Dateline, Balkans and the Middle East, 2002-2017: We learn from the family feuds of Muslims than in the world of Islam a woman can be understood as something that’s worth a half of a man. In addition, an accused Bedouin Arab man can be freed from his accusers under a provision in the Arab blood feud law (recognized in Egypt as legitimate).
“In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate”, crooned the sheikh, as he quietly said a prayer, in which all present reverently joined. A small pot of water was then passed to the accused, who rinsed his mouth and spat noisily, after which the three assessors carefully examined his mouth, lips, and tongue. Taking the handle of the spoon in his right hand, the sheikh withdrew the spoon from the fire, flicked the ashes off its upturned bottom with his other hand, and presented it glowing red to the accused at his left elbow. For one brief moment the accused paled, his dusky skin showing ash-grey; and then, pulling himself together and tightly grasping his sword with both hands, he put out his tongue and licked the hot spoon. As his tongue returned to his mouth, the black mark of the ashes was clearly seen. “Again” called the crowd; and this time rather frightened and unwilling he forced himself to comply. A third time he leaned forward – this time recklessly – and licked the spoon, while the onlookers strained forward eagerly to watch the ordeal. When the spoon had been completely cooled, the sheikh called together his two witnesses and the assessor nominated by both litigants, and the four then ordered the accused to put out his tongue. With supreme self-confidence he obeyed, and clearly visible to all was his tongue looking perfectly healthy and natural. “Clean” declared the sheikh; “Clean! Not guilty!” echoed the witnesses.” [recorded by a British eyewitness]
If you thought that blood feuding is a thing of the past and that a form of it existed among the south Italian clans as ‘vendetta’ – think again because you are wrong. First of all, the vendetta of the Italians was an individual’s quest for justice (private vengeance) that did not translate into a revenge against relatives of the offender, in fact, in Venice, this used to be settled by staged fist fights between rival clans (in Ponte dei Pugni) in the city square. However, in the Islamic world – blood feuds are a whole lot different and more intense because Islam is a community approach to life taken very, very seriously. Western women who marry Muslims cannot imagine what they are getting themselves into until it is too late.
Since Albania emerged from the iron rule of Communism and Islam was restored to the country, more than 2,500 feuds have filled cemeteries and sent families into hiding in Albania.
Technically, a blood feud is a conflict based upon an injury to the family honor produced by an attack (such as rape, assassination and public humiliation) on a member of a community (a clan, a family, a tribe). Some people of the Balkans, such as the Albanians, and Montenegrins (of the Muslim persuasion) still adhere to it (where it is called “Kanun Leke Dukhagjini”), and among the Arab Bedouins of the Middle East (where it is called “Al ‘Orf”) it is still the law of the land governing relations. If a member of a clan commits murder inside the clan (a clan member kills another clan member) nobody will defend him and in the case of an escape, he/she will become an outlaw. No worse tragedy could happen to a Bedouin or to an Albanian shepherd than the loss of tribal protection. He then can get stoned to death, beheaded, left to dry out in the searing heat of the desert. If the murder is outside the clan – then it is war – a vendetta is established and any fellow clan member may have to pay for the crime with his own life. A blood feud may last for many years. In Albania and Montenegro, a blood feud may last for so long that the descendants of the original participants may not even know what the feud was about originally. Under the ancient code of Leke Dukhagjini, if a man finds his wife with another man, he has the right to shoot them both, but only with one bullet. If a woman in his family is killed, he must kill a woman in the enemy family or their dog. Both are considered worth half a man. Feuds begin because one party perceives itself to have been attacked, insulted or wronged by another. Intense feelings of resentment trigger the initial retribution, which causes the other party to feel equally aggrieved and vengeful. The dispute is subsequently fuelled by a long-running cycle of retaliatory violence. This continual cycle of provocation and retaliation makes it extremely difficult to end the feud peacefully. Feuds frequently involve the original parties’ family members and/or associates, can last for generations and may result in extreme acts of violence. For that reason, the Bedouins have a tribal court (called “Tlaaba”) where every case (an insult or a murder) is discussed by family and clan members until a final judgment is founded on a comprehensive discussion of the matter which can often last for days or even weeks. There are also very strange ways in which blood feuds are prevented, such as “Bisha’a”.
For instance, the Bisha (Bisha’a) is a unique ritual practiced by the Bedouin tribes of the Sinai and Negev for the purpose of lie detection when one is accused of a serious crime but there is no proof. The ritual consists of the accused being asked to lick a red-hot metal spoon three times. His tongue is then inspected by the official who presides over the ceremony – the Bishari – and by the designated witnesses of the ritual. If the person undergoing the ritual is found to have a scarred or burnt tongue, he is found guilty. There is no way appealing the result and all have to accept the outcome and pay the fines as agreed beforehand.
The Muslim ghetto is called “kasbah” or “cassabah” in Arabic, and it is a way of life for Muslims. Historically, tribal feuding and banditry were a way of life for the Berbers of Morocco (who are similar to Albanians in this respect) who never lived a day outside the shadow of the family feud all throughout the Turkish times. Roman Catholic Christians often sought to end blood feuds in the southern Italian islands of the Mediterranean in order to break the vicious cycle. In Europe, already in AD 1495, the Holy Roman Empire’s Diet at Worms, the right of waging feuds was abolished for all subjects of the European empire. England’s celebrated robber-baron Robin Hood would have been considered a subject to this law because fringe people like him often practiced family feuding in Medieval Europe (as an easier way to settle debts). In German, word “feud” corresponds to word “faida” meaning a conflict to avenge the family honor, but it quickly faded away before the power of the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed feuds from the get-go (unlike Islam – which promotes feuding – and indeed ALL the Muslim acts of violence appear to be related to blood feud)…
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Sophie Arie Pukë in Albania
Bujar Laci is a hunted man. If he steps on to the streets of this remote northern Albanian town, he knows it will only be a matter of time before he is killed.’I am trapped. All I can do is hope one day there will be an agreement, so I can live again,’ says Laci, a former policeman, huddled in the modest room to which he has been confined for over three years because of a blood feud.
In March 2000, Laci shot and killed a man while trying to break up a brawl. He immediately found himself embroiled in a blood feud with the family of his victim. Within hours, all 20 males in the Laci family had to leave their schools and offices and take refuge in their homes.
‘I used to have a job,’ he says. ‘Now we just sit like animals in a cage.’
Under a medieval civil law known as the Kanun – revived in Albania after the fall of communism in 1991 – the enemy family’s honour can only be repaired with more blood. Any male member of the Laci family tall enough to lift a rifle is a legitimate target.
But the ancient social code – which holds greater sway in these desolate mountain villages than the Koran or the Bible – defines the family home as off-limits for revenge killings. So Laci and thousands of other men and boys across Albania are cowering in their homes, with enemy families prowling outside.
When schools reopened after the summer break this month, hundreds of young boys failed to turn up, unable to risk leaving their homes. Their wives and mothers are left to scrape a living in what is still the poorest, most lawless corner of Europe.
Some men have taken revenge for killings over land or women that still rankle from the communist years. Others have started a more modern kind of feud, shooting human traffickers for luring their daughters and sisters into slave prostitution.
‘Everyone knows the law doesn’t work here. You can bribe your way out in no time,’ one woman says. ‘The only way to make killers really pay is to take back the blood.’
The cash-strapped government seems incapable of cracking down on the feuds. Some people have called for the return of the death penalty, abolished in 1995.
Under Enver Hoxha, Albania’s Stalinist dictator for almost 40 years, the Kanun was outlawed. Blood feud killers faced execution if they were caught. Only one blood feud killing was recorded. But since Albania emerged from the iron rule of communism, more than 2,500 feuds have filled cemeteries and sent families into hiding.
The Kanun is a complicated set of rules thought to have been introduced by the hero Lek Dukagjin, Lord of Dagmo and Zadrima, who fought the Turks until 1472 before fleeing to Italy. Tribal leaders used the code to mediate truces between rival families.
Under the ancient code, if a man finds his wife with another man, he has the right to shoot them both, but only with one bullet. If a woman in his family is killed, he must kill a woman in the enemy family, or their dog. Both are considered worth half a man.
‘If you follow the rules strictly, it is almost impossible to carry out a perfect killing. The problem is the locals have a rather loose interpretation of the rules,’ said Gjin Marku, a ‘blood mediator’ whose Reconciliation Committee has helped settle scores of feuds.
As Albania emerges from lawlessness, economic glimmers of hope are putting fresh layers of paint on the houses of the capital, Tirana. But the countryside is a long way from developing its ‘mobile phone’ generation.
‘The danger is that as people throng to the cities looking for work, life in the mountains will move backwards. The blood feuds are a sign of this,’ said Mustaq Qureshi, head of the World Food Programme (WFP) operation in Albania, which provides food and training to families ‘in blood’.
For many of those trapped in blood feuds, the only escape is to leave the country. But even then they live in fear of being tracked down.
Dile Nobreca, living on state benefit of £11 and 60kg of WFP flour each month, cannot even dream of moving beyond the dirt track where she lives. She has not seen her husband since he fled into the mountains years ago, having killed a neighbour in a dispute. Every year, as her four sons edge closer to gun-carrying age, the enemy family reminds her that she owes blood.
‘There’s nothing I can do. I just tell them to shoot my husband, not my sons,’ she says.
Muslim cemeteries in Albania where the victims of blood feuds lay buried
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