AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 22/2008

The High Price of Freedom: Honor Killing Victim Wanted to Live Like other German Girls

By SPIEGEL Staff

At age 16, all Morsal Obeidi wanted was to live the way other girls in Germany do. She paid dearly: Obeidi's brother stabbed her 20 times. Her murder has sparked a renewed debate in Germany about the failure of many immigrant families to integrate into Western society.

Morsal is buried one week after her death. In the morning, the women wash the body, cleansing it of its earthly sins, in keeping with tradition.

The teenage girl's thin body is covered with stab wounds, evidence of the knife that was plunged into her torso. The women wrap the body in linen and lay it into a coffin made of a light-colored wood.

At noon, six men lift the coffin to their shoulders and begin walking, leading a procession of 200 men and women dressed in black. Ghulam-Mohammed Obeidi, the father -- who lost his daughter and now, more than likely, his son in a single night -- is at the center of the group. They walk along a path that leads to the new Muslim section at the back of a cemetery in Hamburg's Öjendorf neighborhood, to where a group of construction workers stand leaning against an excavating machine. The women stop as the men carry the coffin to the grave, which is lined with boards, a rectangular hole in the ground with pale sand piled up around its edges.

This is where the story ends, with the body of a stabbed girl being brought to her grave. Her name was Morsal Obeidi, and she was 16. Born in Afghanistan, she died a few days ago, in a parking lot in Hamburg.

In the years between her birth and her death, Morsal Obeidi tried to lead the kind of life she believed was correct, the kind of life other girls in her school led. Perhaps she was trying to do precisely what politicians and social workers are constantly encouraging immigrants to do: to become integrated.

A Life in Two Worlds

But her parents and her family -- especially Ahmad, her oldest brother -- were an obstacle to integration. In the end, Morsal Obeidi was torn apart by the need to live a life in two worlds, and by the daily struggle to be the kind of person she wanted to be.

Morsal met with Mohammed, her cousin, on the evening of May 15, a Thursday. They were sitting in a McDonald's restaurant. Morsal had only been back in the city for a few months, after a prolonged visit with relatives in Afghanistan. It was spring in Hamburg. As they ate, Mohammed thought about the plan that he was keeping a secret from Morsal. It seemed harmless enough. Mohammed said later that Ahmad, Morsal's brother, had asked him to bring his sister to the Berliner Tor train station. "He said to me: 'I want you to meet Morsal today. Then walk to the Berliner Tor with her. But don't tell her anything. I just want to talk to her."

It seemed harmless enough.

Morsal and Mohammed arrived at the suburban railway station shortly after 11 p.m. They walked around the corner to a small parking lot next to an apartment building, where they sat down to smoke a cigarette. At 11:20 p.m., Ahmad suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Morsal recognized him -- and froze. Ahmad approached his sister and then, without saying a word, began stabbing her. He stabbed her a few times. "I think he must've taken something first. Drugs. Or maybe he got drunk. I tried to stop him, but he pushed me away," says Mohammed.

Ahmad Obeidi, 23, is a strong, athletic young man. Morsal tried to run away, but she stumbled and fell. Ahmad stood over her and continued to stab her, five times, ten times, still silent as he swung his right arm up and down over his sister's body. He seemed intoxicated. The police counted 20 stab wounds, inflicted with such force that Ahmad would later wear a bandage on his right forearm.

Morsal screamed, waking up the residents of the apartment building. Passersby called the police. Ahmad fled to a nearby subway station, and Mohammed followed him. The two cousins boarded a train, where they sat silently across from each other, a killer and his accomplice.

Morsal died.

Mohammed spent a short time wandering through the night before going to a police station, where he was interrogated for six hours. It was Ahmad, he said, who had killed her.

At approximately noon on May 16, roughly 12 hours after the killing, police officers stood at the door of Ahmad Obeidi's apartment. He allowed them to take him into custody without resisting, and he confessed to the crime. To the officers, it seemed that Ahmad, the murderer of his own sister, had been waiting for them.

In the days following the crime, it was frequently referred to as an "honor killing." A murder for the sake of honor? Is this even possible? Doesn't a man who cold-bloodedly kills his own sister, a girl seven years his junior, little more than a child, in fact lose all honor?

A Criminal for Whom Germany Was Foreign

The family was certainly not without its problems. But there was a critical difference between Morsal, who wanted nothing more than to be free, and Ahmad, who was a criminal to whom Germany had always been a foreign place. He staggered through life, unstable, a failure in life. He killed his sister for having become too comfortable in the ways of the West. He resented her for her uncovered hair, her makeup and her short skirts.

By reconstructing Morsal's life, we realize that there are various ways to become integrated, to succeed in Germany, and that different people adjust to German society at different rates. Morsal was always a step ahead, while her brother Ahmad always lagged behind.

Morsal had a German passport, like her brother and the rest of the family. Ghulam-Mohammed Obeidi was the first to come to Germany. He arrived in 1992, when Helmut Kohl was still chancellor. The father was barely 30 years old, a good-looking young man who had been trained as a pilot in the Soviet Union. He had flown the legendary MiG-21 jet fighter, an aircraft capable of traveling at twice the speed of sound. Obeidi flew combat missions against the religious mujahedeen, and he was a member of the Communist Party, which soon fell from power when the Soviets withdrew and the mujahedeein took Kabul. Obeidi fled to Hamburg, where there was already a sizeable Afghan community. It seemed a good place for a new beginning, a place where he would not be alone.

An Afghan Enclave in Europe

Today, Hamburg is home to about 20,000 people of Afghan heritage, more than any other European city. Close to 7,000 have German passports. Before the murder of Morsal, Hamburg's Afghan community was relatively loose-knit and was rarely perceived as an ethnic group, partly because these immigrants had been so deeply divided at home that there was little left to unite them as a community abroad.

When the communists came into power in 1978, the supporters of the king were the first to leave Afghanistan. In 1989, the communists fled the victorious mujahedeen. After the Taliban was ousted in 1996, many of its supporters also went abroad. In other words, each group was fleeing from the next group that would follow it into exile.

Once they had arrived in Germany, the groups found that they had little in common. Old enemies were now neighbors, living together in the same city. To make life together more tolerable, these disparate immigrants focused on the one thing that could surmount all ideological differences: the family.

The family became their safe haven, and it was to be defended at all costs. The family, in this new, foreign world, could not be allowed to disintegrate.

This emphasis on the family created great pressure to conform, to obey the rules -- and it sealed the fate of Morsal Obeidi. Her father brought his family to Germany in 1994, when Ahmad was 10 and Morsal was only three. He could no longer work as a pilot in his adopted homeland. An Afghan elite soldier was not in high demand in Germany, and so he learned to drive a bus. He never learned enough German to truly fit in. Everyone here seemed to be overtaking him, even his own daughter.

Obeidi started a business selling used buses in Rothenburgsort, a Hamburg neighborhood. Today there are three dilapidated buses and an old Mazda on the lot at Obeidi Auto Export. Ahmad, the killer, ran his father's business, a business with almost no inventory worth selling. The family lived on another street in the same neighborhood in a new, five-story building adjacent to the motorway. It was neither a very good neighborhood nor a troubled ghetto.

Obeidi's family grew, and he soon had a wife and five children. Though relatively unsuccessful in the world outside, at home he was still in charge, still the man of the house. His family was the source of his pride, and he could not abide the thought of anyone complaining about them. He was determined that no one in the Afghan community should be able to say that his children had brought shame on the family. But this was far from his family's reality. Ahmad, the eldest son, became a criminal. Morsal, the pretty daughter, became too German. In his police file, Ahmad was soon listed as a violent criminal. Morsal, hoping to escape the blows from her father and brother, repeatedly sought the protection of a child and youth welfare agency.

In this new world, the proud men are the first to become losers. They lose their way of life, because in their world their only claim to authority is the fact that they are men and that, as men, they can resort to their one advantage over women, brute strength. They cling to old concepts like honor, because honor is something that even a loser can invoke.

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