By Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald
July 31, 2009
In June, I got a cell phone and used it on a trip to British Columbia to talk to a man who's unrelated to me. To think that this might upset my two brothers who then might start plotting to kill me for it is laughable-- in the safe confines of western society. Fadia Najjar, who lived in Gaza, got a cell phone too and it cost her life. Her father, Jawdat, turned himself in to police last week, the day after Fadia was beaten over the head with an iron chain and punched and kicked for 40 minutes before dying of a fractured skull. Jawdat had been furious about his daughter owning a cell phone and believed she had used it to talk to a man unrelated to the family, according to police reports obtained by two human rights groups, Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and cited in the Jerusalem Post. Three of her brothers are suspected of being complicit in her killing.
According to figures released by the United Nations, Fadia is one of 5,000 women who will die this year in so-called honour killings. The Jerusalem Post notes she is the 10th woman to lose her life in 2009 in honour killings in Palestinian areas and in Arab communities within Israel.
After writing about honour killings on Wednesday, I received a number of e-mails from people who object to the term and want to lump these incidents in the category of domestic abuse, to avoid casting the faintest shadow of aspersion on a non-western culture.
Fadia's death shows this argument up for the politically correct obfuscation that it is. The sooner honour killings are acknowledged, the sooner attention can turn to changing male attitudes in Middle Eastern and other cultures where such horrors take place. Women die while the West argues in its wishy-washy way over semantics. If aspersions need to be cast, let's cast them and bring this ugly stuff out in the open.
Sorry to dispense with the niceties, all you western-bred apologists, but Fadia's death cannot be labelled domestic abuse. Domestic violence involves chronic verbal, emotional and physical abuse inflicted by a man upon his female partner, or --much as some militant feminists hate to admit it --by a woman upon her male partner. According to Statistics Canada, in 2006, 546,000 Canadian men were victims of physical abuse at the hands of their female partners. The tally of those of both sexes who suffer from verbal and emotional abuse is unknown, since these forms of insidious violence leave no outward signs but are just as soul-destroying as physical abuse.
An honour killing is premeditated and men kill their daughters or sisters because they believe the women have done something to taint the family's honour. It is the males' prerogative, of course, to define honour. The something these women have done would, in western society, be viewed as merely exercising personal autonomy --such as Fadia's purchase of a cell phone or her choice to talk to a man who's not a relative. Here in the West, we can't even imagine what it feels like to live like that.
The Jerusalem Post, in a story jointly reported with Associated Press, quotes Mona Shawa, a member of the PCHR, as saying sentences for honour killings range from six months to three years. Six months for first-degree murder? The disparity between that sentence and one of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years that the identical crime would net an offender in Canada, shows the negligible value placed on women's lives in cultures where honour killings take place. Yet here in the West, we're supposed to pussyfoot around the truth because saying that some Muslim men commit honour killings somehow equates to a scurrilous attack on all Muslims. Nothing could be further from the truth. Regardless of whose culture it springs from, when human rights are being so grossly violated and women's lives held to be of so little value, these things have to be spoken about with candour if they are ever to be stopped. And it is incumbent upon enlightened, right-thinking men in those cultures to speak out, to work toward an attitude shift in the patriarchal mindset of others and to insist that the gravity of this crime is reflected in the sentences handed the perpetrators.
The problem of honour killings seems to catch the West off guard, hence the rush to place them under the generic label of domestic violence. It reflects our uneasy relationship with multiculturalism. We like to be able to watch the colourful peasant skirts whirling at an ethnic festival, sample some exotic foods at the various booths and go home secure in the belief that other cultures are charming and innocuous. We congratulate ourselves on how tolerant we are, and we expect other cultures to reflect our tolerance back on us, demonstrating their gratitude for it by behaving the way we want them to. When they don't, we hasten to cover up for them and keep the pretence going. Women are dying, but the West is dithering. Email: email@example.comSt.coM
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