by Rana Husseini*
THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY ON EARTH. OR 5782 IF YOU ARE AN OBSERVANT JEW. 1443 IN THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR. 5000+ FOR HINDUS. HOWEVER YOU COUNT THE YEARS THE POINT IS THE HUMAN RACE HAS BEEN AROUND LONG ENOUGH TO COME UP WITH DECENT VALUES FOR ITS MEMBERS. LONG ENOUGH TO HAVE RID OURSELVES OF THE MOST BEASTLY (LITERALLY) INSTINCTS OF OUR ANIMAL COUSINS. THIS STORY SETS US ALL BACK IN THE DARK AGES. EVERYONE OF US WHO TURNS AWAY OR RATIONALISES. WE IGNORE IT AT OUR PERIL. WE HAVE TO MAKE OURSELVES DESERVE BETTER.
Imagine your sister or daughter being killed for chewing gum, for laughing at a joke in the street, for wearing make-up or a short skirt, for choosing her own boyfriend/husband or becoming pregnant. This is what happens to thousands of women who are murdered each year in the name of honour; that’s hundreds of women every single day. It is very likely that this figure is a gross underestimate. Many cases are never reported and many more so-called honour killings are disguised as suicides and disappearances. This is something I know to be true in my home country of Jordan where, according to police and medical officials, there is an average of twenty-five so-called honour killings annually. A so-called honour killing occurs when a family feels that their female relative has tarnished their reputation by what they loosely term ‘immoral behaviour’. The person chosen by the family to carry out the murder (usually male: a brother, father, cousin, paternal uncle or husband) brutally ends their female relative’s life to cleanse the family of the ‘shame’ she brought upon them. The title ‘honour killing’ is ironic in the extreme because these murders, and the manner in which they are carried out, lack any honour whatsoever.
It was in my capacity as a journalist writing for The Jordan Times, Jordan’s only English-language daily newspaper, that I had an eye-opening encounter with one such murder that changed my life forever. Thankfully, despite strict state censorship of the media when I started reporting in the mid-1990s, my courageous editors agreed that the story should be published. The resulting article, published on 6 October 1994, appeared under the headline ‘Murder in the name of honour’.
I did not know it then, but I had begun a quest that has since become all-consuming and has taken me all over the world. Thanks to the continued support of my editors, I was able to investigate and report on honour killings in depth. As time went on, I gradually realized that while reporting these crimes was a step in the right direction, it was never going to be enough – I had to do something else to end these senseless murders. So I began a sensational campaign to change the law and attitudes in Jordan, a campaign that I, along with many others, have since taken across the world. This book tells my story so far, from my humble beginnings as a naïve but enthusiastic and stubborn journalist to the campaigns to change Jordanian law, as well as my experiences in other countries in the Middle East, and investigations into so-called honour killings across Europe (especially the UK) as well as the USA. This book is also an evaluation of the current situation around the world in terms of the numbers of honour killings and the laws available to murderers to escape justice. I am sure that many readers will be truly shocked to see just how widespread and out of control this phenomenon is across the world, from the Third World to the First.
Fighting so-called crimes of honour has proved to be a perilous and traumatic journey. My life has been regularly threatened and my reputation is under constant attack. I find myself frequently slandered and libeled. Examples include accusations that I am a ‘radical feminist seeking fame’ or that I’m a ‘western-collaborator intent on tarnishing the delicate fabric of the pure [Jordanian] society’.
Unfortunately, some influential and powerful people, such as MPs, judges, lawyers and policemen, have opposed me and, as extraordinary as it seems, believe that those who claim to have killed in the name of honour deserve lenient punishments, because everyone has the right to protect their family’s honour. In my own country, Jordanian law states that those who murder in a passionate frenzy (for example, men who have caught their wives in the embrace of another) deserve mercy. As we shall see, such laws and leniency are by no means unique to Jordan (for example, a similar law is still in place in the UK). Perpetrators are well aware of the sympathy shown by their country’s legal system, and abuse it to their advantage. Thus, in many cases, the crimes often have serious hidden intentions far removed from honour – such as the murder of female siblings in order to claim sole inheritance of the family estate. Murders are often meticulously planned by several family members but are then claimed as ‘crimes of honour’, again far removed from the state of blind anger associated with this crime. Sometimes all that is needed to incite murder is a deliberate and malicious campaign of gossip. In fact, the majority of so-called honour killings I reported on were based on mere suspicion, something I have since seen repeated in countries across the world. The problem is not restricted to adultery. Generational conflict, teen culture, urbanization and adolescent rebellion are common trigger factors in immigrant communities in European countries as well as the USA.
As I have already mentioned, honour killing is a global phenomenon and takes place in many more countries than most people realize. Besides Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Palestine, India, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey, Yemen and Uganda, honour killings occur throughout Europe and the USA. The number of honour killings has been rising in recent years among immigrant communities in Europe, particularly Germany, France, Scandinavia and the UK – and the authorities have been caught napping. For example, British police are currently reviewing more than one hundred murder cases in the belated realization that they may in fact have been so-called honour killings. Until recently, so-called honour killings have received little attention because they are all too often disguised as a traditional or cultural practice which has to be respected and accepted by everyone. Many people associate them exclusively with Islamic communities, but while some Muslims do murder in the name of honour – and sometimes claim justification through the teachings of Islam – Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others also maintain traditions and religious justifications that attempt to legitimize honour killings. But crimes of honour are just that: crimes, pure and simple. For me, wherever their roots are supposed to lie, they are nothing to do with tradition, culture or religion. They are all about control – an effective method of regulating the freedom of movement, freedom of expression and sexuality of women. They violate rights to life, liberty and bodily integrity; they violate prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment; the prohibition on slavery; the right to freedom from gender-based discrimination and sexual abuse and exploitation; the right to privacy and to marry and start a family.
I am not a legal, religious, cultural, historical, tribal, social or moral expert, but I am an Arab Muslim woman intent upon living in a sound society where all members benefit from justice, regardless of rank, religion, race or gender. I, like any other citizen of this world, seek to feel safe. I want to live as part of a system in which crimes are seen for what they are, freed of the double standards that mask their heinous nature, and punished with a severity that matches the crime.
This is the introduction from ‘Murder in the Name of Honor’
by Rana Husseini