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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Jun 15, 2010 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

My Travels to the Muslim Middle East, to Afghanistan, and to Montreal

All in One Day


Welcome to my quiet, relatively sedentary, entirely bookish life.

Yesterday, I spent half the day on the phone to the Muslim Middle East trying to help an American citizen mother (who happens to be a Muslim) and her American citizen young daughter get out of Dodge. Like Betty Mahmoody, who was held hostage in Khomeini's Iran, this mother won't leave "without her daughter." The problem is that the girl's father is an Arab Muslim man and his country, like other Muslim countries, has not signed onto the Hague Convention; this means that Muslim countries are under no international legal obligation to pursue and return parentally kidnapped children. Under Shariah law, children automatically belong to their fathers anyway—even if they have been born in a western country, even if their fathers have never financially supported or spent time with them.

Mothers are women and as such are entirely expendable. A mother-in-law, a second wife, an older sister, an aunt—a female servant–will do just as well. I have heard many such stories like this. Haven't you?

In this matter, I decided to throw myself on my journalist's sword (so to speak) and turn this case and my sources over to a reporter at a major news network in the hope that a breaking news story would have a better chance of landing on the American Ambassador's desk than would the most passionate and informed blog by me. At least, at this time.

Then, without moving a muscle, I was off to Afghanistan again. Oddly enough, the announcements about gas discoveries in both Israel and Afghanistan were made at about the same time. Alas, Afghanistan has more than just gas. It also has iron, and many other minerals. Based on the Afghanistan I once knew, and the Afghanistan that I am currently researching—I would predict that the criminality and corruption that has so far accompanied the opium trade in Afghanistan will reach new heights with more wealth at stake. The Wild, wild East will get a bit wilder now, as will the lust of China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, the Gulf states—and the West. Someone will have to fund the mining. It will take a decade. Someone will have to police all the warriors.

Mission Impossible.

Afghanistan also came to North America yesterday. Towards the end of my day, I received a call from a network television program about a recent attempted honor killing in Montreal this past weekend. An Afghan mother had seriously stabbed her daughter with a huge kitchen knife for having stayed out too late on Saturday night. Would I come into their television studios to appear on the air at 7am to discuss it? I assured them that I would be there in a heartbeat if if were at 7pm but that I can't "do" raw, rude early morning shows anymore. We talked. I sent him my two studies in Middle East Quarterly about honor killings. He said he would call me in the future; "we tape our experts in advance, usually in the afternoon," a far more civilized hour in my opinion.

The case? An Afghan family, lucky enough to have gotten out, moved into a nice neighborhood in Montreal. The first thing to note: How nice, how normal these parents look: friendly, good-natured, attractive. The second thing to note is that the mother's age is 37-38, and her eldest daughter's age is nineteen. Thus, this mother, Johra Keleki, was probably pregnant at seventeen, possibly even married at sixteen, if not sooner. Now, she has four daughters, aged 19, 16, 14, and 10. If the eldest "misbehaves," the others will soon follow suit and everything will be ruined. From the mother's point of view, she was only defending her family "honor," trying to assure that her other daughters will be able to marry nice, Muslim, Afghan men. The girl's father, Ebrahimi Ebrahim, was presumably in the house with the other three girls when the attack took place.

Johra Keleki and Ebrahimi Ebrahim

Please recall another recent (2009) Afghan-Canadian mini- mass honor murder in Kingston, Ontario, which involved faking a car crash in which a first wife and three "misbehaving" daughters were honor murdered by their father, brother, and with the collusion of the second wife.

Yes, mothers also participate in their daughter's honor murders in a number of ways. As the author of Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, this does not surprise me—although it does sadden me.

A mother may lure her daughter to her "dishonorable" death with false promises and expressions of love as happened in the Aqsa Parvez case in Toronto and to the Said sisters in Dallas. Mothers may also take a direct, hands-on role in their murders—or they may participate in family "councils" where an honor death sentence is decided. In this case, perhaps the father sent his wife out to "clean up the mess she made," so to speak.

The fact that the mother stabbed her daughter in the head, face, and shoulders suggests enormous, primitive rage which characterizes an honor murder. It also tells us that the mother felt no shame and no guilt in attempting to perpetrate this honor murder. She wanted her daughter to see her in the act. It was a full frontal assault. The message was one this mother wanted her daughter to "see" and her other daughters to fully understand. By the way, this reminds me of another Canadian honor killing, master-minded by a Canadian-Sikh mother, carried out in Pakistan; the mother had the hired thugs put her daughter on the cellphone with her just before they administered the killing blow.

Honor murderers feel justified and are often valorized for their deeds. They are not viewed as mentally ill in terms of their own cultural standards. The Canadian decision to send this mother for psychiatric observation at the Phillip Pinel Institute is merciful, humanitarian, but also misses the point. This woman is not Canadian nor is she Western. She has been raised in a shame-and-honor culture in which female behavior is strictly monitored and punished. I stand with one of the Ebrahimi neighbors.

"A man who works at a nearby Lebanese restaurant said he feels sorry for the victim.

"They are trying to make her live the way they did in Afghanistan," he said.

Thus, all in all, yesterday was a good day. The American mother trapped in the Muslim Middle East may now have some small cause for hope. The Afghan daughter in Montreal survived a brutal honor killing attack. Afghanistan (a country that certainly needs a break) is now clearly in possession of far more than opium. Unfortunately, her troubles will now multiply.


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