On the evening of January 1, 2008, the Irving, Texas 911 department received a frantic call from Sarah Said, whose last words were, “Oh my god. I’m dying.” She and her sister, Amina, were shot 11 times in the back of their father’s taxicab. Their father, Yaser Said, subsequently disappeared and is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Thus marked the tragic death of the 17 and 18-year old sisters and the beginning of both a manhunt for Yaser and a startling recognition that “honor killings” —like Ebola—exist not only in third world countries, but also pose a threat in developed nations.
The directors of The Price of Honor, Neena Nejad and Xoel Pamos, have carefully crafted an artful reconstruction of the violence dealt out by Yaser, an Egyptian-born taxi driver, to his daughters. Clearly, he was an abuser under any guise, but it is also clear that his cultural upbringing was perhaps the single most important factor that drove him to commit the crime of which he is accused. Making use of video tapes, emails, text messages, diary entries, and hand-written notes, Nejad and Pamos trace the tender lives of the two sisters, focusing especially on the elder, Amina. Both had begun dating non-muslims and were deathly afraid of their father. Both were betrayed by their mother who, as is often the case in abuse, failed to recognize the actual and/or potential violence her husband was capable of dispensing.
Honor killing—a wretched and despicable oxymoron—is often conflated with Muslim religion. Islam does not support this murderous act. However, there can be little doubt that the killing of a woman who has disgraced the collective face of a family’s honor occurs more in cultures associated with Islam religion than in others. And, ashamedly, such actions frequently enjoy family and community support. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women are killed annually in such manner, while other organizations put the number at the much higher figure of 20,000. Whatever the count it, it’s too high.
(Sidenote: Honor killings are rooted in the obscure past, likely even before Islam. While the killing of men is a sometimes occurrence, the violence is mostly directed toward women, and some believe it is a by-product of an aggressive, patrilineal society in which the sexual and reproductive rights of women must be controlled by men. Amy Logan, a writer in San Francisco, has penned a fictional thriller, The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice, that delves into the complex history and social support system of honor killings.)
After the crime, Yasir Said disappeared, along with money and his passport. Some suspect he fled back to Egypt, but others believe he found support among brothers who had also made a home in the US. And, the film’s careful depiction of the timeline of phone calls lends credibility to the opinion held by some that Yasir had the assistance of his family members before and shortly after the murders.
Whatever the case, Yasir Said is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list while the bodies of his two daughters lie side-by-side in graves. Yet, thanks to the diligent work of the filmmakers, Amina and Sarah have the opportunity to tell their story to movie viewers, who leave the theater having learned about a hidden danger that lies beneath the thin veneer of civilization of those who believe in, aid, and abet such horrendous crimes. This film is a “must watch” for anyone concerned with the legacy of violence as it is passed on in any form, especially for such violence as directed toward women.
The Price of Honor is on IMDB. It’s website is http://www.thepriceofhonorfilm.com/