This post is dedicated especially to those who struggle to live in a world dominated by heterosexism, patriarchy and its various violences (i.e. everybody).
Link to Joss Whedon’s excellent post follows my commentary.
Joss Whedon is perhaps most famous for his show-runner/creator role in the US for television shows such as ‘Angel’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire-Slayer.’ He enjoys a large cult following globally. I feel he is an excellent producer/writer. In a blog post he wrote May 20, 2007, entitled: “Let’s Watch a Girl Get Beaten To Death,” he speaks strongly about heterosexism and the control of women in the world. His words are sparked by the broadcasting of the stoning-death of a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Iraq.
Dua Khalil Aswad, a 17-year old Yezidi Kurdish girl from Bashka Ninawa in Iraq, was stoned to death on April 7, 2007. Her death was broadcast on the internet via recordings from a mobile phone. Her stoning has been said to have sparked several ‘reprisal’ attacks and massacres by Sunni Muslim fundamentalist extremists against certain Yezidi villages. Dua Khalil was a girl from the Yezidi culture/worldview, which pre-dates Islam. Much like Alevism, Yezidism has also been a persecuted religion by certain more fundamentalist Sunni and Shi’a groups. The division between Sunni and Shi’a has also sparked some violent antagonisms through history. Let us not forget that fundamentalism and extremism create these licenses to torture and kill. For women and children, this is even more pronounced.
Fundamentalism and extremism exist everywhere and in many forms. In the US and Europe, most of it is hidden behind closed doors and plays out violently in domestic spheres hidden from the public or inter-personally, and in the more poverty-stricken neighborhoods where most news programs and citizens of wealthy countries do not spend much energy or time. Much of it plays out unseen to the public in policy-making wars in government. Exclusions and dominations are everyday aspects of our lives.
When I was doing research on Kurdish groups in Europe, the United States, and in their traditional homelands in the Middle East, I often questioned my Kurdish friends on ‘honor killings.’ I was always mindful to not blame or speak from a feeling of being ‘better’ as an American or Japanese, which is always the risk in bringing these things up when one is ‘a westerner.’ In most cases, most Kurds think of honor-killings as horrendous and needing to stop. In many cases, Muslims who did not agree with honor killings, were correct in understanding that certain tribes, pre-dating Islam, practiced these killings, much like certain tribes in Christian areas. Those traditions have been carried on in certain families and Islam cannot be the blame. In a few cases, there were those who were quite open with their anti-female attitudes and told me that if they are dishonorable, they should be punished. They sounded the same as some of my American friends who felt that all gays should die or that the ruin of the world was when women were allowed to vote and work alongside men. One can imagine the non-heterosexual boys and the girls who are being raised by these men. We, the other people, know what goes on.
Intensifying the questions and investigative energy that I acquired when asking my Kurdish friends about honor killings, various kinds of anger and blame had to be side-stepped in the name of academic research and my own willingness and desire to get through to depths beyond the superficial and the spectacular of such horrific actions as honor killings in society. In the west, sudden gun-shooting rampages, Columbine, and daily rapes and tortures unseen and unreported, are also questions I have spent the last decades on deciphering. I do not believe in original sin, so the sickness of humanity, as far as I know, is not because we are born sick and twisted and violent. Things develop. But things also have pre-texts, histories, traditions, legacies. We are born into these. My thinking/feeling is that as long as they have been developed in history, they can also be undeveloped, shifted, constructed differently, albeit most of the time, in slow trajectories through our small, urgent, and sophisticated actions.
When asking leaders of certain Kurdish, Islamic, or Persian organizations regarding the traditions of honor killings, they were quick to blame ‘poor’ and ‘uneducated’ people on this. It was interesting, then, to discuss how, in certain cases, their own family members practiced this on a sister, or a niece, or another female member. In some of my friends’ cases, they may have grown into certain middle-class wealth but originally came from poor villages. Others, had come from wealthy families where perhaps one or two of the boys participated in honor killings. In some cases, I have also heard of honor killings against men, most for being homosexual. This points to another aspect of the violence of our societies. Our heterosexism also plays into the ignoring of male-targeted violence and publicizing anti-woman, anti-girl violence. The invisible killings of gays in culture, whether spiritually or physically) and male-to-male violence are normalized and therefore unattended to, while in the western nations there is a certain glorification of our horror at violence against girls and women. This system keeps everything in tact.
When speaking of these intense issues of violence, what we hear cannot always be assumed to be ‘truth’ or ‘lies.’ It is difficult, at this juncture, to get a feel for when things were down-played or made to ‘sound’ democratic and caring, when in fact, they did not believe their own words in wanting to dispel honor killings; or whether they truly wanted it to end. After all, I was an American and they wanted to be seen in the best light. I have questioned US Americans on their gay-bashing weekends where they tortured a gay boy behind a bar, and they were sometimes apologetic but I did not believe them. I am sure in some cases, they did change their thinking on this, but one can never be sure in the reality of face-to-face politics. However, in knowing most of my Kurdish friends and being with their families, I am certain that they held nothing back in their belief in the respect of women, simply by watching the consistency between their actions and beliefs while I spent time with them and to watch how Kurdish girls and women responded to them.
One Kurdish political figure I interviewed, became angry with me for questioning her (yes she was a woman) on honor-killings among the Kurds. She accused me of being an American who always wanted to present Middle Easterners in a bad light. She said she was tired of it, and began to name events and attitudes of the Americans that would qualify as the same–the denigration of women and its structural elements in the present world society. She was a strong woman who worked among the Kurdish and Middle Eastern elite and worked for human rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and Kurdish rights in the diaspora and in the Middle East. She was right in the sense of the ‘honor killing’ concept to be barbaric, yet propped up differently in the West and often ignored. Women in the US are often killed ‘spiritually.’ Internalized oppression also plays into how women play these dynamics out themselves.
This brilliant political woman, also told me that honor killings was a general Islamic problem in certain areas and was not a ‘Kurdish problem.’ I found this comment to be half-true. Yes, it is not a Kurdish problem. I responded back: “But Kurdish girls, women (and some boys and men) are dying from this. So don’t you think Kurdish leadership should work on it within the Kurdish community?” She agreed but she said that it is at the risk of being accepted by the West. In her logic, she said that if they began to work on it as a Kurdish issue, the four countries that rule the Kurds at the moment, as well as Europe and the US, would use this as a way to demonize the Kurds in world politics, just as they were trying to form more Kurdish empowerment in the community. The West, she believed, would quickly allow the Arab countries to continue what they do, while they could get more oil from them, while blaming the Kurds for honor killings and strengthening Turkey and the other Middle Eastern countries in their efforts to annihilate the Kurdish culture. I would also add here that for Yezidis, Alevis, Dersimians, Christians etc. who are also Kurdish, there are even worse pressures to consider. Mainstream Sunni and Shi’a Kurds would also join with Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian mainstream Muslims in the denigration of them as ‘other.’ There is, in many cases, violences visiting them from other Kurds because of mainstream Islamic domination. In my experience, this was intense, as well as meeting many Muslim Kurds and Turks who felt that religion should be about peace and that those forcing violence on non-Muslims were wrong. In working on sexism and violence against women, as well as against gays and lesbians and non-heterosexually identified peoples in conflict zones, how do we respond?
She is right about the political strategy, I feel. But also, she was side-stepping the honor-killing issue. In the middle-class oriented culture of state-making, and elitisms, the honor-killings continue to work in many societies. It is not just a moral sexism issue. It becomes geopolitical, which holds racism and nationalism to be at play in this.
It is indeed easier for a westerner to criticize quickly and to not think of history and relations when intervening. Certainly we must criticize honor-killings and violence against women. But as a westerner, we must be respectful of painful family histories and politics. We can easily get someone killed even for speaking with us about these issues. We are easily racist and nationalist in having condescending attitudes toward those who practice honor killings. It has been a long road of violence. When a culture or community faces annihilation by western nations, dominant local nations (n this Yezidi case we can speak of the Middle East and Central Asia, as well as diasporic communities around the world) how can we intervene without the communities feeling encroached upon (western racism and moral high-grounds)? Do traditions easily change by our wishes in other communities? If not, do we just let things be? How do we work together? How can we empower stateless communities such as the various Kurdish cultures including the Yezidi, who are also oppressed by local communities? These are not easy answers. We must work urgently yet compassionately. Understanding histories and power-relations and thinking creatively would be a good start.
Photo of Du’a Khalil Aswad
In the West, women are, on the most part and often, still acting as objects of patriarchy and violence. This also allows male-to-male violence to be seen as ‘normal’ and ‘boys-will-be-boys’ continues unspoken and rarely paid attention to. At the point when the gun shoots, or the knife is wielded or the fist is thrown, it is too late. Hundreds and thousands of hours have constructed that moment. What I mean to say is that what people consider ‘violent’ is just the final act. Violence is in words, thoughts, motions, worldviews. Women also play into their own subservience through internalized oppression. Just today, I heard the ‘I’m sorry’ by women twenty times!!! For just stepping past me in the elevator or some other act I consider everyday. I consider this to also be a form of internalized oppression, internalized violence.
I remember a woman-friend in college who was always speaking of men being violent and macho and that just once, she would like sensitive caring men in her life. However, one day when she saw a man crying because his dog died, she called him a ‘fag’ for crying. I pointed out to her that a sensitive man was perhaps the last thing she could take. What would happen to ‘womanhood?’ When women take the place of the man in an already-patriarchal and violent system, do they become like men? What would be the requirements for de-violentizing our society? What would be required to live differently in a world not propped up by our own internalized oppressions and legacies? Our fears? And as we, perhaps, back-down from dreams and actions toward change and hope, we re-create the violences and oppressions. What are our choices? Can we respect women while disrespecting men and boys? How does this need to be shifted?
Joss Whedon’s excellent post from 2007, is an excellent example of admonishing ourselves to step-up, step-forward; not succumbing to brutalizations that happen through us in the largely heterosexist-dominant world systems into which we have been born. We have the power to change things. We must.
Read JOSS WHEDON’s excellent blog here:
For more information on Du’a Khalil Aswad: wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoning_of_Du%27a_Khalil_Aswad
Yezidi / Yazidi people/culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yazidi
Joss Whedon blog: http://whedonesque.com/