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Muslims and Nazis

The Seattle Times: 'Honor killing' shakes up Sweden after man slays daughter who wouldn't wed

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

BOTKYRKA, Sweden - When Fadime Sahindal told police her life had been threatened, they gave her an alarm system. When she approached politicians for help, they told her to make peace with her parents.

And when she appealed in television interviews for aid in escaping a death sentence imposed by her father after she refused an arranged marriage, she provoked sympathy among Swedes - whose more liberal outlook she shared - but little willingness to get involved in a family matter.

Now that she's dead, shot in the head by her father, the 26-year-old victim of an "honor killing" is drawing attention to the cultural double standards she battled.

Details of the killing were released from police records after her father, Rahmi, was charged yesterday with her murder. She was shot by her father as she left the apartment where she had secretly visited her mother and sisters in the quiet university town of Uppsala, 40 miles north of Stockholm, court officials said. Rahmi, who said he acted to save his family's honor, has pleaded guilty to murder.

Fadime had fled her family home because her father and other male relatives did not want her to mix with Swedes and were trying to arrange a marriage for her in Turkey. Her father threatened her when she dated a young Swede, prompting her to go into hiding.

Fadime, who had spoken in Parliament and on TV about difficulties faced by young women from immigrant families, was gunned down in front of her mother and two younger sisters. The Sahindal family moved to Sweden from a rural village in Turkey more than 20 years ago.

Sahindal has become a martyr among women who came to this liberal country from patriarchal cultures. No comprehensive statistics exist to show the extent of such honor killings here and elsewhere in Scandinavia, where whole communities of Kurds and other Muslim groups have found refuge.

Sahindal's death has exposed the region's failure to integrate immigrants into these societies. Having long looked the other way when religious and cultural clashes came to public attention, Swedes are pondering what more they could and should have done.

"The system isn't working," said Dilsa Demirbag-Sten, a former government adviser on integration affairs, who accuses authorities of acting as if certain rights and freedoms accorded Nordic residents, such as gender equality and protection from forced marriage, are not necessarily applicable to immigrants.

Immigrants have been coming to Sweden in increasing numbers in the past decade to fill a persistent labor shortage. They also take advantage of the country's liberal asylum policy.

But institutional flaws - such as the two years on average it takes to get a decision on asylum requests - encourage those waiting for permanent refuge to band together in bleak housing projects in what amounts to self-imposed segregation.

At least 15 percent of Sweden's 9 million residents are non-Nordic and heavily concentrated in volatile ghettos of Somalis, Kurds, Bosnians and dozens of other groups.

"There are places just outside of Stockholm where the entire population is foreign. These people aren't living in Sweden at all," said Keya Izol, head of the Federation of Kurdish Associations in Sweden, referring to towns and suburbs such as Botkyrka, a 30-minute drive from Stockholm.

A 1995 reform of laws on refugees and immigration has worsened the situation, Izol said, by focusing training and jobs on the younger generation, causing strains within families as well as between immigrants and Swedes.

"We have been too slow to integrate the older generation and too fast in integrating the younger ones," former Danish Justice Minister Erling Olsen said. Nalin Pekgul, a Social Democratic legislator of Kurdish origin in Sweden, shares the revulsion over Sahindal's killing but cautions against interpreting an act of criminal extremism as typical of fundamentalist immigrants.

"Sweden has done a better job than most countries with integration, which is why this case has caused such strong reaction," Pekgul said. As a figure of respect in Sweden's 40,000-strong Kurdish community, Pekgul tried to intervene on Sahindal's behalf. The young woman had given interviews to Swedish media about the death threats from her father and brother, Masud, a level of defiance that Pekgul feared was only enhancing the danger.

The lawmaker negotiated a compromise in 1998 by which Sahindal agreed to stay away from Uppsala and her father promised not to stalk her outside their hometown while she was living in seclusion near Stockholm. In recent years, Sahindal had been pursuing a sociology degree and become an outspoken advocate of the opportunities Nordic immigration presented for women from fundamentalist backgrounds.

Information from Seattle Times news services is included in this report.

Copyright 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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