“Crimes of Honour” - Women’s Tragedy under Islam &  Tribal Customs

By Azam Kamguian

Every year, in countries in the Arab world, Turkey, Iran and some south and central Asian countries, many hundreds of women who do not accept the tribal and Islamic traditions; refuse forced marriages; marry according to their will; or live independently, are murdered by their family member, to save the 'honour' of the family. The practice is widespread in Islamic countries and is known as honour killing. Women, who have brought 'shame' to family's 'honour', are sentenced to death by family courts and the sentence is usually carried out by male members of families. Under special laws, the killers are given light sentences, sometimes with little or no jail time at all. The killers mainly defend their act of murder by referring to the Koran and Islam. They say that they are merely following the directives set down in their Islamic beliefs.

The tragedy of women living under Islam and tribal customs is documented in news, reports, articles and documentary films in recent years. "Crimes of Honour", is a recent documentary which was broadcast on Cinemax in honour of the International Women's Day. This documentary exposes some of the hideous truth of honour killings in Jordan.

In "Crime of Honour", the narrator walks viewers through the tragic lives of three Jordanian women, brutally murdered by their own family members. It also includes interviews with three women activists who try to enlighten the society about honour killings and protect women's rights. These women are Rania Husseini, Asma Kheder and Nadera Shalhoub - Kevorkian who are campaigning by writing, helping and protecting the victims in different ways.

One of the most tragic stories is that of a 23 year old Rania Arafat, whose plight was broadcast live on national TV in Jordan. Rania was promised to her cousin as a very young child. Rania repeatedly told that she doesn't love him and she is in love with someone else. She pled with her family to allow her to marry him, instead. She ran away twice, including two weeks before her forced marriage. She wrote to her mother and pled for forgiveness and understanding. Her parents promised that she would not be harmed and she could return home. On August 19, 1997, Rania returned home. The same night, her younger brother, Rami, shot her five times in the head and chest, killing her immediately. Her youngest brother was chosen to commit the murder not only to allow his defense to find protection under the laws protecting so-called honour crimes, but also because he was a juvenile. Rami served six months in jail for his crime.

This documentary is heart-wrenching. It includes video clips of scenes of stoning of two victims in Tehran, Iran by the Islamic Republic, the Islamic State of Iran. The two people, presumably a young woman and her lover, huddle in the middle of a street covered only in a white sheet and stoned until death.

Life of Amal, another Arab woman and victim of honour killing is also documented in this film. Amal was run away because she insisted on her independence. Her family said that they were ashamed because of that and the gossip of neighbors. One night, when she returned home and went sleep, her brother accompanied by Amal's father, strangled her. He said: "I strangled her. She didn't fight back. I recited the "Holly Koran" as she was dying… it took a few minutes and she was dead." He and his father both given light sentences.

Cases of rape is also described where women are punished even when they are the victims of rape, not only by strangers, but also by their own fathers and brothers. In the case documented in this film, the family believed that Kefaya, their daughter, the victim, who was raped by her own brother, deserved to die, because of the intense humiliation they experienced as a result of neighbors' gossip.

"Crimes of Honour" walks viewers to the deeper layers of the tragedy of women's lives. It goes to the darkness of the minds of killers, and to the society that condones this cruelty against women. It is powerful and emotional and exposes some of the realities of women's tragedy in Jordan. However, despite the killers' outright reference to Islam and the Koran, it denies that this inhumane practice has anything to do with religions and Islam. While the Koran is full of guidelines on how to control women's sexuality, and Islamic Law; Sharia, rules harsh punishments including lashing and stoning to death for women's voluntary sexual activities, this denial is nothing but an apology for Islamic misogynism.

In Jordan, the "plea of honour" is recognized as a legitimate defense. After failed efforts, and active campaigns launched against honour killings by women rights activists and progressive forces; as a result of a legislative amendment to Article 340 of the Penal Code, perpetrators of honour crimes are not exempt from the death penalty, anymore. Although, judges are still allowed to commute the sentences of the convicted. Article 97 and 98, which reduce the sentence of crimes committed in a fit of fury and are frequently referenced in honour crimes cases, were unaffected by the amendments.

Death penalty is not the solution to honour killings, and it doesn't stop women killings and practicing misogyny. The only effective strategy to abolish this rotten anti - woman practice is to safeguard and advance women's rights and status; by fighting against Islamic, patriarchal and tribal traditions; by separating religion from the state; and by forming secular and egalitarian governments in the region.