Iraq's New Surge: Gay Killings

Excellent article on the killings of gays in Iraq written by Rasha Moumneh appeared yesterday on Foreign Policy:

Western attention has always focused primarily on sectarian attacks in Iraq. Yet al-Sadr’s militia and its counterparts in countless neighborhoods and towns have long had other targets in their cross hairs. These men claim to bear the banners of religion and morality, defending against any transgressors. They paint themselves as the caretakers of tradition, culture, and national authenticity — which often means keeping women, as well as men, in their rigidly enforced traditional roles. Ironically, they sell their violence as a means of security: Amid the total upheaval of Iraqi society over the last eight years, many people regard any relaxing of gender roles as a threat to public order, undermining patriarchal power. And since the coalition forces failed to provide security after the invasion, such cultural conservatives have moved in to fill the role. Many aimless, unemployed advocates of rigid traditionalism have taken up the task with their guns.

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Documentary on "Crimes of Honor" in Occupied Palestine-AR (EN Subtitles)

Today I have discovered a new bloggeress from Syria, her name is Hanadi and her blog seems promising. She posted a documentary on “crimes of honor” in occupied Palestine, and it tells the stories of four women accused of bringing shame to their families.

Check Hanadi’s blog here and watch the documentary here.

Below are the details of the documentary as appeared on Culture Unplugged website:

Maria’s Grotto : Director: Buthina Canaan Khoury | Genre: Documentary | Produced In: 2007

Synopsis: A gripping portrait of women, whose lives were dictated by a moral code, Maria’s Grotto is a painful true film about the issue of honor killings in Palestine. Khoury explores the issue through the stories of four women: one is wrongly accused of dishonoring her family and then murdered; the second dies after being forced by her brothers to swallow poison; the third survives repeated stabbings inflicted by her brother; and the fourth is a Hip-hop singer who dares speak out about honor killings, and faces death threats. Through these stories, Khoury exposes the magnitude of honor killings in Palestine.

Bloggers Against "Crimes of Honor"

They have always been.

As far as I know, the first Syrian blogger who have posted her opposition to “honor killings” is Rima Msabbani, a blogger who’s dear to my heart and who rarely blogs. She and a fellow blogger, Shady Zaiat, were the first to put a widget on their blogs sidebar that denounces article 548 from the Syrian penal code which states that any male relative who kills a girl for the sake of “honor” would only be sentenced to six months. Opposers to article 548 believe that the reason why girls are being killed in cold blood is exactly because the murderers know they can get away with it in few months.

Syrian officials have come to realize that the number of “honor killings” in Syria is escalating, so last year the government sponsored and organized the First National Meeting on “honor crimes” out of which the organizers agreed on final recommendations approved by the religious clerics present:

“Tighten the penalty for adultery for men and women equally, to disseminate Fatwas prohibiting “crimes of honor”, and to prevent the murderers to take advantage of a “moral” excuse or of the mitigating punishment. Reported on Syria News.

وشهد العام الماضي انعقاد الملتقى الوطني الأول حول جرائم الشرف برعاية حكومية حيث دعت التوصيات الختامية التي وافق عليها رجال الدين الحاضرين دون تحفظ إلى “تشديد عقوبة الزنا للرجل والمرأة على قدم المساواة، وتعميم فتاوى تحرم ارتكاب جرائم الشرف، ومنع استفادة مرتكبيها من العذر المحلل أو السبب المخفف للعقاب”.

ووفق أرقام قدمها ممثل إدارة الأمن الجنائي في الملتقى فإن عدد الجرائم التي وقعت في سورية بدافع الشرف وصلت إلى 38 جريمة من أصل 533 جريمة قتل حصلت في العام 2007 .

ووصلت جرائم الشرف حتى الشهر الثامن من العام الماضي إلى 29 جريمة شرف, وسجلت محافظة إدلب أعلى نسبة من جرائم الشرف بواقع 22% ثم محافظة حلب بـ 15%.

“According to figures provided by the representative of the Criminal Security Department in the First National Meeting, the number of crimes of honor that took place in Syria reached to 38 out of 533 murder crimes occurred in 2007.

Whereas 29 honor killings were documented last year 2008 up to August.  Idlib province recorded the highest proportion of crimes of honor to 22%, then the province of Aleppo to 15%.

Another report published on Syria News said that Syria is ranked the fifth in the world with regards to the so-called “honor crimes”.

One influential website that has been documenting the cases of “honor crimes” in Syria for the past six years is Syria Women website. The owner of the website is Bassam Al Kadi and he has initiated a petition that calls for the abolishment of article 548 of Syrian penal code. 24 Syrian websites and human rights organizations so far have joined Al Kadi’s battle against the legalization of honor crimes in Syria.

But that’s not all, Bloggers throughout this region have similar disgust to “honor killings” as well as to legalizing it.

It started with the Jordanian blogger Kinzi, who have written an email to Jordan Times to express her “disgust” of how murderers are getting away with their murder:

I urge all my friends to write to the Jordan Times expressing their disgust at the way these murderers of innocent women are just allowed to go free (or have a short prison sentence) under ‘the fit of fury’ law and the allowing of the dropping of charges because the offender is part of the same family as the victim. The following opinion piece by Nermeen in today’s Jordan Times is excellent.

Several Bloggers, Jordanians, Syrians and a Canadian, followed Kinzi’s appeal and wrote on their opposition and thoughts on “honor crimes”.

Qwaider from Jordan, is working on creating a database for the victims of “honor crimes” occured around the world in honor of their memory:

What do all the honor murderers try to accomplish with murder? To wipe out the shame and the name of their victims from history. Right?

Here’s a good way we, as a society, help thwart that goal. Let’s all keep their memory alive!

Do you know the name of an honor murder victim? From anywhere in the world? Well, here’s your chance to avenge her tormented soul.

Isobel, a blogger from Canada, followed Kinzi’s call and urged other bloggers to do the same:

“[A] man and his two sons are charged with beating to death the daughter for leaving the house in make up and talking to a strange man…”. (International Herald Tribune) It wasn’t long ago (2007) that a similar tragedy happened here in Canada to 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez who was strangled to death for refusing to wear the hijab. Each time I ask myself, how can anyone kill their own daughter/sister over the family honour…which in itself is a frightening order of priority. Killing your own child does not soil the family rep but a young woman wearing makeup does?

And on the Syrian blogsphere, Abu Fares posted an insightful post mostly on the social structure of Syrian society and problems surrounding it:

Not a single monotheist religion advocated banishing slavery! Just think of this notion for a minute. God spoke to us three times (at least) in this part of the world. Three times… and he never told us that slavery is ungodly. Before we call for political reform we’d better get indoors, within the dank walls of our own homes and rummage around for rot, pests and rodents in our basements, in the core of our foundations.

Last but not the least, another Syrian blogger, Kinan Jarjous, wrote a touching short story called “Why Did I Kill My Sister?” in which he has indeed “hit the nail on the head” as one commenter said:

What happened to my family honor now? The daughter dead, the son in jail? What happened to my image… am I a hero now? Or a guy from prison? When I get released… will I marry? Who will marry me? A monster who kills women?

I should have checked if the guy was her friend’s relative. I should have checked it was all about homework.

The term “crimes of honor” in the Arab-speaking world is usually associated with murdering girls who supposedly have given away their virginity. In this context, Honor then is associated with the tradition of virginity. However, girls in this region are not being killed for the sake of “honor” only when a father, brother or a male relative is suspicious of a girl’s sexual activities, but also when she runs away and marries someone from another sect or another religion, which to the murderers, they’re doing so to “clean” or “purify” the family’s “honor” from shame. So notice, whether she’s having sex prior to marriage or not, a girl is threatened to be killed only because she isn’t following the social norm.

While the latter case of honor murder is embedded with sectarianism, the motivation to kill here is not in my opinion due to sectarianism, but rather to to the “image” of the family within the social structure and system of traditions and habits. This point is explicit in Kinan’s story where the brother killed his sister after he went to the shop to buy a magazine and he was very worried what the owner would think of him.

And it’s also a question of power, which Kinan also rightly referred to in his story: the brother needs to look like he’s in control of his sister, he needs to look like a “man”. Manhood in this region is about power over women, the more powerful and control you are of women in your family the more of a man you are. And society does celebrate this notion.

I think sectarianism has little to do with “honor killings” because all sects and religions in this region have a history of killing their daughters when they decide to escape the social rules. So this is not about religion or sect as much as it is about the constructed social structure in which a male and female have certain sacred roles to fill. This social system is hierarchal: men socially, economically and legally are the “defenders”, “protectors” and “guardians” of women. Men have set the norm and women who choose to flee it are considered “whores”, and in some cases these women get killed.

“Honor killing” is not simply about girls having sex or not, but about a girl who made a decision to live by her own rules away from the community or society she lives in. It’s a question of authority and autonomy and those who refused to be submissive to authorial people are being killed or locked in their houses.

This conflict is not between men and women, but between authorial people and autonomous people.  What people call “sexism” is nothing but a social system, and gender authority.