If you’re squeamish, don’t read this article in today’s New York Times, and especially don’t watch the video. There’s a lot of screaming and blood, for the video and the article detail the horrific death of Farkhunda, a 27-year-old Afghan woman and a scholar of Islam, battered to death by a vicious mob after accusations that she burned and desecrated a Qur’an.
The thing is—she didn’t. She was protesting the desecration of a holy shrine by people selling stuff like amulets, condoms, and Viagra in front of it. She was a student of Islam! Later, she may have burnt some of the amulets, and perhaps someone had burned other things, possibly including pages of the Qur’an. An illiterate custodian then accused her of having desecrated the holy book, and the rest was predictable. The police tried to wrest her from the hands of the mob, but they eventually gave up and stood by while she was slaughtered. Killed for a book!
From the NYT story:
Mr. Naeem said that a police officer had tried to lead Farkhunda away, but that, mindful of Afghan custom as well as strict Islamic teachings, she had asked the officer to bring a policewoman. The crowd broke through. In cellphone recordings, more than one person can be heard shouting, “Kill her!”
“Then she fell down on the ground and the people tried to beat her and pummel her, and the police would try to help her up, and then the people from the other side would push her down,” Mr. Naeem recalled. “They were like kids playing with a sack of flour on the floor.”
In the videos, Farkhunda seems at first to be screaming in pain from the kicks, but then her body convulses under the blows, and soon, she stops moving at all. Even when the mob pulls her into the street and gets a car to run over her, and she is dragged 300 feet, the police stand by.
By then, she was little more than a clothed mass of blood and bones. Yet still more people came to beat her. One of the most fervent was a young man, Mohammad Yaqoub, who worked at an eyeglasses shop. He heard the crowd as Farkhunda was dragged behind the car and rushed out, eager to join.
Eight months later, neatly dressed with a small beard and mustache, Mr. Yaqoub hardly looked like someone capable of violence. Yet in the videos, he is so caught up in the moment that he has a terrifying ferocity.
“People were saying, ‘If someone doesn’t hit her, he is an infidel.’ That was when I got emotional and hit her twice,” he said in an interview at Pul-i-Charkhi prison, just east of Kabul. “My third punch hit the road, and my hand got injured.”
. . . At first, the trial and convictions that followed seemed a victory in the long struggle to give Afghan women their due in a court of law. But a deeper look suggests otherwise. The fortuneteller who several investigators believe set the events in motion was found not guilty on appeal. The shrine’s custodian, who concocted the false charge of Quran burning and incited the mob, had his death sentence commuted. Police officers who failed to send help and others who stood by received slaps on the wrist, at most. Some attackers identifiable in the videos avoided capture altogether. Afghan lawyers and human rights advocates agree that most of the accused did not receive fair trials. Farkhunda’s family, fearing reprisals and despairing that the killers would be held accountable, fled the country.
It’s a long article, and some of the perpetrators were tried in what seems like a mockery of justice. Many identified people who beat Farkhunda were let off, and others sentenced to a few years of prison. Many escaped justice for a bizarre and unconscionable defense: that she may have already been dead when people were beating and stoning her, so who knows who actually killed her? After all, it’s no big deal to bash someone who’s already dead! That would never pass for a defense in an enlightened court.
It’s not irrelevant in her treatment—and that of her killers—that she was a woman. Certainly other Afghan woman saw her lynching and the exoneration of her attackers as a symbol of their cultural and religious oppression.
You know what I’m going to say next: this woman would still be alive had there been no religion. And you can’t pin her death on colonialism, either: it was Afghan on Afghan, defending their Qur’an—a book that wouldn’t exist without faith. What’s horrible beyond that is how people like Mohammad Yaquoub, whom you’d think of as a normal person if you met him in the optician’s shop, can be transformed into a killer by a frothing mob mentality. As Steven Weinberg said, for good people to do bad things—that takes religion. Let us see Glenn Greenwald and C. J. W******n pin this one on the West. It won’t stay pinned, for the killer here was a “morality” driven by pure faith.
The video is at the top of the article; to access it and the article, click on the screenshot below. I’m surprised that something this graphic appeared in the NYT, but I approve of its being available. If you can stand watching this, you’ll see there is no substitute for actually witnessing what happens. Reading the description alone doesn’t come close to conveying the horror of Farkhunda’s death.