Please kill my child, Afghan father implores the authorities

by Una Moore on 7/31/2011 · 38 comments

I read this utterly revolting story in Dubai International Airport, en route to the US, after I’d been awake for something like 30 hours already. The combination of sleep deprivation, post-Kabul stupor and gutting inhumanity was enough to make me literally queasy.

HERAT, Afghanistan — The two teenagers met inside an ice cream factory through darting glances before roll call, murmured hellos as supervisors looked away and, finally, a phone number folded up and tossed discreetly onto the workroom floor.

It was the beginning of an Afghan love story that flouted dominant traditions of arranged marriages and close family scrutiny, a romance between two teenagers of different ethnicities that tested a village’s tolerance for more modern whims of the heart. The results were delivered with brutal speed.

This month, a group of men spotted the couple riding together in a car, yanked them into the road and began to interrogate the boy and girl. Why were they together? What right had they? An angry crowd of 300 surged around them, calling them adulterers and demanding that they be stoned to death or hanged.

When security forces swooped in and rescued the couple, the mob’s anger exploded. They overwhelmed the local police, set fire to cars and stormed a police station six miles from the center of Herat, raising questions about the strength of law in a corner of western Afghanistan and in one of the first cities that has made the formal transition to Afghan-led security.

The riot, which lasted for hours, ended with one man dead, a police station charred and the two teenagers, Halima Mohammedi and her boyfriend, Rafi Mohammed, confined to juvenile prison. Officially, their fates lie in the hands of an unsteady legal system. But they face harsher judgments of family and community.

Ms. Mohammedi’s uncle visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released. Her father, an illiterate laborer who works in Iran, sorrowfully concurred. He cried during two visits to the jail, saying almost nothing to his daughter. Blood, he said, was perhaps the only way out.

“What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them,” said the father, Kher Mohammed.

[…] Family members of the man killed in the riot sent word to Ms. Mohammedi that she bears the blame for his death. But they offered her an out: Marry one of their other sons, and her debt would be paid.

This example of humanity at its worst is a powerful illustration of how justice sector reform, which the  international community, to its shame, never adequately resourced in Afghanistan, is a matter of life and death, blood and tears –not to mention intimately tied to security. Its failure permits monstrous crimes against the most innocent members of society. Had aid been allocated differently over the past decade, Mr. Mohammad and Ms. Mohammadi might have been placed in a shelter, where they could finish their schooling far away from their dangerous families and await the day when they would both be old enough to legally marry of their own volition.

But that is not the Afghanistan that exists today, and there’s little chance either of the teenage lovers will go on to anything resembling a bearable life, and more horrors –forced exchange marriage and a life of vicious abuse for Ms. Mohammadi, exile and poverty for Mr. Mohammad– are likely in store for them, if they survive at all.

In Afghanistan, very, very few love stories have happy endings.

*

A few additional points:

– Ultimately, these tragedies will disappear from Afghan life only if Afghan progressives manage to change the norms of their society from within. But that doesn’t mean outsiders are powerless to do anything. By prioritizing justice sector reform and the range of processes that entails, the international community could tangibly ease the suffering of people who fall afoul of violent, regressive traditions.

– “Incident X raises questions about the readiness of the Afghan security forces” has become Afghanistan-related journalism’s new “who, like most Afghans, goes by only one name” yet, unlike the one name silliness, it’s actually a valid point. I’ve written before about how poorly the Afghan police have responded to successive incidents of civilians rioting, from the 2005 and 2006 anti-foreigner riots in Kabul, to the attack on Marefat High School after the Shia Personal Status Law demonstrations, to the Koran burning riots in Kandahar and Mazar Sharif and this most recent riot in Herat. In all of those cases, the local police were utterly incapable or, just as disturbingly, unwilling to prevent loss of life and property destruction by mobs of unarmed or very lightly armed civilians. And if the security forces in Herat cannot prevent police stations and squad cars from being torched by a bunch of local men pissed off about an illicit teenage romance, it’s laughable to suggest that they’ll do any better when confronting heavily armed, battle hardened insurgents.

 


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{ 38 comments }

TJM July 31, 2011 at 7:39 pm

The weird thing is that a strangely similar story with a very different outcome was reported via reliefweb on the same day. Herat Couples Complain of Taleban-Style Harassment

Mark Hamm July 31, 2011 at 11:52 pm

My wife and i recently watched the documentary ‘Love Crimes of Kabul’. Similar stories but an overlay of the crazy self centered culture. I’m sorry but after watching this documentary and stories like these, I feel Afghanistan is hopeless. Until there is an internal change in the culture i don’t think an outside effort will help.

anan August 1, 2011 at 12:50 am

I believe you are wrong Mark.

Jesus said something like may he who has never sinned cast the first stone. Every country has its own problems. America has a huge problem with forcible rape. Maybe even larger than Afghanistan. And too often in my view, the woman isn’t trusted because the rapist is known to her. [America has many good things as well, so no need to feel defensive.]

This isn’t to justify this horrible even that Una Moore speaks of. But the Afghans have a lot going for them and more honor and character than many want to admit.

Una, have many thoughts about what you describe, but hesitate to share them because I don’t know all the facts.

Why doesn’t Ms. Halima Mohammedi in her jail cell formally marry Rafi Mohammed, as is her right under Sharia to do on her own volition, even if her family disapprove. Could that be her best option? If she does this, what affect would it have?

Ms Halima Mohammedi could move to another Afghan city with a new name, or Iran [where her family has contacts], or central Asia, or Pakistan or India and start a new life for herself and her new husband. Or she could move there and divorce Rafi Mohammed.

Maybe these ideas are impractical. What do you think Ms Halima Mohammedi can practically do in the short run to get out of jail and move to a safe location?

bobby b August 3, 2011 at 4:32 am

Anan:

I’m not sure from where your information comes, but your statement ” . . . America has a huge problem with forcible rape . . .” is wrong.

Perhaps I should say instead that it is misleading. Since you don’t quantify your statement, but simply say “huge”, much hinges on your and my definition of “huge.” I suppose one could argue that even one rape is a “huge” problem, but the tone of your statement implies, at least to me, that you are saying that America suffers a very large number of forcible rapes per 100,000 women (chosen merely as a common method of measuring frequency per population.)

In fact, the frequency of forcible rape in America is lower than in most other countries of the world.

Theo August 1, 2011 at 12:57 am

It is striking that the first thing you blame is failed judicial reform. In one of your updates you seem to come around to the fact that the problem is – at its root – cultural and religious. ISAF can’t change that in 10 years. This will take generations.

Una Moore August 2, 2011 at 9:43 am

You have to start somewhere. Institutions are easier to change than social norms. While the latter will take a long time, I agree with you on that, institutional reforms can protect people like the teens in the NYT article from the brunt of what their families and communities would like to throw at them.

Tom August 1, 2011 at 4:56 am

In the 1990s I spent 2 years living in Waziristan, Karachi and Lahore + I had a local Pakistani girlfriend at the time (albeit she was from a well to do, liberal Karachi family).

From personal experience I know that widespread illiteracy and poverty had facilitated fascist-religious conditioning on a regional scale.

The endemic corruption of Afghan and Pakistani society at every level (and believe me I experienced every level of society whilst there) only serves to instil hopelessness and desparation in a large proportion of the population. Religious and societal myopia + downright hatred of anything that doesn’t conform to a Sharia-based political system is the result. Over 10 years of direct foreign intervention has made the situation even worse.

Any attempt to reform this region will require *decades* of massive social, educational and political re-engineering of a society that has proven again and again that it *does not want to reform*.

Democracy and libertarian ideals are an anathema to the majority in the region.

The Christian values expressed above are just not relevant.

Sorry, but the region is lost to any semblance of normality that you or I recognise.

Combine that with extremely poor governance, huge numbers of men at arms, the drugs trade, nuclear weapons and a highly unstable border with India and you have a protracted and very nasty train wreck.

anan August 1, 2011 at 5:10 am

Tom, I don’t follow. Why can’t Pakistanis and Afghans partly follow the model of Indian muslims, Bangladeshi muslims and Iranians [meaning the actual Iranian people rather than their dictator Khamenei]? You exaggerate. Democracy seems islamic and central/south Asian enough.

Educating females and facilitating economic opportunities for woman does wonders. It isn’t that complicated.

Tom August 1, 2011 at 5:27 am

The issue is Islam’s interpretation, disemination and consumption. These dynamics are influenced by culture, societal fabric, literacy levels, political and legal systems, governance etc. I don’t take issue with the religion. Quite the opposite.
It is these societal issues that are at the heart of why Pakistan is lost and why Afghanistan will continue to remain so.
My statement wouldn’t have been an exaggeration back in 1997 and certainly isn’t now.

CE August 1, 2011 at 5:06 am

When I first read this story, my thoughts were: “Romeo + Juliet meets Central Asia.”Even if they do get stoned to death, I must admit, it’s still pretty compelling, romantic stuff.

A plot line fit for Shakespeare, I say.

MGD August 1, 2011 at 10:46 pm

More important than the inability of the police to control the rioters is the willingness of the local people to riot to enforce societal over legal authority.

Steve Magribi August 2, 2011 at 2:47 am

This posting floored me.

Welcome to Afghanistan Uma…do you have a clue? This ridiculous tirade of cultural relativism coming on the beginning of Ramadan is about as dumb as you can get.

First of all, not sure which beautiful Western World Destination you are harking towards from Dubai, pick one, and fly against the Sun toward default. Find an article about Western Teenage Pregnancy, Single Home Families, drug abuse, the destruction of neighborhoods and the other “NON ILLS” of the perfect Western Cultural Norms you are advocating against the Afghan Community mentioned here.

It is outrageous for any westerner to make comments about Afghan family life, which though damaged by thirty years of fighting is still going strong. Yes, they are very serious about family, about wedding proscriptions and protection(you call it bad) of women in their family.

The very fact that the two “teenagers” (were they 14, or 17 or what) were stopped by neighbors and asked what was going on, were not instantly beheaded and that the Police got involved before a Shura and certain stoning speaks of liberalism and not radicalism. This is what would have happened almost anywhere else, same situation.

I am glad Uma has never seen a good old Afghan riot in progress, it is pretty crazy, something like all the Police Cars burnt in Vancouver after the drunken Hockey Championship last month or the riots in London in April, but worse. Actually this one was pretty minor by Afghan standards.

Uma would not know that, confined to some Base somewhere all the time. I mean this is the kind of thing you would write if you had no knowledge of Afghanistan at all. But those in the Base-Aid Worker world would not have a clue anyway.

This is not going to change, “Modern Love” is not coming to Afghanistan any time in the near future. Maybe work on that in your next life, Uma.

The fact that marriage proscriptions still exist after over 1000 years of Islam in Afghanistan is not surprising and not going to change no matter how many billions we send over there to “brainwash” them to do it our way.

Frankly they would rather have this than teenage pregnancy, broken homes and lost communities that we have in the defaulting West. Our social experiment is under debate at home, why put them under the same microscope?

Uma has missed the essence of everything, and needs to go back after her several years in “stressful” Afghanistan. Some of us are on decade number three now, and finally are getting our hands around the issues here. It takes that long, with without that Iced coffee in the Dubai Airport, (nice to back in civilization Uma?)

Ridiculous-don’t through stones unless you are without the same problems-or Worse

Una Moore August 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

1) First of all, “Steve”, my name is Una, not Uma.

2) “Find an article about Western Teenage Pregnancy, Single Home Families, drug abuse, the destruction of neighborhoods and the other “NON ILLS” of the perfect Western Cultural Norms you are advocating against the Afghan Community mentioned here.”

So, in other words, better to kill girls than run the risk of them getting pregnant before they’re married. How darling.

3) “The very fact that the two “teenagers” (were they 14, or 17 or what) were stopped by neighbors and asked what was going on, were not instantly beheaded and that the Police got involved before a Shura and certain stoning speaks of liberalism and not radicalism. ”

No, that’s just evidence that Herat *has* a police force.

4) I have indeed seen an Afghan riot, so I know what I’m writing about.

5) I have never lived on a base in Afghanistan, or even in a guarded compound.

bobby b August 3, 2011 at 4:48 am

Steve:
Tongue in cheek, right?
“This is what would have happened almost anywhere else, same situation.” Ah, yes, the oft-experienced “there are two teens of the opposite sex in that car! C’mon, Mob, let’s get ’em! Kill Them! Stone Them!!” family-values tradition! Good to see the old values still respected and observed, huh?
You just know these families remain close and loving. “Yes, this picture shows my four lovely daughters in a happier time. Sadly, I had to kill my first two daughters. The oldest – well, she saw a man’s bare knee. My hands were tied. My youngest daughter – she was 13, and so beautiful – was raped, and thus dishonored my name. I beat her to death with my own father’s thigh bone, which still hangs over the mantle as commanded in the Koran.”
“It is outrageous for any westerner to make comments about Afghan family life, which though damaged by thirty years of fighting is still going strong.” Evolution writ backwards, Steve. Too slowly. Rats, stressed in a cage, will eat their young. But at least they won’t celebrate the meal later.

Don Anderson August 2, 2011 at 2:56 am

I agree Steve, Herat looks like a damn liberal place these days…

Here in the East, we need to turn away even from the women in Burkha now when they pass.

Herat is like Las Vegas in Afghanistan.

More riots coming soon to a City near you. And I mean wherever you live. This is a world wide crisis now.

Una Moore August 2, 2011 at 10:03 am

What’s a worldwide crisis?

Shereen August 2, 2011 at 3:27 am

Steve, whatever problems the Western World faces has nothing to do with is at the heart of the issue here. What we are talking about is the basic human rights. How can you even let yourself believe that the “protection of women” encompasses stoning them? You say that in Afghanistan there is a strong family structure which is based on honour. I don’t know about you, but when a father pleads with the system to kill his own daughter, I don’t think it shows any decent values that are embedded in normal family relationships. You don’t have to live or come from Afghanistan to know what is fundamentally wrong in this issue.

Una Moore August 2, 2011 at 10:02 am

Let’s hope Steve isn’t a parent.

Steve Magribi August 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Shereen,

Thanks…sure there is a basic human rights problem here and in many places. This kind of “Afghans are terrible” post is basically ridiculous.

The very fact that the Police decided to get involved and find out what was going on is admirable. During the Taliban, you know what would have happened. Or in Iran, or elsewhere. Human rights in Afghanistan today have improved quite a bit.

We are not going to change their culture. Obviously we should work on changing our own culture first. Uma should go somewhere else and protest about lack of human rights in Europe, or Africa or Las Vegas, or Norway. Afghanistan is Afghanistan, it is not going to change, and they have their own perceptions on these things. Right or Wrong, Uma needs to wake up and quit singling out Afghans for what is a world wide problem. This is the kind of useless finger pointing and criticism that comes when you have little experience in a country and just don’t understand how and why things occur in detail.

Shereen August 3, 2011 at 1:40 am

I did not intend to imply that Afghans are terrible because I don’t believe that and I do think that the police’s invovlement and investigation into the matter is a positive step in the right direction.
Eventhough, we cannot change the culture anytime soon(most probably because it is so heavily influenced by religion), the practices by which punishments are carried out in Afghanistan has to change right now. To even consider stoning a couple of 17 year olds for falling in love is plain inhumane and no longer acceptable. As I assume, you would probably know about the practice of stoning in not only Afghanistan, but also elsewhere. It is such a brutally long and painful way to die and there can be no justification for it. You don’t need to have the experience of living in Afghanistan, like Boris and you continue saying, to acknowledge this.

Randy McDonald August 5, 2011 at 3:12 am

“Human rights in Afghanistan today have improved quite a bit.”

Setting the bar low becomes nothing.

the lost flaneur August 2, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Removed by post author.

the lost flaneur August 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I’m also not sure if they are right about the girl to be a whore, as you said, it’s common among Afghans to name names the women who are publicly active. …. The girl is orphan because, according to NYT, her mother is dead and her father was away in Iran working as laborer. She was on her own, and you may know what it means to be an unmarried independent woman in an Afghan city.
It’s a very sad story, I feel bad for the girl and the boy and also for the girl’s family. It’s literally impossible for that family to remain in that community after this “international embarrassment”. This story will follow them everywhere they go, and as far as I know, for generations the people who are familiar with what happened, will avoid intermarrying with them. This sickening social norm is beyond the comprehension of a common westerner.
There is an ethnic/religious boundary in this case, otherwise in such incidents the elders ask the families to settle by agreeing on the marriage of the couple. Among the Hazaras in Hazaarajat, it is very common that girls runaway with their lovers to another district and then call their families that they’ve already “did” it. Then the families ask them to return and celebrate their weddings. … I hope the Jebraelis calm down and allow the young lovers to get married and get over it, it’s a win-win solution in my opinion.

Boris Sizemore August 2, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Steve,

Just ignore her. I met Uma in a bar in Kabul about two years ago. She is your normal freelance dogooder. Back then she was marveling about the beauty of the country and the “openess” of the people. Looks like She is all burnt out now.

Una..you are not going to change the culture overnight. We are not here to liberate Kabul or Las Vegas from exploitation of women. This kind of “oh aren’t they terrible” post are for amateurs. Steve and I know what happens here, not pretty, but this is Afghanistan. Love it or Leave it.

You are just scoffing at the natives, go and scoff somewhere else. The mere fact that the Police did go in and try to restore some order says good things about the current Government. Steve and I were here during the Taliban and before. You should have seen it back then.

You still have a lot to learn. Enjoy your Ramadan Home leave, and try to grow up a little bit. Pushing sand by the ocean will not cause a culture to change. Accept it or go somewhere else, like Las Vegas and rally against exploitation of women and prostitution back home. There you might be listened to. In Afghanistan you are about finished. Posing as an expert after so little time in country is unbecoming to say the least.

Una Moore August 2, 2011 at 11:50 pm

I’ve never met anyone named Boris in Afghanistan, so I think you’re confusing me with someone else.

Toryalay Shirzay August 3, 2011 at 12:02 am

This incident most clearly shows how sick is the Afghan society.It is indeed a very sick society and dead society at that. So a young guy and girl were trying to have fun and they should be punished for this? or they should be killed,or beheaded for this? Only evil islamic fascist mindset would prescribe this kind of action.Complete separation of men from women is an islamic design to maintain and enforce total control of society and punishment by killing and beheading is to instill extreme fear so everyone is kept in check.
These words are based on a life long experience,living under the dictates of satanic,evil fascist islam.It is enough to make one scream : the fuck with islam and the arabs who forced their nasty evil religion ,nasty customs,nasty habits on the land of Afghanistan by the sword in the 7th century AD.

the lost flaneur August 3, 2011 at 12:57 am

It’s the first time I see an Afghan talking like this about Islam. Let me guess, you have spent some time in Iran and you are not a Sunni.
If I’m wrong in both cases, it’s even a bigger surprise, or probably it’s a pure miracle happening in Afghanistan.
Sir, you are giving me joy and hope. Thank you very much and Allah Akbar!!!

anan August 3, 2011 at 2:32 am

Toryalay Shirzay, you are 100% right about the Takfiri extremists. But you paint to broad a brush.

I think you misunderstand what islam [and for that matter most of the world’s religions and traditional cultures] mean by men/woman discipline. Don’t agree that Herat folk or Afghans want complete separation between the sexes. Perhaps another way to describe it is that they want discipline and honor. Big difference.

What happened in the 7th century was tragic. That was 14 centuries ago. Time to let it go.

Osman August 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm

The guy is about as Afghan as John Mccain.

anan August 3, 2011 at 2:26 am

Boris, please call me.

Agree with many of your and Steve’s points. This said Una seems to love and care about Afghans. Steve should have expressed his points more respectfully.

Look at the class of the lost flaneur even when he disagreed with Una. Not just on this comment, but in all his comments. This is what people from good families do. They talk respectfully towards others. Afghanistan has many good families.

Boris, please e-mail or call.

Randy McDonald August 5, 2011 at 3:11 am

Would that Afghanistan’s good families proved more numerous, or more influential, or–simply–more present.

bobby b August 3, 2011 at 5:07 am

“It’s literally impossible for that family to remain in that community after this “international embarrassment”. This story will follow them everywhere they go . . . ”

I’m unclear. Do you mean:

– the two young people cannot remain, because of the embarrassment to themselves of their “sinful” relationship; or
– the two young people cannot remain, because of the embarrassment that this international story has brought to their community; or
– the families of the two young people cannot remain because of the embarrassment of their children’s “sinful” relationship; or
– the families of the two young people cannot remain because of the embarrassment that this international story has brought to their community?

konteyner August 3, 2011 at 8:19 am

The majority of students returning to post-secondary institutions in the last decade are women. So technically, Murray’s comments are implicitly directed at women. So that raises a whole new can of worms concerning the intelligence of women, its relationship to the intelligence of skilled laborers, and, the stereotype of which gender is usually associated with skilled labor.

Osman August 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Una, who are u to say Afghan society should be changed? You are simply a foreigner who wants to impose their foreign values on a nation you have only stepped foot in because of a western imposed war. Now you think foreign armies should start changing Afghan culture? Again, who do you think you are?

Osman August 5, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Watch your MTV and try to change the garbage culture that is popularized in your own back yard instead of trying to “help” people who want nothing to do with you.

Randy McDonald August 6, 2011 at 2:05 am

Presumably someone concerned with the apparent exceptional dysfunctionality of culture in Afghanistan right now, Afghanistan being of concern because past dysfunctionalities allowed the Taliban to take over and provide critical shelter to Bin Laden and because human rights issues tend to be globalized these days?

Osman August 6, 2011 at 4:03 am

Past dysfunctionalities like a soviet invasion followed by a civil war? These problems only seem to be highlighted after wars have been imposed on the people of the country. If foreigners can intrude into Afghanistan and “champion” the cause of changing a culture they know nothing about, Afghans could do the very same in regards to western culture.

Take care of your own fucked up MTV culture before sticking your noses in places they don’t belong.

Toryalay Shirzay August 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Let’s take a glance at Afghan culture,shall we? The Afghans sell their daughters when they arrange marriage for them.The bridegroom must pay the amount demanded by bride’s father.Thereis little or no love involved.There the men cannot see the women ,so there is no dating ,it is not allowed ‘if they catch you,they will kill you. The women are beaten and abused at home if they ever refuse the demands of men.And the grownup men not having a chance to date,molest young ones and many of them become pedophiles. And the Afghan men boast about who they molested to their friends and take great pride in their evil deeds.
It is acceptable in Afghan culture to have many wives and to molest young people;they all keep quiet and never pay attention to the suffering of those victimized .On top of all these are rampant corruption,bribery,outright lying and etc,etc and the list goes on and on and on. If you look at it honestly and bravely,you will see at the root of all these evils is the arab religion of islam ;it is based on sheer lies and when a society is based on a foundation of lies for many centuries,the results you get is a society like today’s Afghanistan!!

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