The Price of Honor: documentary on the killings of Sarah and Amina Said

With filmmaker Xoel Pamos
With filmmaker Xoel Pamos

Sarah and Amina Said were murdered by their father, Yaser Abdel Said, in Texas on January 1, 2008. Yaser Said is still at large, and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

If you’ve followed my work or heard me speak, you know that I care very much about this case and have done everything in my power to bring Yaser Said to justice.

I am immensely proud, then, to share with you what I believe to be the product of the most important work on this case to date: filmmakers Neena Nejad and Xoel Pamos have produced a stunning documentary, “The Price of Honor,” which brings to light the truth about the murder of Sarah and Amina Said – and the details will rattle you to your core.

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Neena and Xoel, and sharing with them a deep a commitment to keeping the memory of Sarah and Amina alive as well as to finding Yaser Said. Their tireless, brave, and incredible work has done more to resolve this case than anyone or any entity has.

Their film, The Price of Honor, will be released next month. Here is the trailer, which I encourage you to watch:

Below is the press release for the film, as well as the synopsis. Please feel free to distribute widely, and join us on Twitter using #CatchYaserNow.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Documentary on “Honor Killings” of Lewisville’s

Amina & Sarah Said Premieres Sept. 7 in Dallas

 

THE PRICE OF HONOR Film Aims to Bring the Alleged Murderer/Father to Justice

 

DALLAS, TEXAS – August 6, 2014 – The world premiere for “The Price of Honor” documentary film will take place at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas on Sunday, September 7, 2014, at 6:00 pm.

The film tells the story of Amina and Sarah Said, two teenage sisters from Lewisville, Texas, who were murdered by their own father Yaser Said in a so-called “honor killing” in Irving, Texas in 2008.

Directed by Neena Nejad and Xoel Pamos, “The Price of Honor” reveals new details and evidence about the case that have never before been made public, including a secret plan that Amina had to protect the love of her life, and a previous murder Yaser committed overseas that was covered up and never punished.

“Amina left behind a treasure trove of secrets critical to convicting her father of her murder that no one had explored until we started investigating,” says Pamos. “In her own words, through letters, emails and diary entries, she answered almost every question we had about this disturbing case.”

Yaser Said, who fled the crime scene, is still at large and remains on the FBI Most Wanted List. The film analyzes and discredits the theory of Yaser having fled to his native Egypt. “Our findings lead us to believe he is hiding in plain sight in the U.S.,” says Nejad.

The film is instrumental in a movement to bring this cold case back to the spotlight, increase the $30,000 reward that is currently being offered for tips leading to Yaser’s conviction, and bring awareness that “honor violence” has spread to the United States. The filmmakers also hope the exposure of law enforcement’s mismanagement of this case will raise the bar for how honor violence is handled by police in the U.S. henceforth.

An “honor killing” is the act in which a family member, usually a female, is murdered by another member, usually a male, for disobedience, promiscuity, being raped or other transgressions of cultural norms in the traditional societies of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa and immigrant communities worldwide. They are called “honor killings” because the murder is an attempt to salvage the family honor that has been supposedly disgraced by the offending family member. An estimated 20,000 women and girls are victims of this practice every year. Many perpetrators get away with their crimes because of weak laws and strong traditions where these happen.

The world premiere event for “The Price of Honor” will feature the almost two-hour documentary film, followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers, including Consulting Producer and Dallas native Amy Logan, and the appearance of some special guests who will discuss the film and honor violence in depth. Unlike other film premieres, the producers have decided to make it a public event, in consideration of friends of the sisters who would like to attend.

“We wanted to make sure that anybody who knew and cared about Amina and Sarah have the opportunity to be part of this event, said Producer Sogol Tehranizadeh. “I know it is painful to go back and remember, but we hope our film will bring them some closure.”

The film is anticipated to have distribution nationwide and will hit the most important film festivals.

Smart Lips Productions strives to create intimate films that leave viewers with a renewed sense of self, an increased awareness of important issues, and most of all, the inspiration to take action.

Tickets to the world premiere in Dallas may be purchased at: http://www.thepriceofhonorfilm.com

Press passes available under request: info@smartlipsproductions.com

For more information about this film visit:

Official website: http://www.thepriceofhonorfilm.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thepriceofhonor

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tpohfilm

 

PRESS-KIT: Download a full press kit here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/q3kdp3lk8d4x2dg/TPOH%20Media%20Kit.zip

 

SYNOPSIS: The Price of Honor is a documentary film about the murders of Amina and Sarah Said, teenage sisters from Lewisville, Texas, who were killed in a premeditated “honor killing” in 2008. The film shows the lives of the sisters and the path to their eventual murders by their own father, Yaser Said, who fled the crime scene and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

 

The film reveals new details and uncovers evidence about the case that has never before been made public, including a previous murder committed by Yaser, and the ultimate sacrifice of Amina Said, who had a secret plan to protect the love of her life. Her words, through emails, letters and diary entries, become the voice of the film and change much of what has heretofore been assumed about this case. Despite the tragedy, viewers will learn of an incredible love story that still has life after death.

 

Friends, family members, experts and activists against “honor violence” emotionally guide viewers through the girls’ lives and deaths, in the process launching a movement to bring Yaser Said to justice. The Price of Honor discredits the prevailing theory that Yaser fled to his native Egypt after shooting his daughters, instead proposing that he is in hiding in the U.S.

 

The film’s additional mission is to bring awareness to this international issue of honor violence, expose law enforcement’s mismanagement of the Said case, and raise the bar for how honor violence is handled by police in the U.S. henceforth.

 

Roohi Tabassum: deportation may be her death sentence

Roohi Tassabum
Roohi Tabassum (photo: Aaron Harris / Toronto Star)

Roohi Tabassum is a 44-year old Muslim woman currently residing in Canada, slated for deportation to her native Pakistan in just 7 days.

While many deportations occur without much attention (if any) being paid to individual cases, Ms. Tabassum’s story has ignited a campaign to halt her removal from Canada.

Why? Well, Ms. Tabassum’s deportation, she claims, may very well be a death sentence. She alleges that her estranged husband, outraged by her work at a coed hair salon in Canada, is determined to slay her in an honor killing. Ms. Tabassum has already filed unsuccessfully for refugee status. A subsequent appeal has also failed.

It is unclear exactly why her application to remain in Canada has been rejected, especially considering that the threatening letters she has presented as evidence in her claim would seem to qualify her as a “person in need of protection” under Canadian immigration law. Should her husband truly intend to kill her, even the option to seek refugee status on humanitarian grounds would not be enough to save her, as she’d have to leave Canada for Pakistan while her case is reviewed.

Should her fears be legitimate, Canada would be in violation of its very principles by deporting her to imminent death. If it has been determined that her fears are unfounded, those trying to aid Ms. Tabassum should be told why. To help, please contact the following with a request to have Ms. Tabassum’s case reviewed; and in the meantime, to halt her deportation to Pakistan.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship/Immigration/ Multiculturalism:

Minister@cic.gc.ca

The Canadian Embassy in the United States:

The Embassy of Canada
501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC, USA 20001

Phone: 202-682-1740 or 202-682-1755
Fax: 202-682-7726 or 202-682-7738
Immigration Fax: 202-682-7689
Public Affairs Fax: 202-682-7791
http://www.canadianembassy.org

**(Not in the United States? Contact your country’s Canadian embassy by clicking here.)

Case Processing Center, Ontario:

2 Robert Speck Parkway,
Suite 1200
Mississauga, ON
L4Z 1H8
Fax: 905-803-7392

Greetings from Finland – part II

Salaams from Helsinki! I’ve finally gotten around to creating a photo album for this trip, which I’ll update regularly while I’m here. You can see it by following this link – enjoy and check back often!

raquelevitasaraswati-fbn-esize
Discussing honor violence - February 21, 2009

Last night, the Finnish Broadcasting Network featured an interview with Raija Ala-Lipasti and myself – we were discussing honor violence. Raija, who is the operations manager of the Turku Women’s Centre, has worked with women who have been subject to and threatened by honor-based violence. This is an issue many people across Scandinavia have taken interest in – especially following the death of Fadime Sahindal.

(The white lettering above is what I’m saying – in Finnish subtitles. I point out that these crimes are committed by only a small percentage of the Muslim community; and that advanced nations should provide assistance to their Muslim residents. During the day’s events, I also highlighted cases of honor violence not committed by Muslims – like the case of Du’a Khalil Aswad. )

Tomorrow, I meet Finland’s refugee of the year from the year 2000, Batulo Essak. We will be working at the AIDS support center and also discussing the issue of female genital cutting. Finland has an ever-growing number of refugees from Somalia; where 90% of women are “circumcised.” Eighty percent of these circumcisions are Type III – the most severe form of genital mutilation. 

Stay tuned for more updates from the snowy north; and remember to stay up-to-date by checking out the International Campaign Against Honor Killings regularly. For women and girls like Aasiyah Hassan, Sarah and Amina Said, Aqsa Parvez, Sandeela Kanwal, and the many who have already lost their lives – it is too late. Let’s not let them pass in vain – we can and must take action.

If you’re living in the UK, be sure to see this story about a new helpline founded to help those in danger of honor violence and forced marriage. It is already receiving calls. Hopefully, crisis management professionals the world over will take a cue from this latest initiative, training their staff to handle these cases effectively.

Bidding adieu to 2008 (and – inauguration day is coming!)

Change we can believe in. (Flickr / riverwatcher09)
Change we can believe in. (Flickr / riverwatcher09)

December 31, 2008 – a few hours before midnight,  I momentarily set my perpetually poor-performing laptop  down on the floor. Upon returning it to my lap, I am given nothing but the error message “operating system not found.”

Fluff post? It may sound that way.  The point is – 2008 was ending quite aptly: nothing sums it up better than “operating system not found.” In fact, technology references seem mighty appropriate for 2008 – someone get me a fire wire to rapidly send all useful data to a stable-state hard drive, please. Call in the geek squad for a full system restore.

2009 didn’t start much better. On a personal note, I began today by committing a major misfire in text-message communication.  In context, the message was innocent. Sent to the wrong person, less so.  Smooth, Saraswati. I’m blaming that snafu on the fog of sheer exhaustion I’ve been living in over the past few months.

On a global scale, we’re dealing with one of the least promising conflicts in human history. We are at a death toll of almost 400 – mainly Palestinian civilians.

Yesterday, January 1, marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of Sarah and Amina Said. Honor killings take some 8,000+ lives per year. Read about the case of Afsaneh, a woman whose sentence – death by stoning – is being upheld despite opposition. We have seen an increase in honor killings in places like Pakistan.

Two women in Kuwait were attacked recently, allegedly for not wearing the hijab. “Morality police” in Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are stepping up their offensives against women.

The Taliban is threatening to blow up girls’ schools if they don’t shut down.

I could keep going – and the ladies at Muslimah Media Watch can provide you with links to even more stories like these.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do in 2009 – and, despite the enormous magnitude of the problems presented in the stories above, we have reason to believe that women and men can continue to make change.

See these women, who are taking action to end the conflict in Gaza. Subservient? Submissive? Not a chance.

Salima Ebrahim, a Canadian of Kenyan descent, is confronting injustice and prejudice head on. Her mission of  “dignity for everyone” is one many big-time activists claim in order to get the big bucks – but few actually make human dignity a priority. It sounds like Salima’s voice is a sincere one. Congratulations to this up-and-coming sister!

A Saudi doctor was able to save two girls – one 5 years old, the other 11 – from forced marriage. Doctors like her deserve to be commended.

I hope you’ll join me in seeing the hope these last stories can provide. I’ll need your help to make a difference. Stay tuned to the links at right for organizations and people who are with us in the struggle for dignity, equity and justice for all.  Happy new year.

Too little, too late for Sarah and Amina Said

For months before their father allegedly murdered them, Sarah and Amina Said confided in their friends about the threats he had made against their lives. Classmates remember the girls showing up to school with “welts and bruises”, getting in trouble for talking to non-Muslim boys and for acting “too Western.”

Despite these signs of danger, no one intervened before the girls were found dead in their father’s taxicab in Texas. Shot to death on New Year’s Day, the girls had already tried escaping when their father threatened them with a firearm earlier.

In December of 2007, the girls and their mother temporarily fled when their father, Yaser Said, was enraged to find out that the girls had non-Muslim boyfriends. They were lured back home by promises that no harm would come to them upon their return.

Now, the FBI is calling the murders a possible case of a double “honor killing” – making the deaths of Sarah and Amina Said the first time the FBI has used the term. The FBI’s recognition of honor killings is significant in at least one respect: understanding “honor” could help law enforcement officials better identify the motivation behind slayings like these.

But how does this help Sarah and Amina Said? Theoretically, understanding honor killings would increase community sensitivity about the kinds of threats the Said sisters were experiencing.

Unfortunately for Sarah and Amina, this is a case of too little, too late. While I believe that it is crucial for law enforcement officials at every level to understand cultural motivations for murder, it seems that the issue here was not that their community didn’t understand honor killings. The issue, rather, was relativism in the face of obvious abuse.

I’ve often called out the Muslim community for not doing enough about honor killings. This time, however, I take issue with my fellow Americans. A Muslim man may be to blame for the killings of Sarah and Amina Said – but it is not just his hands that are bloodied now. Indeed, those who knew of the danger the girls were in are guilty as well.

The girls arrived at school with welts and bruises. Friends and family knew that when Sarah and Amina said their father was “going to kill” them – it was very likely that he was serious. The girls’ non-Muslim family members now champion themselves as knowing “all along” that the girls would eventually be murdered by their father, and that it would in fact be an honor killing.

Whose “culture” is to blame this time? Texas law requires anyone who suspects that a child is being abused to report the case to the Department of Family and Protective Services. This document, on display where the girls attended school, provides the contact information necessary to anonymously report cases of child abuse. Further, according to both Texas law and the school policy, anyone who fails to report a possible case of child abuse is committing a crime.

So, what gives? It seems that everyone knew that the girls were in danger. They weren’t isolated from extended family – including non-Muslim relatives who were concerned about their father’s violence and railed against his “culture”. Why didn’t these informed individuals stop at nothing to get the girls out of there? It can’t be possible that any reasonable individual would call this a “cultural” or “family issue” and step aside.

Unless, of course, they were engaging the very worst of American culture: relativism. It got the best of us when communities and authorities called domestic violence a “private matter” and when we waited to intervene in Bosnia. It makes us lazy cowards when it tells us that we have no place in the conversation about female genital mutilation, even when it happens on our own soil. And now it’s cost Sarah and Amina their lives.

Many are ready to make “other” cultures out to be evil, dangerous or scary. But if we can’t take action to assist those in danger right here – it is our attitudes and our inaction that are dangerous and even deadly.

It is too late for Sarah and Amina. But it needn’t be too late for other young women in danger – if we recognize and heed our responsibility to help them. We have every resource before us and no reason to remain silent.

Take action:

* Learn about the International Campaign Against Honour Killings

* Check out the resources available in your area. If you’re in Maryland, a new Muslim women’s shelter has just opened.

* Find the right person to call by seeing lists like this one, provided by the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Urgent appeal: five women buried alive in Pakistan

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from a remote area of Balochistan province, that five women were buried alive, allegedly by the younger brother of Mr. Sadiq Umrani, the provincial minister and a prominent leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling party. However, police have still not arrested the perpetrators after one month of the incident.

The Asian Human Rights Commission

In another “honor” related incident, five Pakistani women ages 16-45 have been buried alive as punishment for pursuing marriages of their choice.

Please see here to learn more. The site includes a sample action letter to the Pakistani government, and an automated way to send your letter straight from their site. Your letters may bounce back to you – please continue trying. If possible, also try calling and faxing official offices. Contact information is all listed here.

Remember to stay on top of cases like these by visiting the International Campaign Against Honour Killings  regularly.

Muslim women don’t need your approval, but you can make yourself useful in our cause

What do you have against sheperds?
What do you have against sheperds?

Time to confess something to you: I’m more than a little disturbed by some of the responses to my post on the Pakistani Taliban’s threats to maim women with acid.

Talk about missing the point! I’ve received emails from seething white supremacists who want to annihilate all Muslims, angry feminists demanding that I remove my headscarf (funny, shouldn’t feminists be fighting for choice?! As a feminist, I fight for theirs!), not to mention verbose comments about “sheparding cultures breeding terrorists” – (wait, wasn’t Jesus “the good sheperd”?), etc etc etc. I even got a message from someone who felt the need to let me know how hideous he thinks I am. Thanks for the pointers, buddy. Now stop looking through my album before you get sick.

I’ll tell you right now – my gut reaction is not just shock at how people can completely overlook the point of something like this – not to mention how anyone can feel absolutely no mercy when it comes to the suffering of others. I’m also choking down a desire to tell individuals to quit wasting our collective time, save their herding commentaries and hit-lists for their own diaries and get back to us when they’ve decided how to help the world in a constructive way. A good many of us have work to do – take your hate and get out of our way. (And a tip for the would-be lynchers: your emails are traceable. D’OH!)

At the same time, I encourage open dialogue. So, other than some downright undigestable hate language, I let most comments go up over the weekend. I’m glad I did, because some positivity did come of it: I received notes from several of you looking for more ways to help Pakistan’s women. I also heard from contacts at the International Campaign Against Honour Killings that they experienced an increase in requests to join their mailing list. This is great news. I encourage more of you to support the work of the ICAHK. This is not a partisan issue. This is something all people of conscience must address.

Some contributors made excellent points:

* A writer from Malaysia reminded readers that Muslims are not the monolithic entity many would have us be;

* Several men decried violence against women, including one who wrote:

I, RJ as a man, personally condemn these horrible/terrible attacks on women for whatever purpose they have been done for, for whatever period of time these crimes will be carried out or have been carried out, whereever in this planet/realm they have been carried out, are being carried out or are being planned for the future. I respect the rights of women and their dignity not to conform to violent views of their sexual practices, morality ( including outlawing and punishing having sexual intercourse before marriage, having multiple partners and etc..), or other manufactured perceptions of their clothing, style and ethics. I personally use all my power and will to stop violence and lack of understanding that is used as a sword against women and their rights. And I from all of my hearts do call upon those in the know, those who lead the banks who support religious terrorism and extremism of whatever kind and also my very distant bloodline relatives, who like to think of themselves as in the minority to do something to stop this – since my example might not be enough. I was not picked by the Divine before I was even born to rule over others and to say to them what to do, but clearly I am not a peasant who will stand by the sidelines and watch one of the few pure sources of joy in my personal life be abused. Since harming women is harming me as a man.”

* Someone named Daoud brought a meaningful defense of Islam to the table – while also calling on Muslim leaders to take action. What do I mean? He didn’t just cite Qur’an and hadith, then stomp away indignantly. He also said:

“It is the role and responsibility of imams, shaykhs, scholars, and political and government figures to lead and give relevant advice to those they are responsible for for the time and situations we are living in. If they will not do this, then they are betrayers of their trust the consequences of which we see meted out to such as these poor women.

If people are genuinely concerned about these atrocities then they should be demanding that the appropriate authorities take appropriate action against the perpetrators – they often know which of the birarderi elders sanctioned these attacks. How about putting them in prison? How about putting the person who actually threw the acid in prison for a very long time? This would be quite acceptable under the Shariah, although the classical punishment would have been even more severe.

There is no tribalism in Islam (”la ‘asabiyyah fi-l Islam” ;) is a well-known hadith. “The best of you are the best of you to your womenfolk…” (akhyarukum akhyarukum li nisa’ikum… ;) is another.

* When confronted with hate, a Muslim woman wrote:

“Well, here’s the thing: there are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. If we were all terrorists, the world would have imploded years ago. The truth is that the majority of us are kind, normal people. The radicals, like the Taliban, Hamas, Al-Qaida etc etc are the ones doing all of the speaking through their actions.

I have said for a long time that it is time for moderate, peaceful believers in Islam to *speak up for ourselves* and say NOT in the name of Allah, of OUR God do you do these heinous things.”

Music to my ears.

* The post has been picked up by Impunity Watch. See their mention of it here, in an article by Managing Editor Lindsey Brady. The mission of Impunity Watch – housed at Syracuse University College of Law – is to “monitor and address horrific human rights abuses.”

* Someone else provided this link, to Pakistan’s Acid Survivor’s Foundation. They help survivors and work to end acid attacks. Their site also contains a list of actual ways you can help. Now that’s a useful contribution to the conversation. 

Finally, I received an email containing the story of Imrana, a survivor of sexual assault in India. When local authorities failed to produce a humane verdict in her case, Imrana, a Muslim, took her story elsewhere. Women’s groups mobilized to assist in her cause, and she’s inspired the formation of the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement. Spread over 13 states in India, with over 2,000 members, these women don’t need the approval of clerics (or racist wingnuts on the internet) to go after their God-given rights. They know that Islam gives them these freedoms. You go, sisters.

****

 “The most perfect man of religion is he who excels in character. The best among you is he who gives the best treatment to his womenfolk.”

The Prophet Muhammad, as narrated by Al-Tirmidhi