For weeks the story of the lovelorn Basra teenager who was beaten to death by her father and brothers in a crime met with high-fives and applause by the local law enforcement authorities has…well, gone relatively unnoticed in the Western press, perhaps because it's so fucking depressing. And now it's over. Layla Hussein, the heartbroken mother who fled her husband over the killing — unsurprisingly he blamed his wife's genes for his daughter's sins, because his side of the family was clearly so fucking pure — is dead. After spending the past few weeks hopping among safe houses, she was assassinated in a drive-by shooting as she got out of a car to meet someone who was supposed to help smuggle her to Jordan. Now the anonymous women's rights aid agency that attempted to smuggle Leila out of the country is trying to smuggle itself — but they're out of money. We contacted the Guardian to see whether, um, we might redirect some of the week's drinking funds to a more worthwhile cause?
And basically, we got some emails and contact information, and an offer from a Guardian staffer to let us use their bank account since the women's NGO in question lacks its own, so if you would like to help, email us and we'll pass on the info. Because while stunningly horrific, the case is not exactly rare. Four years ago George Packer wrote a New Yorker piece that sorta-prophesied the current rash of honor killings under the rationale that Iraqi citizens, who were much more religiously puritanical than we'd given them credit for before the war, would react to the lawlessness and moral corruption unleashed by the invasion by killing prostitutes, in a warped sort of Fixing Broken Hymens theory of criminology. Here's a relevant passage:
An entire subspecialty of forensic medicine in Iraq deals with virginity, Shaker said. In any criminal case involving a woman, it's the most important piece of information. "It rules our life," he added. The surprising thing about these details of his profession is their ordinariness. In the West, Iraqis developed a reputation for cosmopolitan modernity that is now decades out of date. In order to win the support of Iraq's clerics, Saddam obliged people to adopt a harsh form of traditional Islam. In private matters of religion, family, and the treatment of women, the vast majority of Iraqis are far more conservative than most outsiders understand.
In March, 2003, a week before the start of the war, a sixteen-year-old girl whom the Baathist police had found wandering disoriented through the streets was brought to the Medico-Legal Institute. Upon examining her, Shaker found that her virginity had been recently and violently taken. The girl, named Raghda, was beautiful, with pale skin and large, dark eyes, and she was so miserable she could hardly speak. Raghda seemed nothing like the teen-age prostitutes Shaker examined, and he gently persuaded her to tell him what had happened.
Raghda had gone to audition as a television announcer at the studio owned by Uday Hussein, Saddam's psychopathic older son. Along with the six other finalists, she was taken to a room where Uday - crippled from a 1996 assassination attempt-was seated in a chair, holding a pistol in his lap. He ordered the girls to undress and walk in a circle around his chair. When one girl begged to be excused, Uday shot her dead. After that, the other girls, including Raghda, did as they were told. In the following days, Uday (who was committing some of his last crimes in power, while an invasion force gathered along Iraq's southern border) raped the girls, then threw them out on the street, drugged, with a wad of cash, which was how Raghda was found by the police. When she told them her story, they gave her a beating and then took her to the Medico-Legal Institute.
"If you want to help me," Raghda told the doctor, "go tell my parents their daughter was found dead."
On March 18th, two days before the war started, Shaker completed Raghda's paperwork. "Notice that there is the appearance of complete hymen rupture from the top to the base," he wrote. "In conclusion, the hymen membrane was ruptured longer than two weeks ago; I cannot say how long. End of report." Raghda was returned to the police; Shaker never learned her fate.
I assumed that this forward-thinking man of science-with a flat-top haircut and clean-shaven jaw-wanted a relatively secular, liberal Iraq. I kept waiting for him to catch my eye in the middle of one of his clinical descriptions and shake his head over the backwardness of a society obsessed with virginity and prostitution. It never happened
Before the war, it was the other way around; Shaker used to perform five or six virginity exams a day. Shaker is a Shiite Muslim, and he was appalled by this inversion of the normal order. In his view, a fragile moral relationship existed between the two sections of the Medico-Legal Institute-as if the social control of virginity offered a defense against the anarchy that led to murder. He noted that in Iran, an Islamist theocracy, prostitutes were publicly whipped. He thought the same practice should be instituted in Iraq-where the sex trade, he claimed, had reached epidemic proportions in the lawlessness of the occupation. "It's strict, it's horrible, but it has good results," he said of Islamic law. "Prostitution now is normal here." He blamed the Americans for the moral laxity in Baghdad, and especially L. Paul Bremer, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, for threatening, in February, to veto any interim constitution that declared Islam to be the principal basis of federal law. "When they give everybody their rights, it's causing bad things in society-it's corrupting us," Shaker said. "If Islam is the main source of law, none of these things would happen."