2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad, honor killing victim

On or about this date one year ago, a 17-year-old Kurdish Yazidi (alternatively, Yezidi) girl was stoned to death by her own community for falling in love with a Muslim boy.

Details on exactly how Du’a Khalil Aswad came to her end are slightly unclear: whether or not she converted to Islam, for instance, and whether she was lured to her death or simply taken by force.

What is blood-chillingly plain is the end itself — a mob “honor killing,” carried out publicly by (at least in part) men of her family, and anachronistically filmed with cell phones and therefore soon to rocket around the Internet. The existence of this video is what makes this incident notable to the wider world.

Caution: This video contains graphic footage. We have issued this warning before in these pages, but what follows here is of a different character: this is a powerless child, communally beaten to death while she pleads for help, recorded from a couple meters’ distance by someone (one of many, one can see) who felt filming was the most pressing possible occupation of his time at this moment. It’s exceedingly violent, exceedingly personal and exceedingly recent. Even at that, this is only an excerpt of a half-hour ordeal.

The fact that this video is hosted by Spiked Humor and comes with the associated teaser link adds an unwanted layer of perversity, but YouTube has repeatedly censored it; it takes some digging (this clip turned up here; a longer one can be downloaded here) to find any extended clip.

So, to repeat: This video contains extraordinarily graphic footage.

This is, to be sure, borderline as an execution — although it is one community’s ritual slaying in judgment, which is an uncomfortably close definition. Whatever one calls it, it apparently prompted a retaliatory massacre of Yazidis by Sunni gunmen,* and some months later, the deadliest suicide bombing of the American occupation.

It has also prompted at least some agitation for addressing the continued existence of honor killings especially in northern Iraq. Arrests for carrying out this killing were reported last spring, but I have been unable to find any subsequent report indicating a trial, conviction, acquittal or release.

** Although the existence of that context for the latter massacre was immediately reported, the video itself didn’t reach a worldwide audience until some days afterwards.

Update: Honor killing activists remember Aswad on the anniversary of her death here.

On this day..

21 thoughts on “2007: Du’a Khalil Aswad, honor killing victim

  1. Disgusting sub humans stone people to death how barbaric and simple minded and evil hearted these men are stoning young girls and even more so when being her own family they don’t deserve children and will be judged themselves,in the next life far more so for their vile and disgusting acts

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  3. Thanks for the strong warning, I will not be watching this.
    The line between attempting to understand horror/mortification and sadistic voyeurism is not a fine line. It is a big black and yellow striped line with flashing cones at each end.

    Cross it and we are all debased.

  4. It seems to me that very few people would have illicit sex in front of two (or four) witnesses and anyone “proven” to have done so was probably the victim of a set-up of some kind.

  5. According to the scripture of every Abrahamic monotheistic faith including Christianity, the Command of God was and is to stone to death everyone who haves sex while unmarried or with another’s spouse. In carrying out the Command one must be absolutely sure beyond any doubt that the sin has been committed. There must be eye-witnesses who are absolutely above and beyond reproach. If this type of witness, four women or two men, cannot be found then there is no stoning penalty to be given. The only reason that Jesus the Christ intervened in the stoning of Mary Magdalene was because the men who accused her were also sinners therefore unqualified to be witnesses or judges. If the stoning of Aswad did not follow the divine requirements then it was a great sin upon those who stoned her and upon those who permitted it and on those who stood by and watched.

  6. My god,
    my heart cry out for this angel Du’a. may her soul rest in peace. i hope something bad happens to those who are involved in this killing. couldn’t watch the whole video.

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  8. isn’t it about time, that the middle east gets beyond “the stone ages”; particularly in how it terrorizes, controls and murders it’s women. du’a’s story and brutal end is an unholy and unnatural stain on those, who proclaim themselves the opposite. how terribly sad i am for du’a and those close to her in life. what a waste of a good life and promotion of what’s wrong in that neck of the planet. my best wishes go out to the family of du’a and to her spirit. her life and death is a great inspiration model for sweeping cultural changes. time to grow up, middle-east men and learn how to love your women AND “honor” life!

  9. Never has there being such hypocracy in the word ‘honour’. I even felt like i was doing something wrong by watching this (damn the human psyche). I am not a violent person, but i would not have a problem pulling the trigger that would kill everyone involved in the causing of that action. Poor, poor girl.

  10. i can’t look at it. my heart stoped from beating … oh god what a animal are they??????!!!!!!!!!!!!! how could they do that???

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  13. This is why all people should have a firearm at ALL times. If I had been there, the first one that threw a stone would have caught some lead. Those people were worse than animals and do NOT deserve to live. Not even the bystanders.

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  15. I could not bring myself to view the video after seeing a short clip on CNN. Personally this just shows the barbarity of religion. I do not care what ‘religious’ or cultural belief this murder was perpetrated in the name of, nor do I care for any argument that may be put up to ‘justify’ such murder.

    The killing of a teenage girl is horrific however it happens, from a car crash to a drug overdose, but to know that a family took part in this ritual murder, is frankly, beyond me.

    I do know one thing, however, if their is a Hell, then these people are going straight there. This is not ‘honourable’ it just shows what a backward people these communities are.

    They are the lowest of the low. No religion, no belief, bereft of morals and worthless to a society who tolerates them becuase they are ‘not in my back yard’.

    It may not be politically correct to say so, but anyone who advocates such killings in the name of ‘honour’ should be swept off the face of the earth, If God doesn’t do it… we should.

  16. This was all in the news last year, and I would like to ask you one thing. Please, if you write about honour killing any more, can you put quotation mark around “honour” – there’s nothing honourable about out and out murder!

  17. Thanks for blogging about this. Below is my contribution to the effort.

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”


    April 7, 2008

    His Majesty King Abdullah II
    Royal Hashemite Court
    Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

    Dear King Abdullah:

    On this, the one year anniversary of the young Kurdish girl Du’a Khalil Aswad’s tragic video-recorded stoning at the hands of men who misguidedly believe she had sullied her family’s honor, I wish to make a public appeal to you to overturn the three Jordanian penal code articles that allow similarly brutal and unjust incidents to occur in Jordan, yet be treated as mere misdemeanors in the eyes of the state. Lest you think I have jumped the gun by not writing to you privately, please be assured that I have, in writing, on two different occasions in 2006, but I did not receive a response.

    According to United Nations estimates, Jordan has one of the highest per-capita “honor” killings rates in the world. At the same time, as you are aware, it has on multiple occasions in late 1999 and early 2000 attempted to overturn Article 340 of the Jordanian penal code, one of three penal code articles that offer leniency to the perpetrators of “honor” killings, though one that has rarely, if ever, been used. You and the appointed Upper House of Parliament favored repeal; however, the elected Lower House of Parliament (i.e., the Chamber of Deputies) did not.

    I first learned about all this in the summer of 2000 by watching a broadcast report about these crimes by Ms. Sheila MacVicar of, at the time, ABC News. In her report, Ms. MacVicar stood in front of the Jweideh Correctional Centre in Jordan and explained that the women behind her, who as I recall were dangling out the prison windows trying to capture the attention of the viewers, were all warehoused in the prison because they were at risk for “honor” killings but there are no women’s shelters in Jordan to safeguard them. So they lived in the prison, under protective custody, while the people who posed the risk to them walked free.

    In the summer of 2003, I traveled to Jordan, in large part to speak with subject matter experts and to learn more about this issue. When I asked why Articles 97, 98, and 340 have not been overturned, I was told variously there is a lack of political will, the people do not want it, the people are not ready for it, the timing is not right, or there are too many cultural/religious/social barriers. As a businessperson, I wanted to see hard data to support these assertions, but I found none. It seemed as though the reasons provided were simply the conventional wisdom, but I have learned in three decades of professional life that the accepted view is often unsupported by empirical evidence. And that is why many corporations pay millions and millions of dollars for information.

    I returned to the States and continued to research the “honor” killings situation. I examined what other countries facing this problem have done to address it. According to United Nations estimates, Pakistan has the highest absolute number of “honor” killings per annum, believed to be between 800 and 1,000. It passed promising legislation criminalizing them, though, to date, enforcement has been disappointingly lax. And so, it seems, at least so far, the laws lack teeth. In 2005, the Turkish government, in an overhaul of its penal code aimed at complying with European Union norms, also strengthened the penalties for perpetrators of “honor” killings, making them punishable by as much as life in prison. However, there remains on the books a penal code article that permits reductions of sentences for crimes that are considered provoked, and this loophole is being utilized in some “honor” killings cases. In addition, a hideous new phenomenon called “honor” suicide was borne. Rather than murder and risk a stiff sentence, in some cases, the perpetrators now force their victims to kill themselves. Just when one thinks it could not possibly get any uglier, this unintended consequence surfaces.

    Why, I thought, could not Jordan outdo both? A second visit to Jordan in the fall of 2004 only reinforced my initial impressions of Jordan as a relatively enlightened country in the region. Why could not it become the first nation in the world to combine the continuing efforts of the activists, the attorneys, and the journalists with the techniques of modern marketing to overturn the penal code articles and to change attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and, most crucially, behaviors about “honor” killings? Progress and success in Jordan could serve as an inspiration and a model for other countries where these crimes are committed, such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Palestine, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. It could also demonstrate the value of using social marketing as a “best practice” for addressing and resolving other social problems within Jordan.

    Unable to exorcise these thoughts from my mind, in October 2005 I returned to Jordan with a donated laptop computer and a personal bank account topped off with sufficient funds to conduct the empirical marketing research that precedes any professionally-conducted social marketing campaign. Using feedback from informal focus groups, I designed a fairly lengthy questionnaire to gather data—scientifically and systematically—about Jordanians’ media consumption habits, about their attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about “honor” killings, about their personal familiarity with them, and about their demographics. I pre-tested the questionnaire, tweaked it, then traveled to 21 cities, towns, villages, and refugee camps throughout the country conducting in-depth, face-to-face personal interviews with Jordanian citizens age 18 and older. People from all segments of society participated and were represented—male and female, employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated, young and old, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, East Bank Jordanian and West Bank Jordanian, nomadic and sedentary, urban and rural. To all, I continue to be deeply grateful for the cooperation, the honesty, and, in many cases, the almost heart-breaking hospitality and kindness.

    When I finished gathering and analyzing the data, I found that the people in the sample overwhelmingly support overturning Articles 97, 98, and 340 of the Jordanian penal code. It is not even a close call. It appears that the people are far ahead of the legislation and (dare I say?) the leadership on this issue. The news is good—most people do know right from wrong.

    When asked if “honor” killings are morally just, 94.5% of the survey respondents said no (3% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). One respondent went so far as to equate “honor” killings with terrorism. Even among the few respondents who replied affirmatively to this question, there was strong support for codifying into law the specific behaviors that a victim must engage in before a successful “honor” killings defense can be had (80% agreement) and for clearly placing the onus of proof on the defendant that one or more of these behaviors was engaged in (100% consensus).

    When asked whether “honor” killings should be punished the same as other murders, 87% said yes (3.5% were neutral and 9.5% said no). If anything, the extent to which the survey respondents agreed with this statement is understated. About 25% of the way through the administration of the survey, one of the respondents who replied negatively to this question added that he did so because he believes “honor” killings should be punished more harshly than other murders. Up until then, it had not occurred to me that respondents might reply negatively for that reason and not because they favor leniency. So, thereafter, each respondent who initially disagreed with this question was probed for his/her reasons. Many of the respondents who were surveyed after that expressed a desire to see the perpetrators of “honor” killings receive the death penalty. One respondent even went so far as to say, ““Honor” killers should be decapitated at Hadrian’s Arch [in Jerash, Jordan], in front of people. I will personally oversee the event.”

    When asked if the perpetrators of “honor” killings deserve to be treated with leniency, 95.5% said no (2% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). Again, many of the survey respondents favor the death penalty for perpetrators of “honor” killings.

    When asked if the victims of “honor” killings deserve what they get, 86% said no (7.5% were neutral and 6.5% said yes). A number of the survey respondents who either were neutral or responded affirmatively had quite nuanced explanations for their reply to this question. A recurring one was some variation of “yes, if the victim is married; no, if s/he is single, but then s/he should receive [variously] 80 or 100 lashes.”

    When asked whether there is any honor in “honor” killings, 89.5% said no (8% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). One male survey respondent added, a woman’s “honor does not reside in the lower body.”

    When asked if the penal code articles that offer leniency for “honor” killings will ever be overturned, 66.5% said yes (11.5% were neutral and 22% said no). Many who responded negatively to this question added that they hoped they were wrong. A number of the survey respondents even speculated as to what the time frame will be for overturning the three penal code articles, and it ranged from “Queen Rania [already] overturned them” to “it will take centuries.”

    And when asked whether they support stiffening the penalties for “honor” killings, 89% said yes (3.5% were neutral and 7.5% said no). One respondent stated, “If I were king, I’d execute every person who murders.” Others noted that, if the relevant penal code articles were overturned, even the people who purport to believe in “honor” killings would be relieved because finally the peer and the social pressures would be removed.

    And should you wonder whether my results might be statistical flukes, even though they were attained using standard scientific methodology, there is corroborating regional data. In an online referendum on “honor” killings conducted by Dubai-based Al Arabiya News Channel (www.alarabiya.net), 63.0% of the respondents stated that they believe these crimes are not justified, that they are unsupportable by any religion or law (24.7% were neutral and 12.3% indicated that they are sometimes warranted to eradicate bad influences and people from society).

    In the face of this much support, it does not seem prudent to invest large sums in developing and implementing a social marketing campaign in Jordan for this issue, though plenty of data were gathered that would assist in such an effort. But marketing is expensive, and it just is not warranted in this instance.

    Nonetheless, there remains a continued need for efforts to educate people in general and women in particular about their rights and the limits of them. In my research, compared to their male counterparts, the female respondents were both less likely to know that “honor” killings in Jordan are not punished as ordinary murders and less likely to be aware of “honor” killings that have occurred within their extended families. And these differences between the genders were highly statistically significant.

    Similarly, there is an important role for both parents and religious leaders to play. Twenty-one-and-a-half percent of the survey respondents believe that Islam requires that sexually promiscuous behaviors be cleansed through “honor” killings, while another 2% are unsure. The experts and the imams I have consulted tell me this is absolutely not the case. In the sample, parents and religion/religious leaders (in that order) were named by the respondents as exerting the strongest influence on their attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about “honor” killings. And so it is crucial that they discuss “honor” killings, ensure that any miseducation and misinformation be corrected, and offer better means of addressing this issue.

    Although it was outside the scope of both my research and my skill set to attempt to estimate the number of “honor” killings that have taken place in Jordan, because I sought to analyze what impact it might have on their responses to other questions, the survey respondents were asked about their personal familiarity with “honor” killings. Thirty-three percent of the survey respondents reported that they personally know someone who has been threatened with an “honor” killing. Indeed, one of the respondents herself had been threatened. Twenty-seven-and-a-half percent said that they personally knew a victim, while 27% stated that they personally know a perpetrator. Four percent confessed that an “honor” killing has occurred in their extended family, while 1% claimed that one has occurred in their nuclear family. Quite a few of the survey respondents know of multiple cases. These figures lead a reasonable person to believe that the number of “honor” killings in Jordan is vastly underestimated.

    So what is the bottom line? The conventional wisdom is wrong. Generalizing from the survey sample to the wider population, there is not much justification or support for continuing to offer legal leniency to the perpetrators of “honor” killings.

    And so I appeal to you, Your Majesty, to revisit this issue, to do so post haste since human lives are hanging in the balance, and to overturn Articles 97, 98, and 340 of the Jordanian penal code. And, while you are at it, please remove the 10-year statute of limitations for these crimes. Bring the laws into alignment with the hopes and the wishes of the people, be sure to enforce them, and leave no loopholes. Act as though it were the lives of your wife, your daughters, your mother, and your sisters at stake for, in the broader context, it is. If the Lower House of Parliament will not support such a move, use your power of Royal Decree to make it so. Or, if that is too unilateral and unacceptable a move, use your influence and leadership skills and the traditional Arab methods of consultation, collaboration, and consensus building to bring the naysayers over to your, the Senate’s, and the public’s side on this issue. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that your royal subjects will support you and be rightly proud of Jordan’s moral leadership on this issue. Other leaders struggling with this problem in their countries will envy your success and seek to replicate it in their own lands. The international community will applaud you. The timing is right, perhaps even overdue. “Honor” killings are against the tenets of Islam, in opposition to at least 17 international human rights conventions on which Jordan is a signatory, and inconsistent with the Jordanian constitution. Please correct this problem and ensure that there is justice for all the Jordanian Du’a Khalil Aswads, as well as a bright future and a network of safehouses and shelters for the people who are at risk. Jordan is a beautiful country with many traditions of which it can rightly be very proud. Your subjects deserve to be heard and to live outside the umbrella of fear created by the daily possibility of sudden, violent death. Show the rest of the world that it can be done—because truly it can—and show them how to do it. Please.

    Ellen R. Sheeley

    Ellen R. Sheeley is the author of “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan: A National Public Opinion Survey on “Honor” Killings.”

    Copyright © 2008 by Ellen R. Sheeley. All rights reserved.

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