Sunday December 21, 2014
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21.12.2014
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Ruthie Blum

Dishonor in Jordan

A new study released on Thursday by Cambridge University's Institute of Criminology is getting a lot of publicity for what it suggests about societal norms in Jordan. The study, conducted by Professor Manuel Eisner and graduate student Lana Ghuneim, reveals that a large number of teenagers in the Hashemite kingdom not only consider honor killings to be legally just, but advocate them on moral grounds.

Eisner and Ghuneim surveyed more than 850 ninth-graders (average age 15) from different schools in Amman, as an attempt to "gauge cultural attitudes to honor killings in the region."

Honor killings are brutal murders committed by men against their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters or other female relatives who "disgrace" an immediate or extended clan through behavior deemed sexually improper. This behavior may be real or perceived. It could involve a woman talking to a man who is not her husband, a girl becoming interested in the wrong boy, or any act considered inappropriate by the men in the family.

Methods vary for doing away with the woman or girl who has ostensibly dishonored the family. They may involve a father stabbing his daughter to death; a brother beating, suffocating or pouring acid on his sister; or an uncle driving his niece to a secluded place, then raping her and setting her on fire. Often, these premeditated assassinations are sometimes carried out in front of mothers and siblings.

Though there is nothing new about this phenomenon, known to be commonplace in the Muslim-Arab world, it is nevertheless crucial for it to be exposed as often and as thoroughly as possible. It is particularly necessary for it to be examined in countries viewed as "moderate" or "democratizing."

Jordan, referred to as a "constitutional monarchy," is just such a country. And its capital, Amman, has a stellar reputation as one of the best cities in the Middle East and North Africa -- just behind Dubai -- in terms of its economy, culture and cosmopolitanism. It is thus that it attracts much international business and tourism.

In addition, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania are a classy-looking, Western-educated couple, perfect for photo-ops in American and European magazines. They are also both good at mouthing liberal rhetoric. In 2005, Abdullah said he intended to democratize Jordan. In 2011, he announced his country's move to a British parliamentary system. So far, however, his crown and absolute power are intact.

For her part, Rania has focused her public life on promoting education at home and abroad. She launched a campaign called "Empowering One Million Arab Youth by 2018," and has used her regal status, Twitter account and media platforms -- such as an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show -- to speak about "misconceptions" in the West about Islam and the role women play in it. In 2011, Forbes ranked her among the 100 most powerful women in the world.

But with all her power, influence and so-called concern for education, Rania either has been sleeping on the job or simply doesn't care that girls and women in her very own neighborhood are being slaughtered by the men in their families.

And for all her husband's "democratic" aspirations, his legal system is extremely lenient toward men who commit honor killings.

But the penal code does not explain the attitudes of high-school students in Amman, more than a third of whom believe in the horrifying practice.

"While we found the main demographic in support of [honor killings] to be boys in traditional families with low levels of education, we noted substantial minorities of girls, well-educated and even irreligious teenagers who consider honor killing morally right, suggesting a persisting society-wide support for the tradition," says Eisner.

"Any meaningful attempt to reduce attitudes in support of such practices requires a broader societal commitment, including coherent messages against honor-related violence from political and religious elites, and decisive action by the criminal justice system."

If there is anyone in Jordan who has the ability to provide such messages and legal action, it is the king and his queen. But for them to commit to such an undertaking, they would have to consider honor killings to be dishonorable.

Ruthie Blum is the author of "To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the 'Arab Spring.'"

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