There is a book I'm reading. Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men, is written as it was told to a ghostwriter by a woman who was burned in her Palestinian village.
She was burned because she was unmarried and pregnant. They burned her for that most terrible of crimes: love.
I've read nearly all this book. It's short, maybe 215 pages at most. But the story is terrible, and horrible. The pain and the anguish are so great that you cannot even rage against this woman's family. Everything was done in accordance to custom.
The woman's name is Souad. She has no last name, for protective purposes. Although she now lives in Europe, and is considered legally dead in her home village, her case is what is called an honor killing: if her family discovered she was alive, they would do everything in their power to kill her.
Those involved in rescues like Souad's have seen it happen.
I cried for most of the book. I cried as I sat in a university cafe, with students coming and going, listening to Ipods, talking on cell phones, reading textbooks. And the sorrow threatened to overwhelm me.
What can we, as Americans, as women, as people, do about honor killings like Souad's? Once your eyes are opened, it is impossible to close them again. And yet, there is a frustrating feeling of helplessness. We cannot go and rescue every young woman who dares to fall in love. There are organizations to join, like the one mentioned in Burned Alive, Le Hommes de Terres (People of Earth), but can one person really make a difference?
I say yes. When I read Souad's story, I wanted to take her in my arms and cry. I wanted to understand her great and terrible fear of fire, her shame in her scars, her terror that her husband might leave her, because he is Arabic, because she is scarred, and in her own words, "a pile of garbage".
And it frustrated me, because I knew people who could help her. And I didn't know if it was out of place to go to them and ask for help. This woman, whom I am only connected to by reading her story, I desperately want to help. I want her to stop being ashamed of her scars, but at the same time, I understand why she is. I wish her husband could prove to her that he won't leave her, but he's already doing that, by being there every day.
It breaks my heart to see this woman, who represents the women of her culture, in pain, in sorrow. She believed for a long time that her gender made her worthless.
And it is for her, and for all the women and girls who continue to believe that, that we can't stop fighting.