Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A 19 year old, and her lesson

Several days ago a pregnant 19 year-old was kidnapped by her parents. They planned to take their daughter to an abortion clinic, where they would do the obvious to the fetus - whose father was locked up in some prison.

To cut the story short, the lady eventually escaped from her parents and called 911. Policemen eventually arrived at the scene and arrested the couple, who now face the prospect of spending up to 15 years behind bars (a somewhat ironic outcome, if you ask me).

I look at this story, and my immediate reaction is a conflicted one. On the one hand, I ask: how could any son or daughter take actions that could lead to his or her parents’ imprisonment. On the other, I ask how the parents could have taken actions that would push their daughter to take such extreme measures.

I wonder what kind of reactions such a fiasco would garner in Lebanon. Actually I know the reactions: They would range from, “why didn’t the parents kill the girl when she eloped in the first place?” to “the girl should have listened to her parents and not resisted because they know what’s best for her.”

What intrigues me most though is the actual arrest of the parents – and what such an action symbolizes. Here, we have one coercive force in society (the police) thwarting the will of another coercive force (the parents, and by extension, the institution of the family). By listening to the daughter, the police ultimately took her side and protected her from her parents (who we should not forget, believed that they were doing what was best for her).

All other considerations aside, this case is one where the individual trumped the collective – where the traditional notion of “parents knowing better” or “deferral to the elderly” succumbed to the modern notions of (and accompanying) individualism.

Lebanese who so desperately wish to break free from the bonds of sectarianism need to keep this story in mind. Too many of these individuals tackle sectarianism as intellectuals, and deal with merely the abstractions of the matter. Ultimately, although such efforts are noble and based on good intensions, tackling “the problem” of sectarianism can be boiled down to simply breaking the will of parents on the most intimate of issues – and doing so confidently. Of course, it would also be nice to have the backing of a coercive element whenever the need for one arises - as it did in the case I wrote about above.


turtlecurls said...

To follow the analogy...

In a better functioning family (nation), communication would have replaced both types of coersion as a way for the girl to gain individual rights. With the communication containing repeated respect for & acknowledgement of each person's (sectarian) position. At least in the families that communicate and don't have pure screaming matches. An assumption would be that only non-violent actions are available.

If the culture has an emphasis on respect for parental positions, it helps build an idea of how some sectarian groups are able to built dedication to ideas that are ultimately harmful to the group (since they lead to conflict) and are also self-harmful to the individuals. When individual rights are asserted there's more impedus to preserve oneself and so to step outside the group and talk back when it seems harmful -- which in turn is an assertion of individual rights.

If I think about it, a jewish response would be that the parents were to safeguard the child & love her forever. So first they whould feel guilt & try to figure out where they failed her in raising they're daughter. Then yell at her & eventually talk with her about what they thought was her best interests. Then she would feel guilty about letting them down & not wanting to take their advice. Then some concenssus would be made that would keep the family in tact (most hopefully) & all would move forward. By then a lot of time has passed & everyone is hungry so someone would make a lot of food & they would eat even if they weren't talking to each other yet. I don't know how that plays into anything anything else said, but it shows the challenges in understanding the cultural differences between groups.


Hoodlum said...

The girl took this extreme action because her parents went insane. When old people lose their minds, we toss them in jail/insane asylums/nursing homes as necessary.

Deferral to the eldery only works with sane, educated people.

Raja said...

In most cultures around the world, hoodlum, what the parents did could be justifiable (or rather, understandable, and definitely not worth any prison time).

R said...

I think your conclusion hits the nail right on the head, raja. It saddens me when I see so many of my friends doing things they don't want to do or limit themselves in ways that insults their potential simply because they can't resist their parents' will.
Our young educated generation should learn to break free, and do what it thinks is best for itself, regardless of what parents think, and sometimes inspite of them for any change in our society to occur.
Otherwise, we become them, and their history as a community becomes our present... too much baggage

FreeCyprus said...

are we headed for war with Iran?

US Forces In Iran?

Lirun said...

would you think differently if they forcing her to conduct femal circumcission on her daughter and she refused and they kidnapped their granddaughter?


Bad Vilbel said...

To be honest, I don't see that you have an argument here Raja.

If the girl was underage, then fine, the parents have some grounds. But she's 19. A full adult under US law. No one can force her to do anything. It doesn't matter if it was her parents or some random guy of the street, it's still a kidnapping.

Do you figure parents still have the right to coerce a 35 year old daughter to do something she doesn't want to do, for example?

PS: I realize this seems completly different when viewed from a Lebanese perspective where we tend to do things differently, but still.

Chas said...

Hey Raja,
a very insightful post.
The point here is breaking the generational transfer of sectarian values and attitudes.
Not easy in a "conservative" society. You can't always put your parents prison when you want to but you can break out of the prison of their closed minds.

Peace, Chas

Raja said...


you're right... she is 19, but in our society, age doesn't really matter (as you point out in your post script)

chas, you're right about my point. This article is very insightfull becuase it highlights the coercive nature of the institution of the family, and how, if individualism is to survive, another coercive institution that protects the rights of individuals is needed.

Bad Vilbel said...


Excellent summary in your last comment:
"if individualism is to survive, another coercive institution that protects the rights of individuals is needed."

That institution you refer to is basically "the state". That is a notion that we, in the middle east, do not really "get". A change in mentality is gonna be needed here, not only to take the next evolutionary step out of sectarianism (which is very much a form of familial coercion, only taken a step further) but to simply get to a point where we respect the state institutions, its laws, and so on.

In my opinion, there is a very tight correlation between the middle eastern lessez-faire, our disregard for law and state, and this notion of the family "coersion" you are discussing here.

Chas said...

Raja and Bad,
you guys are onto a very important debate.
I can't speak for Lebanon, but in Ireland, say 50 years ago, the power of the state basically acted to reinforce the patriarchy under the guise of "rule of law" and wearing the cloak of democracy.
But times have changed there as in many other places.
If that is the situation in Leb, I would caution you that the patriarchy does not readily yield up its powers. The best routes of attack are to promote feminism and human rights over traditional power bases. The main weakness of the patriarchy is that it assumes it has power as of right and is slow to respond to change. Complacency in other words. Also seek out enlightened patriarchs who regognise the need for change.
Peace, Chas

Blacksmith Jade said...

The girl in question was 19, and therefore was an adult outside the legal care and bounds of her parents. In this case the parents took physical action against her will and so the police were right in arresting them.

As for the girl's actions, obviously she felt that her parents were trying to kill her child and so she felt obliged protect it.

For my part, I'm pro-abortion if it is not forced upon the mother - and within the first trimester except in extreme cases. In Lebanon, abortions are somewhat common amongst the elements of the population that can afford it. However, abortion itself is illegal, along with any extra-marital sexual relations, so legally everyone in this case would be in the wrong.

Raja said...


your analysis is convenient in the sense that it is one dimensional. dare i say it? you sound like an economist! ;-)