Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow

I can’t get this story out of my head at all. I tried to write it, using my website’s weekly poem slot – but I’m not in the least sure it worked – finding rhymes – I was using a villanelle form – when your head is filled with the description of an atrocity is somehow inappropriate. It is hard to write poems (or indeed make novels or films) out of contemporary atrocities. There seems to need to be a time-lapse (so that, bizarrely, many very powerful films have made about the Nazi terror, but mainly in the last ten years) – a distance is needed.

But I can’t think of a story which has possessed such a visceral kick. It relates to a Somali girl, who appears to have been married, and who was raped by three men. The area of Somalia in which she lived is a militia battleground, and there are fundamentalist believers involved in the wars. The first reports suggested she was 23, as if that exonerated anyone or anything, but subsequent reports have her as a young teenager. Having reported her own rape, she was condemned to death for adultery. And the method of death prescribed was stoning. There are no photos or film of the event (I have seen one alleged photo, which is bad enough, but it has no provenance), but Amnesty International describes a thousand onlookers, the arrival of a lorry-load of stones, the distressing resistance of the girl, the fact that she was buried up to her neck, her stoning by fifty men, the fact that she was found, possibly twice, not to have died, and the killing or wounding of a young boy who protested (for which the militia is said to have apologised…)

No death is pleasant. No torture is speakable. But there are especially wretched features in this case: the trumped-up idea of guilt when the girl was a victim; the distress of the girl; the number of the executioners; the size of the crowd; the incompetence of the execution, and therefore the protracted pain. There is something particularly grim about the lorry-load of stones, too. Who filled it?

On Al-Jazeera’s news website, one which I have to say I trust, there is a sprinkling of comments from around the world (allegedly). They include comments from gung-ho types who want to send in weapons, and in-denial comments from others who say that Amnesty International is a tool of western propaganda.

It is meaningless to talk about barbarism. We were doing much the same thing in this country to men, women and children only 200 years ago, and also, from cockpits in aeroplanes, only 200 minutes ago, murder will somehow have gone on. Murder is a ritual at any level, no matter what its nature, no matter how many people are killed, one or a million.

The newspapers are worried that sales in the high streets will be down this Christmas. I think they should print Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow’s story every day, on every page, for the rest of the millennium.

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