Rand Abdel-Qader, 17, told her closest friend that she was in love from the moment she set eyes on the young British soldier working alongside her in Basra, and she dreamed of a future with him.
It was an innocent infatuation, but five months after Rand, a student of English at Basra University, met Paul, a 22-year-old soldier posted to southern Iraq, she was dead. She was stamped on, suffocated and stabbed by her father. Several brutal knife wounds punctured her slender, bruised body — from her face to her feet. He had done it, he proclaimed to the neighbors who soon gathered round, to “cleanse his honor.”
And as Rand was put into the ground, without ceremony, her uncles spat on her covered corpse because she had brought shame on the family. Her crime was the worst they could possibly imagine — she had fallen in love with a British soldier and dared to talk to him in public.
Rand was murdered in March. That the relationship was innocent was no defense. She had been seen conversing intimately with Paul. It was enough to condemn her, because he was British, a Christian, “the invader,” and the enemy. The two met while he was helping to deliver relief aid to displaced families in the city and she was working as a volunteer. They continued to meet through their relief work in the following months.
Rand last saw Paul in January, two months before her death. It was only on March 16 that her father, Abdel-Qader Ali, learned of their friendship. He was told by a friend, who worked closely with police, that Rand had been seen with Paul at one of the places they both worked as volunteers. Enraged, he headed straight home to demand an explanation from his daughter.
“When he entered the house, his eyes were bloodshot and he was trembling,” said Rand’s mother, Leila Hussein, tears streaming down her face as she recalled her daughter’s murder. “I got worried and tried to speak to him but he headed straight for our daughter’s room and he started to yell at her.”
“He asked if it was true that she was having an affair with a British soldier. She started to cry. She was nervous and desperate. He got hold of her hair and started thumping her again and again.
“I screamed and called out for her two brothers so they could get their father away from her. But when he told them the reason, instead of saving her they helped him end her life,” she said.
She said Ali used his feet to press down hard on his own daughter’s throat until she was suffocated. Then he called for a knife and began to cut at her body. All the time he was calling out that his honor was being cleansed.
“I just couldn’t stand it. I fainted,” recalled Leila. “I woke up in a blur later with dozens of neighbors at home and the local police.”
According to Leila, her husband was initially arrested. “But he was released two hours later because it was an ‘honor killing.’ And, unfortunately, that is something to be proud of for any Iraqi man.”
At the police station where the father was held Sergeant Ali Jabbar said last week: “Not much can be done when we have an ‘honor killing’ case. You are in a Muslim society and women should live under religious laws.
“The father has very good contacts inside the Basra government and it wasn’t hard for him to be released and what he did to be forgotten. Sorry but I cannot say more about the case.”
Rand, considered impure, was given only a simple burial. To show their repugnance at her alleged crime, her family cancelled the traditional mourner ceremony.
Two weeks after the murder, Leila left Ali. She could no longer bear to live under the same roof as her daughter’s killer and asked for a divorce. “I was beaten and had my arm broken by him,” she said. “No man can accept being left by a woman in Iraq. But I would prefer to be killed than sleep in the same bed with a man who was able to do what he did to his own daughter, who, over the years, had only given him unconditional love.”
Now she works for a women’s organization campaigning against honor killings. “I just want to try to stop other girls having the same fate as my beloved Rand,” said Leila who is forced to move regularly from friend to friend.
A colleague of Leila’s said: “We prefer to change places each two weeks to prevent targeting. She has been threatened again by her husband’s family and is very scared.”
Throughout her friendship with Paul, Rand confided in only one person, her best friend Zeinab, 19. “She used to say that her charity work had more than one meaning now. From the first time she saw him, she was helping needy families but also that Paul was helping her. With just a simple, caring smile, he was able to give her the sense of love, making her forget all about the hard and depressing life in Iraq,” said Zeinab.
The two teenagers had spent hours talking about him, she said. “She loved to speak about his blond hair, his honey eyes, his white skin and the sweet way he had of speaking.
“He was very different from the local men who usually are tough and illiterate. I was in heaven when she was speaking about him. Everything looked so beautiful.
“But, I always had to remind Rand that she was a Muslim and her family was never going to accept her marrying a Christian, British soldier.”
“Unfortunately she never wanted to hear me. Her mind was very far from reality, but closer to an impossible dream.”
Paul gave Rand gifts. She kept them — and him — secret from her family and asked Zeinab to take care of these small tokens of his affection for her. He gave her a charming cuddly animal. “She couldn’t take it home so she asked me to keep it for her,” said Zeinab. “It’s hard to look at it every day,” she said.
Rand told Zeinab she and Paul had met only four times, though Zeinab doubts this. Their meetings were always in public and through the voluntary work that Paul carried out as part of his regiment’s peacekeeping duties.
Rand had an excellent command of English and spoke it fluently and that, said Zeinab, allowed them to communicate freely without others around understanding what they were saying. “She was the only one who could speak English and it made it easier for her to get closer ‘through words’ to him,” she said.
Soon Rand began giving different and elaborate excuses to her family to enable her to continue her voluntary work. She persuaded her father that her work was vital in helping families. And she began paying daily visits to displacement camps, local aid agencies and hospitals in the hope of bumping into Paul.
“He used to tell her all about England. She told me his father had died from a disease and that it was a really sad story,” said Zeinab.
“She liked to speak about how couples could live together in his country. He told her that flowers could be found on every corner and he promised to take her one day to buy some in the streets of London. She was a fan of London and he told her about all the tourist attractions there.
“But the thing she used to like talking about best was how he praised her beauty and her intelligence. She told me he called her ‘princess.’”
Despite knowing how dangerous the consequences of her actions could be, and the punishment she faced if caught, her passion for Paul grew stronger, said Zeinab. “She never did anything more than talk to him. She was proud to be a virgin and had a dream to give herself to the man she loved only after her marriage. But she was seen as an animal,” said Zeinab.
“What they did to her was ugly and pathetic. Rand was just a young girl with romantic dreams. She always kept her religion close to her heart. She would never even hurt a petal on a rose.”
Last year 133 women were killed in Basra — 47 of them for so-called “honor killings,” according to the Basra Security Committee. Out of those 47 cases there have been only three convictions for murder.
Since January this year, 36 women have been killed.
The British in Basra:
Unopposed British forces enter Basra, Iraq’s third largest city, on March 21, 2003. Residents welcome them.
During the following weeks the outskirts of the city see some of the heaviest fighting during the invasion of Iraq. UK forces led on foot by units of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment take the city in early April.
Hopes that warm smiles and berets (the campaign to win hearts and minds) would be sufficient soon dissipate as soldiers encounter fierce insurgency.
Last September, the last British troops are withdraw from central Basra to an air base outside the city, with 168 service personnel, at that stage, having lost their lives trying to bring peace to the city.
Three months later the UK formally hands control of Basra province over to the Iraqi authorities.
British forces become directly involved in recent fighting in Basra, as clashes continue between the Iraqi army and militiamen of the Mahdi army.
Four thousand British personnel will remain in Basra for the foreseeable future after the UK government announced last week it had abandoned plans to withdraw 1,500 troops from the city.
— The Guardian
The chills were what first tipped me off that something was wrong. It was an early Thursday evening in late February and I was sitting in my office. I normally hit an energy low this time of the day but this was different, as I suddenly felt chilled, absolutely drained of energy, the lightest of achiness in my muscles and joints and a slight pain behind my eyeballs. I went home, took a long hot shower and went to bed early. After a full day of rest, I felt normal enough on Saturday to jump on my bike and enjoy
1. If you go to the hospital for a check-up, plan for the worst-case scenario — having to stay there without returning home. Have a hospital “grab bag” to either take with you or have someone deliver. Recommended items include: T-shirts, shorts and sleeping clothes, socks and underwear, sweater/fleece, personal toiletries and medications, computer (and headphones) and phone plus charging cables, towel, slippers, nail clippers and reading material. Also, have a water bottle/container that nurses can fill up with drinking water. Remember that Taiwanese hospitals generally only provide the most basic of daily necessities. 2. If you test positive, anticipate
When a man surnamed Chen discovered that his wife, surnamed Chang, was having an affair with a foreign national surnamed James, he hired private investigators to catch them having sex. Chen and three private investigators staked out James’ apartment and, when they heard moaning sounds coming from Chang, burst in and filmed the couple in flagrante delicto. A judge later found the pair guilty of adultery and sentenced them to four months in prison, and ordered the foreign national to be deported. Like anywhere, adultery is a daily occurrence in Taiwan, and rarely a day passes when an adulterous couple
With around 10,000 descendants packing the ancestral shrine every Tomb Sweeping Day, the Yeh family’s grand affair made a bid for the Guiness Book of World Records in 2016. They won’t be coming even close on Saturday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 30 people will be attending and conducting the rituals. “We hope that our ancestors don’t take offense,” branch association head Yeh Lun-tsai (葉倫在) tells the Liberty Times (sister paper of the Taipei Times). Tomb Sweeping Day activities can potentially aggravate the spread of the virus as large groups congregate in cemeteries and columbariums at the same