A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Fraying at the seams: Syrian society under pressure

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 25, 2008

This post is for M, with whom I had many delightful adventures in Damascus from 2003 to 2005 – despite the occasional streak of sexism-turned-violent there that the latest US warden message highlights.

On Saturday, the US Embassy in Syria issued this warning:


In a recent incident still under investigation, a Western expatriate woman was accosted by a man in a stairwell. While the Embassy has few details at this time, we would like to take this opportunity to remind the American community of basic personal security practices.

While the overall rate of crime in Syria is low compared to other countries around the world sound residential security practices are a must in any environment. The success of these measures largely depends on the consistent and active commitment of every family member to maintaining a secure home.

Building Lobbies: Make it a habit to close your lobby door upon entering your building, and encourage others to do so.

Checking for Vulnerable Points: Survey your residence from a burglar’s point of view, particularly if you live in a garden apartment or on a lower floor potentially accessible from street level. Are there sections of your garden wall where climb-over or forced entry would be relatively easy? Do any trees or overgrown brush provide exceptionally good hiding places? If your apartment has a secondary access point (like a garden gate), is the lock substantial?

Security Lighting: Ensure that your stairwell lights remain in working order.

Lock all doors at all times. Lock up as you enter the house, and take a moment to verify that all doors and locks—including gate grills — are secured before turning in for the evening.

These are all things I do without thinking, even at my parents’ house in Iowa. They are all simple practices, small things that keep us safe in today’s world. They aren’t just house related: I set my handbag between my legs or on my lap rather than on the chair next to me reduces the likelihood of it being stolen or rifled through, for example.

These are all things I do without thinking, so I did them whenever I was in Damascus, just like I do them here. And assaults do happen in Damascus and in Beirut. I know multiple women friends in both cities who have been attacked by men who thought a foreigner would be either interested (because we only come to these countries because we are so over-sexed, you know) or easy (ditto).

I’m sorry for the woman this happened to most recently, and I am proud of her for going to the embassy. I hope she knows someone with enough wasta to go after the guy who assaulted her – because he’s not likely to feel sorry otherwise. And neither is his family, who will likely say: she asked for it – its not his fault.

It is his fault, and theirs too, for fostering a culture of male entitlement and female stereotypes. Nice job, anonymous woman; and nice job, US Embassy.


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