When Love Is
By HADIL JAWAD and LAUREN
New York Times Op-Ed
October 7, 200
Last year, reporting in Baghdad about issues
facing Iraqi women since the occupation, I spent some time with
the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a secular activist
group housed within the Communist Party. Working with the group
was a quiet auburn-haired woman in her mid-30's named Hadil Jawad.
I learned from the head of the organization that Ms. Jawad, who
was from Baquba, in what is now called the Sunni Triangle, was
on the run from a tribal tradition known as honor killing, which
gives family members the right to kill a woman who has sexual
intercourse (even if it's a case of rape) without her family's
According to Iraqi police officers that
I spoke to, they would never investigate an honor killing unless
a murderer came to the precinct of his own will to make a confession.
And even in that case, Saddam Hussein's laws, still enforced today,
require leniency - a maximum three-year sentence, though more
often just a slap on the hand - for any man who kills a female
relative to "cleanse the shame" of the family. (Honor
killings have continued at an alarming rate since the occupation
began, according to the forensics unit at Baghdad's morgue that
Not surprisingly, these interviews never
captured the passion, heartbreak, fear and a love that endures
for a family that would kill a daughter, sister and niece for
the crime of falling in love - for that I had to go to Ms. Jawad.
For hours over two days, my interpreter and I listened to her
tale, first at the office, then in a quieter, safer place. Hadil
Jawad's story, in her words, is recounted below from an English
transcription of our conversations.
-- LAUREN SANDLER, a writer, teaches at
New York University.
When I was a young woman and still living
with my family, I once went out to the market and let my hair
down my back without tying it up. My brother saw me, and when
I came back home, he hit me repeatedly with a hard plastic hose.
I nearly died.
My brother was very difficult to live with
and would not allow my five sisters or me go out of the house
or wear trousers. My father was also strict. My mother was helpless;
she could not open her mouth.
My family is originally from Baghdad, but
when I was about 27 years old, my father's work took us to a village
near Baquba. I was not married, and my life was filled with restrictions
placed upon me by my family's adherence to tribal customs.
The moment I first saw Ali, I thought,
"He is the one who will change my life.'' When we moved in
next door to his house, he came to welcome us with his wife and
five children. He gave me a special look, and I returned it with
a sidelong glance. He was handsome and he seemed so open-minded.
Because my sisters and I were not allowed
to leave the house, I often went to the roof to get some fresh
air. One evening when I was up there, Ali climbed onto his roof
next door. He gestured that he wanted to talk. But I was afraid
to speak to him. Afterward, he sent his 6-year-old daughter to
our house with notes that said: "I love you. I want to see
you." Sometimes he would ball up the paper and throw it at
our roof, and I would take it and read it.
After two or three months, our relationship
became intimate. The first time we slept together, I was so happy.
But the next day, I regretted it. My father came to the roof and
saw me with Ali. He hit me and told Ali that he would never let
me marry him because he was married and poor.
One day Ali spoke to me across the fence
that separated our houses. He said he was being watched by Saddam
Hussein's secret police because he was a member of the Communist
Party. In those days, when someone was picked up by the secret
police, he never returned. He asked me what he should do. I loved
Ali. I knew that if I married someone else, my husband would find
out I was not a virgin, and my family would kill me. They would
slit my throat. So, I said we should flee together to the north,
to Kirkuk and then to Sulaimaniya in the Kurdish region.
When I eloped with Ali, I took only my
clothes. He was waiting for me in a taxi on the corner. It was
the early afternoon, my parents were napping, and my brother was
not at home. I was terrified that I would be seen as I left the
house. Once I was in the taxi, I felt free.
We stayed in Sulaimaniya for two years
and a half years. The Communist Party had formed a group to help
those who came to Sulaimaniya, but the Kurds eventually asked
the party to disband. When the Communists refused, there was a
confrontation in which six party members were killed. The United
Nations intervened and suggested the party leave Sulaimaniya,
so we went to Qom, in Iran. Within a few months, though, the secret
police there learned that we had entered Iran illegally, so we
fled to the northeast where Ali picked pomegranates and I worked
on a saffron farm. But we had no green card for Iran, so we eventually
went to Pakistan as refugees.
During all those years, we later learned
from Ali's family, my father visited Ali's first wife every day
so that if Ali came back to see his children, he could kill us
or one of Ali's brothers or force one of Ali's sisters to marry
my brother or my cousin.
This may sound strange because of how I
was treated, but I still love my family. I miss them. I want to
know how my sisters are doing.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime,
Ali and I came back to Iraq, to Baghdad, where I have heard my
family now lives. I felt I was risking my life to return, but
Ali insisted. He wanted to see his five children, since he had
not seen them for seven years. I was terrified that someone from
my family might see me. Yet at the same time, I was eager to see
them. I heard that my sisters are married now, and that my youngest
sister married an old man who was married and had a big family.
When I walk down the street, I worry that
someone from my family will recognize me and kill me. I try not
to show it but I am terrified. I have no objection to death, but
it seems unfair: my only crime is that I fell in love with someone
and wanted to marry him.