Was Farkhunda Mentally Ill?: Using Mental Illness As An Excuse To Hide Shame And Dishonour

Only because I refuse to share pictures of the bloodied Farkhunda, right before she was killed. I just can't. It's too gruesome and heart-wrenching! :(

Only because I refuse to share pictures of the bloodied Farkhunda, right before she was killed. I just can’t. It’s too gruesome and heart-wrenching!😦

For the past few days, news about a 27-year-old Afghan woman named Farkhunda, who was brutally and mercilessly killed last week Thursday (March 19, 2015), has been circulating all over the world wide web. Countless articles, blogs, op-eds, and press releases have been written, explaining what exactly happened, how it happened, and why it happened. And each time, something new — something painful and utterly disturbing — was revealed. While I will not delve into the details of that horrific incident, as there are no words — absolutely no words at all — to describe my feelings for this incredibly inhumane brutality that took place that horribly fateful day, one thing I can’t help but question about Farkhunda’s tragic incident is this: Was she really mentally ill, as it was so claimed? Or was her “illness” used as a blanket to hide the shame and dishonour she brought on her family, and the society at large, for burning something so sacred as the holy Qur’an?

As a Pashtun/Afghan woman, it is imperative I mention that I hail from a society where mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities are viewed and addressed unfavourably, and with much disdain and neglect. It is also important to note that there is a distinction between a mental illness and an intellectual disability. Mental illness is defined as,

A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a mental or behavioral pattern or anomaly that causes either suffering or an impaired ability to function in ordinary life (disability), and which is not a developmental or social norm. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives. This may be associated with particular regions or functions of the brain or the rest of the nervous system, often in a social context. Mental disorder is one aspect of mental health. — Wikipedia

Intellectual disability, on the other hand, is defined as,

Intellectual disability (ID), also called intellectual development disorder (IDD) or general learning disability (UK and Ireland),and formerly known as mental retardation (MR), is a generalized neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by significantly impaired intellectual and adaptive functioning. It is defined by an IQ score below 70 in addition to deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect every day, general living. Once focused almost entirely on cognition, the definition now includes both a component relating to mental functioning and one relating to individuals’ functional skills in their environments. As a result of this focus on the person’s abilities in practice, a person with an unusually low IQ may not be considered intellectually disabled. Intellectual disability is subdivided into syndromic intellectual disability, in which intellectual deficits associated with other medical and behavioral signs and symptoms are present, and non-syndromic intellectual disability, in which intellectual deficits appear without other abnormalities. — Wikipedia

Despite the differences between the two, there is one common denominator: both affect, or have affected, the brain and the cognitive ability to behave according (or not according) to the norms and expectations of a given society. Any act or behaviour that is seen as “abnormal” or going against society’s established norms, is usually perceived as shameful/embarrassing and dishonourable. And, I can say this with confidence as I have an older brother who is intellectually disabled. For the longest time, I told people that my brother is “normal,” just like everyone else, and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with him. And there isn’t. He is only slightly autistic. However, the reason I mention this is because when I was growing up, my mother made sure that my younger brothers and I told people, who were not family, that my brother had no intellectual disabilities at all, because if we told the truth, it would be too embarrassing — too shameful. After all, why take pity from strangers? It’s better to just lie and tell people that my brother is all perfectly fine and dandy. Oh yes, that would save us a lot of trouble all right!

Well, no. Not at all.

And it took me a long time to realize this fact — to realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about, because my older brother is the most perfect, most intelligent, and most kind and beautiful human being to walk the face of this earth. And I say this with a deep conviction.

Unfortunately, though, this is not how things are usually perceived, and dealt with, in the society that I come from. And I don’t mean to generalize either, because this is our reality. As a matter of fact, quite often when a woman (or man) makes a mistake that is both morally and socially “wrong” or “taboo,” we are very quick to refer to that person, in Pashto, as “lewanay/lewanai,” which translates to “crazy,” or we even say things like, “Maazgha eh kharaab deh,” which roughly translates to, “The brain has a defect.”

While I realize that we use “insane,” “crazy,” and “retarded” quite commonly in the English language as well (and which is something we seriously need to stop saying, especially the word “retarded”; please read this blog post I wrote on words that we need to stop using, in which I explain why the word “retard” should be banned from our vocabulary), among Pashtuns and Afghans it is a disgrace and used quite often as an excuse to hide shame and dishonour.

Hence, Farkhunda’s case was no different, for when news initially broke out about her killing, her family insisted that she had been suffering from a “mental illness” (which they didn’t bother to specify, as there are so many) for the past 16 years, and that she was currently “seeing a psychiatrist” since the past four years. Her family asserted that Farkhunda was mentally ill as soon as news broke that she was accused of blasphemy in the form of burning the Holy Qur’an. Upon hearing that, I couldn’t help but become skeptical about her so-called “mental illness.” Besides the fact that the mental illness was unknown, I kept wondering what if her family quickly mentioned the mental illness bit in order to serve as a cover-up for her behaviour? They had probably thought that Farkhunda’s behaviour was a disgrace. Shameful. So, perhaps, in order to save face and to redeem, and maybe even revive, her honour as well as the family’s honour, they decided to mention that she did what she did because she was “mentally ill,” for if she wasn’t ill — if she was normal like everybody else — she wouldn’t have committed such a despicable “crime.” Because it is believed that no one in their right mind would ever dare to burn the holy Qur’an, unless there is something seriously wrong with them, psychologically.

However, while her family initially claimed that she was suffering from a mental illness, her brother, Najibullah, later on denied the media reports (and which confirmed my doubts about her mental illness in the first place), that his sister was mentally ill; he went on to mention that Farkhunda was a university graduate and a teacher of Islamic studies. The following quote further elaborates on the false reports about her so-called mental illness:

He (Najibullah) said this (the mental illness) was a made-up defense by their father, who wanted to protect the family after police told them to leave the city for their own safety. ‘My father was frightened and made the false statement to calm people down,’ said Najibullah, who is changing his second name to Farkhunda in memory of his sister. — Source

Even her neighbours confirmed that they never suspected that Farkhunda was ever suffering from a mental illness, all those years they’d known her.

“Everyone respected her, she was very religious and never left her home without covering her face with a hijab,” said Mirwais Afizi, 40, who said he had lived on the same lane as Farkhunda’s family all his life. “We never heard anything about her being mentally ill. She was about to graduate,” he said. — Source

It is clear from the above statements, as given by both her brother and neighbour, that Farkhunda was anything but mentally ill. And her family’s lying about her mental illness had more to it than just simply the protection of the family; it was done to protect the family’s honour. Which then begs the question: Had Farkhunda actually burned the Qur’an, would using the excuse of a mental illness suddenly have made her actions pardonable? In a strict, highly-religious society like Afghanistan, I honestly would still assume it would be a big ‘no’. Mental illness or no mental illness, burning the Qur’an would still have been punishable by death, even though there is no such indication or mention of it in Islam, or even the Qur’an/Hadiths for that matter.

Accordingly, let’s assume Farkhunda was in fact “normal,” and not mentally ill, despite what most of the media purports. Farkhunda was a nice, normal woman, going about her usual day. She was a normal woman who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a normal woman who’s only fault was that she got angry and lashed out at a few mullahs for giving out faulty amulets. She was a normal woman, whose only crime was that she raised her voice against fraudulent cheats, and decided to stand up for something she strongly believed in. So, how can we say that she was mentally ill, when the mullah who wrongly accused her was the one who was a scam artist and a cheat? How can we say she was mentally ill when it was the mob that attacked her with fists and stones, like she was some piece of trash? How can we say she was mentally ill when a group of heartless, savage men dragged her body by a car, and then torched her dead body ablaze before dumping it in the Kabul river?

If violence, cheating, shaming, torching, and killing is considered “normal,” then the country seriously needs to wake up and realize how utterly immoral and primitive its values are. I am not a fan of bigotry, of any sort or form, and I would have never approved such an act as the burning of the holy Qur’an. However, at the same time, I very strongly condemn the way most Muslims react to such acts of bigotry. Their inhumane reactions to the Qur’anic burning is far more immoral, far more sinful, and far more opprobrious than the actual burning of the holy book. It’s absolutely horrendous, and it needs to stop! There is no honour is this, and there certainly was no honour in the way Farkhunda was addressed, tortured, and killed. The mob committed the worst sin of all: they murdered her.

So, no. Farkhunda was not mentally ill. She was a fine, smart woman. She was educated, religious (according to the norms of the society), loved, and well-respected.

Her only blunder was this: She was a woman — a woman who happened to live in a corrupt, immorally ill society that has little or no regard or value for human life, much less a woman’s life.

May she rest in peace.

Za yum Farkhunda.

4 responses to “Was Farkhunda Mentally Ill?: Using Mental Illness As An Excuse To Hide Shame And Dishonour

  1. – I still believe that the purpose of the making this statement was to save rest of the family from the rage of the brutally charged mob which could have been manipulated by a single shout like; “Lets burn the whole family so no one dares it again”- and the next hour their house would be all ashes with their corpses inside. The father preferred to be a coward by laying about the dead, only to save the alive.

    – “Her only blunder was this: She was a woman” Sorry, I don’t think so. Despite of the fact that hundreds of issues which women face in that society are just because they are women, still, this is a sad example of charged mob. Mob gets charged with stupid drives and they do brutal things, be it killing of two youngsters few years back or burning the men alive after church attack. It has nothing to do with gender. Had a man been accused for the same, he would have met the same fate.

    Having said that all, I am shocked, depressed and thought of myself many times to be in her shoes to feel the fear and helplessness she went through. I cant imagine even a fraction of what she went through, but still whatever I imagined, was extremely disturbing. No one deserves to killed like that -there is no religious or social verdict which can justify the dirty act of the mentally sick society.

    • Pakhair Orakzai wror jaana, wonderful to see a comment from you after so long. I hope you’ve been keeping well!🙂

      Hmmm, well whatever the reason was for making that “mental illness” statement, I still feel it all boils down to the matter of honour. I mean what better protection, both to their lives and their honour, than to say that Farkhunda was “not right in the head”? Because people who are RIGHT in the head would never have dared to do such a thing. Though, honestly, the amount of savagery that exists in this country (and, yes, I will say this blatantly), I doubt mentioning the lie that she was “mentally ill” would have made any difference. Farkhunda would still have been killed, regardless if she was mentally ill or not.

      So, you honestly don’t believe/agree that the reason she was killed so brutally, in a country where women are considered lesser than ants, was due to the fact that she was a woman, and that too a bold one for standing up against lies and hypocrisy? You honestly think that if a man was in her place, he would, too, have been killed and tortured in the exact same way that she was? Sorry, wrora, but I don’t think so. The main reason she was killed was because she pointed out the fraud and hypocrisy of a mullah who was selling fraudulent taweezuna; she STOOD up to him and CHALLENGED his views on religion and pointed out his dishonesty. In retaliation, he screamed, “She’s not Muslim and she burned the Qur’an” in hopes that if he couldn’t kill her himself, then the savage mob would. And that’s exactly what happened. A woman in Afghanistan should remain quiet and obedient; she should NEVER challenge any of the norms or beliefs; and she should certainly think twice before ever challenging a man, and that too a religious Mullah, who are believed to be “scholars of the deen,” and know-it-alls. And if anyone DARES to challenge a Mullah, especially if it’s a woman, well, then, they too will meet with Farkhunda’s fate. So, no, a man wouldn’t have met the exact same fate as Farkhunda’s; he might have been beaten, but he wouldn’t have been run over by a car, torched, and then dumped into the river. He would never have experienced the type of inhumane brutality that Farkhunda has gone through. I just don’t think so.

  2. Wooo, I am sorry that I was not been notified that you have answered my question and today, a search for something else, brought me here again. What a lovely coincidence🙂.
    Although too late, but I would love to speak about the subject again.
    I respect your opinion and indeed, my intentions are not to neutralize the women’s rights cause with my reasons but sometimes, we need to see things in their right perspective. We cannot sell many things with the wrong tags, can we?
    “So, you honestly don’t believe/agree that the reason she was killed so brutally, in a country where women are considered lesser than ants, was due to the fact that she was a woman, and that too a bold one for standing up against lies and hypocrisy?”
    Yes, despite of my strong condemnation of all those atrocities bestowed upon women in that part of the world just because she is a woman, I sincerely believe that the killing was purely a mob reaction and yes any man would have gotten the same treatment had the spark been fired correctly in the mob. To support my argument, I have given you the example of people killed by mobs in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and African countries etc. – most of them were men and yes, the mob was charged, in the right time and right level of emotional ignition to do things which any normal human being wouldn’t dare in normal circumstances.
    “ You honestly think that if a man was in her place, he would, too, have been killed and tortured in the exact same way that she was? Sorry, wrora, but I don’t think so.”
    Khor-may, you have all the rights to think otherwise, but I would disagree as I have presented my case with reasons and proofs🙂.

    “The main reason she was killed was because she pointed out the fraud and hypocrisy of a mullah who was selling fraudulent taweezuna; she STOOD up to him and CHALLENGED his views on religion and pointed out his dishonesty. In retaliation, he screamed, “She’s not Muslim and she burned the Qur’an” in hopes that if he could not kill her himself, then the savage mob would. And that’s exactly what happened.”
    Correct and that is what I am debating as well. The main reason, as you explained yourself, was not that she was a women but it was because she challenged a Mulla. The Mulla did what he could do the best, i.e. kill those who defy him. We have lost thousands of “men” all the way in your birthplace for the very same reason. i.e. they challenged Mulla. So should we start saying that they were killed because they were men? Naah khorkai, the ruthless contractors of holiness behave the same for all. Particularly in this case, the women are easy target but men lose their lives as well.
    “And if anyone DARES to challenge a Mullah, especially if it’s a woman, well, then, they too will meet with Farkhunda’s fate. So, no, a man wouldn’t have met the exact same fate as Farkhunda’s”
    I see an oxymoronically phrased text here. You first said that ANY ONE (my naïve knowledge tells me that anyone means anyone be it; male or a female) will have same fate as of her. But right in the same breath you said, a man wouldn’t have the same fate.

    “he might have been beaten, but he wouldn’t have been run over by a car, torched, and then dumped into the river. He would never have experienced the type of inhumane brutality that Farkhunda has gone through.”
    Two brothers killed in almost the same fashion in Faisalabad with lesser sin (they were accused of being cell phone snatchers). A person torched to death by mob in Karachi for robbery. A Christian couple burnt alive for the same accusations as of Farkhanda. If you think that these were less brutal reactions of mob just because the victims were men, then drany khoray, I am speechless.
    You are a psychologist if I am not mistaken. I believe and I expect you to do rigorous qualitative analysis of your empirically derived knowledge and the arguments you base on that🙂
    p.s. I have mentioned repeatedly that I am a huge supporter of the women rights cause and work on ground for it within my own limits but I just can’t turn any situation involving women as an argument to grab support or level a public opinion. In fact, I strongly believe that this would be rather counterproductive, as people would get sick of me translating anything and everything into it and I may fail leveling an opinion about a deserving cause.
    Kor day wadaan osa : )

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