I suddenly felt a cold liquid running over my head and instantly I was on fire. . .I start to run in the garden, barefoot. I slap my hair, I scream. . . .I smell the gasoline and I run, the hem of my long dress getting in the way. My terror leads me instinctively away from the courtyard. I run toward the garden as the only way out. . .How did I get away? Did he run after me? Was he waiting for me to fall so he could watch me go up in flames? 
These are the chilling words of a Palestinian woman recalling her attempted “honor” killing in her remote West Bank village twenty five years ago. She calls herself “Souad” and she tells us her frightening personal story in her new memoir, Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men. It is the first account of the practice of honor killings given by a survivor.
Killing women for “honor” is just one of the myriad regressive and violent pathologies inherent in Arab tribal culture, where institutionalized misogyny and sexual repression intersect to spawn yearnings for violence, terror, death and suicide.
The prerequisite for being a victim of an “honor” killing in the Arab Middle East is that you need only be a female. And you don’t have to engage in consensual sex before marriage to get your death sentence. That you die for this is a given. But you could also be punished by death for being raped or for people saying you were raped. In many cases, you also need only to look in the eyes of a male or be seen talking to one -- or to have someone say that you talked to one. Then you are a charmuta – a whore. And you must die because your blood is the only substance that can wash your family’s – and community’s -- shame away.
And there will be no lawyer, no hearing, no defense for you. The male with whom you associated -- in the real or imagined world -- will always be exonerated, no matter what. And the family member who kills or maims you will never be punished. To the contrary, he will be seen as a hero and receive great rewards and respect for his gruesome deed.
And so Souad made the horrendous mistake in her culture to be born a female. Females are seen as being equivalent to dirt. They are less worthy than cows and sheep -- a fact that Souad’s father drilled into his daughters’ heads throughout their lives.
In the Arab Middle East, baby girls are simply not wanted -- and, as Souad recalls, “Every birth of a girl was like a burial in the family.” The mother is always blamed for bringing a non-child (a girl) into the world -- even though we all know that it’s the father that determines the child’s gender.
In any case, baby girls are often just killed and disposed of in many parts of the Arab world. That is why Souad recalls her mother suffocating nine of her own baby daughters, twice right in front of her eyes.
If you are a baby girl and are exonerated from death, you will confront vicious violence. The abusive and neglectful care of baby girls is rampant throughout the Arab Middle East. Purposeful injury to them is all too common, including burns and the injection of kerosene and medicines to the point of poisoning and death.
Hospital records report frequent brain damage of newborn girls due to "accidents." The practice of inserting pins and needles into baby girls’ abdomen and chest, and even into the fontanel, is extensive. Many female children have been killed in this way. Some girls survive and years later, even in old age, they discover that needles and pins are in their brains. Hospital admissions for girls suffering from malnutrition is also a cultural norm.
It goes without saying that the death rate for Arab girls is significantly higher than for boys.
Souad was not suffocated upon birth. She lived. But she was reminded she was a female everyday -- by enslavement, confinement and constant beatings. Never allowed to go anywhere, she knew nothing about the outside world -- except that the Jews were evil and that she was not to go near them. They were halouf, pigs. And this was no fable spread by some tribal leader. No, it was an irrefutable truth taught in the Qur’an itself. Indeed, Allah was so disgusted with Jews that he transformed them into apes and pigs. (Suras 5:60/65, 2:65 and 7:166).
In her memoir, Souad relates that for a day to go by without a beating was unusual for her and her sisters. She also often had her hair shaved off and was tied to a stable gate.
In the end, Souad compounded her transgression of being a girl by committing a bigger crime: falling in love. A young man seduced and impregnated her, knowing full well that he had delivered her a death sentence. Her family subsequently planned out her murder and her brother-in-law was assigned the heroic task.
“I’m going to take care of you,” were the brother-in law’s soothing words before he doused Souad with gasoline and set her aflame.
Ninety percent of Souad’s body was burned and she was left to die in a local hospital – where the staff refused to treat her, for they understood all too well that it was important for this charmuta to die. Souad’s mother showed up to the hospital as the protagonist in the final act, hoping to finish off what her son-in-law had started. In her unrivalled motherly love, she brought a glass of poison to her daughter’s lips, commanding her to drink. But the entrance of a doctor into the hospital room interfered with the intended script and Souad’s life was spared.
By the miraculous and courageous intervention of a Swiss-based humanitarian worker (“Jacqueline”), Souad survived and was flown to Europe -- where she lives today under a secret identity. If her family discovered that she were alive and discerned her new whereabouts, they would still come to murder to her.
Souad’s life story is a reminder to all of us of the terrible suffering of women in the Arab and Islamic world. Her nightmarish ordeal is a norm in that universe, where women of all ages are brutalized and bestialized into non-existence.
The root cause of this dark phenomenon does not lie in numerous men sitting around improvising ways to hurt women. The entire life-negating process is legitimized and institutionalized by Arab tribal culture and Islamic fundamentalism, which blur into each other and together perpetuate the repression, control and negation of female freedom.
Arab tribal culture and militant Islam are both founded on the dehumanization of females. Their social structures are desperately -- and ferociously -- dependent on it. To allow a woman equality and personal free choice necessarily means the disintegration of their social orders. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Arabic word fitna has two interchangeable meanings: a beautiful woman and social chaos.
And so the War on Terror can have no better crystallization: one side allows the veneration of human beauty and its freedom, and accepts all the chance and risk that comes with it; the other lusts for the incineration of every ingredient of human desire, yearning for a sterilized and disinfected utopia where humans will be purged of what and who they are.
Thus, a sobering reality stares us in the face: Souad’s soul-tearing journey does not exist in a vacuum. It is a chilling and powerful reminder to us of the essence of the War on Terror.
Islamic fundamentalists know -- all too well -- that the only way their cultures will survive is for one half of the human race to remain caged and enslaved. But the West stands in stark opposition to that pathological and death-seeking quest. And the West’s values continue to spread with lightning speed. In the age of globalization, mass communication and the Internet, the reality of Western women’s free choice and control over their own identity -- and sexuality – is a force that cannot be stopped.
And so, like a possessed individual who has holy water sprinkled on him in an exorcism, radical Islam shrieks and foams at the mouth in our modern world, tormented and enraged by the sprinkles of liberty that touch it -- and that it cannot withstand. Increasingly cornered by the nightmare of free and happy females, Islamism must lash out in rage and violence in its effort to preserve its tyranny over human life.
We begin to understand, therefore, why Souad was a mandatory victim in a demented and psychopathic culture that, in its lust for death, must necessarily despise the gender that fertilizes and bestows life. And we also begin to understand why the entity that has liberated its own Souads -- and threatens to liberate all the Souads of the world – must also, like Souad, be annihilated. And make no mistake: those forces who seek to suffocate love -- as Souad’s mother suffocated her nine baby daughters – know exactly who and what they need to extinguish.
And so we are at war.
And this war is predominantly about women -- about who they are, where they belong and whether they are entitled to dignity, autonomy, liberty and respect.
Souad was doused with gasoline and set afire because she fell in love.
Because she yearned to be free.
And there is hope, for there are wonderful movements, like the Swiss foundation SURGIR, that works with women everywhere in the world who are subject to criminal traditions.
And hope also resides in us taking an extra step.
That extra step is pooling together all of our voices, so that we can collectively affirm, with courage and forthrightness, that, unequivocally, We Are All Souad.
Because we stand with Souad.
And the fate of an abused woman is humanity’s fate. And when women, our mothers, are violated, then life is violated, and every single one of us is violated.
The honor killer who sets a woman on fire operates out of the same impulse that motivated Mohammad Atta to give his life so that, on September 11, 2001, 3,000 American citizens would perish in flames -- like Souad was supposed to.
And so let us turn to life, rather than death, and extend our hand to Souad – and to every other Souad. And to every potential Souad.
And then at least the cards will be on the table. And we’ll be honest in why we need to fight this war – and to win this war.
Because in so doing we will not only save our mothers.
We will save ourselves.
 Souad, Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men (New York: Warner Books, 2003), p.106.
 SURGIR is a movement which individually targets the defense and rescue of girls and women subjected to criminal traditions. Visit their website at www.surgir.ch/en/nous.html