In the early morning hours of July 4, 2008, a young woman fell victim to the hands of true evil. This beautiful woman, Homaira Rahman, had her life tragically cut short by her murderer, Ehsan Amin. This is a story that offers insight into the complexities of relationships, the challenges facing immigrant communities here in the U.S., and the horrors of violence. It is the story that should have been composed by the author of “Death by 91 Cuts,” in the Washington City Paper. Instead, it became an over generalized account of this very real tragedy and sensationalized by misinterpretations, inaccuracies, and stereotypes.
Up until her death, Homaira’s experiences were not particularly newsworthy. She was born in Virginia to Afghan Immigrants escaping the ravages of a war that consumed their country. She was an American, an Afghan, an Afghan-American. Like her generation, she was part of a hybrid culture—one that absorbed all aspects of both societies. She had to contend with these challenges, as thousands like her do on a daily basis. How does one assimilate when the need to preserve one’s sense of identity is so critical? It is a question that countless immigrants ask themselves each day. Culture, language, and belief systems all have a role in this preservation. While certain practices are innate and natural in one’s homeland, they may not necessarily adapt to the new environment. These are real issues. Ms. Valdez’s article suggests, “The real scandal behind the murder of Homaira Rahman: She had been dating.” With this wonderfully simple and ignorant statement, she glosses over a culture that perhaps uses differing (in this case from American/Western) standards for relationships. Perhaps the belief in respect for family and a collective sense of responsibility to one’s community outweigh the ardent expression of individualism so prevalent in the Western world. Perhaps this explains the challenges in attracting young professionals here to public service and benevolence work, etc. In the end, the message lost in Valdez’s simplistic supposed think piece is the very real challenges many immigrants face.
Homaira was in a relationship and, yes, her family was aware, contrary to Valdez’s statement regarding our ignorance. A relationship that was consistent with her faith as a Muslim. Her belief system and family offering her guidance on such matters and both of which support her ability to choose (yes choose—an often-overlooked dictum that is contrary to the vague and often incorrect interpretations of Islam that dominate so much commentary) of her own accord to choose a life partner. Were we aware of the magnitude and nature of the abuse and violence? No, we were not. But are we any different than the scores of white, black, yellow, brown women who suffer similar plights—who would rather endure the physical and emotional violence than expose these realities to their friends and family? Is this really an “Afghan” scandal? Was her inability to express her reality the nature of a “backward” culture that oppresses their women? Or was she tragically no more unique than so many other women here in the U.S., or other parts of the world that suffer abuse? Valdez could have used Homaira’s story as a study to reinforce a problem that exists. Despite all of our achievements as individuals, as a country, and as a global power there is still much to do. Can we say we have eliminated racism? Have we broken the cycle of domestic violence for women; is it no longer an issue here domestically? Are women and other minorities still suffering from the “glass ceiling” syndrome?
No, Valdez did not spend time on these issues. She carefully arranged her interpretations of what others said and oversimplified very complex problems. Homaira was the victim of abuse; she was murdered by a man who has no sense of moral sensibility. Her parents and her family, like many other surviving relatives, live with the inevitable sense of guilt. What could we have done to prevent this? It is a question no one is prepared to answer because it cannot be answered. Homaira was an individual and despite an overwhelming support network, she was still—and unfortunately—helpless. The real “scandal” here is that she was not unique. Walk into any domestic abuse shelter and listen to the stories. Homaira’s experience will absorb into the mosaic of so many other injustices that continue on a daily basis.
Valdez did not spend time on this because it is easier to make this a cultural issue or religious issue. It is a convenient and facile attempt to explain a multi-faceted problem.
No human being, whether a follower of Abrahamic traditions or Eastern religions, or even an atheist, is embodied with the right to inflict harm on another. No man is empowered with this right over women, and no faith that is accurately interpreted advocates this. This is not a story about Afghan-American culture or Islamic tradition. It is, however, about an injustice. Why must so many women, both in our backyard and overseas live in fear?
It is also about Homaira. She was loved by many, and her loss will be felt by many. She was beautiful in every way—with a radiant smile that brightened the day of all who encountered it. She was a selfless person, always giving more of her kind nature than she ever received. She was a talented young professional with a full life ahead of her. She was loved by friends and family alike and she always saw the very best in people. The real scandal, Valdez and the editors of the Washington City Paper, was her murder—and that we as an American community no longer benefit from her gracious presence.