STUTTGART â€" Very few topics are taboo in our society these days, but there is at least one subject people are reluctant to discuss: domestic violence against men. A Stuttgart pilot project known as "Save Men from Violence" is meant to offer much needed help to victims in this German city of 600,000.
According to police and aid groups, men are the victims in about 10% of all domestic violence cases. More often than not, these crimes happen in the kitchen, and the most common weapons are knives. Because women, not men, are much more often the victims of domestic violence, and because this issue challenges the notion of men being stronger than women, the topic can be a sensitive one to discuss.
The problem is that many affected men think precisely along these lines too. As victims, they often feel ashamed and remain silent. And if and when they do confide in the police, they are sometimes told that they should be able to deal with the problem themselves.
Though Stuttgart is trying to shed light on this troubling phenomenon, the city commissioner, Ursula Matschke, stresses that it's not their intention to downplay the effects of violence against women.
But, cynically speaking, people have become accustomed to violence against women. There are many resources for female victims. In fact, there are an estimated 435 womenâ€™s shelters in Germany. By contrast, there are only three menâ€™s shelters. Dramatic experiences demonstrated to Matschke that men need more assistance.
Since 2001, the Stuttgart city council, police force, legal authorities, psychosocial advisory centers and children's welfare officers have worked together to curb domestic violence. That's how they collectively discovered that men were the victims in 10% of cases. In fact, it was a 2014 suicide of a male domestic violence victim that led to the creation of the "Save Men from Violence" pilot project.
He was in his mid-forties, married with two children, says project leader Jürgen Waldmann. Often in these cases, there are beatings, stalking and threats to take away the children. Physical violence is more common than most would think. But why, Waldmann often wonders, don't these men simply walk away from these destructive relationships?
It's because in divorce cases, a mother is more likely to receive custody of the children, even when she has perpetrated violence against her husband. Waldmann often counsels men who, as children, witnessed domestic violence against their mothers. Many grew into adults who resolved to be better than their fathers but who are ill-equipped to impose limits on their partners. The dysfunction devolves into violence.
Waldmann has counseled 14 men to date, but the city council expects a tenfold increase in demand as men learn that help is available.
Commissioner Matschke wants to convert the pilot project into a permanent service that would be unique in Germany. In the meantime, Matschke has already identified another taboo topic to tackle: domestic violence within homosexual relationships.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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