c7d0e1aa-c494-4918-8efb-d94e96de3a06Fou’ada is their conscience and the voice of reason, an entire village’s moral compass and the only one to stand up for what’s right. She is also the one soft spot of the strongman terrorising the village, Atrees. He wasn’t always like this, when they were kids they were equals – sensitive, caring, and not wanting to hurt a living soul. But the little boy was trained in the ways of his cruel grandfather who through years of abuse manages to infiltrate his grandson’s mind. Atrees grows up knowing that he is not like his grandfather by nature and promises Fou’ada to never kill. This all changes when one villager shoots the grandfather and makes Atrees promise to take revenge. In an exaggerated show of violence and as a metaphor for the death of his innocence and kindness, Atrees uses all of his men’s guns to repeatedly shoot the perpetrator.

Atrees becomes increasingly cruel, killing those who defy him and punishing others by burning down their farms or cutting the water supply. He has come to understand that to continue having this much power it must be done through fear, he has no desire to be loved or respected. This fear shapes the village, it infects how they interact with each other and how they view themselves, with most of them complacently accepting that this just how things are. The only exception is Fou’ada, who is not governed by fear. When she questions why no body is standing up to Atrees, the reply is always ‘why should I be the one to do it and risk death?’ Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the first step. The good of the individual is pitted against the good of the community and that is the true victory of fear and violence.

In the moving scene of rebellion where Fou’ada opens up the water supply while the rest of the village sulks over their misfortune, the people rejoice at her actions but are not moved to follow suit. There is an understanding that only she can do this because Atrees loves her. She has the one tool that exists outside the power structure. Her overwhelming compassion for others and intimate knowledge of Atrees makes her the go-to person when something has gone wrong. The men don’t turn to each other for help and support because they have nothing to offer each other whereas Fou’ada is always willing to help them out. Her expression of emotion is always to mourn for and with others but in the face of any personal struggles we get the steely glance of perseverance.

Atrees tries to intimidate Fou’ada and her family into a marriage with him and although she doesn’t agree her father and his witnesses lie and say she does; assuming that, like them, she will cower in front of him when the time comes. It is here that we see Fou’ada using the one structural and institutional piece of arsenal available to her – a Muslim marriage is only legitimate if the woman approves it. Despite this, her father marries her off anyway and it is almost through sheer luck that her brutal husband decides not to rape her. But for Atrees, to have Fou’ada by force would be counterintuitive because the reason he wants her in the first place is that she is balm to his wounded self, she is the sole source of light in this violent life he has created. He never talks of her personal attributes but keeps mentioning over and over again how she used to make him feel. She is his pain because she is a living reminder of the person he used to be and he wants to contort that into something that will give him relief instead. She is not a person with agency and her own make-up, she only exists in relation to him.

Fou’ada reminds him that his violence is a choice. He forced this marriage on her father but she would have willingly had him if he hadn’t committed all these unforgivable crimes. Yet he still tries to force her to become his salvation when she is clearly more interested in saving her village from him. The men’s reactions to her stance is particularly interesting. The young idealist claims that she has killed their manhood because she has done what none of them had the courage to do. Usually this would incite a reflexive hatred towards the woman for reminding them of their shortcomings as men but instead they have decided to use it as motivation to act, because if a woman can do it then they as men can do it too.

The most progressive gender stance then comes from the idealist’s father who tries to rally the men after Friday prayers. His argument is that even if they allowed Atrees to break the laws of man they must not allow him to break the rules of God. When another villager points out that they have a woman in their midst who sins by sleeping around, his response is that she has done this of her own free will whereas Fou’ada was taken from her family home against her wishes; and once they free themselves of this tyranny they can then sort out any internal issues that are bothering them. This begs the question then of whether or not they would have come to Fou’ada’s rescue if she had been raped or beaten? Or was it only in the breaking of the sanctity of marriage as laid down by Islam do they find their true motivation for taking action?