Here is a video of Basira founder Ahlam Akram discussing Honour Killings in the Middle East in depth, with Murder in the Name of Honour author, Rana Husseini.

Below the video is an article by Ahlam Akram giving a brief overview of the issue of Honour Killings.

Honour Killings: Focus on Jordan and The Occupied Territories

by Ahlam Akram
Shocking news still comes from the Arab region every day that portrays barbaric and backward societies, especially when it comes to honour killings. Although these crimes take place in many parts of the world, we cannot deny that the countries where women are held back and subjected to systematic abuses – such as honour killing and female genital mutilation – are predominantly Muslim countries.

What we need is to analyse the roots of this disastrous practice and explore if it arises from the Quran, the Sunna of the Prophet or if it is just cultural? And, if it is cultural -as most Muslims claim – then what is the quickest and best way to create the necessary change to stop it and bring these cultures forwards up to the standards of the 21st century?

We cannot deny the fact that when Mohamed introduced Islam it was a step forward in women’s rights, as it banned the previous practice of female infanticide and gave women inheritance rights and also to demand a divorce. These were not permitted in either Judaism or Christianity at that time.

The Prophet does come across both in the Koran and the Sunna traditions as much more respectful of women than the early Christians and the Jews; but, misogynist preachers routinely quote him to justify themselves with hadiths (what the Prophet says about women) that were written down 300 years after his death.

Honour killing is also not mentioned in the Quran. The first time this writer came upon a connection between this terrible practice to a hadith was in a meeting with an educated representative of one of the international TV channels in Amman, Jordan.

I asked him about Article 340 in the Jordanian penal code that allows the perpetrator of an honour killing crime to be freed after a few months. His reply was that although he personally did not support honour killings, he preferred not to remove that article from the penal code because of its connection to the following story (which I Googled and learned more about later).

The story goes that a man holding a sword dripping with blood came to the Prophet and when people warned the Prophet about the man, he simply asked him what had happened. The man replied: “I walked into my home and found a man between my wife’s legs, so I killed them both.” The Prophet turned to the people and apparently said: “Do not wonder about his act, I would have done the same had I been in his place.”

Not many people know about this story but considering that most laws are derived from the Sharia, obviously the legislator based the article in the penal code on this basis. Otherwise, why hasn’t the legislator not change it until now?

Regardless of the confession of the deliberate killing, Article 340 of the Jordanian penal code allows the release of the perpetrator after only a few months. More often than not, he is also met with a celebration from his family and the society as a hero, whilst his victim lies in her grave with no status at all. And still, the society claims mercy and justice for women.

Regardless of the many campaigns to pressurize the government to change Article 340, including efforts by the Queen of Jordan, the Jordanian Parliament still refuses to change or remove it, saying that it is needed to maintain Islamic cultural privacy.

Add to this violation, Article 62 of the Jordanian penal code further gives permission to a man to punish his wife, daughter, sister or any female in his family – up to the age 18 – without any limits on the severity of the beating (this could include death) or be used as a cover in the case of an honour killing.

Similarly in Gaza, their Article 74 of the 1936 penal code again releases the criminal within months in honour killing crimes. Wounding an animal, on the other hand, would be considered a punishable crime with up to three years in prison.

The same law is also implemented in the West Bank where Article 16 releases the criminal if he kills any women who is a relative. But the big irony is that if a woman were to commit the same, meaning killing an adulterous husband, then she will be charged with premeditated murder because he could have been sleeping with one of his other wives.

In the recent honour killing crimes in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian government used the excuse that the Occupied Territories were subject to various legal systems and that it implements Jordanian law in the West Bank whilst in Gaza the Egyptian penal code is used. But both in the West Bank and Gaza, they are also subject to Israeli military law and laws from the time of the British Mandate.

Add to this, they give the flimsy excuse that because of the Occupation, that the Legislative Council has not been able to hold any meetings to change or modify the law. I do not think that the Occupation has any thing to do with it (although it is true that the harsh economic situation does play a big role in violence against women) as the crime of honour killing is treated as a full punishable murder in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority is responsible because since taking power in 1993 it has not tried to reform the educational curriculum away from that giving men cultural superiority. In addition, there is the absence of legal representation for the victim, who is considered just a number and a burden on the family, whilst the perpetrator gets sympathy from the male judges in any case.

I think that the continuous discrimination in the law emphasizes the absence of the state’s will to implement equality of rights. It shows only a deliberate agenda to keep women in a lower status and subject them to the harshest violations of their rights. This then gives more power to the religious clerics who also wish to keep women under male authority.

I first realised how the legal systems in some Arab countries add to the violation of women rights was in August 1999, when I was watching a programme on CNN by Christiana Amanpour over honour killing. It was comparing how the same crime is dealt with in Jordan and in Israel.

Under the Israeli legal system, an honour killing is considered a crime and the convicted person faces the maximum penalty. Whereas in Jordan, the exact same murder is subjected to social customs and shyly dealt with as a crime, with endless justifications offered that a man has the right to defend his honour or that he was in an understandable rage.

The man in Jordan is freed and the right to life for his victim is completely ignored. The woman in this society is supposed to carry the family’s honour and submit to any male in the family whether it be the father, brother, husband or even her own son.

The presenter also visited a Jordanian jail and met a young prisoner who killed his sister publicly because he suspected that she had an affair with the neighbour. She asked him if he had any regrets or feelings of remorse, to which he replied: “No, she’s like a rotten apple and if kept in the box she’ll rot the rest of it.”

He also explained that if he had the opportunity to kill her once or twice or three times again, he would do the same, because only her blood will remove the shame off the family. Even with this confession and admission, Article 340 allowed for his release after only two months in prison. He was then met with a big party organised by his family and neighbours, seen as some kind of a hero.

Note: Many Arab countries still refuse to acknowledge and honour their signatures on international agreements that call for equality and human rights under the justification of cultural Islamic privacy.