May 2, 2007
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Mob Law or Rule of Law?

Globe Editorial - By Behrooz Shojai

A brutal lynching cannot possibly pave the way forward for a democracy based on the most fundamental human right, which is the right to live.

The Yazidi-Kurdish girl, Du'a, was brutally lynched by a mob intent on punishing her because of her affinity for a Muslim man. The 17-year-old girl was taken away against her father's will, thrown from a roof, dragged from behind a car, and after that, when she was still alive, concrete blocks were dropped on her head until she died. Her body was then thrown atop the village trash heap where it laid for several days, until Yazidi authorities gave the parents permission to claim their dead daughter's body. Almost everything was recorded by mobile-phone video cameras, and the video was then circulated throughout Kurdistan towns and finally broadcasted on the Internet and a number of foreign TV stations. Islamists were not late to declare her as a martyr of belief - they stated that she had converted to Islam - and shortly after they killed several Yazidi-Kurdish workers in the Mosul area.

The fundamentalist's opportunist approach in exploiting a young woman's death for their obscure intentions - from engaging Kurdish areas in a civil war they have avoided until now to creating a split between Kurds belonging to different religions - is not as important as the life of Du'a or rather Du'a's human right, her right to life: human rights that are the point of departure for every democracy.

Du'a was not the first victim of violence against women in Kurdistan, and unfortunately, she will not be the last. Be it within the Muslim or Yazidi communities, the violence against women has continued without interruption. One may state that this kind of violence exists even in Western communities, but let us not forget that groups do not sanction such violence in Western societies; rather, it is the act of a single individual and it is a crime that is severely punishable. Honor killings and lynchings like the one that took Du'a's life are sanctioned by a large part of a community. The best evidence is that sequences of the video-recorded lynching show that the perpetrators of this crime aimed to make an example of it as a lesson to others. Strangely, the sectarian violence in Kurdistan does not affect other religious groups but their own people, namely young people, and particularly the women. The Kurdish media were silent for a long time after the incident; only when non-Kurdish fundamentalists and foreign organizations began discussing the issue did the media come forward to discuss what happened in Behzane.

The authorities used their own well-tried methods, namely finding a solution through the Elders. Mir Tehsin Beg, the prince of the Yazidi community, is one example. All solutions are welcome, of course, when it is necessary to calm society in such situations, but these solutions will ultimately be short-lived. The foundation of violence against women, particularly the collectively sanctioned violence against them, must be destroyed. For that, we need more than mediation by respected authorities. We need a change of the social context that paves the way for this kind of violence. This old-fashioned tribal approach - once again explained as Ibn Khaldun's assabiya - cannot work anymore in a society on the verge of modernity. The social cohesion between different layers of the multicultural, multilingual and multireligious Kurdish society cannot be achieved by alliances between chieftains. Settling social problems by top-to-bottom methods is not enough. We have to change the mentality of the society; we have to tackle society's approach concerning human rights and democracy. Those changes must come from the bottom and be thoroughly worked out by the civil society. Women's organizations, unions, student organizations and other NGO's play an integral role in this important task. We need a redefinition of the Kurdish identity; we need a civic Kurdish identity based on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, not the rule of mobs.

We really hope that Du'a's death can shake our society and wake our leadership to take honest steps toward democratization. Moreover, I hope that Du'a's (her name means "prayer") death-prayer was a wakeup call.


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