Arab culture suffers from a love blind spot

Like Arab intellectuals and writers, the average Arab person has yet to get over the macho mentality inherited from ancient times of Arab chivalry and equestrian prowess.
Saturday 17/08/2019
A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock mosque in the centre, on December 6, 2017. (AFP)
A picture taken from the Mount of Olives shows the Old City of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock mosque in the centre, on December 6, 2017. (AFP)

There is high degree of collective and individual tolerance of hate in speech, writing or physical acts in Arab and Maghrebi societies. Such behaviour seems to embarrass and bother no one at the level of individuals or in society.

Worse, religious or cultural pretexts are often found for this type of behaviour. Thus, the family unit, the street, educators, intellectuals, ignorant people and politicians all manufacture and disseminate a culture of hate.

However, as soon as an individual betrays adherence to the culture of hate, either through behaviour or discourse, he or she immediately sticks out from the herd, causing tribal elders, family members, street crowds, intellectuals, imams, educators and others to go on a state of high alert. Condemnations come from everywhere at any display of love.

The Arab and Maghrebi mindset tends to be shaped through lopsided school syllabi, mosque sermons and antiquated means of socialisation.

This pathological condition is not restricted to citizens but affects society’s cultural elite. Rarely do we hear of a university or research centre having a seminar on love or sex or on the human body as a social construct. These topics are taboo and are fiercely fought by the many brigades of the culture of hate in society.

Elites who are supposed to nurture new generations with the dream of coexistence, citizenship and the values ​​of tolerant pluralism, instead promote a culture of hate and condone discrimination and violence against women.

It is from this perspective that a stereotypical image and restrictive portrayal of women has emerged.

In literary works, women are often reduced to being mothers. Most Arab novels are written in praise of mothers or in mourning of mothers or in longing for mothers to the point that it can be easily established that Arab and Maghrebi male writers and intellectuals suffer from some form of an Oedipus complex. This hides the repression practised by society over any sound relationship between men and women.

It is as if the writer is so self-repressed that he must filter any thought about women through the lens of the “mother” before he dares write about love and passion. The idealised and purified image of the mother ignores that of the mother as a woman.

The character of women consumed by love is nearly absent from our novels and poems. When such a character appears, it is usually condemned as we can find in “Al-Khubz al-Hafi” (“Barefoot Bread”) by Muhammad Shukri or in “At-Tatleeq” (“Repudiation”) by Rachid Boudjedra or “Hadiqat al-Hawas” (“The Garden of the Senses”) by Abdo Wazen.

It is as if our literature is blind to whatever material things, such as the human body, architecture or even colours, surround the writer. This is the result of pressure exerted on writers by the so-called culture of decency, based on the religious notion of “lowering one’s gaze” and by the culture of moral hypocrisy that permeates society.

Because of those considerations, Arab and Maghrebi literature in general relies on the values ​​of “hearing” rather than “seeing.” This is why we find texts filled with the “groans” of nostalgia and suffering, a tradition that is more akin to the domains of music and folk narratives that prefer to rely on indirect statements rather than on telling it as it is. Thus, the intimate sexual act between husband and wife is usually carried out under the veil of darkness.

Like Arab intellectuals and writers, the average Arab person has yet to get over the macho mentality inherited from ancient times of Arab chivalry and equestrian prowess. He firmly believes that taking and giving pleasure are purely male prerogatives.

Intellectuals in the Arab world cannot get away from the logic and vision of religious enforcers. They dress women as the religious prism dictates and look for love in their mothers’ images and for lust and pleasure in the bodies of girls they want to enslave on the streets.

In this state of schizophrenia, Arab and Maghrebi literature is limited to two basic viewpoints: The purely male chauvinistic “chivalrous” vision that is out of touch with time and reality and the “Oedipal” vision immersed in moral and political hypocrisy, a vision that has nothing to do with the aesthetics of “love” and is instead totally hostile to it.

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