Talking about honour killings: By Naima El Moussaoui

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Brazil, Ecuador, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Morocco are just a few countries where honour killings occur. Anja Wehler-Schöck has studied the phenomenon of honour killings using the example of Jordanian society. Naima El Moussaoui, a writer at Qantara.de, talked with the political scientist.

What actually is honour killing?

Anja Wehler-Schöck: An honour killing is when a woman is murdered by a member of her family in order to re-establish the family`s honour. The violation of honour ensues from an actual or alleged act of moral misconduct by the woman. This misconduct is typically sexual in nature, but it can assume many different forms, from general disobedience to contact with a man or an extramarital affair. It can even be the misfortune of having been a victim of an often incestuous rape.

How widespread is the practice of honour killing?

Wehler-Schöck: According to the estimates of the United Nations Population Fund, approximately 5,000 women and girls around the world are assassinated every year in honour killings. Pakistan, with around 500 cases a year, is considered to be one of the countries in which the highest number of honour killings occur. But it is difficult to work with precise numbers, as the number of unrecorded cases is very high. In many cases, honour killings are not registered as such by the police â€" either because there is no awareness of it or because the murders were cleverly disguised as accidents or suicides.

Pakistan is a Muslim country. This confirms the predominant assumption that honour killings are the expression of Muslim culture.

Wehler-Schöck: Because the majority of honour killings are committed in Muslim countries, it is assumed that this practice is connected with Islam.

However, neither the honour complex nor the practice of honour killings is rooted in Islam. The idea of transferring dishonour from one person to another or to a collective is foreign to Islam, for example. Moreover, the Qur`an contains a fundamental ban on murder. Individuals are also prohibited from taking the law into their own hands.

The honour complex I describe can be found wherever the societal structure is shaped by familialism, paternalism, and a strong religious influence. The practice of honour killings is found not only in Muslim and Arab countries, but also in some Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Ecuador.

You studied honour killings in Jordan and not, for instance, in Ecuador, which would have contradicted existing prejudices. Why?

Wehler-Schöck: : I felt it was important to study a Muslim, Arab country especially in order to pursue your previous question, that is, whether honour killing has roots in Islam, in Arab culture, or in tribal law. For me, Jordan represented a particularly interesting case because the country has received an unusual amount of public attention in the recent years in the international discussion over honour killings.

Moreover, compared to other countries in which honour killings occur, Jordan stands out with several progressive measures directed toward violence against women. And not least of all, it should be kept in mind that the political climate also plays a certain role for such research. Unlike in Iran, for instance, or in Pakistan, liberalisation has made a public debate over the problem of honour killing possible in Jordan.

What are the legal consequences of honour killings according to Jordanian law?

Wehler-Schöck: The crime "honour killing" does not exist in Jordanian law. Thus, the designation would most likely be second-degree homicide (prison sentence up to 15 years) or first-degree murder (death penalty). But these maximum penalties are seldom imposed. As a rule, the offenders in honour killing cases walk away with very mild sentences.

Does the ongoing political situation play a role in the problem of honour killing?

Wehler-Schöck: It is conceivable that the climate of sustained conflict in neighbouring countries has led to a brutalisation of Jordanian society. According to an analysis by Amnesty International, a higher incidence of honour killings can be observed in many societies whose everyday life is marked by violent conflicts.

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* Naima El Moussaoui is a writer for Qantara.de. Anja Wehler-Schöck is a political scientist (Free University Berlin/ Institut d`Etudes Politique Paris) and works as a gender, family, and youth politics consultant for a political foundation in Berlin. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)

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