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16-year old Afghan girl victim of ’honor killing’ in Germany

Religious extremism follows Afghan immigrant families as brother stabs sister to death
Deepali Gaur Singh
Thursday 14 May 2009

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The month of February saw the sentencing of an Afghan-German man for the May 2008 “honour killing” of his sister, Morsal Obeidi. Following the verdict the scene in the courtroom was one of mayhem as family members screamed, assaulted journalists and attempted suicide – yet another grim reminder of the violent life that Morsal led behind the supposedly secure walls of her home. Even as the irony of the brutal death of a sixteen year old girl born in war ravaged Afghanistan and brought to Germany in the hope of a better and more peaceful life refuses to fade out, the incident itself raises some very critical questions.

Ahmad-Sobair Obeidi is believed to have lured his sister to a parking lot in Hamburg and brutally stabbed her following a brief altercation. Twenty three stab wounds, inflicted with such force that Ahmad would later wear a bandage on his forearm, is how the young life was snuffed out. The verdict described the murder as a “treacherous and premeditated bloodbath” after all attempts to “discipline” his sister had failed. Ahmad is believed to have retorted that had the trial taken place in Kabul, Afghanistan, he would have been released long ago.

While Morsal was killed in May last year she already had a very volatile relationship with her family with a history of beatings by various members of the family, reports of this physical abuse to the police which were invariably retracted and rescues by the child and youth emergency cell. Morsal and her brother came to Afghanistan when she was three so in a sense Germany is the only home she knew. Her father, once a combat pilot left Afghanistan in 1992 when the civil war started. While the Obeidis were not an overtly conservative family the friction between the family and the rebellious teenager appeared to stem from her comfort with her ‘western’ lifestyle, a life she watched her peers have, which included uncovered hair, makeup and short skirts. And yet even as her clashes with the family might appear the rebellion of a pubescent teenager for someone who left behind a country at a time where the swathe of blue burkas was the only colour in a war-ravaged backdrop the life she was living might have appeared anything but normal.

Following her death what was commonly said of her was that she did not ‘act according to the prescribed moral concepts’ and was often referred to by sexual pejoratives. The only time the violence stopped in Morsal’s brief life was in 2007 when she was believed to have been sent to Afghanistan to reform her ways, learn a little more of about her own native culture and appreciate the freedom she enjoyed in Germany. Not surprisingly it was also insinuated that perhaps she was actually pregnant during the time and that was the reason she was sent away. It can hardly be missed that details like this gain importance when a certain message needs to be sent out about the victim in the context of and subsequent to an honour killing for greater social (if not legal) sanction.

What makes this case even more crucial is how it was represented in some of the local media - as a clash between two very different cultural systems. And in this clash Morsal, the murdered victim, was seen as this young heroine fighting against the tribal culture of her parents while her brother, who fatally stabbed her, represented the evil rejecting the “superior” value systems of this more evolved culture and society. The sixteen year old was eulogised as a martyr for both the women’s cause and that of more modern, civilised values. The parents seen as the obstacles to her integration only corroborated this view by being critical of the judge and saying that their dead daughter bore some of the guilt of her own murder. Thus, Ahmad, who already had a long history of several assaults, was dubbed as the “executioner” of their “parenting methods.”

The problem with the oversimplified argument of assimilation versus alienation, Morsal versus Ahmad is that even though Morsal had a sense of where she really wanted to belong in the context of social and cultural identity she returned repeatedly to this abusive family. Why did she feel a false sense of security even in this violent set-up? And that in itself is a statement on her torn teen life between the public and personal domains, between perhaps social acceptance on the one hand and family security (however misplaced) on the other.

The term ‘honour killing’ is controversial in itself, in that it places the burden of the family’s honour and reputation on women – and girls as young or younger than Morsal - paving the way for their further victimisation. The fact that it could be used in a country like Germany to snuff out a young life only makes this trend more disturbing as it gives male members of society space to reinforce their control over women. Violence in the name of honour is nothing but disguised domestic violence and death in the name of honour is nothing but murder. It is rooted in the gender imbalance existing within communities which is what needs to be addressed more immediately, even by institutions within the host nation when dealing with immigrant groups.

And even as some German politicians and other groups used the murder to relook at the failed experiment of “multiculturality” in German society the question is that can cultural identity, when it clashes with basic human rights of an individual, be placed over the valid legal order?. While Ahmad’s action delivered the perfect excuse for a resurgent discourse on ‘the other’ it is a potentially dangerous argument as evidenced from the violence that many women in diasporas endure before they have the courage or requisite avenues to seek help.

Morsal’s, as also her brother’s would then appear as a classic tussle between two worlds that the second generation diaspora very frequently experiences. A world she lived in and a world she was forced to adopt to as her real one – but one she was far removed from physically. Quite ironically, even as her death becomes a document of this tussle to fit both worlds into one – the host culture without conflicting with the moral diktats of the paternal culture men and women in her native homeland risk death by challenging these very traditional perceptions of Afghan women. And in her death the even greater irony remains that Hamburg turned out to be a more dangerous place for young Morsal than Afghanistan itself.

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Forum posts

  • Dear writer,

    I hope you are fine and doing well.It is really a very sad news and I am sure that this is not the first and last event that happens outside the Afghanistan. First,we have to remember that the question of what is right and what is wrong is a controversial issue. For instance, friendship between a girl and a boy is not acceptable in Afghanistan but in Germany it is normal, so it means that there is a contract amongst the poeple in each society about good and bad things. Second, usually we make our jugment about people’s behaviour according to our own idea and this is not the best way. I believe that if someone doesn’t like his or her religion then that person should change his or her religion before changing their behaviour, otherwise they would face with lots of problems. We all know that people from afghanistan leave their country to save their life, but when they go to the western countries they lose their culture, custom and other moral values because of different reasons. We have to keep in our mind that modern technology, beautiful house, nice car and living in a devoloped country doesn’t make people medern human beings. for example, we can gaive all the above facilities that I have mentioned to those people who are still living in the forest but they wont be modern. For being a modern human we must have the right and the best idea in our mind.In the other words, a modern mankind must have a modern idea. n
    in conclusion, we should learn how a muslim can live as muslim in a democratic society without losing anything.

    best regards


    • I think his brother was wrong for doing what he did. He thinks he did a good thing but we all know that God dosent want that. God will deal with everyone, one by one, so if she did something bad, then let her deal with God and not take the situation in your hand and stab her to death. Her brother was a fool and i hope German government gives him what he deserves, which i belive, life behind the bars.

      But Jawid jan you had good points, i enjoyed reading your comment.

      IF the girl was like that and did not wanted to change, they should have let her be the way she was and NOT force her into anything.


    • Jawid Jan, and all readers Salaam.

      I enjoyed reading your comment and agree with you on many points - modernization in particular. However, I strongly disagree with you on the point of a person being able to hold onto their values from their homeland and not lose anything once in a democratic land. It is simply impossible. With democracy comes change - particularly for those whose original homes were not based on democracy. Everyone from Afghanistan who makes a home for themselves and their families in foreign land changes. Change is inevitable. What our people need to understand before leaving Afghanistan is that their families will undergo some sort of cultural change then realize that the parenting connection with their children must be rock solid in order to minimize the amount of change that their families will undergo. Both parents must have very-active roles in raising their children. In Afghanistan our children were raised by the entire village whom all shared the same family values. In ’Western’ land family values differ widely even among those who share the same religion, traditions, and cultures.

      Just as parents sacrifice their children’s safety when departing an unsafe land (be it homeland or not) parents must sacrifice all in order to stay together and have a very close relationship with their children. Yes, by sacrificing all, I do mean living lavishly. When parents of young children work towards financial freedom in foreign land it is almost garaunteed for their children to stray away from their families. Children need their parents - both parents. If they don’t have a sense of belonging, love, and guidance - they will find another source that will give them a sense of belonging, being loved, and guided. In my opinion, it is much better to belong to a close knit poor family than it is to belong to a disfuntional but somewhat well-off family.

      My heart goes out to the 16 year old girl, may Allah (swt) forgive her for her sins, if she sinned, Aameen. She seemed to have been after a sense of belonging (love) I hope and pray for Allah (swt)to give her the love she longed for.

      My heart also goes out to her family and all families who struggle to raise their children in lands where their values are challenged. What her brother did was wrong! Honour killing is not part of our beautiful religion but rather is part of our culture which is in desperate need of change. Afghanistan has a beautiful culture. Unfortunately, that culture as any other culture on earth, has dark practices which hurt our names, people, and pure deen. The practice of honour killing is the darkest practice our society practices today.

      Honour killing doesn’t restore any honour. Once a name is put to shame, it’s put to shame. In cases like that of this 16-year old, it is mostly the parents who have dishonoured their name. A child cannot be blamed. To those who disagree, I ask, how does killing a girl who is looking for a sense of belonging (love) restoring family honour?

      I hope and pray for all families to find strength in their heart of hearts from the outcome of this sixteen year old’s life and that of her family to provide a solid foundation based on unconditional love, and guidance.


    • Dear Karima Slam,

      You wrote a very good point. One more thing that I want to add to it is that life in foreign countries is not as easy as it seems from outside. When people immigrate from Afghanistan to these countries, they experience 360 degrees change in their life which has a huge impact in their behaviour and family life. The dominant life style of the host countries is so strong that people can hardly stick to their motherland cultural behaviour. For instance parents have no time to look after their kids because they have to work and earn money to pay their house mortgage, bought a new beautiful car in finance, 36 inch TV and so on. The family is in serious debt which forces them to work and work as many hour as possible. Here in Canada some of the families ruined their children’s life by not being able to take care of them. If a children cannot see their parents for half an hour in 24 hours then what you can expect from them. They will learn the life style from those who are with them. Then having a boyfriend is the normal part one’s everyday life. It is not something very strange, unbeleiveable that we think.

      Honor killing is portrayed to be part of Muslims’ religion while it is not. It is part of some one’s culture. Islam does not say that if a girl has boy friend should be killed but if a boy has girl friend is OK. Unfortunately people from Afghanistan live in the same mentality of their motherland. If her brother had not one many girl friends it is still fine and some times parents feel proud that my sone has three girl freinds. But if a girl is suspected to have one boyfriend then honor killings is best option to go with. This is regretable.

    • Dear readers,

      All of you have made very good points. i completely disagree with what happed to the young girl. it is definitely a sexist culture. the culture is entirely dominated by males, so when a woman does anything that brings "shame to the family" she must be killed, but when a man does anything then it goes unheard. i also want to make another point in regards to afghan parents bringing their families abroad. although a peaceful life is the ultimate goal, they have to understand that change is inevitable. parents simply should not raise their children in western cultures if they cannot accept change. We afghans should embrace our beautiful culture & should always remember our origins. In the end every man or woman is for himself. The "honor killing" does not justify right from wrong.

    • I think that is more important and advantage for us that we should know our selves .
      warm regards

  • It is unfortunate that a family judges the soundness of its honor on the sexual accessibility of someone who can be physically overpowered and unwillingly defiled. It puts women in the position of regarding men as protector and punisher, predator and provider. I can’t help but feel there are virtuous and compassionate husbands in the world who are denied the measure of trust, affection and devotion they deserve due to the soul-grinding wariness women experience regarding men.

    The ideal solution would be for all the people of the world to be considered accountable before God to master their own appetites rather than create elaborate mythologies to jusitify restricting other people’s freedom. And why not judge a family’s honor by qualities that can’t be taken by force? Things like wisdom, integrity, service and piety. Such virtues are the results of conscious effort and not due to luck or restricting anyone’s personal sovereignty.

  • German society create this gap between old and new refugee . and German minister of education should had a kind a educational program for new comer in said country . to make understanding between two or three or hundred of cultural back ground you nee to do a lot of job . specially have to educated youngster in first place . this girl kill by German wrong policy maker for refugee . and they have to accept responsibility .

    • every person should undrestand thatwoman are human too . they should not be treated as non humna they have needs like every other human

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