Today all speakers talked about honour crimes as a widespread form of violence against women. What bewilders me is the name given to this horrendous crime: honour. Honour has a very positive connotation. Regardless of one’s world outlook and beliefs, the word honour has a good ring to one’s ear. When you hear this word, you fill up with positive and good feelings. The combination of these two completely opposite concepts to describe one phenomenon brings a lot of contradictions and confusion: “honour crimes!”
I have given this phenomenon a great deal of thought. I posed this question: Why is this brutal act being described so positively? After reflecting on this issue for some time, I came to see a pattern. It is like crimes committed under the name of patriotism and nationalism. The more you kill, the more brutal you become, the more heroic your status. This is exactly the same. The more inhuman you become under the name of misogyny, the more elevated your status among the community.
Misogynist crimes which are sanctified by religion and old traditions are called honour crimes, in order to be glorified, to be elevated to the position of heroic acts worthy of medals. Honour crimes are encouraged by traditional values, which are passed on from generation to generation. I will argue here that a certain ideology is behind justifying and glorifying crimes against women and by doing this not only promoting such crimes, but also fostering the dominance of religion and patriarchy. I will then conclude that one way to fight against such crimes is to shed all religious and cultural romanticism and taboos surrounding this brutal act. This is to say that our fight against honour crimes is not only an educative one or in the field of law and order, it is a political and ideological one as well. Misogynist ideology is a vital instrument in justifying and glorifying honour crimes.
There may be an objection raised here and quite validly too: not all misogynist crimes are named honour crimes. True. However, those criminal acts committed against women and girls, because they dared violate the sacred codes of piousness of the community, are called honour crimes. Modern reformed misogyny has more or less come to terms with women’s ownership of their sexuality. Nevertheless, crimes categorized as crimes of passion, committed under the fury of jealousy still share that element of ownership of female sexuality by the male partner. It has only been privatized; it is an individual act punished by the law. But women’s rights organisations still struggle to have these crimes recognized as serious crimes, they still fight to get enough attention by the official institutions to these crimes that are mitigated or ignored by the fact they take place in the privacy of the home and in the confines of the sacred family. Our focus here is, however, on the first category.
How is a value system formed? How are essential concepts and their definitions formed? How are we led to regard similar acts in so many different ways? How are we led to judge one act of violence as horrendous and inhuman, and the other one as heroic? Is this not a double standard? The answer to all of these is Ideology. Ideology is the means by which our minds are formed or manipulated to interpret the world, and thereby give different, and at times opposite meanings to similar actions. The dominant ideology is preserved and reproduced by the ruling classes in every given society. Religion is one of the main ingredients in dominant ideologies world wide.
Let us examine this in a more concrete historical context. We will only dwell on examples that can be related to our subject. Killing for a justified cause or terrorism: this is the question put before us time and time again. Depending on our political inclinations or our ideological tendencies, we answer this question one way or the other. At times it is more challenging to come up with a straightforward answer. Our sympathies are divided, so our response is confused. There seems to be no other way to judge. As a rule, if we sympathize with a cause we tend to justify the action related to it or stemming from it.
The African National Congress is a very good example to demonstrate how this dynamic works. The ANC was considered a terrorist organisation by the apartheid regime in South Africa and by some of its Western supporters. In the late seventies and early eighties this image changed. The ANC came to be recognized, universally, as a legitimate, progressive organization; its leader Nelson Mandela became an international hero and was awarded the Noble peace prize. Here we can see how an image or concept can change in people’s views, giving the political or ideological explanations.
Let us look at a more controversial case. Suicide bombings committed by Palestinians against Israelis are regarded as a vile crime by Israelis and heroic sacrifice by Palestinians. By the same token, in any war killing the enemy wins a medal for the killer and hatred and vengeance by the other party. How do we come to form these views? They are political views formed by our world outlook and value system, that is, ideology.
Misogyny is an old ideology and integrated into all religions. Passion and honour are names given by the official ideology to crimes against women by the men who are taught to believe women are their possessions, their properties.
One way to fight these horrendous crimes is to challenge the prevailing ideology. Sexism and misogyny have been the subject of many debates and protest movements. One way to shake this old value system is to attack its basis. I believe the so-called honour crimes should be called terrorism against women, just the same way female circumcision came to be called female mutilation. This change of name had a great impact on shedding all the absurd cultural romanticism associated with this brutal abuse (which led well known feminists such as Germaine Greer to defend it.) This is not an attempt to inflate a reality for the sake of propaganda. In reality “honour crimes” are nothing but terrorist acts against women.
What is terrorism?
Action aimed at silencing, subduing and blackmailing certain people for a political aim is terrorism. Ideologies have been created in order to justify and/or glorify a terrorist act. Historically nationalist, and certain left groups have been categorized under this title, e.g. the IRA, the left groups in Italy and Germany in the seventies, and groups fighting for independence in so-called third world countries. In these fights a well-defined political cause dominates. At present, there is a political/ideological battle over whether you can call fighters for a “just” cause terrorists, regardless of the methods they use. A heated debate is over what to call Palestinian suicide bombers: are they terrorists or soldiers of a nationalist army fighting for their land and independence? We have gone as far as calling some states terrorist, and the war they wage state terrorism, such as the United States and Israel, or the Islamic republic of Iran.
This is not the time or place to pass judgment on these above-mentioned cases. I merely stated these for the sake of argument, to demonstrate the similarities between these political cases and honour crimes, these seemingly unconnected acts. I believe there is a very strong common denominator between these acts, which bring them under the same category: terrorism. Honour crimes can be categorized under this term.
If straightforward political conflicts that lead to terrorist acts can cause confusion as to how they should be judged, i.e. legitimate or murderous, and at times there are endless debates involved in the process of judgment-forming, there is no confusion regarding honour crimes. Except the fanatics who endorse or carry out such crimes, everyone else condemns honour crimes as abhorrent murders. Moreover, there is a common agreement among all, including the fanatics, over the purpose of these crimes: to subdue the female population, to show her rightful place in the home and the community, to suppress any thought of rebellion. “Honour crimes” wash away the shame from the family and the community, and teach a “good” lesson not only to women but to the whole society: women are the property of the men of the household; they should remain subdued, pious, and silent, and obey the laws and their owners.
All the religious leaders who promote or condone honour crimes will testify to these, the elders, the youth steeped in this ideology, the mothers and the victims too will testify to this. We should conclude that honour crimes are carried out to put women in their place and prevent their rebellion or protest. Thus honour crimes are crimes with a political purpose: to foster or establish misogynist power relations in the society and the family. Moreover, they are not individual and isolated crimes. They are usually planned in the extended family. They are promoted by the “leaders” of the community. (Be it the leaders of a society in the case of societies under a backward religious state, or smaller communities in the West.) They are crimes sanctified by a community and carried out collectively. It is a crime with a socio-political cause and aim, justified by an ideology, carried out as a team. Hence, we have established the relation between a terrorist act and honour crimes.
It is important that we spread this word around. Start a movement demanding that honour crimes should be called by their appropriate name: terrorism against women. It will help us fight more vigorously against these crimes and to alleviate the situation of women and young girls in such communities. It makes it easier to punish the criminals. It gives our campaign a momentum to mobilize more strongly and to attract more support to our cause. As a final point, I would like to make the parallel once more between this and the campaign to change the name of female circumcision to female genital mutilation. It did not take very long to establish in the public mind that female circumcision is actually mutilating women in order to inhibit their sexuality. By bringing this awareness all the cultural romanticism or taboo was torn from it. Hence, it became easier to fight against it. We should do the same to “honour” crimes. By calling it terrorism against women we facilitate the fight to root it out.
This is based on two speeches made at 8 March conference in Gothenburg, Sweden and the conference in London to commemorate Dua, the young girl who was stoned to death in Iraq last year.
⏭ Asar Majedi is a Member of Hekmatist Party leadership & Chairperson of Organisation for Women’s Liberation