Honor Killings, Silence, and the Meaning of Speaking out

What can we learn from the latest monstrosity in the world of Arab honor-killings. This one occurred in Israel, in the Ramle, a town with a large Arab population. Understanding the dynamics to this terrible “custom” sheds a fierce light on the nature of the Arab-Israeli, and more broadly Islamist-Western conflict.

Abu-Ghanem women speak out against serial ‘honor killings’

The murder of Hamda Abu-Ghanem, whose bullet-riddled body was found in mid-January at her parents’ house in Ramle, surprised nobody.

As police set about their investigation, everyone was aware that the victim’s brother had been threatening to kill her, and that long before the murder, she had taken refuge in a battered women’s shelter.

It was a typical “honor killing,” meant to remove some perceived stain on the family’s reputation.

The perpetrators of most honor killings in the Arab community are not apprehended. Hamda’s murder, however, was one too many for the women in the Abu-Ghanem family. She was the eighth woman to be murdered in the extended family in the last six and a half years. All her predecessors also lost their lives in “honor killings.”

This time, instead of keeping mum when the police questioned them, the Abu- Ghanem women gave detailed testimonies of everything they knew. One said she had seen Rashad enter the house where Hamda was. Shortly afterward she heard shots and seconds later saw Rashad, the key suspect, fleeing from the building.

The victim’s mother told the police that Rashad had forbidden his sister to leave the house after some men had called her a “prostitute.”

“It was a women’s revolt against the men of the family. While the men refused to cooperate with the police and forbade the women to speak, the women revealed all. They decided to put an end to the bloody circle of silence,” Chief Inspector Haim Shreibhand, who was in charge of the investigation, told Haaretz.

The detectives gathered testimonies from 20 Abu-Ghanem women and assembled the pieces of the puzzle together into an indictment, he said.

Kamal Rashad Abu-Ghanem, 30, was arraigned in Tel Aviv’s District Court yesterday for murder. His cousin Mahmoud, who was also arrested, was released for lack of sufficient evidence to file charges.

Rashad Abu-Ghanem was charged with entering the family’s home, in Ramle’s Juarish neighborhood. His sister was alone in the house, lying on her bed. She probably knew she was about to die. He went up the stairs with a loaded 9-mm. handgun, entered his sister’s room and fired nine bullets at her.

Before Hamda, the other women of the Abu-Ghanem family who lost their lives for honor were Naifa, Suzan, Zinat, Sabrin, Amira, Reem and Shirihan.

Like some of the other victims, Hamda had spent the last few years in a shelter, hiding from her brother. Her “crime” was apparently her numerous telephone conversations, and being seen talking to her cousin once.

About a year ago, she asked to move back to her parents’ house in Ramle. A few months later, she filed a police complaint against her brother, who had assaulted her. He was arrested, but later released by the court.

“The hardest thing at these murder scenes is the awful silence,” said Yifrah Duchovny, Coastal Plain police commander. “Nobody cries, nobody speaks.”

“We held everyone who was in the neighborhood at the time of the murder for questioning, and started collecting testimonies. The first one who cooperated with us, perhaps without meaning to, was a relative who said the murder wasn’t justified, that Hamda had not breached any honor. Then a female relative agreed with him,” Shreibhand said.

The detectives told Hamda’s mother, sisters and cousins what the first two relatives had said and asked for their opinion. “Gradually they started to speak. Each one started by saying she had had enough, that she didn’t want this situation to continue. The mother, who had first stood behind her son, suddenly started speaking against him, sharing things she knew with us. She said she was angry that he had murdered her daughter.”

Hamda’s sisters went further. When they confronted Rashad at the police station they spat out at him: “You’re a dog,” and “Sit in prison for life, murderer.” One of them asked him, “Why don’t you try to murder me too? I’m not scared of you any more.”

The men, on the other hand, hardly said a word to the police. “After the women began to talk, they found themselves receiving threats,” said Shreibhand.

The witnesses have been put in safe houses, for fear the men would try to harm them. However, several women were not comfortable in the safe houses and are returning to the neighborhood. “The relations between the men and women in the family have become really tense. We’ve had special meetings about how to protect the women after they testify and we have a plan,” the inspector said.

However, Aida Touma-Suleiman, director of the Women Against Violence group in the Arab sector, said she has grave fears for the women’s lives. “I support these brave women. They finally broke the circle of blood and silence. But I’m also afraid they will be hurt. As long as there is no witness protection program, these women will be abandoned after they testify. They may have been courageous, but they have also sentenced themselves to death,” she said.

Rashad Abu-Ghanem is represented by Attorney Giora Zilberstein.

ANALYSIS

They broke their silence, they spoke. They claim they “are not afraid anymore,” but they receive threats, and their life is in danger. They are offered a safe haven at the shelter, but they want to go back to their neighborhood. The grip of community on them is so strong that, perhaps, they would rather die at home than live in exile. They may be courageous, “but they have also sentenced themselves to death.” All the themes of the mafia code — homertà — come together in this “circle of blood and violence.”

As a result of this unusual case, we have a rare glimpse of the inside of a closed system which has a powerful grip on the Arabs of the region. The men in the family had apparently pushed too hard, killing so many of the women that all the factors contributing to their silence — the threats of violence, the “community” pressures, the hell of a house divided against itself — failed to maintain the silence. Something broke, and from the thread of the article, one has a sense that once one person began to speak the others did as well.

This follows closely the model laid out by James C. Scott in Domination and the Arts of Resistance. There Scott argues that most (if not all) of the time, there is a “public transcript” of acceptable speech and gesture and subterranean “hidden transcripts” of varying sentiments and attitudes that rarely find expression in the public sphere. Only on rare occasions do “hidden transcripts” breach the surface of a controlled public discourse. And when they do, they represent a serious threat to the dominion of those who use the “public transcript” to control social discourse. It is imperative for the men here to regain control of the silence in which their deeds go unopposed by authorities.

Which brings up a second point of major significance here: this story has occurred in Israel where the authorities consider honor-killings a genuine crime (unlike the PA). In most of the countries where honor-killings occur with some regularity (not exclusively but predominantly characteristic of Arab/Muslim cultures), the legal constraints are largely pro-forma. In some cases, for example, a young male (below the age of legal responsibility) is chosen to kill his sister, or at least to take the responsibility. And whoever goes to prison, does so briefly and then goes out to be greeted as a hero, even brought home on a white horse.

Israel (and the rest of the West) are the only countries where authorities are genuinely opposed to honor-killings, and hence, the need for homertà to keep the authorities in the dark. And even there, this characteristic of Arab and Muslim culture is so strong, that it transports, possibly worsens, under contact with a public and legal culture that abhors such behavior. Nothing better delineates the split between cultures of honor and shame and those of integrity and guilt, between demopaths and democrats, than this particular and basic battle for women’s freedom from male violence. This is the front line of the battle for civilization.

In Israel, the lines are drawn with particular intensity because of how shame functions in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli concerns for the rights of women are not only legal but social. A network of shelters for battered women exist all over Israel, often bringing in Arab-Israeli women fleeing husbands for whom beating their wives is a cultural and religious “right” if not an obligation. This “escape hatch” predictably infuriates the Arab alpha males, whose ability to dominate their women runs into a humiliating roadblock, largely the work of activist Israeli women who try to grant to their Arab sisters the same protection that they establish for Jewish women. Nothing better illustrates the way that Israel, as an advanced embodiment of Western culture, offends, frustrates, and enrages Arab male honor. And nothing better illuminates who are the real victims of this clash of cultures.

And it seems that things are getting worse. Honor killings in the context of tribal relations operate differently from the conditions of modernity. In tribal, or even hierarchical societies, honor killings police inner boundaries within clans. Opportunities for young women to mix with others are limited. And just as with feuds and vendettas, the violence is self-limiting. Once one moves into living conditions where there is extensive “rubbing of elbows” with many “others” — other groups, ethnicities, religions, and races mix in institutions like public schools — the threat to community identity becomes greater, and anxiety about boundaries intensifies. Here, while things can get better under the impact of civic values, they can also get much worse, and the violence against women metastasizes.

Thus in cases where such anxiety develops into phobias, the violence against women intensifies and the trigger to that violence lowers. For transgressions that might have been dealt with differently in a tribal or rural setting, daughters/sisters get killed in “modern” conditions. A girl can get killed by her brother — often acting without consulation — for any number of offenses to family honor, from going to a movie with girlfriends, to talking unchaperoned with a boy. In the Palestinian authority, a girl raped by her brothers, was dispatched by her mother when her father refused to do so. The brothers received no punishment other than that meeted out by the PA.

Here in Ramle, Israel, apparently, the men had gotten so tyrannical that the women’s anger spilled over. This last member of the family got 9 bullets to her body for “talking too much on the phone,” for talking once with her (presumably male) cousin, and for being called a prostitute. So some loose talk on the street becomes a death sentence. In “healthy” honor-shame cultures, the brother beats up the guy who had the nerve to call his sister a whore.

So apparently, even for one of the male relatives, this was too much. In his opinion

    “…the murder wasn’t justified, that Hamda had not breached any honor.”

Rashad, the brother, sounds like the kind of toxic alpha male who bullies to the point of abusing the (already appalling) rules of the honor-game, and offending even one of his male relatives.

Once one of the males had spoken in this manner, the women’s tongues loosened and the mother, who had previously defended her son, turned on him:

Each one started by saying she had had enough, that she didn’t want this situation to continue. The mother, who had first stood behind her son, suddenly started speaking against him, sharing things she knew with us. She said she was angry that he had murdered her daughter.”

From the point of view of the alpha-male Arab, these “shelters” are invasions of their patriarchal dominion. This in not merely the Muslim “shame” of a Dhimmi people who have declared their independence in the heart of Dar al Islam. This is the Arab shame of a man not being able to control the sexuality — and beyond that, the general behavior — of his women. All this talk from Israeli police about having meetings and making plans:

    We’ve had special meetings about how to protect the women after they testify and we have a plan…

appear to the men in their family as direct affronts — humiliating and enraging invasions of their prerogatives.

And so now, encouraged by these Israeli intrusions, the women have broken the “awful silence” and begun to say things that constitute intolerable insubordination, a breach into public space of hidden transcripts born of years of resentment against the tyrannical regime of unregulated power-holders. The women do this only because they feel, if temporarily, that they have the protection of the police. Hence the sisters are emboldened to spit at their brother and say:

    “You’re a dog,” and “Sit in prison for life, murderer.” One of them asked him, “Why don’t you try to murder me too? I’m not scared of you any more.”

That’s an Israeli prison and judicial system that gives her the courage to so speak. And if the Israelis don’t put Rashad away for a good long time, those women are dead.

COMMENTS

  • All of these dynamics underline the enormous psychic threat that Israel poses – as a Western culture dedicated to basic principles of human rights. To misgauge the conflict as one in which the Israelis are hated because they prevent Palestinian human rights is an analytic error, which, if translated into policy, can produce precisely the opposite results. Israel offends and threatens the “rights” of a patriarchal autocracy, precisely the form of political (and community) culture with which modern, civil society constitutes a fundamental break. And, to return to the larger problem of Islam, Israel offends precisely the kind of cultural attitudes that produce the hyper-aggressive hostility of Islamism. For people from such an insecure and authoritarian culture, if Islam cannot dominate, it cannot be “true” Islam. And yet, in principle, Islam opposes such brutalities as honor-killing of women.
  • The mother’s “turning” from defending her son to express anger at him and affection for her lost daughter may give us a clue to the terrible scenes we see on TV where Palestinian mothers express satisfaction that their honor has been defended by the death of their daughters, or “self-martyrdom” of their child, not mourning or regretting their lives. These scenes we see are performances before the camera — public transcripts. And yet, behind them, is something else… a hidden transcript normally concealed by the “awful silence.” How much more of Palestinian and Arab and Muslim society is rife with such hidden transcripts that revolt against the tyranny and terror they live under? According to Scott, the more repressive the public transcript, the more violent the hidden ones. Can we take the violence of Islamist Jihad as a sign of both the violence generated by the dilemma of Arab-Muslim culture faced with the horrifying demands of modernity — what Sayed Qutb called the “hideous schizophrenia” of the West — on the one hand, and the need to scapegoat the West as a way to keep the hidden transcripts of its own oppression from turning against them?
  • The Israeli and Arab women who work to empower women do so in good faith. Coming from a world in which one assumes that women have the right to defense from male abuse, they work to help victimized women. Similarly, the Israeli policemen, operate under the understanding that the same laws that apply to Jewish Israelis also apply to Arab Israelis. The Arab men whose manhood — as they themselves understand it — is being challenged by this coalition of forces, cannot believe that any of this is done in good faith. It must be a plot to castrate them, deserving of the implacable hatred and rage that he feels. This illustrates in sharp detail the Mobius Strip of cognitive egocentrism. And, meanwhile, wrack up some gains for Islamic Jihad among the furious male youth.
  • The future prognosis for the abu-Ghanem women of Ramle is far from good. The power of the community to claim its own and to demand violence is enormous. Without the community, the women are completely disoriented. Hence some preferred the danger of the neighborhood to the safe house where they were uprooted. The mother who killed her daughter, raped by two of her sons, did so because as long as her family did not avenge its honor, the entire family was ostracized. As she put it, otherwise her other children could not marry, she could not even see her own sister. Unless the Israeli government and NGOs assert really profound and sustained efforts to protect these women, they are returning to a world of violence and victimization. The only possible saving grace would come from a basic shift in the Ramle Arab community, in which the voice of the dissenting male who that this honor-killing had gone too far, and those of the women who followed his lead find sympathy in a sufficient range of members of their community that the men choose to back off. Honor-shame cultures offer many examples of cases of defiance of the “rules” that the community chooses to overlook, not to enforce. This may be one case where a community consensus holds that the men went too far, and the women are justified in their anger. Indeed, within an honor-shame culture, the community is ultimately the decisive player.
  • The freedom with which Arabs shed the blood of their own family — a young alpha male emptying a clip of 9 bullets into the body of his sleeping sister for having talked on the phone too much, talked with a cousin once, and been called a “prostitute” by others — must hold our attention. Nothing is more critical to understanding the work of Arab demopaths than to realize the immense gap between the sentiments they appeal to in the Westwhy is our blood any cheaper than Jewish or Chrisitan blood?!? — and the attitudes they themselves have. Here in such paltry excuses for killing one’s own sister, we find an attitude of contempt for their own lives that should take the breath away from any liberal cognitive egocentrist trying to understand this culture. Nothing better illustrates the wages of terrorism than the terror that fills the lives of the terrorists’ women.
  • This is not an argument about race. I do not question that — somewhere in their soul — Palestinian mothers grieve over their slain chidren. These women they are constrained by a public transcript dominated by alpha males who do indeed treat the lives of their own people cheaply. They are the ones who decide who is a “collaborator,” who a “dishonored daughter,” who (the wrong kind of) homosexual, who deserves the death they so readily meet out. This is a question of culture; and cultures can change.
  • Nor should we forget that these same men, the ones who treat the lives of their own people so contemptuously, are also the ones who play the compassion of the West. They are the ones who stage Pallywood scenes to present the Palestinians as a victimized people, even as they victimize them. They are the ones who weep loudly over their children allegedly killed by Israelis (even as they urge them to get killed), and hail those whom they kill themselves accidentally as “martyrs.” They are the ones who say about poor Huda Ghalia, child who had just lost 7 extended family members — “No-one who saw her tragedy could remain unmoved and prevent their eyes from shedding a tear” — when none of these men at the beach showed the slightest concern for the girl, not even her brother. Their callousness is precisely as intense as the Western compassionate outrage they manipulate with their “lethal narratives.”
  • In thinking about such a torn and pathological culture, who, raised in a civil society that treasures human life and family affections, can understand what family relations mean? Who knows how deep and common the hatreds, how easy the violence, how brutalized by both reality and television images that seek out precisely the images Westerners spare their audiences. So how should we look at and assess such contrasting funeral scenes as unbearable heartbreak at the death of a daughter allegedly killed by Israelis, and cold satisfaction at the death of a “dishonorable” daughter?
  • Who can fathom how this tragic people, doubly cursed by their Arab brethren with the role of self-sacrificial victim on the altar of Arab honor, have become willing participants in their own self-immolation? And yet only when we can fathom some of this can we begin to understand what kind of resources the enemy of all of us — Westerners, infidels, Jews, Christians, and any Arab and Muslim who want to live a decent, honest, and fulfilling life — can mobilize.

    As Yasser Arafat, the same man who regularly accused Israel of committing genocide against his people, put it:

      Our blood is cheap compared with the cause which has brought us together and which at moments separated us, but shortly we will meet again in heaven… Palestine is our land and Jerusalem is our capital” Yasser Arafat (Maariv, Oct. 4, 1996)

    And, around the same time, Hassan Nasrallah remarked, in a comment echoed by many Jihadi warriors including Bin Laden:

      The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death.

    Honor killings, and the pathological depths to which they have plunged in modern times, offer us a blinding insight into the nature of the culture that hates us and wants to destroy us. It also directly challenges the compassionate heart upon which modern liberal and progressive culture has built its own self image and with which it consistently responds favorably to the accusations from Palestinians of Israeli barbarity, Israeli responsibility for the “cycle of violence.”

    How should we, how can we, deal with a culture that treats its own people’s lives — women and children — as cannon fodder in a sick war for honor and dominion, and then demands our compassion for the lives they crush?

    If they will kill their own daughters for shaming them, what would they do to us… if they could?

    10 Responses to Honor Killings, Silence, and the Meaning of Speaking out

    1. The Meaning of Speaking Out:

      Some women are starting to speak out against honor killings, even if it means putting their own lives at risk. (Richard Landes @ Augean Stables)…

    2. Scott Keys says:

      Best song Oscar etc.

      For the second year in a row the Academy chose the worst of the nominees (and truly pedestrian effort) to give the award to on Sunday night. Melissa’ Etheridge’s “I Need To Wake Up,” a whining, self-flagellating ode to global warming featured in A…

    3. Good post. But honor killing is only the most obviously loose tile on the roof of the Islamist house. If you lift this one and follow the rot in the boards underneath, it leads under every other tile on the roof. The last, most stubborn, one is hidden sexual abuse of children. It is most stubborn because it is the most easily hidden.

      Islamist culture is based on Terrorizing the Defenseless, coincidentally ,this is the title of the most recent post on my blog (http://breathofthebeast.blogspot.com). In several of my recent posts on this blog, I have been lifting some of those tiles one-by-one and inspecting structure below; until in this one I reached the penultimate institutionalized crime of Islam (pederasty). By lifting random tiles as I found them and writing about each in turn I have built up a clearer view of what the whole rotten roof might look like if you could expose it to view all at once. In identifying child abuse as the archetypal secret I have also come to see that the Islamist world runs on fear and intimidation first of all. It is always the first act of the bully to start by intimidating the most vulnerable that is why protecting the children is the first imperative.

      This actually may be the best approach to shaking the foundations of Islamism from the inside. After all, an Islamic woman who is unable or unwilling to stand up for herself, may just find the courage to protect her children.

    4. RL says:

      Good post. But honor killing is only the most obviously loose tile on the roof of the Islamist house. If you lift this one and follow the rot in the boards underneath, it leads under every other tile on the roof. The last, most stubborn, one is hidden sexual abuse of children. It is most stubborn because it is the most easily hidden.

      i’d distinguish here between arab culture and islam. the issues here — male sexual abuse of children — is a human problem, one every culture must grapple with. now islam does not have a great history of controlling this, and even the qur’an is problematic. but islam also holds the seeds of an assault on this aspect of culture. up till now, it’s not been too good at policing its own, which may explain why it’s so hostile to more successful and disciplined cultures.

      Islamist culture is based on Terrorizing the Defenseless, coincidentally ,this is the title of the most recent post on my blog (http://breathofthebeast.blogspot.com).

      excellent post. it’s a particularly violent version of the “rule or be ruled” paradigm — (testosteronic male) might makes right.

      In several of my recent posts on this blog, I have been lifting some of those tiles one-by-one and inspecting structure below; until in this one I reached the penultimate institutionalized crime of Islam (pederasty). By lifting random tiles as I found them and writing about each in turn I have built up a clearer view of what the whole rotten roof might look like if you could expose it to view all at once.

      this is the problem with honor-shame cultures. it’s okay if no one sees. you end up with a pattern of abuse of power done in secret that poisons the culture… and of course, because having it known is a shame, you put all your energy into keeping it hidden.

      In identifying child abuse as the archetypal secret I have also come to see that the Islamist world runs on fear and intimidation first of all. It is always the first act of the bully to start by intimidating the most vulnerable that is why protecting the children is the first imperative.

      This actually may be the best approach to shaking the foundations of Islamism from the inside. After all, an Islamic woman who is unable or unwilling to stand up for herself, may just find the courage to protect her children.

      this is certainly a wedge-issue between genuinely modern Muslims (who can live at peace with their neighbors without feeling the need to subordinate them) and demopath jihadis who use modern, civil values as a way to attack. i remember saying to a member of the Harvard Muslim Student’s Association that she would be one of the first targets if her side won, and she had no idea what i was talking about. just as american catholicism (and judaism) are different, so should american islam. let’s hold the feet of those who say “we come in peace” to the fire on these issues of abuse.

      but as i say in my post, you’re looking for trouble by assualting this patriarchal preserve.

    5. Cynic says:

      After all, an Islamic woman who is unable or unwilling to stand up for herself, may just find the courage to protect her children.

      What, like the West Bank mother who cut her daughter’s throat in a particularly ghastly manner after the sons had raped their sister, or the one who had her sons help force the daughters to imbibe an acid poison?

    6. [...] er From My Position…On the Way!’s post, “The Blame Game”. In second place was Augean Stables’s post, “Honor Killings, [...]

    7. [...] uine effort to repair a broken system. The second place winner on the non-council side was Honor Killings, Silence, and the Me [...]

    8. Jen says:

      I wonder what would happen if all the women died off and all there is left are the men. Solution – give women a chance of escape or relocate elsewhere and let those idiots rot.

    9. [...] with blood. In such cultures one has the right — the obligation — to kill a relative (generally a female) who has dishonored the house. Moderates in tribal honor-shame cultures operate at the margins of [...]

    10. Great song, and I’m not even into that genre.

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