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JustHere | August 23, 2017

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Patterson’s murder stresses need for more open discussions

The murder of Lauren Patterson, a British school teacher in Doha, has touched the heart of Qatar deeply. Particularly violent and malicious, her killing has led to many of the country’s expatriate residents and locals to worry about perceived rises in crime and the increasing number of blemishes on Qatar’s otherwise low crime rate and high level of personal safety, writes Michael Stephens.

In my discussions over the past week I have had the chance to speak at length with a number of the local population about how they feel about the murder. What emerged is how deeply angered and indeed hurt, many of Qatar’s population are from discovering that murderer was himself a Qatari. What has struck me is the genuine sense of pain that locals have expressed about this action which has brought a perceived shame upon them as a people, and was distinctly ‘un-Qatari’. In short the murder of Lauren at the hands of one of their own is something that many never thought would happen, or could happen.

Lauren with her grandmother, who passed away weeks before Lauren was murdered.  Photo courtest: Facebook

Lauren with her grandmother, who passed away weeks before Lauren was murdered.
Photo courtesy: Facebook

Qataris are small in number and connected through small degrees of separation, many will know the family of the murderer, and many will have met him. Talking to Qataris about this topic it is striking how often the actions of one man are viewed as a reflection upon the collective body of its citizens, “how could we have let this happen?”, “what has happened to us?”, “this isn’t Qatari we aren’t like this”, are all phrases I have heard.

This isn’t particularly unique as a concept, in other walks of life in Qatari culture the actions of one family member will often bring shame onto siblings and parents, which is why it is not uncommon for problems at the familial level and indeed at the level of governing the state to be addressed with walls of silence in attempts to hide the potential for shame and to prevent gossip from spreading.

Indeed Qataris are not immune from committing acts of violence, in August 2012 two Qatari families were involved in a gun fight in the suburb of Muaither, and a Qatari man in late 2011 was charged with shooting his wife for alleged infidelity. Yet incidences such as these did not inflame passions in the local community in the way this murder has done.

“Without our values who are we? This isn’t a crime of passion this is murder,” 23-year-old Qatari T.A. told me. This hits on the crux of the point, which is that the murder of Lauren cannot be explained by Qatari cultural norms. Whereas a shoot-out between bedouin families is seen as having legitimate reasons for starting, this murder goes against any explainable motive or reasoning in a society in which murder in some cases is viewed as morally (although not legally) permissible.

“A murder committed by a Qatari being reported in the local Arabic press is highly unusual, even if the Al Raya newspaper only referred to the two suspects as having ‘Arab nationalities’. It is a reflection of the need to more openly discuss uncomfortable issues…”

There are always differences of opinion, some individuals have tried to blame the presence of alcohol and clubs in their country as an explanation for why the murder took place, one commenter on Doha News noted “this is what happens when you have alcohol, bars and night clubs. I know this is not always the case, but it had something to do with this horrific murder case.”

However, it does appear that Qataris have accepted that it was one of their own who was responsible. Many indicated that they would be happy to see the death penalty imposed so as to serve as a marker that this should never happen again, “let’s make an example of him, string him up from the middle of the [Rainbow] roundabout if that’s what it takes,” noted M.B. a 24-year-old Qatari.

The worry is that without strict punishment, core Qatari values will come under threat because un-Qatari behaviour in the local community will be seen as acceptable. Qatar has not carried out an execution since 10 March 2003, and it would be a significant moment if Qatar did once again decide to impose capital punishment, this of course being premised on whether the court ascertains if the man is guilty of first degree murder or not.

A murder committed by a Qatari being reported in the local Arabic press is highly unusual, even if the Al Raya newspaper only referred to the two suspects as having ‘Arab nationalities’. It is a reflection of the need to more openly discuss uncomfortable issues in what remains a traditional and conservative society that is increasingly surrounded by multicultural influences.

Ultimately it is a good thing that we can talk about these issues as a society of locals and residents together. The family of Lauren has not blamed Qatar for the actions of one man, and neither will the rest of us.

Michael Stephens is the Deputy Director of RUSI Qatar, and is researcher specialising in the affairs of the Gulf States, Israel and Syria. Follow him on Twitter @Mstephensgulf

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