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  Guns & Roses — 6  

Sex & Violence
  Vol II : issue 1

  Amrita Pritam
  Mrinal Pande
  Evelyne Accad
  Gagan Gill
  Selina Hossain
  Only in Print

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Evelyne Accad

On the other hand Marie Rose, in Sitt Marie Rose, also joins the men’s world by engaging herself in worthy causes: helping the oppressed and standing up for justice. She has rejected the patriarchal society and a traditional marriage. She wants to be free and remain outside the power games and the violence ripping her country apart. The result of her attempts is also death and victimisation. She dies at the hand of her executioners, a gang of chabab* who cannot stand a strong woman, one who has espoused the cause of the downtrodden and who questions their authority and values.

Nevertheless, Marie Rose’s victimisation and death are not negative like Zahra’s. She has stood up for her beliefs in love and non-violence. She has defied the chabab gang’s perversion and inhumanity. Her victimisation is a Christ-like one of atonement. She becomes the scapegoat who might, in the long run, help end violence through a process described at great length by René Girard in his book Violence and the Sacred. According to Girard, the sacrifice allows the community to get together again, cast off its antagonism, its anger and animosity and reconcile itself, through the death of its victim. “Sacrifice prevents the germs of violence from developing. It helps men to keep vengeance in line.”

Therefore, while Zahra’s death may engender more violence and revenge, Marie Rose’s could help get rid of them, if only the society for which she dies was willing to seek spiritual values rather than physical, consumer ones. In Marie Rose’s death, there is an element of active struggle. She does not die as a victim, but having forgiven her executioners, she talks back at them and tries to show them their corruption, perversion and inhumanity. It is a strategy of struggle against injustice, giving the oppressed a recognition of their rights.

The four main women characters in House without Roots, Kalya, Sybil, Myriam and Ammal, all stand up for values that could deter war: rejecting the patriarchal system, refusing a traditional family set-up, believing in education and trying to change the world’s values by starting a peace march at the place of confrontation, the demarcation line. Such values and actions are truly visionary and constitute the liberating forces that might bring about the lasting changes so necessary to solve the world’s and individual problems, if only they were followed by other members of society.

The novels on war written by men show a certain exaltation of war not found in the ones by women. For example, Halim Barakat in Days of Dust describes it as a necessary evil, unavoidable in the historical context of imperialism and oppression. In The Small Mountain, Elias Khoury expresses a certain fascination, even a jouissance with it and its consequences: death and destruction. Tawfiq Awwad in Death in Beirut shows the direct link between it and the treatment of women, violence being closely connected with society’s problems. In such context, revenge becomes the only outlet. For all three authors, war is here to stay. It is part of one’s fate. Whether one enjoys it or feels repulsed by it, it is an unavoidable part of destiny.

We don’t find, as in women’s writings, choices and actions aimed at changing this aspect of existence. In male writings, it is war that changes existence and not the other way around. The three novels show the ugliness of war, the physical and mental destruction it causes, yet a fascination with it, the notion that it can bring about necessary changes — historical, social, economical, sexual, etc. Going to war is exalted, especially when it is done for the ‘right’ cause, which in all three novels is the Palestinian one. At the same time, war must be exorcised, especially when the characters fall victims to it. But the victims of war are not any of the central characters like we found in the women’s novels. They die on the battlefield, far away from the daily realities, heroes of the causes they were fighting for. Their death is not a concrete horror, or victimisation, like we found in the novels by women. It serves to feed the imagination of the fighters and those civilians dreaming of fighting, and reinforces the notion that it is all part of the game.

Exorcism is only an exercise within the overall strategy. It is not grounded in positive actions which could bring about concrete changes.

In the war novels written by men, we notice that war reveals man’s nature, one of whose components is masculinity. Some of masculinity’s problems are aggression and violence, which are directly linked with political and personal exploitation of nature and women. Exploitation takes on various forms, from over-using and misusing the world’s resources, to oppressing other races, sexes or ages, to invading and/or dominating other countries or continents, to running the arms race, etc. The consequences of such values are death, destruction, and more violence and death. It is a vicious circle which keeps repeating itself, as if human beings were incapable of breaking the chain: war creating masculinity and masculinity creating war. Only a different vision of the world could break it! Only different values could bring back harmony and a future of life and hope, instead of wars and the nuclear holocaust.

In all three novels, we see war as one of the major components of man/woman’s destiny. It has a life of its own, which shapes the characters’ lives and choices. None of them questions the existence of this force and how it could be got rid of, except through a repetition of war and violence — as with the Palestinians fighting Israel. We even see a fascination with it, and the notion that it is cathartic and could bring salvation and/or solutions to man/woman’s dilemmas — as with the narrator in The Small Mountain or Tamima in Death in Beirut.

We don’t find any of the major male characters directly suffering from the war, as we found the major female ones in the women’s novels. Interestingly, the male writers also portray their female characters as the ones hurt most grievously by war, therefore concurring with the women writers. We do find, in Days of Dust, the major male character deeply hurt in his pride, and in a constant state of depression because of the defeat of the Arabs in the war. But it is not a physical or mental wound like Zahra’s in The Story of Zahra or Marie Rose’s in Sitt Marie Rose, who both die because of direct mental and physical violence inflicted on them. While in The Small Mountain, the major male character seems to rather enjoy the excitement the war brings, even if he is frightened at times; it releases some of his tensions and solves the conflicts of daily living, boredom and frustrations.

We do find some of the minor male characters dying from the war, like some of the guerrillas in Death in Beirut, or napalm victims in Days of Dust, or some of the comrades like Jaber in The Small Mountain, but their death is not questioned as something evil, the direct result of man’s violence which must be dealt with as such. They appear more as heroes, or victims of Imperialism or Zionism, or destined to return to the womb.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3  p. 4 p. 5 p. 6  p. 7  

Evelyne Accad is a novelist, folk song writer and Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois. She divides her time between Paris and Urbana-Champaign