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Sahar Al Haideri, An Honorable Woman
Sahar al Haideri.jpg

Yesterday Amnesty International in London announced its 2008 media awards.  Its new media award had to be given posthumously because its recipient, 45-year-old journalist Sahar al Haideri, was gunned down in her home city of Mosul, Iraq for reporting a series of stories about dishonor killings, the influence of religious extremists, and the rising tide of violence against women in her country.  For those who may not be aware, Mosul is considered the second most dangerous city in Iraq, after Baghdad.

I never met Sahar, but I wish I had.  She was heroic.  She had received 15 death threats, and still she forged ahead.  On June 7, 2007--just weeks after the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, where she had risen from the ranks of trainee, published her article "Honour Killing Sparks Fears of New Iraqi Conflict" on its Web site--the @#$%&*s finally got her.  Ansar al Islam claimed "credit" for her murder.  Sahar is survived by four daughters.

One of the dishonor killings about which Sahar had reported was the high-profile murder of 17-year-old virgin Du'a Khalil Aswad on April 7, 2007.  I have twice blogged about Du'a: 

http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-r-sheeley/the-dishonor-killing-dua-khalil-aswad 
http://www.redroom.com/blog/ellen-r-sheeley/book-launch-nothing-but-red 

But this is what Sahar had to say about Du'a's horrid, captured-on-videotape, kicking/stoning/bricking murder at the hands of a rabid, approving, applauding mob:

http://www.iwpr.net/?p=icr&s=f&o=335541&apc_state=henpicr 

I would love to say that Sahar's predicament was unusual.  That she just had terribly bad luck.  But the reality is that too many of us who work in this area are subjected to all forms of abuse, bullying, character assassination, intimidation, and threats.  Much of it is systematic and sustained.  And it isn't solely from men.  Women can be equally hateful and violent.  Nor is it solely from the disadvantaged or the less educated.  In some sort of cruel, cosmic irony, what happens to too many people who speak out about these atrocities closely mirrors what happens to the people whose lots in life we seek to improve.  It is dangerous, high-risk work.

And so I just want to applaud Sahar and showcase her on my blog because she set aside her own concerns and safety in an effort to work for the greater good, a better planet for us all.  She was selfless.  And brave.  And altruistic.  And she paid the ultimate price for her convictions. 

Rest in peace, Sahar.  You didn't deserve your fate in this life.

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I hate to say this but it's

I hate to say this but it's a tribal instinct that causes people to turn on anyone they view as an outside threat. There is nothing well thought out or rational about it. Anyone who goes against this tribal custom is going to be viewed as a threat by the tribe. We have already seen similar and better known cases, for example the Danish cartoonists, Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh.

It will take awhile for this to work itself out.  In the meantime, let's pray for the safety of all. 

 

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Thanks for your comments,

Thanks for your comments, Dana.

I think you are right.  I've seen this phenomenon with my own eyes.  What surprised me most is that it didn't necessarily come from people with less education and fewer means, but people who had been educated (sometimes even in the West), who travel, dress well, maybe even own a home outside of the region.  Yet, between the ears, they remain astonishingly tribal (in the worst sense of the word, for there are aspects of tribalism that are noble and worth preserving).

And then, on the other hand, I met people with little education, no means, just scraping by trying to figure out how to feed their families.  And some of them showed such insight, such wisdom, such generosity of heart.

You really can't tell a book by its cover.  One European diplomat in Jordan told me to pay attention to actions and ignore all the pretension, and that was very sound counsel.

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         Hats off to

         Hats off to Shahar for standing up against the fundamentalists inspite off the consequences and to the author for bringing out her case before the world . In a world where we talk of seamless technology and empowerement , it is a paradox  to talk about honour killings , which invariably involves women . Although I would rather support the word dishonour killings which was used by Ellen on my blog poorganga .blogspot.

         I sincerely feel that we had more people like Shahar and Ellen , who dare to speak the truth . Like Mahatma Gandhi said , it is a bigger crime to tolerate injustice . But then how many of us are willing  to stand up and be counted .

          My condolences to the family of a brave lady.

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Thanks for commenting,

Thanks for commenting, Bobby.

You know, though, I don't like this word "empowerment" as it's used in the development/human rights community.  One (male!) Turkish embassy staffer in Jordan told me off the record that it's code for not giving full, equal rights to women but rather appeasing them by throwing them the occasional bone.  Now every time I see or hear that word, I cringe.  Especially if it's coming from a woman.  :-)

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Thank you for this moving

Thank you for this moving eulogy. I think that some of the bravest women in the globe are like Sahar Al Haideri who work in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to know more about them.