• I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence. (Getty Images )
I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence.
By
Nour Naas

17 May 2018 - 9:43 AM  UPDATED 23 Nov 2018 - 11:21 AM

My mother was planning on leaving my father, and he knew it. Three days after my high school graduation in 2013, I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence. 

Within minutes of her murder, the police arrived on scene. Upon demanding that my father surrender his gun, he aimed it at the responding officer and was fatally shot.

My mother lost her life to domestic violence homicide in 2013. As a Muslim immigrant, my mother’s strongest roots were with the Muslim community; for that precise reason, I expected the most support to come from community members and leaders. I quickly learned, however, that the culture even in this most intimate setting was no different than the culture outside of it. 

In the wake of her death, I was told by my mother’s friends that she should have listened to my father, that she should have been more compassionate with him, that she should have left, that she should have been more patient. 

In the wake of her death, I was told by my mother’s friends that she should have listened to my father, that she should have been more compassionate with him, that she should have left, that she should have been more patient. 

What continues to outrage me is the fact that my mother continues to be held accountable for her own murder. Friends of my parents would pin the responsibility on her, while demanding me to be silent about my father’s actions. This pattern made it clear to me that their refusal to acknowledge my father’s crimes has nothing to do with respect, as many of them claim. If it was about respect at all, my mother would have been afforded the same.

But my mother did not die because she did not listen to my father. She did not die because she did not dress the way my father wanted her to. She did not die because she chose not to go to a shelter. She did not die because she did not give my father enough attention. She did not die because she filed a police report against my father once. She did not die because she returned to my father the first time she left him. She did not die because she was not patient enough. She did not die because she talked back. She did not die because she chose to resist in whatever ways she knew how. 

My mother died because my father killed her.

My mother, Nadia, was a remarkable woman. She was well known in the community for her cooking, a skill she inherited from her own mother. Her cooking and gardening were the two constants in her life. At the height of her suffering, she continued to carve out time to care for and to nurture the lives of those around her. Even as my father pressured her into isolation, even in the face of all that she had lost, her capacity to give made me marvel. 

Growing up in an abusive household made me restless. The first time my father hit my mother was in February 2009. The days following the incident, my father began making more and more peculiar demands of us. The most vivid included meeting him promptly at the front door once he got home from work each night. He expected not to have to knock or use his own key. He wanted the world to revolve around him. Mine certainly did. For weeks, the closer it got to 6pm, the more my fear swelled. I would sit by the door, heart pounding, and stare out the window to await his arrival. When I opened up the door for him each night, like clockwork, I would greet him with a smile and hug him. 

The more time that passed, and the more abuse I was exposed to, the easier it became to testify - even if only to myself - that I no longer loved my father. I wondered what had happened to him. I would daydream about preparing the suitcase nestled in the corner of the room that my mother and I shared, and leaving with her and my brothers in the middle of the night. 

The abuse carried on for years, until the week that I finally graduated from high school. My mother was planning on leaving my father, and he knew it. Three days after graduation, I watched as my father hammered multiple bullets into my mother’s flesh. In that moment, the world I knew completely vanished from existence. 

It was so difficult to watch my mother suffer. Even though the abuse affected us all, my mother bore the brunt of it. I watched as she and the rest of us became more and more isolated from the community. The community iftars during Ramadan we had regularly attended growing up, we began to avoid. My father would gossip about my mother to people within the Muslim community - and when my father talked, people listened. 

The abuse carried on for years, until the week that I finally graduated from high school.

When the coroner released her body four days later, we had the Islamic janazah funeral for both my parents. During the khutbah, the imam stated to the entire congregation that, had my mother listened to my father, this would not have happened. I spent most of my time holding back tears, stifling my anger, my rage, running away from the guilt I carried from being there that afternoon but being unable to stop what was happening.

I didn’t know how to encounter grief. My community didn’t seem to know how to, either. For a long time, whatever way I chose to express my emotions was discouraged. The day my mother died, I sat crying on the couch of an aunt’s home and was told to be strong, that my mother wouldn’t want to see me crying. I was told that the more I cry, the more my parents will suffer in the hellfire. When I expressed anger at what my father did, I was told I needed to forgive him.

I was told that the more I cry, the more my parents will suffer in the hellfire. When I expressed anger at what my father did, I was told I needed to forgive him.

My father was given an esteem that was not extended to my mother. She was often blamed for my father’s decisions. And because so many people minimised what happened, because so many people around me discouraged my right to be human, to feel pain, nothing felt normal to me anymore. I became desperate for a sort of blueprint. I spent so many hours googling, searching for my people, for kids like me, brown kids, first-generation kids, Muslim kids, who lost their mother to domestic violence. How were they handling it? Did they cry, too? Did they also lie in bed and whisper to their mothers in the quiet of the night? Did they also look for someone like themselves? Someone like me? I was desperate to know, simply, that I was not alone. 

I found no one. 

I was thrown into a depression that presented me with severe mood swings. I lost myself in my own body. The days of me swallowing my rage and heartache turned into years. I spent the six months following her death in shock, mostly. I was in so much shock, in fact, that I could hardly feel anything at all. But once my numbness subsided, I was thrown into a violent awakening. I spent most of my days not eating, or drinking. My hair fell out in clumps. I ended up getting fired from a job that I had somehow managed to hold down for one year, then dropped out of college and left the country in hopes of distracting myself enough to forget my own trauma. 

It took me almost a year to come back to Vallejo in San Francisco's Bay area. It was my home city and I had grown to detest it because it was where I had lost so much. It was the city that uprooted me. But when I returned last spring, the city felt better, softer. I came back to make it in time for a domestic violence training in Oakland, which was a life-changing experience. I am currently taking separate domestic violence training with the San Francisco Asian Women’s Shelter. 

The days of me swallowing my rage and heartache turned into years. I spent the six months following her death in shock, mostly. I was in so much shock, in fact, that I could hardly feel anything at all

The same year my mother died at least 1,615 other women in the United States did as well. Now, almost five years since my mother was killed, I am realising how the work I do around eradicating patriarchal violence has become like a sort of shield for me. It is a way to divert from the reality of my mother’s homicide. It is the only space, truthfully, that I have so far been able to talk about her death and the grief I inherited in a way that I deem as empowering to others, and myself.

The perfect victim has not, does not, and will never exist. Women are asked to be silent. We are expected to be obedient. We are scolded for being defiant, or for not being defiant at all.

Women, particularly those who speak out about their abuse, are oftentimes subjected to scrutiny and skepticism. They will inevitably be asked at some point or another, “Why didn’t you just leave?” Friends will, more often than not, proclaim how they would have left the second a hand was laid on them. The authenticity of a victim’s claims will be inspected - and routinely rejected - based on a litany of criteria such as her attire, how late she was out, or what kind of a wife or mother she was.

During the khutbah, the Imam stated to the entire congregation that, had my mother listened to my father, this would not have happened. 

This standardisation of victimhood does a couple of things. For one, it pressures victims of patriarchal violence to remain silent about their suffering because it has been proven, time and again, that they will not be believed. Secondly, it continues to strengthen a society in which violence against women is condoned and encouraged because victims of violence will never be deemed as such to begin with; rather, the violence against them will be justified in both overt and insidious ways.

This cultural phenomenon, known as victim-blaming, is a tool that is used to perpetuate patriarchy and patriarchal violence against women. And women, especially those at the margins of society, will be held accountable for the actions of their abusers. So while the victim is subjected to unrelenting criticisms and demanded to examine her own part in the abuse, the perpetrator is granted reprieve from accountability.

Women who resist patriarchal violence - even if their resistance is in accordance with the law - are penalised simply for surviving. And for women who, like my mother, lose their lives to violence, they continue to be liable for the actions of their perpetrators even when they are the victims. 

I am still enraged by the things that were said to me five years ago. I am still enraged because it is not just about me, but about the millions of other women in communities everywhere who will have to face the same things that I did, who will have to go through the hell that my mother went through.

I am enraged on behalf of women everywhere who will be bold enough to demand space for themselves and their experiences, but who will not be believed. The women who will never be good enough or perfect enough for anyone’s sympathy.

I am enraged on behalf of women everywhere who will be bold enough to demand space for themselves and their experiences, but who will not be believed. The women who will never be good enough or perfect enough for anyone’s sympathy. The women who will look to their family and friends for support, but who will only be met with blame. I am enraged on behalf of my mother and of every single woman out there who, like here, did not make it out, and to those who will not; to those who continue, even in death, to be held accountable for their own murders.

Let us honour those who had no other choice. Let us honour those at the margins of society who are deemed as unworthy victims. Let us honour those who will have blame associated with them to their graves. Let us honour, and let us remember.

It is time to address the root of patriarchal and gender-based violence, sanctioned by our communities, law enforcement, and government. Unanimous denial of patriarchal indoctrination and the devastating impact it leaves on the lives of women will save no one. There are women who will suffer in the future because we choose to collude with and support violence in direct and indirect ways. 

Nour Naas is a American-Libyan writer and domestic violence advocate. You can follow her on her website at nournaas.com

Family violence and mental health services: 

How I healed after my mother's murder and became an advocate for women
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