“Virginity is a natural stamp,” says Afghan Supreme Court member

IRIN recently published an Afghanistan article that has it all: women being treated as pieces of property (in this case, defective pieces of property), rampant ignorance of medical science, misogynist government officials and cultural practices that turn life into a miserable horror for people unlucky enough to run afoul of them.

It includes one of the worst stories I’ve heard in the past month –and that’s saying something.

Raela* was forcefully taken to a medical examiner on her wedding night after her husband accused her of losing her virginity and beat her. The examination showed she had lost her virginity long before the marriage and the 22-year-old was handed over to the judiciary for prosecution on charges of adultery.

Raela’s incarceration has devastated her family. They have to pay back almost US$10,000 to their former son-in-law, which was allegedly spent on the wedding ceremony.

“They have put their house up for sale and decided to leave this neighbourhood because they cannot live with the dishonour,” said one relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A weak, unprofessional justice sector and deeply ingrained prejudices against women are responsible for the nightmare Raela and other women face.

While virginity is not mentioned in the country’s penal system and other laws, say activists and lawyers, hundreds of women like Raela unfairly face serious formal and informal penalties for the alleged illicit loss of this cultural requirement.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage is a sin under Islamic jurisprudence and the Afghan laws largely derived from it.

“Virginity is a natural stamp,” said Mawlawi Mohammad Qasim, a member of the Supreme Court’s penal bureau. “When it is lost and the reason is proved to be illegitimate sexual relations it implies adultery, which should be punished,” he said adding that an unmarried person caught having sex outside marriage, male or female, could be sentenced to three to five years in prison while married adulterers received heavier penalties.

And Mawlawi Qasim’s beliefs aren’t out of sync with those of the society at large, nor, sadly, with the Afghan medical community.

Medical workers are often called in to prove a woman’s virginity – a requirement for women preparing for marriage.

“Virginity and adultery tests are part of our normal work,” said Del Aqa Mahboobi, a medical expert in Kabul. But there are few facilities and a shortage of female experts to undertake very intimate tests.

The tests involve an examination of the vagina to see whether a girl’s or woman’s hymen is intact, but experts say it can be torn by factors other than intercourse. When forced or coerced, according to Amnesty International, virginity tests degrade women and are a form of torture.

In what seems to be the lone ray of light in an otherwise very, very grim situation, a handful of activists are speaking out against these practices and the attitudes that perpetuate them.

Demanding that men too face the law, Sheela Samimi, an advocacy officer with the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), said: “Can a girl ask [medical experts] to test whether her would-be husband had sex before marriage and when proved wrong would officials prosecute the man as they do a woman?”

With every female victim of adultery, she added, there was a man or men who rarely faced justice.

Worthless lives

Ann Corcoran is upset that 115 Somali refugees were saved from a sinking boat off the coast of Malta.

Ann Corcoran is an evil person.

I rarely say that about anyone, because I think calling someone “evil” is usually a cop-out, a way to deny one’s own capacity for evil deeds. That said, I do think it’s a label befitting someone whose first emotions when she reads a news story about 115 human beings saved from dying at sea are disappointment and annoyance.

That’s some serious social pathology, right there.

Some thoughts on the Phoenix Liberian case

By now, most of you have heard the heartrending story of the little Liberian refugee girl who was raped by four boys, also Liberian refugees, in Phoenix, AZ.  The four boys ranged in age from 9 to 14 years old. When the girl’s parents learned what happened, they told the police to take their daughter away, that the shame she had brought on her family was too great to bear. The girl was subsequently placed in foster care.

Like I said, most of you know these details already. And if you’ve read the news stories, you also know what the knee-jerk media and public reaction to this story has been — oh, those savage Africans!

Right wing columnist Phyllis Chesler even titled her column –I’m not kidding– “Child Barbarians in Phoenix: Obama Extends their Stay,” and used what happened in Phoenix to advance her argument that people from the “Third World” are inherently criminal, violent, animalistic and unassimilable into American society.

She wrote:

Most Americans have no idea how different our culture is from cultures in the Middle East, central Asia, or Africa. If differences are acknowledged, America and the West are blamed for them. The barbarism, genocide, perpetual civil and religious wars, the cruelties of Sharia law (stoning, cross-amputations, be-heading), and the utterly tragic treatment of women, children, and the poor in the Third World– all are blamed on western imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism.

Not true–or so I have been arguing for years. Some barbarism is indigenous to a region. But even if it were true–what’s to be done now? Should we willingly welcome cannibals [Huh? -Ed], gang-rapists, child-rapists, polygamists, (dis)honor murderers to our shores?

Terrible things happen in the Third World: Children as young as five are routinely kidnapped into slavery, or forced to become suicide bombers or child-soldiers. Children see their mothers raped, their fathers tortured, their parents and other relatives brutally murdered. Male children are forced to rape their own mothers, female children are forced to sexually service men old enough to be their grandfathers. No one protects, consoles, re-educates, or “treats” them as trauma victims.

Immigrants bring both their barbarism and their traumatized histories right along with them when they come to America.

Anti-refugee blogger Ann Corcoran also weighed in. Displaying her inimitable talent for creatively combing prejudices, she wrote :

This is a heinous practice we are well aware of with followers of Islam—-blaming the rape victim.  But these Liberians are likely not Muslims, so I was interested to learn that this cultural problem was coming into the US with other refugee cultures as well.

Predictably, one of her commenters responded:

The family of the rape victim should be deported immediately. They don’t understand nor to they have the same values that we Americans have. They have no business being here. The families of the rapists should also be investigated. We shouldn’t have to allow people with these sort of views to live in this country. They don’t seem to understand what civilized people allow. We can’t have them breeding a generation of this kind of thinking in this land. I am sorry if this sounds harsh, but if they came here for a better life, that is fine, but if their values will alter our way of life, then they shouldn’t be allowed to come.

Americans also commit rape, just like Americans also murder and abuse their children and intimate partners. As has been proved time and again, foreign born residents –including refugees- are actually less likely to commit violent crimes than Americans born in this country. These are not opinions, they are facts. (See here and here.)

A climate of impunity for violence against women, much of it sexual, has existed in Liberian society for a long time, and reached unfathomable proportions during Liberia’s civil war. This is also true.

But so is the tremendous effort Liberian activists have put into ending that culture of impunity and changing social attitudes toward women and victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Like every other society, Liberian society is not culturally or attitudinally monolithic. Certain opinions are widely (though not universally) held, but extrapolating the actions or opinions of any individual or small group of individuals to the entire racial, ethnic, religious or national category that person or those individuals fall into is illogical, dangerous bigotry. It reduces people to categorical absolutes, dismisses all of life’s messiness as predestination, and encourages faulty assumptions about violence, culture, and causality.

The parents of the rape victim in Phoenix have done themselves and the rest of the Liberian refugee community in the United States no favours by abandoning their daughter and telling the press how ashamed of her they are, but they do not represent all Liberians refugees, or all Liberians. Prominent Liberians from U.S.-based activists to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have condemned the reaction of this family and expressed their support for the victim. The Liberian diaspora has recoiled in as much horror at the entire situation as everyone else.

This is not about Africans.

This is not about Liberians.

This is not about refugees.

And this is not about your agenda or my agenda when it comes to immigration.

This is about a little girl in Phoenix who had something terrible done to her, parents who betrayed their child when she needed them most, and yes, four little boys who will now be swallowed by the criminal justice system and whose lives will forever be defined by a crime they committed as juveniles.

***

The county prosecutor for Maricopa County has stated that the 14 year old boy will be tried as an adult, while the 9, 10 and 13 year olds will be tried as juveniles. Instead of receiving counseling and rehabilitation to re-enter society, these boys will spend years, possibly decades in the case of the 14 year old, in some of the worst prisons in the democratic world.

Childhood is defined legally and understood socially by a person’s age, not by his or her behaviour or capacity. Ten year olds are fully capable of drinking and smoking, but we don’t let them do those things. Fifteen year olds are certainly capable of fighting in wars –but we don’t let anyone enlist in the armed forces until she or her reaches age 18, and we view combatants below that age elsewhere in the world as victims of adult manipulation and unfortunate circumstances beyond their control.

A few nights ago, I asked a lawyer friend to explain the rationale behind trying children as adults and sentencing them to hard time in adult prisons. He said that there isn’t a sound legal rationale behind it –it’s purely pandering to a lynch mob mentality for political gain, buying votes by satiating voters’ desire for retribution without the consideration of mitigating circumstances. It’s not that we view child offenders as adults when they commit terrible crimes, he explained, it’s that we stop caring that they are children.

All of that made perfect sense to me. There are many aspects of American political culture that are incredibly illiberal and backward, and our attitude toward juvenile offenders is one of these. Not until 2005, following the Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons, did it become illegal everywhere in the United States to apply the death penalty to juvenile offenders.

Even then, the court ruled 5-4, and the decision is still controversial. Think about that: it’s controversial for the United States to no longer be executing people for crimes they committed as kids. Prior to Roper, fifteen states still allowed the execution of juvenile offenders as young as 16 years old.

What is in store for the Liberian refugee children at the center of the Phoenix tragedy? For the little girl, I hope, all the medical and psychological services she needs, with or without the future involvement of her parents in her life. It is also my sincere wish that she finds the kind of unconditional love she was denied by her parents.

For the boys, life from now on will be nasty, poor, solitary, and bereft of opportunities for rehabilitation. Given where they will stand trial, convictions are all but guaranteed, and the resulting sentences will likely be lengthy, custodial ones. The conditions in Maricopa County jails violate minimum humanitarian standards. Infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs Maricopa like his personal, authoritarian fiefdom. I wrote about Arpaio last year. If you think I’m being dramatic and exaggerating what the Liberian boys will face in the days ahead –or you believe the boys deserve whatever is coming to them– I suggest you keep reading.

Continue reading

Some stuff

First the good news.

Via Spencer Ackerman: the AP is reporting that the concrete barriers in Baghdad are coming down. It’s about time.

***

Before catching my return bus last weekend, I used my sister’s Netflix account to re-watch the first half of The Edge of Heaven and was again reminded why Fatih Akin is the best thing in European cinema right now.

***

Now, plunging into the crappy stuff.

Jill has a great post up about how the larger culture of misogyny and dehumanization of women enables men like George Sodini by legitimizing their view that women are things they are entitled to possess.

***
“In Florida and Pennsylvania children as young as 7 can receive a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole.”

America’s justice system: made of FAIL.

***

Hamesha writes from Kabul:

[…]one fears we have bitten off more than we can chew. we have dived headlong into constitutional liberal democracy, with the attendant outcome that we have none of the above: neither rule of law, nor true democracy, nor liberalism. and in the process the masses have come to abhor all of it, because it has not come at their pace, their comfort zone.

Some will say, well duh, this is a tired point, holding parliamentary elections in 2005 was sheer insanity. But if it is such a tired point, why do we always seem to screw up the sequencing of these things?

With no way to rewind history, the task ahead is that of filling Afghanistan’s hollow democratic order with something approximating the real thing. It will be slow-going and, I worry, increasingly dangerous in the near term.

***

A few weeks ago I received an email from the refugee resettlement office, inviting me to watch Turtles Can Fly,  Iranian Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi’s critically-acclaimed 2005 film about orphans in Iraqi Kurdistan during the weeks leading up to the US invasion.

As much as I enjoy activist get-togethers, I passed on this one. Back in early college, I picked Turtles Can Fly out, pretty much randomly, from the foreign films rack at the video rental store near my sophomore residence hall. Without exaggeration, it was the single most upsetting film I have ever seen (followed closely by Lilja 4 Ever and Osama). Days afterward, I found myself breaking down in the shower.

American films, even pitch dark indie ones, generally shy away from portraying the world as a relentlessly violent and callous place to children.  If a child protagonist suffers it is never so much or so viscerally that the viewer feels the need to look away. Turtles Can Fly dispenses with all the sentimentality that surrounds children’s experiences in American cinema and goes well beyond where, say, Spanish cinema goes in this direction.

The film’s main protagonist, Satellite, is the shrewd thirteen year old leader of a tribe of orphans in an IDP camp near the Iraq-Turkey border. The children earn enough money to survive by clearing minefields and selling the unexploded mines. Satellite supplements their income by installing satellite dishes and translating English television news to villagers eager for information about the impending American invasion.

Ghobadi’s film overflows with imagery of bodily and social devastation; the deformed bodies of child victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks, a toddler’s chubby fingers grasping a razor wire fence, a  soldier shooting at the heels of Kurdish children from a sniper tower across the border. Even the sky is merciless. Day after day, it rains on the orphans’ meager existence, muddying their feet and dirtying their leaky tents.

Turtles Can Fly isn’t about underdogs making it against all odds (the title refers to the release of death). Instead, it’s about how even brave, smart, resourceful people get ground into the dust by historical events and material circumstances beyond their control. Ghobadi rejects the (largely American) idea that the human capacity to bounce back from tragedy and trauma is limitless. By subjecting the viewer to the fates of Satellite and the other children, he says don’t be so naive.

The take-away message of Turtles Can Fly is that respecting people like the film’s child protagonists requires a more sober understanding of where agency begins and ends.

It’s an important film, but once was enough for me.

***

John le Carré is being put out of business by real life.

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

This is one of those stories for which “fucked the hell up” doesn’t even come close.

***

Take a look at this.

You can’t take from people who have nothing, right?

Last December, Alanna began a post with this:

Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before. Even if it’s your old clothes, technology they can’t use, or a school building with no teacher.

But poor people don’t have nothing. They have families, friends – social ties. They have responsibilities. They have possessions, however meager. They have lives, no matter what those lives look like to Westerners.

I was reminded of that post when I read the following on the Roma Rights blog, even though it isn’t about the kind of development Alanna was referring to:

Three months before the opening of the Universiade, Belgrade’s City Secretariat for Inspections decided to destroy the Roma slum settlement located right next to the athlete’s village “Belleville”. On April the 3rd 2009 all of a sudden a couple of bulldozers showed up at the settlement and demolished 40 houses. As the demolition was carried out without any prior notice to the residents, the people did not even have time to save their belongings from being buried under the ruins. A few of them were practically rescued from their houses in the very moment when the bulldozers were demolishing them.

It’s the assumption that underlies virtually everything governments in Eastern Europe do in regard to Roma housing: Roma lives are so bad, so intolerable, so filthy and hopeless that anything, even homelessness –or, as is the case for untold thousands of Roma in the former Yugoslavia, statelessness– is better than life in informal settlements like the one demolished in Belgrade. Thus, there is really no need to work with Roma communities to create housing alternatives. No, that demands too much effort on the part of busy, mid-level municipal officials, and requires actually sitting down with Roma as peers.  Forget it. Just send in the bulldozers and scatter the Gypsies. After all, you can’t take from people who have nothing, right?

A few things

Inspired by Devon Whittle’s Arusha guides for ICTR interns, I am working on a guide to living in Sarajevo as an intern, UNV, or just poorly paid NGO staffer. My guide will be a fully revised and blog-ified version of a short document I put together for my successor near the end of my time in Bosnia. I was going to post the guide last night, but I have decided to put more effort into it, polish it up a bit more.

***

In offline life, I am writing something about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When I began the piece, I had only the faintest understanding of the Second Congo War, and I feel like that hasn’t really changed. The sheer number of belligerent parties (more than twenty) and civilian deaths (between 4 and 5 million, including those who have died of disease and starvation as a result of the conflict) make my head spin. The magnitude of human suffering is dizzying. I hate “-ist” titles, but I suppose if you had to assign one to me it would be “Central Asianist” (blech!) or “Eurasianist” (blech!).  What I am definitely not is an “Africanist.”  Sometimes, I think this implies a kind of intellectual wussiness when it comes to conflicts. European and Central Asian conflicts aren’t simple by any stretch, but I get the feeling, reading about the DRC, that my Africa-focused friends at Wronging Rights and other blogs really do have to put more effort in.

And I thought the Afghan civil war was knotty. Crikey.

***

Oh. Dear. God.

NBC is coming out with a new reality show called ‘The Wanted’, about pseudo-journalists entrapping accused terrorists and war criminals. I wish I was kidding.

Couldn’t they have gone for another ‘Law and Order’ spin-off  –perhaps ‘Law and Order: War Crimes Investigations’? Fiction would have been better.

Journalists are going ballistic over this, but I think the international justice set has even more reason to worry about unintended consequences.

***

I’m going to lay off the haterade as far as Libertarians go for a while solely because Reason published this article.

Opponents of illegal immigration usually do little more than cite andecdotes attempting to link illegal immigration to violent crime. When they do try to use statistics, they come up short. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has perpetuated the popular myth that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans per day, and kill another 13 by driving drunk. King says his figures come from a Government Accountability Office study he requested, which found that about 27 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are non-citizens. Colorado Media Matters looked into King’s claim, and found his methodology lacking. King appears to have conjured his talking point by simply multiplying the annual number of murders and DWI fatalities in America by 27 percent. Of course, the GAO report only looked at federal prisons, not the state prisons and local jails where most convicted murderers and DWI offenders are kept. The Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of non-citizens (including legal immigrants) in state, local, and federal prisons and jails at about 6.4 percent (pdf). Of course, even that doesn’t mean that non-citizens account for 6.4 percent of murders and DWI fatalities, only 6.4 percent of the overall inmate population.

It’s too bad facts have never mattered to the likes of Lou Dobbs and Michelle Malkin.

***

Memorial has ceased its work in Chechnya. This is equal parts sad and chilling. Oleg Orlov explained:

There is state terror in Russia.  We know about murders both inside Chechnya and elsewhere.  Those who are killed have tried to tell the truth and criticise the government.  Ramzan Kadyrov has made it impossible for human rights activists to work in Chechnya.  Natasha Estemirova’s killers wanted to put a stop to the flow of honest information from Chechnya.  Perhaps they have succeeded.

***

Afghanistan needs better police, and why police reform has not been better planned and resourced boggles the mind.

“The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them and take their money,” said Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been securing for the past three days after flying in by helicopter.

He pointed to two compounds of neighbors where pre-teen children had been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys.

“If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he said. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.”

***

The EU fucked up badly with this, probably more than the Commissioners understand as of yet.  The least worst thing the EU can do now, what it should do, is waive the border control requirements for Bosnia’s inclusion in the visa-free regime.

***

Today, while I was walking to the grocery store, the Arcade Fire song ‘Keep the Car Running/Broken Window’ played on my ipod. It seems a fitting soundtrack to the news of late, whether you buy into the “forcibly disappeared dissident” interpretation of the lyrics or the “terrorist on the run” interpretation.

Every night my dream’s the same.
Same old city with a different name.
Men are coming to take me away.
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay.

There’s a weight that’s pressing down.
Late at night you can hear the sound.
Even the noise you make when you sleep.
Can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, when It’s coming.

There’s a fear I keep so deep,
Knew it’s name since before I could speak:
Aaaah aaaaaah aaaaah aaaaaah
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when It’s coming

Keep the car running

If some night I don’t come home,
Please don’t think I’ve left you alone.
The same place animals go when they die,
You can’t climb across a mountain so high.
The same city where I go when I sleep,
You can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where
And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when is it coming?

Keep the car running
Keep the car running
Keep the car running

 

***

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

***

I still owe Michael at Humanitarian Relief a post on the crisis in refugee resettlement. I owe a lot of things to a lot of people right now.

Attacks against Roma going up in Europe

Much of the work I did as an intern in Bosnia was on issues concerning the Roma community. Across Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, Roma are treated abysmally. The deprivation and persecution and vicious racism they face are shocking at first to an outsider, as these things fly in the face of everything the bright, liberal, human rights-advancing European project is supposed to stand for.

According to this IHT article, violent attacks against Hungarian Roma are increasing, with racists being egged on by far-right political parties.

Same awful, old story in Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy. Elsewhere, in places like Bosnia and Serbia, Roma are treated as though they don’t exist, as the European Roma Rights Centre once aptly put it, “non-constituents” –dis-empowered politically, kept landless and undocumented, and generally ignored by the state and by their fellow citizens unless they are linked to crime, in which case law enforcement responses are frequently out of all proportion and serve only to further alienate Roma from non-Roma communities.

Things are changing. There are Roma MEPs now, and there has been a tremendous growth in Roma civil society since the 90’s. (I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with some really tremendous Roma community advocates.) And the European Court of Human Rights has handed down some important rulings on major Roma human rights issues, such as racial segregation of schools in the Czech Republic. Progress is made every day, in tiny, grueling increments, but there is still a long and uneven road ahead.

Concern trolls, FGM, and “honor killings”

Judy Warner and Ann Corcoran are insidious concern trolls, individuals who feign concern over the welfare of a person or group of people as a means of advancing an agenda to harm the individual or group in question –in this case, Muslim refugees, and Muslim women generally.

Why do I even entertain them? A couple of reasons.

1)    Google “refugee resettlement.” RRW is the third site that comes up. I cringe just typing that, but the sooner pro-refugee activists and resettlement workers acknowledge that RRW is a problem and begin countering the misleading and untrue statements (about refugees and resettlement agencies) posted there, the better. People like Ann Corcoran and Judy Warner are a threat to the vital work of refugee resettlement. Though acknowledging that may cause their stony hearts to beat a little faster, it still needs to be done.

2)    I have a lot of writing to do for school these days, as my time as a student wraps up. Blogging helps me break up the monotony and keeps my eyes from glazing over from having read and written about, say, budget offices, for hours and hours on end.

Now, I would like to respond to two issues Judy and Ann (and other concern trolls) go back to again and again: “honor killings” and FGM. I’ll start with honor killings, because, coincidentally, I have to write something about this for class as well. The following is an excerpt from a recent RRW post.

My own opinion is that honor killing is so barbaric that we should cut off immigration from any country where it is practiced, with very few exceptions made, only for those who have shown they are reformers, by deeds as well as words. I mean, of course, Muslim immigration, since honor killing is now practiced all over Western Europe. We don’t have to keep out Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, though it would be a good thing if he took more notice of it than he has. –Judy Warner

Judy quotes an interview by Katherine Jean Lopez (yes, the same blogger who infamously mocked Jessica Valenti of Feministing for wanting a feminist wedding) of psychotherapist and professor Phyllis Chesler, who recently wrote an article titled, “Are Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?” in which Chesler concludes –using methodology any college freshman social science major would recognize as hopelessly flawed– that no, honor killings are very different, and much worse (in Chesler’s view) because; non-Muslim men who beat or kill women in their lives for reasons not related to personal or family “honor” feel bad about it afterwards, whereas Muslim men who kill feel no guilt whatsoever; non-Muslim batterers don’t kill their daughters, only their wives (whew!); and spousal murders by non-Muslim are pretty tidy affairs, unlike grotesque and bloody “honor killings.” And there are a bunch of other patently ridiculous claims in there, as evidenced by this table from Chesler’s article in the The Middle East Quarterly (a rightist screed masquerading –poorly—as a scholarly journal).

Table 1: Differing Characteristics of Honor Killings and Domestic Violence

Honor Killings

Domestic Violence

Committed mainly by Muslims against Muslim girls/young adult women.

Committed by men of all faiths usually against adult women.

Committed mainly by fathers against their teenage daughters and daughters in their early twenties. Wives and older-age daughters may also be victims, but to a lesser extent.

Committed by an adult male spouse against an adult female spouse or intimate partner.

Carefully planned. Death threats are often used as a means of control.

The murder is often unplanned and spontaneous.

The planning and execution involve multiple family members and can include mothers, sisters, brothers, male cousins, uncles, grandfathers, etc. If the girl escapes, the extended family will continue to search for her to kill her.

The murder is carried out by one man with no family complicity.

The reason given for the honor killing is that the girl or young woman has “dishonored” the family.

The batterer-murderer does not claim any family concept of “honor.” The reasons may range from a poorly cooked meal to suspected infidelity to the woman’s trying to protect the children from his abuse or turning to the authorities for help.

At least half the time, the killings are carried out with barbaric ferocity. The female victim is often raped, burned alive, stoned or beaten to death, cut at the throat, decapitated, stabbed numerous times, suffocated slowly, etc.

While some men do beat a spouse to death, they often simply shoot or stab them.

The extended family and community valorize the honor killing. They do not condemn the perpetrators in the name of Islam. Mainly, honor killings are seen as normative.

The batterer-murderer is seen as a criminal; no one defends him as a hero. Such men are often viewed as sociopaths, mentally ill, or evil.

The murderer(s) do not show remorse. Instead, they experience themselves as “victims,” defending themselves from the girl’s actions and trying to restore their lost family honor.

Sometimes, remorse or regret is exhibited.

In the Lopez interview, Chesler writes:

Although most Muslim organizations claim that such honor killings have absolutely nothing to do with Islam, many scholars and critics of Islam strongly disagree.

Right. Because when it comes to Islam, non-Muslims and “critics” know better than Muslims. That makes perfect sense.

Muslim countries do not often prosecute honor killings. More progressive countries, like Jordan, deal with the intractable problem of honor-related violence against women and honor killing by locking up the potential victims, often for as long as a decade.

Jordanian feminists are tackling this issue head-on, and Jordanian Queen Rania al Abdullah frequently speaks out on the need for better access to justice for Jordanian women.

Sharia law believes in fathers’ and husbands’ physically punishing disobedient women. It does not clearly admonish its followers not to kill women who are viewed as “dishonoring” their families.

Look, I’m no fan of religiously-based law of any kind, but Chesler’s either really misinformed or really intellectually dishonest here. I defer to Krista at Muslimah Media Watch (MMW) on this one:

Even the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah don’t allow for beheading a woman who divorces her husband.  The way that Shari’ah gets talked about in relation to this case [the recent murder of Pakistani-American TV executive Aasiya Hassan by her estranged husband in Buffalo, NY] – usually without a direct link; the word just gets thrown in there to imply a connection – is really worrying, and puts the blame on Islam for something that would be clearly condemned within an Islamic legal framework.

As for Chesler’s claim that Muslim communities are psychopathically a-ok with violence against women in their midst and stubbornly unreflective about the issue…

Faith: The second issue that this tragedy brings up is the Muslim community’s complicity in domestic violence against women. Muzzammil Hassan was supported by various Muslim organizations in the U.S., including ISNA, despite the fact that all three of his wives left him because of domestic violence. He had a reputation for being violent and abusive, yet he still managed to gain a platform at major Muslim conventions throughout the U.S. because he founded Bridges TV. Abusers should not gain the support of Muslims, yet too often we are silent when they are among our mist. I hope that this tragedy really makes Muslims take a cold, hard look at how we treat domestic violence and abusers in our community. Not just speak about the issue, but actually stop embracing and sheltering abusers and take actions to help victims of abuse.

Sobia: What heartens me is the response from mainstream Muslims to fight intimate partner violence. Just as after the tragic Aqsa Parvez murder, this time again mosques across North America delivered khutbahs against domestic violence, explaining how un-Islamic such terrible actions are. It appears the Muslim community is stepping up to the plate in North America and, as such, showing Aasiya Hassan respect.

In an earlier post, the MMW bloggers posted official responses by Muslim community organizations, and they were mostly along the following lines:

We must make it a priority to teach our young men in the community
what it means to be a good husband and what the role the husband has
as a protector of his family. The husband is not one who terrorizes or
does harm and jeopardizes the safety of his family. At the same time,
we must teach our young women not to accept abuse in any way, and to
come forward if abuse occurs in the marriage. They must feel that they
are able to inform those who are in authority and feel comfortable
confiding in the imams and social workers of our communities.

Community and family members should support a woman in her decision to
leave a home where her life is threatened and provide shelter and
safety for her. No imam, mosque leader or social worker should suggest
that she return to such a relationship and to be patient if she feels
the relationship is abusive. Rather they should help and empower her
to stand up for her rights and to be able to make the decision of
protecting herself against her abuser without feeling she has done
something wrong, regardless of the status of the abuser in the
community.

Of course, the likes of Judy Warner, Ann Corcoran, Katherine Jean Lopez and Phyllis Chesler are too busy accusing Muslims of not caring and not speaking out against violence against women to pay attention to what Muslims are actually saying and doing on the issue.

Chesler’s reaction to the Hassan case is really telling of this mentality, and total disregard for research. It’s also vicious and incredibly condescending.

[…] in the wake of the alleged Hassan honor murder, Muslim leaders are insisting that the Hassan case cannot be an honor killing because it does not fit the description of a classical honor killing as per above. It does not, but it is similar to some other cases of Muslim wives in the West. But, in the past, these same leaders characterized the classical honor murders as “only domestic violence,” or as “teenager problems,” or as “immigrant problems.”

[Members of the Buffalo, NY Muslim community] should stop “protesting” so much. Perhaps Hassan was a serial wife abuser. Perhaps this last failed marriage and this last wife who walked out on him was too much shame for him to bear and he reverted to his empowered, barbaric Pakistani ways. There should be some communal humility. Some sorrow. (I believe there is some, by the way.) And some acceptance of responsibility for having looked the other way and rewarded a monster with so much funding and honor. What I am seeing instead, is an attempt to cut him loose, to say that Hassan is not really one of us, that he is not a “good” Muslim.

Faith at MMW made an excellent point when she wrote:

I am troubled by the focus on “honor killings” as a phenomena of certain ethnic groups instead of “honor killings” being one of the many manifestations of how patriarchy can lead to violence against women. The way “honor killings” was reported in the story and the way it is reported in general, “honor killings” are often disconnected from the larger issue of patriarchy (which affects all women) and instead focused on as a purely localized issue that affects certain racial groups. I would like “honor killings” to be focused on as part of the global fight against violence against women.

Chesler’s singular focus on “honor killings” is perplexing and disturbing. She writes:

Domestic violence is not the same as femicide, which is what an honor killing is. Clearly, both phenomena are reprehensible, but they are not exactly the same.

Well, ok, so-called “honor killings” are a subset of femicides, and they’re both part of the broader, global problem of violence against women. Chesler’s “scholarship” (see that table again) would seem to imply that she does think “honor killings” are worse than other femicides.

She claims that five thousand women are killed in “honor killings” every year. That may be true, but misses the point. The point is violence against women, perpetuated by patriarchy. In Russia every year, fourteen thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners.

A Russian women’s rights activist puts that number in perspective:

“The number of women dying every year at the hands of their husbands and partners in the Russian Federation is roughly equal to the number of all soldiers who died in the 10-year war of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan,” says Natalya Abubikirova, executive director of the Russian Association of Crisis Centers. The Moscow-based umbrella organization of 32 groups advocates for women’s rights and seeks to raise awareness to prevent discrimination and violence against women.

To give a few more examples from non-Muslim majority countries: in India, thousands of Hindu women die in gender-based violence, much of it related to dowry and marriage, and the scale of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is truly nightmarish. In the US each year, more than a thousand women are murdered by their intimate partners. In all of these places, local activists are working bravely to tackle local manifestations of the global problem of violence against women. (Here is a great series on how Congolese women are working to stop rape.)

I’ll conclude by addressing the RRW post that “inspired” me to write all this in the first place. Again, Judy wrote:

My own opinion is that honor killing is so barbaric that we should cut off immigration from any country where it is practiced, with very few exceptions made, only for those who have shown they are reformers, by deeds as well as words. I mean, of course, Muslim immigration, since honor killing is now practiced all over Western Europe. We don’t have to keep out Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, though it would be a good thing if he took more notice of it than he has.

A few problems with this argument:

1)     How exactly does one prove “by deeds” that she or he is against “honor killings”? That’s like the Belgian Government (I lived in Belgium during my study-abroad semester) asking me to prove that, as someone born in a country with high rates of gun violence, I not only condemn gun violence, but have taken action to stop it. I don’t own a gun? Too passive! I’ve written that civilians in a liberal democracy should not need fire arms to defend themselves against the state or each other? Mere words!

2)    “I mean, of course, Muslim immigration…” Ah, there we go. See, Judy? Honesty isn’t so hard. It doesn’t make you less of a bigot, of course, but…

Bringing this back to refugees.

Resettlement is stressful for all refugees, of all religions and nationalities. Stress and isolation can increase the risk of violence in refugee families. Resettlement workers understand this and act accordingly. When I worked full-time in resettlement, I ran seminars on family life and legal issues for refugee women and men (seminars for both sexes were held separately). In these seminars, I made sure my clients understood the basic letter of the law, and what support options were available to them if they ever found themselves being abused or threatened with abuse.

Violence against women is never, ever ok, under any circumstances. It’s reprehensible and tragic. If people like Warner, Corcoran, Lopez, and Chesler had even a shred of real respect and empathy for victims and survivors, they wouldn’t use them to cynically advance anti-immigration and anti-Muslim agendas.

***

Female Genital Mutilation:

[Female Genital Mutilation] is supposedly a cultural (cultural relativism is crap) and religious (Islamic) obligation which destroys the sex drive and helps assure men get their sexual pleasure but that their women then don’t stray too far.  But it does more than that, it is the worst form of child abuse wrapped in a veil of secrecy often dooming girls to a lifetime of pain and psychological trauma. –Ann Corcoran

1) FGM is a regional and cultural practice. It has nothing to do with Islam, and is nowhere mentioned in the Koran.

2) If FGM was part of adherence to even, to borrow Krista’s words from a different context, “the most extreme and violent (mis)interpretations of Shari’ah,” it would be rife in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Instead, it’s unheard of in those countries.

3) FGM is widely practiced among Christians in the same areas of Africa where it is practiced by Muslims. Take Ethiopia for example. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopian women are estimated to have undergone some form of FGM, yet just about a third of Ethiopians are Muslim. (Stats and map.)

4) FGM is practiced for various reasons, and there are multiple kinds/degrees of FGM. In Sierra Leone, for example, it is a womanhood initiation rite. In Iraqi Kurdistan, people aren’t sure why they do it, except that it’s been done for as long as anyone can remember.

5) Activists in countries where FGM is widely practiced are working hard to put an end to it through community education and alternative livelihoods for women who make their living carrying out the procedure.

6) When working with refugee from countries where FGM is widely practiced, resettlement workers do their best to make sure  their clients understand that; A)  FGM is illegal in the US, B) medical options are available to women who had it done in the past, and C) parents who inflict FGM on their daughters in the United States will lose custody of their children and almost certainly face criminal prosecution and possibly deportation.

To conclude this post, let me make one, overarching point. It is not only unfair, but also bad policy, bad advocacy, and bad scholarship to make assumptions about individuals based on population level statistics, and to make sweeping generalizations about whole categories of people based on individual examples.

Oh, those greedy, dangerous Rohingya!

CAUTION: I am not going to be nice here.

****

A while back, Amanda at Wronging Rights wrote something about attitudes toward refugees that I feel is, sadly, very apt:

Refugees who make it to the developed world are treated like pickpockets: uppity schemers who reached out and grabbed relief instead of waiting humbly for someone to offer it to them.

Exhibit A, Ann Corcoran:

More distressing news from the British Isles this morning (see first distressing news here).  Ireland is taking 78 Rohingya Muslim refugees. […] I wrote about the camps at Cox’s Bazaar in my first post on Rohingya here.  Note these camps are believed to be home to Islamic radicals. […] So far the US is not officially resettling Rohingya (Burmese Muslims are here, it’s not clear if they are Rohingya), but Canada has.   Note to the Irish authorities, don’t resettle the Rohingya anywhere near the Burmese Karen Christians, they don’t get along.    Poor Ireland they thought their Catholic/Protestant “troubles” were bad.  Just wait!

Ann, you stone-hearted waste of air, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

The Burmese refugee community is more united than most refugee communities in the US, with Burmese of different religions and ethnic groups living and working together, and helping each other adapt. In my personal experience, Christian, Buddhist and Muslim Burmese not only get along just fine, but are part of the same close-knit community. If there are a few extremists in a squalid, hopeless Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. There are, after all, a few extremists (of the ethno-nationalist, religious, or political varieties) anywhere you find large groups of people of any kind.

Furthermore, my mind boggles at how you can make the Rohingya (the Rohingya!) a special target group of your anti-refugee activism.

Here’s a journalist’s description of the largest Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh:

It is an obscenity, this camp, a festering hell of lost hope and inhuman squalor. No water, power, schools or medicine. Occasional stoop-labor jobs carrying bricks or making salt. Huts made of leaves and branches. There is no music.

“The worst conditions you could imagine anywhere on earth,” says a well-traveled international aid worker. “Total despair,” says another.

Oh! Oh! But there might be one or two Islamist extremists among those malnourished, traumatized masses! No sympathy for those dirty MUSLIM Rohingya. Muslim! Muslim! Muslim!

Go back to your pretty horses, Ann. Leave refugee issues to those of us with some humanity left.