Secondly, I’m excited to see signs of desire for democratic secular governments in several North African and Near Eastern countries, as evidenced by the Arab Spring uprisings. I believe that all these matters need to find their ultimate resolution from within the populations of those countries. It is not the business of the United States to police the world.
Further, I am of a generation that never knew the term “domestic violence.” Some were aware of homes where violent behavior ruled, of battered women and children. But we had no term for it and we tried to ignore it. I know I was told by adult authorities at the time, including two Philadelphia Police patrolmen friends of my dad, that a whatever went on within a family was private, their business alone. Besides, the man ruled the roost in those days. Few women held title to any property in their own names, nor was credit extended to women, in particular not to married women.
When I was 11 years old, I was staying with my older brother, his wife and their new daughter, ostensibly to help with baby care. While I was there, a horrendous uproar occurred in the bedroom. I heard things being thrown around. I heard my brother in a rage. I heard my sister-in-law screaming with each blow she got. I was a child. I had never experienced anything like this. I was afraid. I felt I should do something, at the very least tell my parents when I got back home. But as soon as she recovered enough, my sister-in-law gave me a lecture in the strongest terms that I should never ever tell anyone about what I’d witnessed. She made me promise. As I said, I was young, unfamiliar with such conduct, and afraid. So I never told anyone. This was in 1954.
Not surprisingly, my sister-in-law, by this time pregnant with her second daughter, divorced my battering brother and cut all ties with his family (but for my one maiden Aunt Mary). I don’t blame her a bit, although I regret having had no relationship with my two nieces.
My brother, who was also alcoholic, went on to pair, and even sire children, with a number of women, all of whom he beat and all of whom left him. Years later in another state on the opposite coast I stayed with his then-family for some months while I was pregnant with my first child (out of wedlock, as they say). This was a full house with three adults and four children, one of whom was my nephew. I witnessed similar drunken tirades, also behind a closed bedroom door and falling upon my then-sister-in-law.
He had never directed his violence towards me. My younger sister tells me that she witnessed at least one attack on our mother, but I’m sure it couldn’t have gotten too extended or I’m sure my sister would have called someone for help. This incident occurred after I no longer lived in my parents’ home.
In the late 1960s and early ‘70s I found Second Wave Feminism. With that came a more nuanced political awareness and analysis of domestic/spousal abuse.
Fast forward to the ‘70s, another incident that illustrates my, and society’s, changing consciousness about domestic abuse took place when I was driving down Sansome Street in San Francisco late one night. This is in the financial district, an area with little foot traffic or street activity at night. I saw a man punching a woman. The woman was attempting to defend herself by dodging his fists. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to interfere. I slowed down and yelled out the car window for him to leave her alone. His response: “It’s okay; she’s my girlfriend.” Huh? So that makes it okay to beat her? Then I offered her a ride, just to get her somewhere away from him, but she declined my offer. Maybe she was one of those women who try to rationalize that she either had it coming or that her man was entitled to dominate her.
Also in the ‘70s a newspaper reports about a man who splashed acid on his wife’s face so her disfigurement would prevent her from straying, so other men presumably would not find her attractive.
Helpguide.org states: “Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied.” Now I hold the position that domestic violence is everybody’s business.
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Having given the reader those positions, I now explain the reasons for my conflicted feelings around any potential involvement in Syria.
Like most who view videos of horrendous chemical attacks on innocent civilians in Syria, I am appalled. Disgusted. Outraged. I weep. What I keep seeing – and I do believe that as difficult as they are to watch, we should be seeing what’s being done – is what I saw in those early days of my growing awareness of the pervasiveness and malevolence of domestic abuse.
I am convinced that chemical attacks in Syria originated with the Assad regime and that the victims have all been in rebel, or at least unstable, uncommitted, neighborhoods. But regardless of who attacked whom, it is innocents, many women and children, who suffer.
I see this as being domestic abuse on a national scale. We never interfered in cases of family dysfunction and battering until we recognized and understood the phenomena of spousal and child abuse. Expanding that to a nation with discrete national borders, the family of Syria is suffering battery by their “fathers,” the ruling regime. These attacks do not seem all that different to me from that of the man who threw acid on his wife’s face.
What I learned about domestic abuse in the ‘70s was that it is everyone’s business. How that extends on an international scale I don’t know. I don’t have a resolution. I’ve expressed my serious reservations about the U.S. making any kind of strike within the borders of a sovereign nation. And on a personal, familial scale, I now do not hesitate to intervene when I witness battery. We have police and courts and social workers who have been trained to recognize and act in such cases. We have battered women’s shelters.
But where is the shelter for the battered Syrians? There’s a growing refugee population with no place to call home, but who have managed to escape the immediate rain of blows, the bio-chemical attacks.
Where are the trained police to bring calm and restore equanimity to a nation? Should there even be such agency? Is Syria a signatory to the United Nations’ 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women? Did the United States sign? I suspect so, though I can find no list of signatories. Here’s Unicef’s 2000 report on Domestic Violence against Women and Girls.
The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, General Assembly Resolution, December 1993, reads:
“Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women...”
If one can see a nation as a large family grouping, then Syria is a nation in the throes of horrendous domestic violence. Where is the U.N. when we need it? Surely the United States isn’t the only country that views recent violence against an innocent civilian populace as being unacceptable conduct in a civilized society.
I wish I could proffer a solution, but sadly I cannot. I write this with the hope that others may see this parallel and perhaps be able to draw upon that understanding in crafting a solution.
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|© Stéphane Beaulieu, used by permission|
Now I speak as a Pagan who worships many of the old gods of our many peoples. My inclination in times of crisis is to look around to see what divine entities protect the peoples of a given region. The goddess called Atargatis is known as “the Syrian goddess.” Goddess scholar Johanna Stuckey writes in MatriFocus,“[a] life-giving divinity associated with rivers and springs, motherly protector of humans and animals. Atargatis often served as tutelary or protector deity of urban centers — the providence or luck of the place.”
If she has receded from the minds of the peoples of her place, then perhaps it is time for us to reawaken her. We can call her, give prayers and offerings, and elicit her maternal rage at the way her children are being treated. Of course, most if not all of the victims in Syria are Muslims, but regardless, mothers do not usually allow their children to be mistreated and killed.
“Holy Atargatis, motherly protector of humans and animals, protector of Damascus, Aleppo and all of Syria, protect your children in their hour of great need!
 Technically, half-brother by our father.
 Frequent readers of my writings may tire of hearing of SWF all the time, but I can tell you that it turned my life around. Not that I was an abused spouse; I was not. But in so many ways, including a greater sensitivity to class and ethnic disparities – not race discrimination since there is only one race, the human race – and learning to work by consensus process.
 Yes, I know that not all abusers are men.