Defining honour

Today’s Observer has the horrific story of the murder of the mother of a 17-year-old Iraqi girl who was murdered a couple of weeks ago, because she was friendly with a British soldier.

Just to reprise the original murder. Rand Abdel-Qadar was seen talking in public with the soldier. Her father attacked her.

Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand’s two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust. (From the Observer, 11th May)

Leila Hussein had to go into hiding after denouncing her husband. She was sheltered by a woman’s rights organisation, but was ambushed and shot while moving between safe houses.

A fortnight ago, the Observer reported an interview with the father:

For Abdel-Qader Ali there is only one regret: that he did not kill his daughter at birth. ‘If I had realised then what she would become, I would have killed her the instant her mother delivered her,’ he said with no trace of remorse. ….
Abdel-Qader, 46, a government employee, was initially arrested but released after two hours. Astonishingly, he said, police congratulated him on what he had done. ‘They are men and know what honour is,’ he said.

Somebody get a dictionary for the Iraqi police and Abdel-Qader Ali, please. Or for me. Because if this is “what honour is”, then my understanding of the word is deeply flawed.

In fact, the man has even been rewarded. He is going to get paid without having to go to work.

Sources have indicated that Abdel-Qader, who works in the health department, has been asked to leave because of the bad publicity, yet he will continue to draw a salary.
And it has been alleged by one senior unnamed official in the Basra governorate that he has received financial support by a local politician to enable him to ‘disappear’ to Jordan for a few weeks, ‘until the story has been forgotten’ – the usual practice in the 30-plus cases of ‘honour’ killings that have been registered since January alone.

The Observer suggests that this case has only received so much attention because Rand was in love with a foreigner rather than an Iraqi. 30 cases since January? Thirty.

As far as I can see, the only person who showed any signs of holding to a concept of “honour” in this sorry crime was Leila Hussein. And look what happened to her.

Abdel-Qader is a Shia and he claims God’s support:

I know God is blessing me for what I did,’ he said, his voice swelling with pride. ‘My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.’

As so often, religion becomes the last refuge of the scoundrel.

You can’t lay the blame for these sorts of outrages at the door of religion, as such. It’s sexism – which also victimises these men involved by ingraining them with insane models of what it is to be a man. However, whenever some evil bastard wants to play a winner-takes-all trump card that beats all the opposition, you can usually rely on religion to serve this ideological end.

Here’s a link to the International Campaign to Stop Honour Killings.

7 thoughts on “Defining honour

  1. Before westerners look down on this as an “arab” only mindset, in the 1970s and 1980s a similar type of event happened in Northern Ireland (although a massive difference is that the people weren’t killed by their families). Inter faith relationships often carried at least a major beating if not the death penalty and relationships with Soldiers was often fatal.

    Isnt religion a wonderful basis for a caring society.

  2. Hi Heather,

    I have done a number of posts on my blog about this ever since I first read of Rand Abdel-Qader’s murder at the hands (and feet) of her father.

    I think that those of us who care about this issue and are outraged about what happen need to mount a campaign to have the father brought to justice. The sons too, as they are both adults and participated in the murder of their sister.

  3. When I read yesterday of the murder of the mother Leila Hussein I moved from rage to tears. I know it is the tip of an iceberg but I am shocked today to see how little response there is in the British press. I would like to float the idea of millions of people worldwide wearing teeshirts with her face on to give her courage recognition and show that part of the Muslim world what we think of their knuckle dragging barbarism. Hopefully intelligent and sensitive Muslims would be courageous enough to start to wear them to disassociate themselves from the apologists for such barbarism. Anyone interested ?

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  5. Somebody get a dictionary for the Iraqi police and Abdel-Qader Ali, please. Or for me. Because if this is “what honour is”, then my understanding of the word is deeply flawed.

    The thing is, they wouldn’t have talked of ‘honour’, but of ‘sharaf’ which does not have the same meaning, but one of control over the sexual behaviour of female relatives. ‘Honour’ as a translation is an awkward fit with these sentiments, but we seem to be stuck with it: but it does inidicate the prestige and status accorded to a man who is firmly in control of ‘his’ women. Otherwise, a great analysis, and thanks for the link.

  6. What I would like to know, and I’ve done a post on it on my blog, is whether Rand’s murder was permissible under Islamic law, since she had done nothing more than talk to the soldier.

  7. No, it wouldn’t be. No ‘honour’ killings are technically permissable under Islamic law, as even though there is a death penalty for infidelity by married people, there are conditions around this and extrajudicial murder is not accepted. The relationship (if any) between religion and HK is indirect.

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