No Honor in Crime: Jordanian women change the conversation about honor killings

Posted on October 12, 2011


In Jordan each year, between 15 and 20 women are murdered for the sake of honor.  The reasons for honor killings in Jordan vary: sometimes the woman committed adultery, or married the wrong man, or had sex before marriage.  Sometimes, she is killed because she was raped. But activist women in Jordan who are involved in the “No Honor in Crime” movement are speaking out against honor killings.  They are calling for not just reforms in legal punishments, but changes in the culture that makes these honor crimes possible.

In an interesting article (in Arabic) on the Jordanian site 7iber, the author argues that focusing just on the statistics of honor killings is misleading; instead, Jordanians need to focus on the context in which these crimes occur.

“The archives of No Honor in Crime indicate seventeen cases of honor killings this year so far.  But our archives are unable to give you statistics on the number of women beaten every night who wake up in the morning and make coffee for their ‘honorable’ husbands.  Just as our archives are unable to give you statistics on the number of girls who give up their basic rights because claiming these rights implicate them in damaging the reputation of their families.  And statistics are unable to count the women in prison because they are threatened with murder.  If you want to know the real statistics, then don’t count the number of victims but count the number of women who are frightened, and don’t research the number of offenders who kill on the pretext of honor, but research the number of men prepared to spill the blood of their female relatives who dare to take off their jilbabs – the father and the brother and the cousin and the future husband.”*

Honor killings are generally considered to be a Muslim phenomenon, but although Muslims commit the majority of honor crimes in Jordan, Christians commit them as well.  The concept of honor was an integral part of Arab society before the spread of Islam, and today seems to permeate the culture to such a degree that it regulates interactions between men and women, and draws the line between what is appropriate and what is forbidden.  Any behavior that might suggest a woman is not chaste threatens her honor, and this necessitates the separation between men and women.  A woman’s honor is also her family’s honor, and if she is thought to have transgressed sexual mores, the problem is so serious her family might feel justified in killing her.

Although historically punishments for these murders have been lenient, there has been some legal reform.  In the past, men who committed honor killings sought protection under a clause for crimes committed in “a fit of fury.”  Where in the past these men would serve two years, now they might serve seven.  In any case, research shows that these killings are far from the uncontrollable fits of fury, but calculated attacks in which multiple family members are involved, including mothers.  Because the law is more lenient for minors, often the family will have a younger brother commit the murder – his sentence will only be about three to six months.  Sometimes, women will commit themselves to prison to escape murder because they have no where else to go – about thirteen women are currently imprisoned in Jordan out of fear of their families.

Like every taboo, the problem continues because of fear to challenge it.  Women don’t speak out against these crimes because they’re afraid of their names appearing in media and shaming their families.  But the “No Honor in Crime” movement, which has a website, facebook page, and twitter, challenges the “honor” culture by creating a space where the very concept of honor can be critiqued.  The mainstream discourse on honor killing, as far as I can tell, considers honor killings to be a legitimate category separate from other murders, and when these crimes are condemned, they are condemned because the murdered woman was innocent, not because there is something inherent wrong with an honor killing itself.

But No Honor in Crime seeks to shift this discourse away from whether the woman was guilty of any shame, and conceives of the murder itself as a crime that cannot be justified.  “No Honor in Crime is a movement for the elicitation of justice,” says the main page on their website.  “We believe that the deeds must be called by their names:  a crime is a crime and a murder is a murder of a human being.  We believe that these actions need to be held accountable for what they are: crime must be punished as crime and murder as murder.  No Honor in Crime is a movement that seeks the truth: because the truth is the most honorable human demand.”*

From where I stand, the social system in Jordan meant to protect women and protect their honor, where men and women avoid interaction, and don’t sit next to each other on the bus, and can’t be trusted to be out together without a chaperone, might be meant to eliminate the subject of sex from everyone’s minds, but instead it forces everyone to focus on it.  Instead of making a woman’s body invisible, it makes a woman’s body, and what she does or does not do with it, the most important thing about her.  Rather than protecting her, this makes her vulnerable, because when you take the system’s logic to its ultimate conclusion, it enables violence in the name of “honor.”  And that isn’t to say that America is any better – we have our own cultural norms that enable and engender violence against women.  But I applaud these women for breaking taboos and challenging the society around them to examine critically the ideas that allow these horrible crimes.


*Keep in mind my Arabic is far from perfect, so this translation is loose but captures the main idea.

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