Dignity lost behind those many question marks

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

My name is Lubna, 32 years old. I work as a school teacher and, as they proclaimed upon my arrest at a government security branch in Aleppo, I smuggled and traded weapons. Although the arrest lasted only twenty days, it felt like a timeless period from hell. I had not the slightest clue where we were and where we were to be taken- chained and blindfolded from my home in Aleppo’s Ismailiye. They took my ear rings, scarf clips and hair tie and cut my jacket belt. I heard the screams of the detainees and absorbed the humidity of the place. The interrogation began thereafter.

They did not beat us- women, but they brought the young men and tortured them monstrously like I have never seen and will never forget as long as I live. It was a ghostly image with electric shocks and steel cages while we were trapped in filth, scab, hunger and fear down in a cursed hole under the ground which even beasts wouldn’t have been able to reach.

I was released in spring of 2015 and left behind me sick women and pregnant ones who lost their babies to miscarriage from fear. Most of them were educated (doctors, teachers and employees) detained after the revolution.

My husband divorced me after my release from prison. He feared that I may have been raped and did not believe my story or understand that it wouldn’t have been my fault even though he was a pharmacist. It turned out that I was not aware that my society’s fear of honor loss was greater than its fear for my life and personal freedom. I was haunted with many questions wherever I went on whether I was assaulted. Even when people did not get themselves to ask that question directly, I read it in their eyes and felt their accusative and demeaning looks towards me.

After my divorce, which was relatively easy to carry out because we did not have children, I went back to my parent’s home in rural Idlib. My room become my voluntary prison. I had no desire to see people since they did not only refrain from their implicit questions but dared to ridicule me and scoff at me.

Two matters saddened me tremendously. First, how the educated segment of society partook in criticism towards me and second, the double-standard perception between male and female detainees.

My isolation and the animosity that I felt from those around me grew greater. Even my mother remained unable until now to accept and come to terms with what happened to me. She repeatedly said “it would have been better if you died in prison” in her angry moments. “Who will marry you now?”, she would ask. My mother who was a simple housewife was not able to face society out of embarrassment whereas my father, who was a teacher, was more understanding and accepting before he passed away. I was shocked by those whom I counted on for my protection and counsel. My mother persisted in treating me as an inferior because I was detained. She claimed that detention was behind my divorce, rumors and family embarrassment on every social occasion.

Two matters saddened me tremendously. First, how the educated segment of society partook in criticism towards me and second, the double-standard perception between male and female detainees. I asked myself how can someone who is mindful accuse someone stripped from their will and freedom of something they had no control over or choice in? The pain was worse when they jokingly ridiculed me in different ways. After all, I became an ex-prisoner in their eyes. I also asked myself how come men were regarded as heroes after their release while women were regarded as shame holders.

In spite of the above, there were some people who were sympathetic and supportive. They understood that female detainees cannot be burdened by what they had to go through without having a choice. However, those were few and no matter how much they tried to provide or voice their support which I desperately needed, it was not enough to overcome that by the majority.

Today, I am swamped by a desire to leave and to rid myself once and for all from these tormenting questions-that never stop even after all this time- and recur each time the subject of detainees is brought about. I feel a strong urge to transcend into another world that can bring back some of my dignity which I feel I have lost behind those question marks.

Those who abandoned me were unable to understand that all women anywhere in Syria were exposed to detention at any time. Its why I decided I would be better off silent knowing beforehand that my attempts to argue through reason and to defend myself will go in vain although my silence was perceived as admitting guilt.

I sought therapy through a psychologist when my condition became hysterical whereby I was unable to think, speak or judge reasonably. At the hospital, they claimed I had nervous breakdown but the neurologist to whom I was transferred clarified that I had severe depression instead. My insomnia and sleeping problems persisted for months during which I visited several psychologists who prescribed to me sleep and calming medicines.

I lived for one year struggling between insomnia and medicine which I became addicted to. My body suffered, my organs trembled and speaking became difficult. Yet, I was able after all to surmount this terrible challenge. I returned to teaching children and I feel a lot more comfortable with them. Children do not lie or deceive.

My detention at the security branch lasted for twenty days yet I am in another prison today… which may not end.

Yasmin Mohammad

Zaytoun Article