"Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor."

—Ginetta Sagan
Take Action - Events - Links - Articles - Pictures - About Us - Contact
     

When Love Is a Crime

By HADIL JAWAD and LAUREN SANDLER
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 permission.

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 classifies murders.)

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.

 
site last updated: May 26, 2005
contact webmaster Jim
contact coordinators Jessie Behm and Sabine Ronc
<3 <3 <3 !!Amnesty loves you!! <3 <3 <3