Du’a: A call unheard
On April 7th, a year ago, Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17 years old, was stoned to death in Bashiqa, Northern Iraq. Some of her closest relatives beat, kicked and stoned her to death, pulverizing her face and body, finally killing her by dropping a concrete block on her face to uproarious cheering from a crowd of hundreds of men, followers of the Yezidi religion. Her body was then dragged around the town behind the back of a truck and buried with the corpse of a dog as a final gesture of contempt for her humanity.
In the crowd a small boy watches intently, brought along, presumably, to learn the responsibilities of a man within patriarchal culture: to learn how to rejoice in the beating, torturing and murdering of women, to learn how men’s power over women is founded in their unity and capacity for violence, and to learn to see the cooling puddle of blood streaming from Du’a’s broken face and to feel hatred rather than pity.
Du’a was worthless to the men of her family because she had committed what was, to her repressive community, a terrible crime: a crime which most of those reading this article would have imagined was a basic human right, even the pinnacle of human experience. She fell in love. Within a community tight-knit to the point of choking, where women are allotted to men by the decision of their male relatives, where families take pride in the submissiveness and subordinacy of young female relatives, to choose to love freely is a to become a dissident against the totalitarian doctrine of ’honour’. Under the ’honour’ system, women are a commodity to be traded and exchanged to maintain family and tribe solidarity, a commodity to be controlled by men, a commodity at the complete disposal of men’s desires. Women are expected to be asexual to every man except one chosen for her. Women who have no desire towards the man chosen for them may be forced to marry them despite their feelings; their relatives celebrate the first of many instances of marital rape with dancing and feasting. Women who desire men other the one chosen for them are beaten, tortured and killed with impunity. Women who do not publicly display the asexuality demanded from them, through liveliness of character, independence of spirit or supposedly ’immoral’ dress or behaviour are beaten, tortured and killed with impunity. Women who demand to live and love like human beings are beaten, tortured and killed with impunity.
Women and girls are shot, beaten to death, stabbed, incinerated with kerosene, poisoned and electrocuted, because their relatives believe that if a woman is utterly and publicly subordinate to her male relatives, her only value is as a deterrant to any other female who dreams of breaking free from the circumscribed role of dutiful daughter, obedient wife, and self-sacrificng mother.
Du’a: her name means call, as in a call to prayer. We hoped, we even prayed, that her name, and her brutal public lynching, would become a call to action, a call for the end of the routine barbarities against women, a call for the end of women’s slavery and the apartheid that denies women their full status as human beings equal to men. But those in power are largely deaf to the death-cries of the Du’a Khalils of this world, who number, by the most conservative estimate, at least 5,000 a year.
They are deaf in Kurdistan, where not one of the killers, the crowd or the collaborating police officers and peshmerga have been charged with any offence, and where ’honour’ killings and suicides occur daily at an increasing rate. In Iraqi Kurdistan, since Du’a’s murder, stoning as a method of murder has become much more widespread. The murderers of Shwbo Ali Rauf and her infant pelted her body with stones; Sara Jaffar Nimat’s corpse was found after she was stoned to death last August– she was just 11 years old.
They are deaf in Iraq where the Sunni and Shi’a Islamic parties in power have united to defend Article 111 from reformists. Under Article 111 most killers who claim a murder was ’honour’-motivated escape with a commuted sentence for a first offence. Women are killed by their families and by religious extremists every day.
They are deaf in the Middle East and South Asia where they maintain discriminatory legal codes, or fail to prosecute or police male violence, meaning that so-called ’honour’ killing goes largely unpunished: every attempt at legal reform in countries where the murder of a woman is regarded as a minor misdemeanor is rebuffed by Islamist and tribal leaders. ’Honour’ culture and religious extremism thrive in the chaos of war-torn countries and the repression of despotic states. Religious extremists in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan, amongst many other states, direct their terrorism in particular against liberated women who seek to work, live, dress or study freely .Women’s freedoms are eroded daily. Repressive governments compensate the men of the country for their restricted rights by allowing, even condoning, brutal dominance over women.
They are deaf in Europe, where they try not to upset the multicultural fantasy, by classifying these collective, pre-planned murders as having no significant difference to domestic violence. Recognising that no society has a monopoly on violence against women, Europe demands that the violence against women of immigrant origin conform to the norms of violence of their own society, ignoring the vital distinction between violence against women committed by an individual within the context of a relationship violence against women, committed by the collective of family, tribe and community. Classing ’honour’ crime as domestic violence both obscures the reality of the problem and fails potential victims who need a much higher, and much more expensive, level of protection than domestic violence services offer. European states also routinely deport women to their deaths and refuse asylum seeking women attempting to flee familial murder.
They are deaf in the United Nations where the Human Rights Council prefers to restrict the right freedom of expression in order to placate the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, than to address the widespread and blatant denial of the most basic human right, the right to life. Added to their inactivity is the fact that this craven act will reduce the secular space in which to criticize stoning and ’honour’ killing, frequently justified by its perpetrators in religious terms. Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates all permit the atrocity of stoning for the so-called ’crime’ of adultery. This year, over half a dozen women in Iran were sentenced to stoning, with three known official stonings since 2006; two women await stoning in Sudan, and a couple have just this week been stoned in Pakistan.
In the year since the death of Du’a Khalil, we have seen few developments besides an increase in the rate of murders committed. Her case is unique only in that for the first time the world could see the bloody reality, how the men present enjoyed the spectacle of cruelty, death and humiliation so much that not one of those present, not even the security forces, raised a hand to protest the crime or help her; instead they recorded grisly souvenirs on their mobile phones so they could relive the experience and boast about how they took part in the slaughter, to show other men how they protected their ’honour’ against a teenager in love.
Du’a could not know that the world would end up seeing her death and that her call would pass around the world. Du’a could not know that a year after her death, her killers live their lives untroubled by the authorities, that the anniversary of her death would remain unmarked by everyone except a bare handful of activists. Her death has been observed again, and again and again, across the world, a world in which every day, at least 13 women are killed in so-called ’honour’ killings. Thousands upon thousands of people have witnessed the murder of Du’a Khalil Aswad, yet those with the power and influence to save women in the same position make no more effort than the audience on the tape.
We call for April 7th to be recognized as the International Day against ’honour’ killing. We will remember Du’a.