by Huma Munshi
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote a stirring piece on the power of forgiveness this weekend. In the article he writes of the guilt he carried as a child witnessing the violence perpetrated by his father against his mother, which he was powerless to stop. He realises now that this guilt is unfounded and has been able to forgive his father and forgive his younger self.
As moving as his piece is, it fails to acknowledge the power of anger as a survival mechanism for victims of domestic violence because of the institutional and wider forms of oppressions we face.
I have written elsewhere about fleeing a forced marriage ; having survived abuse it is anger which I readily turn to in times of crisis. My subconscious sees anger as a survival mechanism which was previously denied to me. The anger I felt in the months leading up to a marriage I had never acquiesced to was suppressed; in any case I soon realised that it, like I, was not heard; being silenced broke a part of me.
In Archbishop Tutu’s piece I wondered long and hard about his mother and how she dealt with the violence. I wondered if, like me, she supressed her anger. That’s the thing about violence perpetrated by a partner or a loved one: it somehow shames you into silence because admitting you are victim feels utterly humiliating. Her absence from his piece, juxtaposed with the centrality of the father, was troubling.
Forgiveness is a not an emotion a survivor of violence can easily embrace. Though reading this from Archbishop Tutu, I could see its value: “No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured or lost. We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.” Whilst it resonated, there is a world of difference between forgiving intellectually and embracing that forgiveness on an emotional level.
For a woman of colour who is also a survivor of honour based violence, the repeated emotional fight for survival is compounded. I must also survive the multiple forms of oppression I will experience in a society dominated by the ideology of the white man. Tutu unwittingly misses out this perspective. Forgiveness is a luxury in these cases that we cannot all afford.
If there is one point where I agree with Tutu is forgiving myself. Like many other survivors (before my consciousness was raised) I was conditioned to accept the ideology of “honour”, which is not dissimilar to the values of any other patriarchal society. In these societies a woman is always to blame: her skirt was too short; she was too drunk; too reckless. Or in my case: I was not chaste enough; not virtuous or modest. In patriarchal culture, women take on these values as well. Indeed, it was my mother who was the key proponent of my oppression.
Reading Archibishop Tutu’s piece I realised that I was angry at myself for not being able to walk away before the façade of the marriage took place. I realise that the values of honour/patriarchy had led me to victim blame. So if there is one valuable lesson I take from Tutu it is to forgive myself.
But, like many other survivors our battles are hard fought. It will take me a long time to let go of the roaring lion within that wants to fight her corner.
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change. She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here
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