There is a lot going on in the land of the Nile these days: war drums in the east with Eritrea, 100% rise in the price of bread and electricity with subsequent protests, arrests and killings, and the usual diplomatic squabble with Egypt over something or another. And in the middle of this arises a video that has gone viral showing professor Gasim Badri, vice chancellor of the powerful gender-rights, antiviolence activism giant Ahfad University for Women, hitting a girl in the middle of a student protest on campus grounds. I didn’t watch the video the first 200 times it showed up on my timeline, but eventually did, and could not get the scene out of my head.
To put things into context, Ahfad University for Women was founded in the early 1900s by the late Babikir Badri, who was a pioneer of women’s education in Sudan. The institution has grown progressively stronger over the years with its fearless advocacy for women’s rights, the fight against FGM and all forms of violence against women, its integration of its vision into the community and its strong and updated teaching curriculum. Its graduates are known all over – especially its medical graduates – for their high caliber knowledge and performance. All the best people teach there. They are actively involved in all forms of research and advocacy, and members of its faculty (and family) are internationally recognized for their accomplishments and inputs – especially in gender issues. In fact, professor Balqis Badri was named one of our 30 Sudanese women you should know 2 years ago.
So naturally, it comes as a nasty shock, when the head of such an admired institution is filmed hitting not one but two girls (at least those were who appeared in the video) in a rough and humiliating manner. Shockingly, in response to the video, a huge defensive tidal wave took over social media, with the ‘Ahfadiat’, or the students and graduates of the institution, defending their beloved ‘father’, justifying his actions and brandishing his long history in the faces of everyone who dares to denounce the violence. I followed in horror the very confusing narrative of how, not only was this free hand on the girls nothing new, but that it is done in protection and love, that they and their families were happy and content with this treatment, that no one else could understand or appreciate what they felt, and only they were allowed to judge or complain (meaning neither judge nor complain), and it was no one else’s business. Many other sympathisers, both men and women, joined the defence ranks citing the man's greatness and providing various explanations for the incident, mainly that he was merely preventing the students who wanted to leave the campus grounds and take to the streets where the murderous riot police awaited them.
But wait – it gets better.
As if things couldn’t get more nauseating, yesterday the students and apparently some teachers of the institution staged another protest on the university grounds APOLOGIZING to their beloved father for the video and begging forgiveness. And in interviews that appeared in today’s papers, the professor not only blatantly refused to apologize for anything, stating that this was the way he did things regardless of what would happen, but that if faced with the same situation he would slap that girl again. So there.
I have already discussed before how the Stockholm syndrome of oppressive societies manifests itself when, for example, women defend FGM, despite their being the actual victims of this crime. This while being not so different, unfortunately has a darker and more dangerous dimension. It is a perverted form of domestic violence where the family subjected to the abuse proudly defends their abuser, citing his glorious benevolence and the gratitude they owe him, and putting themselves at fault and deserving of his actions.
For a figure that heads and has been heading one of the strongest women’s rights movements in the country for decades, and who actively works against violence against women through education, research, activism, trauma support and many other means, to suddenly be shown to be practicing exactly what he preaches against, is a blow in the gut. I could just imagine the bigots and government supporters cackling gleefully into their phones as they watched the Sudanese community (through no effort of their own) take down a man who has forever been a thorn in their side, with his call for equality and dignity. But most disappointing to see is the same women who have gained a reputation for their mission of peace and their brave stance in the face of injustice, to obstinately defend their beloved patron’s unacceptable behavior, and even brag about how much they appreciate and need his tough love.
No one can deny what professor Gasim Badri and his family and institution have accomplished over the years. Their contributions to the field of science and gender in Sudan and the region is immeasurable, their continuous fight for women’s right to education is admirable, and they have always been a beacon of hope for the community and the coming generations.
But they are not above the law. They make mistakes, and have bad behavior, and are just as human as the next person. Their accomplishments do not and should not justify their actions. And no one owes them that justification when it comes to this form of barbaric action.
It pains me to write all this about a person and institution that I have/had much respect for; in fact, I actually hesitated (for about 3.5 seconds) to publish this, but try as I might I just could not find any justification or defense for these actions and attitudes, nor could I sympathize with the apparently brainwashed and air-headed supporters defending him. Apparently it is impossible to separate the person from the philosophy and institution. And the timing of this issue - in the middle of the outrageous rise in prices and the civil unrest - is equally suspicious and irritating.
It is extremely frustrating that one of the strongest figures in our fight for our rights and in our long battle against an oppressive regime has failed us – yes us, the people – and allowed himself to be burnt to the ground. And it is even more frustrating that his posse of admirers and subjects have shown themselves to be docile and obedient subjects of a hypocritical patriarchy no different than the society we live in, and which they had pledged to take on and bring down. Very frustrating indeed.