Nothing But Red – The Inspiration

“Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.”

– Joss Whedon, May 20 2007,



nothing-but-red-sm-draft.jpgIn April 2007, seventeen-year-old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men—some of them family members. They proceeded to stone and beat her to death, a supposed “honour” killing for being in the company of a man of a different faith.

The police stood by and did nothing, and several members of the crowd filmed the incident with camera phones. You can find the video on both CNN’s website and YouTube (We have not linked to the video. A simple search will find it for you.).

One month later, popular writer and filmmaker, Joss Whedon, posted his complete despair and outrage on a fan-run news blog, Among his words was a call to action. This is how some of us responded.


11 Responses to Nothing But Red – The Inspiration

  1. vanbleautenbil says:

    The Dua case garnered a lot of reaction on this site:
    Unfortunately, most of it is in the Dutch language. But the video can be viewed there also. If you have the stomach for it. It’s truly horrible. Horrible as well because she is by far not the only case.

  2. Shelley says:

    I do not condone what happened to this girl. In fact, I believe it was evil in action. But I think people at-large do not recognize it as evil because we are so entrenched in “tolerance.” This crowd of family members and onlookers did this because it is their RELIGION and CULTURE to do so. If we teach our young children to be open-minded and tolerant of all religions and cultures, then we have no right to rant and rage against how these other religions and cultures behave. That is a double standard. Don’t you see the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? Our “tolerance” has landed us in a very bad and scary and dangerous place. Now we stand by and do nothing in the name of letting others live what they believe.

  3. While I haven’t been replying directly to any of the comments, I felt this warranted it, as I feel I need to make clear the position of the NBR staff…

    This issue has absolutely nothing to do with tolerance of religions and other cultures. People around the world haven’t spoken out against the injustice of Du’a Khalil’s death because they DIDN’T HEAR ABOUT IT, not because they’re “tolerant”. Violence against women is underreported both in individual cases and in the news itself. Not a single person who encourages tolerance of other religions encourages a blanket acceptance of everything they do. It’s about accepting the rights of others to believe what the want and practice their beliefs as they see fit so long as they DON’T infringe on the rights of others.

    No one stood by and watched that girl die because their “religion” permits it, and to assume so directly contradicts the religious teachings of the various Islamic faiths. It is the culture of MISOGYNY that permits these things to happen.

  4. Shelley says:

    I understand what you’re saying, but I still disagree. These “honor killings” have taken place for hundred of years. And I hear about them on the news, on Oprah, online, etc. Honor killings are a part of their religion and culture. And it’s not misogyny (although misogyny is also part of their religion and culture).

    The reason I say that these “honor killings” (in quotation marks because I do not believe there is ANY honor involved in murder) are not misogyny is because they are not limited to women. In fact, I know several “ex Muslims” that have fled their homelands in Africa and are now in hiding in the US because their family members have tried to kill them and would kill them if they were found. These people who are in hiding to escape what their family calls “honor killings” are all men.

  5. For the first point… Again, you’re lumping culture and religion into the same category, which isn’t the way to approach these issues. Violence is entrenched in parts of culture, not faith (if it were religion, I expect there’d be a lot more violence here in Toronto where there are many, many faiths). There is a difference. I’m an atheist and by no means a fan of any religion, but suggesting that somehow tolerance is behind no one in the west caring about this girl’s death is absurd.

    Secondly, I didn’t say all honour killings were misogynistic in nature. But the sheer glee demonstrated by the men who participated in Dua Khalil’s murder has its roots in misogyny. And I stand by what I said: the reason people in the west haven’t shown more outrage about this her death is because they didn’t know about it, not because they’re tolerant of other religions (Tolerance? Really? I’m sorry, but that just floors me. I’d say the average person is quite the opposite.).

  6. Ellen R. Sheeley says:

    I am the author of a recently published (i.e., March 2007) book on “honor” killings entitled “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan,” available on the American version of Amazon:

    When Dua Khalil was murdered and Joss Whedon published his impassioned commentary about it, I was out of the country, so really pretty far out of the loop on everything. CNN International contacted me to be a subject matter expert on one of its programs about Dua’s murder, but I didn’t receive its message until after the program had aired.

    I am now back in the West and was just this morning doing some additional research on “honor” killings when I stumbled upon Joss’s commentary on the Whedonesque site. I was supposed to go to the opera today, but I became so engrossed in reading the comments to Joss’s post that I’ve blown off the entire opera and desperately wish to respond to some of the members’ comments while they are fresh in my mind. However, I am not a member of that site, and it is now closed to new registrations. Perhaps you could help me spread the word.

    I am really impressed not only with the volume, but also with the quality and the passion of the posts. Clearly, there is a yearning among people to understand and to be part of the solution. Some have a wonderful understanding of the problem; others are at the beginning of their learning curves in understanding it (e.g., it is not Islamic. . .in fact, “honor” killings entirely predate Islam and are believed to have their roots in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic tribal codes). I just spent 18 months working on “honor” killings in Jordan (have been working on them from afar since 2000), all on my own time and nickel. No one will fund this problem at a level that actually helps these at-risk girls and women. It is a crying shame, for there is an obvious need. While I have nothing against Equality Now, it isn’t even on the radar screen in Jordan. . .nothing it is doing is having an impact where the rubber hits the road. There is a definite need for advocacy at the policy level, which is what Equality Now seems to do, but women in countries like Jordan and poor Dua in Iraq also need more immediate assistance and remedies. This particular problem is urgent. . .lives are hanging in the balance.

    So one of the things I would like to share with you is the importance of working both ends of the problem. . .not just the policy end. In Jordan, for example, there is only one real women’s shelter, just recently opened, but it explicitly won’t accept women who are at risk for “honor” killings. And this is a tragedy, for they are the very people most likely to lose their lives to violence. I would love to see someone fund a women’s shelter for them. Right now, they are warehoused at Jweideh Correctional Centre (a prison). . .average stay at the moment is seven years. Meantime, the people who threaten them are walking free. It’s completely bass ackwards.

    I would also like to encourage people to educate themselves before doing anything that is just knee jerk, for many of the outside “solutions” often fail to address any true need within these developing countries and waste valuable time and resources. We in the West already have credibility issues in the region. So it’s important to look before we leap, act only when we are armed with the best possible information (which, I’ll admit, is often sketchy in the case of “honor” killings).

    My book is about a nationwide survey I conducted in Jordan about attitudes and opinions surrounding “honor” killings. It is an eye opener, even for the Jordanians, but also for people who live outside the country. While “honor” killings are often labeled a women’s issue, I have come to see them as a basic human rights issue (i.e., the right to wake up and breathe another day without someone snuffing out your life. . .to me, the most basic human right of all). In Jordan, there aren’t very many gender differences in how these crimes are viewed. Easy as it is to blame it on the boys/men, sadly, girls/women are part of the problem, as one of the Turkish members of Whedonesque pointed out. While women are >90% of the victims in Jordan, they are often complicit in the crimes. It can be mother against daughter, sister against sister. . .the dynamics are extremely complex. I was getting concerned reading some of the posts on Whedonesque, for it seems some people lack this fundamental understanding of the problem and, thus, some of their proposed solutions seem quite off the mark. And it would probably stun people to learn that the only hate mail I got while I worked on this sensitive issue in Jordan was from women. . .the very women in Jordan who are either directly tasked with solving the problem or best placed to work on it (i.e., the women’s activists and nonprofits and the so-called upper class women of Amman, the capital city). I suppose it is a rather Western quality to assume that all people are basically just like us but, on this issue, it is far more complicated than that. Some people have a stake in maintaining the status quo, and not all of them are men.

    In my empirical research, the primary demographic differences in people who believe in these crimes versus people who don’t were: (1) educational level (as some of posters correctly surmised, but this includes education for men as well as for women); (2) age (older people are more likely to believe in “honor” killings); and (3) employment status (retired people are more likely to believe in them, but this is probably correlated with #2, age). There were some differences among various cities, towns, and villages in Jordan, but not in such a way as to allow me to conclude, for example, the cities are more progressive than the villages. Gender, while I searched and searched and searched for it, was not a factor on this variable. Nor was income. No statistically significant differences, as we researchers like to say.

    Another point that needs to be made is that, in many countries, these crimes are actually state sanctioned. In Jordan, there are three penal code articles that offer leniency to the perpetrators. The average sentence is six months, but can vary from three to 24 months. These crimes are misdemeanors. Pakistan and Turkey have criminalized “honor” killings, but left in some loopholes that benefit the perpetrators. In addition, some of their judges are still looking the other way and being very soft on these crimes. As one poster on Whedonesque correctly pointed out, in these countries, “honor” suicides are beginning to take place where, to get around the newly-stiffer penalties, the perpetrators are forcing their victims to kill themselves.

    While “honor” killings pre-date Islam and, thus, are un-Islamic, it is factually correct to claim that most “honor” killings occur in Arab/Muslim countries and among Arab/Muslim immigrant communities outside the Arab/Muslim world. The Jordanians in my survey recognized this. Hated it, but admitted it is so. In addition, approximately 20% of the people in my sample erroneously believe Islam condones these crimes, so there is an opportunity in the mosques to correct this misinterpretation of the Qur’an.

    In 2000, the UN estimated that there are 5,000 such crimes per annum worldwide, but most people who work in this area believe this figure is vastly understated (I am among them) due to the very nature of the crime. Often they are unreported, disguised as accidents, disguised as suicides, lied about (e.g., the family will just say their murdered daughter has moved to, say, Saudi Arabia or somewhere), minimized in the official statistics (for obvious reasons. . .most of the states where these crimes occur are headed by dictators who don’t allow transparency, free speech, free press, anything that might reflect poorly on them). . .this is just the way it is. I believe the true figures are unknowable, though the estimates are useful to the extent that they give one an idea of the relative frequency/rate in countries where these crimes occur. So Pakistan has the highest absolute numbers (but also a large population), Jordan has one of the highest per capita rates.

    One opportunity/need I see in all this is to urge our lawmakers and executive branch to tie our generous aid packages to countries where these crimes exist to legislative reform (viz., remove the legal distinction in the penal code between “honor” killings and plain ol’ murder) and to objective, measurable improvements in human rights in general. The U.S. government and the West keep a country like Jordan afloat. America is their largest donor, with the EU and certain EU member states closely behind, and without our aid, the country would be even more impoverished than it already is. So we have that economic clout, and I don’t see anyone here urging our government leaders to make better use of it. In Jordan, the U.S. Embassy and USAID (the State Department’s aid distribution arm) gave me no assistance whatsoever, not just economic, but assistance publishing or distributing my book, moral support, nothing. Even Jordanians were shocked by this. With all the millions they disburse in Jordan (very little of it is to be seen in actual improvements in the lives of the people there. . .most of it seems to be going to intelligence and security), why hasn’t some of it gone to help build a women’s shelter?! This just boggles my mind. Where is the accountability?! Where is the transparency in how these hundreds of millions of dollars per year of our money are actually used?! Why aren’t more people here pretty ticked off about this?!

    Tying our aid packages to real quality of life improvements in Jordan would also serve the useful purpose of letting the Jordanian leadership know we are watching and measuring and expecting more of them. Right now, the leadership says one thing to the West, but does quite another within Jordan. It is sometimes very difficult to reconcile the two. It gets away with this because we aren’t holding them to proper account. The king in Jordan is an absolute monarch. He says to us that he is against “honor” killings, and he has the power to issue a royal decree to overturn the penal code articles there that offer leniency. Lacking the political will to do that, he could also use his Hashemite legacy to influence the tribal leaders and use more traditional methods to effect reform. And yet he doesn’t. So why isn’t anyone who represents us asking him to use his power to reform these laws?! I don’t know the answer to my own question. But it haunts me. To the extent that we are settling for this lack of accountability from our own leaders and funding regimes that don’t appear to truly care about “honor” killings and other human rights abuses, we are complicit in the problem.

    As I was traveling back to the West from Jordan, one of the women with whom I shared an airport shuttle ride in Paris told me, if you want the world to wake up to this problem, you should work with someone on producing a powerful documentary about it. . .do for “honor” killings what Al Gore did for global warming with “An Inconvenient Truth.” She said the visual is more potent than the word on a printed page (though I think this is debatable). I am a financial services/technology marketer by training. . .what do I know about making a powerful documentary?! But I did note the appeals to Joss and, if he would like to work on this, I would be only too eager to serve as his subject matter expert. I think I know as much as anyone on this subject. . .certainly among people in the West. So, if anyone has a connection to him, please feel free to pass this on.

    Thank you all for caring so much. I have felt the loneliness of the long-distance runner as I toiled away in obscurity on this problem for all these years. But reading your members’ posts has given me some hope for this world. Maybe little Dua’s horrible death will not have been in vain if it prompts the world to sit up and take notice. Now, if only we can find a way to harness this passion and package it in a way that actually gets results on the ground. Unlike so many problems in the region, this one is manageable. There is reason to hope, but it takes money, time, commitment, and political will.

  7. Judy says:

    In reading Ellen Sheeley’s comments on Doa’s murder as well as Honor Killings in Jordan and other places, I can totally understand how frustrating it must be for her to research this horrible atrocity and find an excellent solution such as the US putting restrictions on aid to Jordan until they step forward and make this illegal which they have the power to do. I have done research on this subject as well but certainly not nearly to the extent Ms. Sheeley has and I have suggested to people that a movie or documentary would certainly be a wake up call to people around the world. I don’t have the resources for this, however, in signing the petition that Housan Mahmoud started that can be found at where there are currently over 13,000 names, many people put their occupation and/or affiliation down, I noted there were several directors, authors, and people that make documentarys signing, perhaps if these people could be contacted we could convince one of them the importance of such a piece of work. I have taken the liberty of setting up a memorial site in honor of Doa Aswad who risked and lost her life by taking a chance of loving someone of her choosing. Please go to and light a candle for Doa, she never had a proper burial, at least we can say a prayer for her now in hopes that she is finally able to find happiness and freedom.

  8. angela says:

    Thank you Ellen for your insightful, intelligent comments.

  9. ammani says:

    Thanks, Judy and Angela. I’m just now reading your comments.

  10. anton petit says:

    I agree fully on Judy’s comment that a documentary about this horrific killing would be a wake up call to the poeple around the world.

  11. Mental Mist says:

    Thats shocking … May Dua’s soul rest in peace and her death not be forgotten… No longer enough to be a decent human being… damn, Ill have to think about that! More power to you guys!

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