We are told that the inhabitants of Antioch used to be a irresponsible lot. They loved entertainment and did not take rules and standards too seriously. This resulted in a superficial tolerance between the various groups and denominations of the city. Whenever other issues such as economy, politics or even the teams on the race ground got involved, the shallow tolerance towards those different from your own group was easily replaced by violence.

People of modern Antakya are generally speaking as tolerant as those who were living here a couple of thousand years ago. And fortunately we do not have the riots that haunted the city in Byzantine times. People here are mostly easygoing and tolerant. The tendency of sudden outbursts of violence however can still be seen – but for other reasons than those of old.

Yesterday we met a young, pretty girl of nineteen yeas old. Across her forehead she had a big  wound stitched together with eight stitches. When we asked her what had happened she told us that she had been battered by her big brother. He had wanted her sunglasses and she would not give them to him. The result was anger and violence so serious that had the assault happened in another city or country the doctor who dressed the wound would have notified the police immediately.

One may wonder what the psychological mechanisms behind this aggressive behaviour may be. There are several explanations. One of them is a belief, also shared by many individuals outside Antakya, that problems can be solved by violence. An observer from another culture may  find it strange that anybody can have this approach, especially in a country still suffering under blood feuds. Violence breeds hate and hate breeds violence. Violence does not create respect, but disgust and the perpetrator appears pathetic.

Another phenomenon that should not be overlooked is the way many locals spoil their sons. It may be a hangover from times when the society here believed in feudalistic virtues: It was a shame society, not a guilt society. What mattered was not what you did, but your ability to defend you “honour”. The ideal was the “macho”, the male chauvinist.

When people in the West speak of male domination and the suppression of women in the Middle East they usually focus their indignation on the father, the head of the family. They forget that it is mostly not the father who raises his sons. He is at work during the day (here in Antakya he may even be working in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States only showing up once a year), and if he does not go to the coffeehouse in the evening or is out eating with his friends, he at least does not spend his evening on teaching ethics to his children. This is the mother’s job.

And the mother very often spoils her sons. This gives way to a mother fixation that is nearly unknown in the West. Sometimes she even gives her son the idea that he is Mister Marvellous, and at any rate better, handsomer and more intelligent than his sisters. Unfortunately they sometimes believe in this hoax as well. And when they don’t, he tries to defend his “honour” by resorting to violence.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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