Jul 01,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –
Last week, the Jordanian Court of Cassation upheld the Criminal Court’s verdict convicting two brothers of the premeditated murder of their sister and her sister-in-law. The court rejected their defence that they acted to uphold their family’s honour and handed them the maximum penalty. This was one of several cases recently that received similar sentences, which may indicate that the Jordanian justice system no longer grants impunity to murderers who falsely try to dignify gender crimes with the underserved varnish of honour.
First and foremost, hats off to Rana Husseini for spearheading the campaign against murder in the name of honour. She had the courage to stand alone for a long time, while many in Jordan criticised her for “showing the country in a bad light”.
Second, Jordan had taken a progressive step in suspending the death sentence, then revived the practice under extraordinary and very painful circumstances. It may be time to consider suspending it again since there is no evidence that its use, throughout history, has had an effect in limiting crime.
But the essential question is: when will society stop clouding the culpability of murderers by associating the basest crimes with the highest human aspiration — honour?
Exploitation and violence against women are problems as old as time. In Arab societies, they go back to the Jahiliya, when Arabs were nomadic desert-dwellers who lived with hunger as their constant companion. A nubile girl was a potential asset because she could become the wife of a person of consequence in the tribe; and if she bore him a son quickly enough, then his wealth and influence would boost the status of her father and brothers.
Conversely, if the person of consequence satisfied his libido with the girl without marrying her, then he would move on to sow his wild oats farther afield, while she would turn into a burden to her father and brothers, who would need to provide for her and any resulting offspring. They often preferred to kill her in order to preserve not the family’s honour but its meager resources.
This was a time when people habitually killed their children out of poverty, a practice censured in the Qur’an: “And do not kill your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is a great sin.” (Al Israa – 31).
Humanity has moved on since those dark days, but some of its worst practices, such as gender violence and femicide, have survived as cherished values. In Jordan, according to Human Rights Watch, between 15 and 20 women and girls are burned, beaten or stabbed to death by family members because they allegedly transgressed against the social codes of “honour”, despite a fatwa declaring that these odious killings are contrary to Sharia.
If any society’s code of honour requires sacrificing women, like pagans offering sacrificial virgins to their idols, that society needs to seriously re-examine its values. Last week’s court verdict was an important step in this direction.