31 May 2007


In case you missed it, Joss Whedon is upset.
Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken—by more than one phone—from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

Mr Whedon goes on to talk about the poison of misogyny and a bunch of other things worth reading.

Digby is also on the case.

A gang of violent bullies, often at the behest of some authority figure, “sends a message” by publicly humiliating, maiming or killing one of their own who had the temerity to fail to properly conform. Whether for God or country or tribe, it's always some poor victim, lying on the ground, covering his or her head, surrounded by people who have turned into animals.

There are a lot of manifestations of this particular human organizational style, some much more sophisticated and stylized. The violence becomes more ritualized and the humiliation takes other forms but underneath it all, the same impulse to dominate drives a fair number of people of all cultures. It's just a matter of degree.

If you want to spoil your day, you can see video on Digby's page, in the CNN report, or (most painfully) on a post by the Chicago Tribune.

I'd like to connect the dots about mob rule and about the repugnant camera phone aspect. This intersection between recording technology and barbarism is neither new nor some phenomenon of the Middle East. People proudly capturing honour killings for posterity was pioneered here in the USA. David Neiwert of Orcinus observes:

I was struck, however, by how similar these images were to those from the lynching era, when black men were routinely killed by mass mobs in the most horrifying ways imaginable—including torturing them by flaying and dismembering them while still alive, setting them aflame, and then finally raising them aloft, often with a chain. The image above of the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington in particular was reminiscent—not merely for the horror of the corpse itself, but the horror of the smug satisfaction on the faces of his lynchers.
(The link to the photo on Orcinus is broken, but if you want to further spoil your day with the image, Wikimedia has it.)

I'm cheating a little; Mr Neiwert was making not a comparison to Dua Khalil but to something else. Still, the comparison applies. The lynching photo in question was taken on the periphery of living memory, with other examples still more recent.

And of course we have not outgrown cruelty mixed with cameras; consider the example of Abu Ghraib.


joanne said...

Stop honour killings has a collection of articles and details of actions to support Iraqi and Kurdish women's rights activists.

T. Thorn Coyle said...

There is something about Whedon and Digby et al finally talking about this that annoys me. I can't quite put my finger on it.

I blogged about Dua a month ago. I fielded accusations that I was justifying the killing of the 21 Yezidi men on another blog by just pointing out that they were killed in retaliation for her murder.

But I had to explain the situation to my students just last week because all of a sudden, there was this atrocity that included a religious minority.

We knew about her and the video the same day those 21 men were killed. The video was all over the net. Thankfully, I never watched it.

But only now that major news sources have decided to put the story above the fold and denounce crazy infidels are people perking up and writing about it.

So I'm annoyed. Annoyed because of course talking about misogyny and racism and hatred should happen. But annoyed also because why weren't they talking about it before Chicago Times and CNN decided to profit off her horrible death?

I am also, of course, saddened.

"Honor" killings go on all the time. The points about the filming of the killing are good ones. But there is still something wrong here beyond all that. The outrage feels somehow manufactured. Not your outrage specifically as you are trying to paint with a broader brush... but I'm reminded of how all of a sudden, when the US was bombing Iraq, that people became oh so concerned with the plight of Afghani women when they never cared before.

Or perhaps I am just so tired of people not caring that when they finally do, my first response is unaccustomed cynicism. Which isn't so much cynicism as simply... annoyance.

Too little. Too late. And not much really, to do, at all. She and all those others are dead.

t. Thorn Coyle said...

Yikes! Sorry that was so long! It had been a long travel day yesterday...

The thing I was trying to put my finger on - the annoyance - actually has nothing to do with Whedon and Digby. It is really just at the likes of CNN and the Chicago Times. I'm annoyed at lack of news reportage that doesn't simply play on spectacle and that even behind the times spectacle still gets play.