Saturday, October 23, 2004


Mischief and Revenge

I never met Salman. I was told that Salman was 25 in 1982, good looking, married with one 2-year old baby, Uday, and lived in the countryside. He used to visit a neighboring village populated mainly by people from a different tribe to call on friends.

He once apparently made some advances to a married woman in that village. She complained to someone. An elder from her village paid a visit to one of Salman's older relatives and had a quiet word with him about Salman's conduct. The old man, in turn, warned Salman about such behavior and advised him not to go to that village again. Salman did no pay heed.

The next time Salman went to that village again and, apparently again made a pass at the same woman. Her husband was away at the time. So, a cousin of his, Fadhil, killed Salman. Being a lawyer by profession, he knew he couldn't live as a fugitive, so he drove immediately to the police station in a nearby town and surrendered himself.
He was sentenced to 14 years.

For 10 years, there was bad blood between the two tribes. The prison sentence was not enough! There was a state of semi-permanent tension. You couldn't even say hello to a friend or share tea at the local coffee house in town if he was related to Fadhil.

Before Fadhil finished his sentence, incredible mediation efforts were made to arbitrate the matter so that scores were settled before Fadhil left jail. Efforts finally bore fruit in 1992 and there was a Fassul [arbitration council] between the two tribes in the presence of some intermediaries.

It was during that council that I came across a most peculiar doctrine: apparently what made many of Salman's people angry most was that Fadhil had no right to kill Salman; he was not the woman's husband. It turns out that even the husband did not have automatic right! The doctrine simply says: "The bone does not leave its kin". The woman's blood kin had priority in defending her honor. If somebody else does, it implies that they may not be honorable enough!! The proper thing to do in such cases is to inform the woman's kin first. If the woman errs, all her husband can do is to send her back to her family.

I find that doctrine amazing – yet it is so little known. I have met 'experts' on tribal matters who have never heard of it. Nevertheless, it is there… to be used when needed!

To cut a long story short, the matter was tribally settled. Fadhil left jail and everything was back to normal. However, I could notice people averting their eyes or grinding their teeth when Fadhil was around!

One day in 1997, Uday, Salman's son, now a young man of 17, was playing football with some friends. Fadhil walks by. Another young man (who apparently had a problem with Uday) yelled at him: "Hey Uday, there goes your father's killer walking tall!"

The next morning, Uday goes into town, walks into a real estate office where Fadhil was sitting and says: "Fadhil, I am Uday… Salman's son!" and shoots the man at close range.

Uday fled his home and village the same day. His folks claim not to know his whereabouts. Some claim that he is in Syria; it has also been rumored that he has visited his mother a number of times late at night.

To date, the matter still stands. Fadhil's tribe refuses to even consider arbitration, even as "agba" [breach of agreement which automatically carries a penalty 4 times the original one].

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