Rana Husseini is tall, unusually tall for a Jordanian. Several years ago I met her when she was collecting signatures on a petition to do away with honor killing in Jordan. “If you are Jordanian, please sign the petition”, she asked the mixed Arab and western crowd. I got the point. I am a westerner and will never be able to understand this culture completely. Anything said by a westerner would be interpreted as unwelcome foreign meddling and would hinder the cause.
Rana Husseini covered crime stories for the Jordan times. Every time I was in the capital I picked up a copy of the paper and looked for her byline. Over and over again she wrote the stories of women killed by their families. A thirteen year old boy saw his sister talking on the telephone, thought she was talking to a man, and strangled her with the phone cord. Another woman confessed to her brother that she was pregnant by an Egyptian who had left the country. The brother promised to get her an abortion and an operation to restore her virginity, then returned with a gun and shot her. Sometimes Husseini would go to a village and no one would talk to her about the killing. Other times she received death threats herself.
During the time I lived there about 30 women were killed by their families every year. The upper house of Jordan’s parliament, appointed by the King, had passed a bill against honor killings, but the bill could not pass the lower house, whose members are elected, largely through tribal politics. Since I left the law has changed. Honor killing is now illegal in Jordan.
Is honor killing Islamic? In an article for PBS, Husseini says no:
I want to emphasize two things. One is that all women are not threatened in this way in my country. Any woman who speaks to any man will not be killed. These crimes are isolated and limited, although they do cross class and education boundaries. The other thing is a lot of people assume incorrectly that these crimes are mandated by Islam, but they are not. Islam is very strict about killing, and in the rare instances where killing is counseled, it is when adultery is committed within a married couple. In these cases, there must be four eyewitnesses and the punishment must be carried out by the community, not by the family members involved.
Honor killings are part of a culture, not a religion, and occur in Arab communities in the United States and many countries. One-third of the reported homicides in Jordan are honor killings. The killers are treated with leniency, and families assign the task of honor killing to a minor, because under Jordanian juvenile law, minors who commit crimes are sentenced to a juvenile center where they can learn a profession and continue their education, and then, at eighteen, be released without a criminal record. The average term served for an honor killing is only seven and a half months.
Rana Husseini has written a book on the subject, Murder in the Name of Honor. When it is released, it should be well worth reading.
Cross-posted at Chilling Out.