Unfair 'Honor Crime' Fight In Berlin

Muslim father shot professional boxer step-daughter four times minutes before her world title bout.

When it involves the horror of honor crimes, even a high profile, professional world boxing champion was not able to escape the incomprehensible and savage violence of this barbaric custom.

A trial nearing its conclusion in Berlin, Germany, has outlined how a family drama in that country ended in the non-fatal shooting tragedy of Rola El-Halabi, a 26-year-old Muslim woman originally from Lebanon. Like hundreds of other mostly female victims of honor crimes in the West, the reason for the shooting was that El-Halabi had wanted to establish her independence from her culture’s restrictive and archaic customs and be with the man she chose to love.

But unlike most other honor crime victims, El-Halabi was unique in that she enjoyed the unusual distinction of being a well-known sports figure who once held two world championship belts in women’s boxing in the lightweight division. In 2010, the talented El-Halabi defeated American Mia St. John for the WIBF and WIBA titles in Ulm, her hometown in Germany, giving her a perfect 11-0 record. El-Halabi even had one of her matches televised by Al-Jazeera television to the Middle East where it was seen by 22 million people.

El-Halabi’s fame, however, provided no protection from her attacker who was also her step-father, Hicham El-Halabi, 44. The older El-Halabi, a German citizen and goldsmith originally from Kuwait, stormed into her dressing room minutes before she was to enter the ring in a Berlin sports arena to try to regain one of her belts and coldly and calculatingly shot her four times. Rola El-Halabi related the horror of that night to the German newspaper, Bild, and how she had tried to calm her attacker during the shooting:

I was with my trainer and manager, a doctor and physiotherapist in the dressing room, when Papa stormed into the room. He was threatening with the weapon in his hand and screamed "Everybody out!" And then he shot me in the hand from three meters distance. I cried and screamed. Then he shot me in the left foot. I fell and implored him: "Papa, you have everything, what do you want? Please, put the weapon down, then everything is over." He threatened to kill himself, but he was too cowardly for that. He took his time, aimed, shot me in my kneecap and then in my right foot.

Just moments before the potentially deadly assault on his step-daughter, Hachim El-Halabi had shot two security guards in the legs. The guards were trying to block him from gaining entrance to the dressing room when hit.

This extra expenditure of bullets, however, forced El-Halabi to pause and change his gun’s magazine after he had knocked his step-daughter to the floor with the first shots. The German prosecutor said this was done in “ice-cold” fashion before he continued to shoot her. El-Halabi had also been sure to barricade the dressing room door, so no one could interfere with his brutal assault.

The reason for Hachim El-Halabi’s barbaric behavior was his step-daughter’s falling in love with a non-Muslim man who had reportedly left his wife for her. Hachim had actually been his step-daughter’s manager until the discord between the two over the relationship caused Rola to hand back her two belts, separate her career from her step-father and take a year-long pause from the sport. Her title fight last April, which a German sports channel was to televise, marked her return to the ring under a new manager.

During that year’s respite, however, Hachim had spread insulting messages on the Internet about his step-daughter and had told people, the court learned, he intended to shoot her in the legs and put her in a wheelchair. He had also assaulted his daughter’s new boyfriend and threatened Rola that he had better not see them together.

But the problem was probably not the fact Rola’s boyfriend was a Greek Christian and was married, but rather that she had decided to establish her independence by entering a relationship in the first place. Rola told Bild her violence-prone father had already attacked her once before just for having Internet contact with a man.

“When I had a problem, I could talk to him about anything,” she said. “Only not when it concerned boys. That was taboo. When I was 20, he attacked me with a sword, because I had exchanged emails with someone from England. My mother was able to get between us in time.”

Rola’s situation is not uncommon among young Muslim women in the West. Like most normal women, they want to choose the way they live their lives, which often includes the freedom to choose their own boyfriends and husband. But in order to satisfy this freedom drive that most people take for granted, many such Muslim females must cut off all connection with their families, live an underground existence like in an American witness protection program, and even risk their lives to honor killings at the hands of vengeful relatives and clan members.

The problem in these women’s culture is that there is no concept of individuality, a fundamental Western precept. A person, especially a woman, is not allowed to establish an identity outside of her religion, culture and clan. Many Muslim men believe they also have a religious-based right to control women, especially their chastity, which is of the highest importance in their culture, since the family’s honor is so dependent on it. As a result, even a rumor that a woman had contact with a man could be her death warrant.

Honor murder is not an insignificant problem in Germany as elsewhere in the West. The Federal Crime Office (Germany’s FBI) registered 48 honor homicides between 1996 and 2006 with an additional 22 surviving attempted honour murders. Most victims were young Muslim women, the youngest being a 14-year-old married Muslim girl.

For his part, Rola’s step-father told the court he only wanted to say two words to his step-daughter before her bout but felt “demeaned and humiliated” when the security guards barred his entrance to the dressing room. Once there, he said he “felt threatened” when she raised her boxing glove-enclosed hand. But in a pathetic case of blaming the victim, while reloading his gun and with his step-daughter lying wounded and bleeding on the floor, Hachim El-Halabi yelled: “You have ruined everything. Now look what you have driven me to.”

Incredibly, the prosecution is only asking for a sentence of six years and ten months for El-Halabi, who will learn his punishment later this month. Germans complain about their “snugly laws” for serious crimes but their complaints are obviously falling on deaf ears.

The security guards and Rola El-Halabi all had to undergo emergency operations for their wounds. Rola was in a wheelchair for several weeks, fulfilling her father’s prediction. Her injuries will not allow her to resume her ring career. When the judge asked the former double world champion how her wounds were healing, Rola held up her damaged right hand and showed she could no longer close it into a fist, which caused her to start crying. Her step-father, one German journalist reported, then had his lawyer pass her a handkerchief.

"She declined it,” he wrote.

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