrative of violent discourses that undercut the human cause of reverence for the life of a human being and the hard work in preserving this right for his/her life, choices, mind, and feelings to be respected.  Electronic crimes, like other crimes, are directed against all, but it touches women fundamentally by launching a series of fixed narratives that we, women, are trying to deconstruct in the first place.  This real violence, tangible and metaphorical at the same time, seriously and gravely requires strategies to prosecute pirates and protect the abused women from the collective behavior and from the individual criminal who lives in his imagined safe haven.