By Rana Husseini
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
What began as a story assignment to cover an "honor" killing in Amman, Jordan, turned into a quest for journalist Rana Husseini to explore and fight against these crimes. Excerpts from her latest book, "Murder in the Name of Honor."
AMMAN, Jordan (WOMENSENEWS)--In summer the temperature in Jordan soars to the unpleasantly high 30s (high 90s Fahrenheit). Across the sweltering capital, those of Amman's citizens who were fortunate enough not to have to make their living on the teeming streets hid away from the sun in the city's many coffee shops.
It was May 31, 1994, the day that Kifaya's mother, uncles and brothers had decided she would die.
In the built-up part of the conservative old city, Kifaya sat, tied to a chair in the kitchen of her family home. The sweets that her older brother, Khalid, had bought earlier to persuade her that everything was all right lay untouched on the counter.
Kifaya's crime was to have allowed herself to be raped by her other brother, Mohammad. She had then been forced by her family secretly to abort his child and had been made to marry a man 34 years her senior, whom she had divorced after six miserable months.
She had shamed her family. There was only one solution.
Khalid held a glass to Kifaya's lips and told her to drink some water. He asked her to recite verses from the Quran and picked up a knife. Kifaya begged for mercy. Outside, the neighbors listened but did nothing as she started to scream.
Imagine your sister or daughter being killed for chewing gum, for laughing at a joke in the street, for wearing makeup or a short skirt, for choosing her own boyfriend/husband or becoming pregnant.
This is what happens to 5,000 women who are murdered each year in the name of honor; that's 13 women every single day. It is very likely that this figure, calculated by the U.N. in 2000, is a gross underestimate.
Many cases are never reported and many more so-called honor 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 25 so-called honor killings annually.
A so-called honor killing occurs when a family feels that their female relative has tarnished their reputation by what they loosely term 'immoral behavior.' 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 'honor killing' is ironic in the extreme because these murders, and the manner in which they are carried out, lack any honor whatsoever.
It was in my capacity as a journalist writing for The Jordan Times, Jordan's only English-language daily newspaper, that I had the eye-opening encounter with Kifaya's murder, which 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 Oct. 6, 1994, appeared under the headline 'Murder in the name of honor.'
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.
Honor 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, honor killings occur throughout Europe and the U.S.
The number of honor killings has been rising in recent years among immigrant communities in Europe, particularly Germany, France, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, and the authorities have been caught napping. For example, British police are currently reviewing more than 100 murder cases in the belated realization that they may in fact have been so-called honor killings.
Until recently, so-called honor killings have received little attention because they are all too often disguised as a traditional or cultural practice that 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 honor--and sometimes claim justification through the teachings of Islam--Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and others also maintain traditions and religious justifications that attempt to legitimize honor killings.
But crimes of honor are just that: crimes, pure and simple.
Feminist and human rights defender, Rana Husseini is a leading international investigative journalist whose reporting has put violence against women on the public agenda around the world. The recipient of numerous awards for bravery in journalism, she is a regular speaker at major international events. For more information go to: http://www.ranahusseini.com
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