Monday, June 11, 2007

Honor Thy Father


by Phylis Collier

She was dragged out of her house, her head held in a headlock. For just a second a close up of her face showed it distorted by fear, her eyes wild. There was shouting from the crowd. A sense of pandemonium. The raised fist clutching a rock dissolved in a blur of motion as the cell-phone video lost focus. You could only imagine the fury with which she was attacked. Imagine the impact of the rock on her skull, the screams. The rocks that followed. Blood streaming down her long dark hair. You had to somehow force yourself to imagine it because she had lived it, and had not lived through it. In the end there was only her body sprawled on the ground wearing a red cardigan sweater and dark pants. She had been kicked, beaten and stoned to death.

That morning, when 17-year-old Dua Khalil Aswad put on her red sweater, did she have any premonition of what lay ahead? When she heard the men outside her window did her heart sicken? When her cousin came into the house did she know then? When he grabbed her, holding her head in the crook of his arm like a cowboy dragging down a steer, she knew. But it was too late then to escape. Perhaps she saw the police looking on and thought they would save her. Perhaps she thought her mother would burst through the crowd and save her.Where was her mother? Was she in the house, screaming too, being held back from saving her by the father she had dishonored?

I wonder about the man who videoed the carnage with his mobile phone. Was it only a spectator sport? Did he have hopes of selling it to American television for a sum that would support his family for years? Or perhaps, as I like to think, he was the only hero in the crowd. He intended to show the world that medieval brutality still exists, knowing there was nothing he could do could stop it. Whatever his motive, Dua’s murder has been broadcast around the world. People are angry. Governments are appalled. Suddenly, it is as though nobody ever heard of honor killings and they are demanding both revenge and reform. Four people have been arrested in the murder of this 17-year old Kurdish girl in Iraq. They are still searching for four others and the cousin who was the main killer.

It hasn’t taken long for the media to uncover another photograph of Dua. This one is reminiscent of most school photos where you are told to look into the camera, and so her beautiful almond eyes gaze directly into our own. Except for the slight smile on her lips, her expression is calm, almost placid. It is a photograph taken light years ago.

Only when studying the photograph I notice that she is wearing one small earring. Is this acceptable? Or is it too modern? And the way her hair dips slightly over here left eye. Is this too suggestive for a religion that expects sensuality to stay in the recesses of imagination? Perhaps these were clues that led her family to suspect an independent mind was in their midst. Clues radical enough to worry a cousin to follow her, and to finally catch her with a Sunni Muslim man. But was she only talking to him? Did they touch? Did the cousin watch them smile into each other’s eyes? Nothing is clear. It is only reported that she was seen with this man. But for a girl who knew her Yazidi religion forbade mixing with other faiths, she had done the unspeakable. The minds of family members raced towards the inevitable: How could it have been anything other than lust that persuaded her to be seen with this vermin? Had she already had sex with him? Were they planning to elope? There was no time to think further, only to act.

Now they are hunting the cousin, but are they really looking that hard? Or when Dua’s face fades from the world’s consciousness, will their attempts to bring these men to justice fade as well? After all, this has been going on as long as men have tried to control a woman’s actions, thoughts and desires. It doesn’t matter that the United Nations and human rights groups have condemned honor killings. They still take place by the thousands around the world. Houzan Mahmoud, spokeswoman for the Organization of Womens’ Freedom in Iraq, will assure you that the religious and social climate in Iraq is such that people can do what they did to Dua in broad daylight and authorities will not intervene.

And so when women in Muslim fundamentalist families are raped, they bring dishonor and must be killed. Their brothers do it. Or cousins. Or any male relative macho enough to wipe the sin from the family‘s name with the girl’s blood.

Years ago, the voice of a Muslim father in Jordan was captured on tape. He was strangling his teenage daughter who was taking much too long to die. “Die, will you!” he screamed,” Eventually, she honored her father.

Two brothers gun down their sister in Berlin. They are Turkish Muslims who find her guilty of “living like a German whore” because she divorced the husband who was given to her in a prearranged marriage.

“A woman shamed is like rotting flesh, a Palestinian merchant says. “If it is not cut away it will consume the body.”

In some communities, women who have the temerity to refuse a marriage, ask for a divorce, survive a rape, or who simply talk to a man, are guilty of bringing shame to the family. If she has the misfortune to be born into an Islamic fundamentalist family she can be beaten, burned, strangled, shot or stoned to death. Her death is often ruled a suicide. She is often buried in an unmarked grave, her very existence removed.

The light and intelligence in Dua’s eyes looked out onto a poor village in Iraq. Would it have made a difference if she had been born into a Muslim fundamentalist family in another country? No. Although honor killings occur mainly in poor, rural tribal areas or among uneducated urban dwellers, they occur in every corner of the globe. Ignorance is the real killer and education is the only hope. Someone without education, acting on a primal level of fear and hatred, will not hesitate to kill his daughter, sister or his wife.

I go back to the videotape on CNN and watch it again. There seems to be more footage this time. It shows Dua on the ground trying to get up. She is kicked again and collapses again.

It is a small village where she lived. These men knew her, and had probably known her since she was a child playing with their own children. It makes me wonder if those men who watched her die are obsessing over these images as I am. Do the pictures of Dua’s bloody and blackened face haunt their sleep? Perhaps, like me, they can’t turn away because bearing witness is so little to offer her. We must force ourselves to watch this inhumanity because she lived it, and she did not live through it.

http://www.peacewomen.org

Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq

http://www.vday.org

Phylis Collier

phylisinmexico@gmail.com

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