As a special thanks to Ellen R. Sheeley, author of 'Reclaiming Honour in Jordan' for the support to the cause of the "International Campaign Against Honour Killings" and all the times she have commented on my blog, I have decided to publish on my blog her open letter "A HEARTFELT APPEAL TO HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN" for everyone to read.
Thanks, Red, for blogging about this disturbing subject. Below is my contribution to this effort.
Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"
A HEARTFELT APPEAL TO HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN
April 7, 2008
His Majesty King Abdullah II
Royal Hashemite Court
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Dear King Abdullah:
On this, the one year anniversary of the young Kurdish girl Du’a Khalil Aswad’s tragic video-recorded stoning at the hands of men who misguidedly believe she had sullied her family’s honor, I wish to make a public appeal to you to overturn the three Jordanian penal code articles that allow similarly brutal and unjust incidents to occur in Jordan, yet be treated as mere misdemeanors in the eyes of the state. Lest you think I have jumped the gun by not writing to you privately, please be assured that I have, in writing, on two different occasions in 2006, but I did not receive a response.
According to United Nations estimates, Jordan has one of the highest per-capita “honor” killings rates in the world. At the same time, as you are aware, it has on multiple occasions in late 1999 and early 2000 attempted to overturn Article 340 of the Jordanian penal code, one of three penal code articles that offer leniency to the perpetrators of “honor” killings, though one that has rarely, if ever, been used. You and the appointed Upper House of Parliament favored repeal; however, the elected Lower House of Parliament (i.e., the Chamber of Deputies) did not.
I first learned about all this in the summer of 2000 by watching a broadcast report about these crimes by Ms. Sheila MacVicar of, at the time, ABC News. In her report, Ms. MacVicar stood in front of the Jweideh Correctional Centre in Jordan and explained that the women behind her, who as I recall were dangling out the prison windows trying to capture the attention of the viewers, were all warehoused in the prison because they were at risk for “honor” killings but there are no women’s shelters in Jordan to safeguard them. So they lived in the prison, under protective custody, while the people who posed the risk to them walked free.
In the summer of 2003, I traveled to Jordan, in large part to speak with subject matter experts and to learn more about this issue. When I asked why Articles 97, 98, and 340 have not been overturned, I was told variously there is a lack of political will, the people do not want it, the people are not ready for it, the timing is not right, or there are too many cultural/religious/social barriers. As a businessperson, I wanted to see hard data to support these assertions, but I found none. It seemed as though the reasons provided were simply the conventional wisdom, but I have learned in three decades of professional life that the accepted view is often unsupported by empirical evidence. And that is why many corporations pay millions and millions of dollars for information.
I returned to the States and continued to research the “honor” killings situation. I examined what other countries facing this problem have done to address it. According to United Nations estimates, Pakistan has the highest absolute number of “honor” killings per annum, believed to be between 800 and 1,000. It passed promising legislation criminalizing them, though, to date, enforcement has been disappointingly lax. And so, it seems, at least so far, the laws lack teeth. In 2005, the Turkish government, in an overhaul of its penal code aimed at complying with European Union norms, also strengthened the penalties for perpetrators of “honor” killings, making them punishable by as much as life in prison. However, there remains on the books a penal code article that permits reductions of sentences for crimes that are considered provoked, and this loophole is being utilized in some “honor” killings cases. In addition, a hideous new phenomenon called “honor” suicide was borne. Rather than murder and risk a stiff sentence, in some cases, the perpetrators now force their victims to kill themselves. Just when one thinks it could not possibly get any uglier, this unintended consequence surfaces.
Why, I thought, could not Jordan outdo both? A second visit to Jordan in the fall of 2004 only reinforced my initial impressions of Jordan as a relatively enlightened country in the region. Why could not it become the first nation in the world to combine the continuing efforts of the activists, the attorneys, and the journalists with the techniques of modern marketing to overturn the penal code articles and to change attitudes, opinions, beliefs, and, most crucially, behaviors about “honor” killings? Progress and success in Jordan could serve as an inspiration and a model for other countries where these crimes are committed, such as Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Palestine, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. It could also demonstrate the value of using social marketing as a “best practice” for addressing and resolving other social problems within Jordan.
Unable to exorcise these thoughts from my mind, in October 2005 I returned to Jordan with a donated laptop computer and a personal bank account topped off with sufficient funds to conduct the empirical marketing research that precedes any professionally-conducted social marketing campaign. Using feedback from informal focus groups, I designed a fairly lengthy questionnaire to gather data—scientifically and systematically—about Jordanians’ media consumption habits, about their attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about “honor” killings, about their personal familiarity with them, and about their demographics. I pre-tested the questionnaire, tweaked it, then traveled to 21 cities, towns, villages, and refugee camps throughout the country conducting in-depth, face-to-face personal interviews with Jordanian citizens age 18 and older. People from all segments of society participated and were represented—male and female, employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated, young and old, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, East Bank Jordanian and West Bank Jordanian, nomadic and sedentary, urban and rural. To all, I continue to be deeply grateful for the cooperation, the honesty, and, in many cases, the almost heart-breaking hospitality and kindness.
When I finished gathering and analyzing the data, I found that the people in the sample overwhelmingly support overturning Articles 97, 98, and 340 of the Jordanian penal code. It is not even a close call. It appears that the people are far ahead of the legislation and (dare I say?) the leadership on this issue. The news is good—most people do know right from wrong.
When asked if “honor” killings are morally just, 94.5% of the survey respondents said no (3% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). One respondent went so far as to equate “honor” killings with terrorism. Even among the few respondents who replied affirmatively to this question, there was strong support for codifying into law the specific behaviors that a victim must engage in before a successful “honor” killings defense can be had (80% agreement) and for clearly placing the onus of proof on the defendant that one or more of these behaviors was engaged in (100% consensus).
When asked whether “honor” killings should be punished the same as other murders, 87% said yes (3.5% were neutral and 9.5% said no). If anything, the extent to which the survey respondents agreed with this statement is understated. About 25% of the way through the administration of the survey, one of the respondents who replied negatively to this question added that he did so because he believes “honor” killings should be punished more harshly than other murders. Up until then, it had not occurred to me that respondents might reply negatively for that reason and not because they favor leniency. So, thereafter, each respondent who initially disagreed with this question was probed for his/her reasons. Many of the respondents who were surveyed after that expressed a desire to see the perpetrators of “honor” killings receive the death penalty. One respondent even went so far as to say, ““Honor” killers should be decapitated at Hadrian’s Arch [in Jerash, Jordan], in front of people. I will personally oversee the event.”
When asked if the perpetrators of “honor” killings deserve to be treated with leniency, 95.5% said no (2% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). Again, many of the survey respondents favor the death penalty for perpetrators of “honor” killings.
When asked if the victims of “honor” killings deserve what they get, 86% said no (7.5% were neutral and 6.5% said yes). A number of the survey respondents who either were neutral or responded affirmatively had quite nuanced explanations for their reply to this question. A recurring one was some variation of “yes, if the victim is married; no, if s/he is single, but then s/he should receive [variously] 80 or 100 lashes.”
When asked whether there is any honor in “honor” killings, 89.5% said no (8% were neutral and 2.5% said yes). One male survey respondent added, a woman’s “honor does not reside in the lower body.”
When asked if the penal code articles that offer leniency for “honor” killings will ever be overturned, 66.5% said yes (11.5% were neutral and 22% said no). Many who responded negatively to this question added that they hoped they were wrong. A number of the survey respondents even speculated as to what the time frame will be for overturning the three penal code articles, and it ranged from “Queen Rania [already] overturned them” to “it will take centuries.”
And when asked whether they support stiffening the penalties for “honor” killings, 89% said yes (3.5% were neutral and 7.5% said no). One respondent stated, “If I were king, I’d execute every person who murders.” Others noted that, if the relevant penal code articles were overturned, even the people who purport to believe in “honor” killings would be relieved because finally the peer and the social pressures would be removed.
And should you wonder whether my results might be statistical flukes, even though they were attained using standard scientific methodology, there is corroborating regional data. In an online referendum on “honor” killings conducted by Dubai-based Al Arabiya News Channel (www.alarabiya.net), 63.0% of the respondents stated that they believe these crimes are not justified, that they are unsupportable by any religion or law (24.7% were neutral and 12.3% indicated that they are sometimes warranted to eradicate bad influences and people from society).
In the face of this much support, it does not seem prudent to invest large sums in developing and implementing a social marketing campaign in Jordan for this issue, though plenty of data were gathered that would assist in such an effort. But marketing is expensive, and it just is not warranted in this instance.
Nonetheless, there remains a continued need for efforts to educate people in general and women in particular about their rights and the limits of them. In my research, compared to their male counterparts, the female respondents were both less likely to know that “honor” killings in Jordan are not punished as ordinary murders and less likely to be aware of “honor” killings that have occurred within their extended families. And these differences between the genders were highly statistically significant.
Similarly, there is an important role for both parents and religious leaders to play. Twenty-one-and-a-half percent of the survey respondents believe that Islam requires that sexually promiscuous behaviors be cleansed through “honor” killings, while another 2% are unsure. The experts and the imams I have consulted tell me this is absolutely not the case. In the sample, parents and religion/religious leaders (in that order) were named by the respondents as exerting the strongest influence on their attitudes, opinions, and beliefs about “honor” killings. And so it is crucial that they discuss “honor” killings, ensure that any miseducation and misinformation be corrected, and offer better means of addressing this issue.
Although it was outside the scope of both my research and my skill set to attempt to estimate the number of “honor” killings that have taken place in Jordan, because I sought to analyze what impact it might have on their responses to other questions, the survey respondents were asked about their personal familiarity with “honor” killings. Thirty-three percent of the survey respondents reported that they personally know someone who has been threatened with an “honor” killing. Indeed, one of the respondents herself had been threatened. Twenty-seven-and-a-half percent said that they personally knew a victim, while 27% stated that they personally know a perpetrator. Four percent confessed that an “honor” killing has occurred in their extended family, while 1% claimed that one has occurred in their nuclear family. Quite a few of the survey respondents know of multiple cases. These figures lead a reasonable person to believe that the number of “honor” killings in Jordan is vastly underestimated.
So what is the bottom line? The conventional wisdom is wrong. Generalizing from the survey sample to the wider population, there is not much justification or support for continuing to offer legal leniency to the perpetrators of “honor” killings.
And so I appeal to you, Your Majesty, to revisit this issue, to do so post haste since human lives are hanging in the balance, and to overturn Articles 97, 98, and 340 of the Jordanian penal code. And, while you are at it, please remove the 10-year statute of limitations for these crimes. Bring the laws into alignment with the hopes and the wishes of the people, be sure to enforce them, and leave no loopholes. Act as though it were the lives of your wife, your daughters, your mother, and your sisters at stake for, in the broader context, it is. If the Lower House of Parliament will not support such a move, use your power of Royal Decree to make it so. Or, if that is too unilateral and unacceptable a move, use your influence and leadership skills and the traditional Arab methods of consultation, collaboration, and consensus building to bring the naysayers over to your, the Senate’s, and the public’s side on this issue. There is plenty of evidence to indicate that your royal subjects will support you and be rightly proud of Jordan’s moral leadership on this issue. Other leaders struggling with this problem in their countries will envy your success and seek to replicate it in their own lands. The international community will applaud you. The timing is right, perhaps even overdue. “Honor” killings are against the tenets of Islam, in opposition to at least 17 international human rights conventions on which Jordan is a signatory, and inconsistent with the Jordanian constitution. Please correct this problem and ensure that there is justice for all the Jordanian Du’a Khalil Aswads, as well as a bright future and a network of safehouses and shelters for the people who are at risk. Jordan is a beautiful country with many traditions of which it can rightly be very proud. Your subjects deserve to be heard and to live outside the umbrella of fear created by the daily possibility of sudden, violent death. Show the rest of the world that it can be done—because truly it can—and show them how to do it. Please.
Ellen R. Sheeley
Ellen R. Sheeley is the author of "Reclaiming Honor in Jordan: A National Public Opinion Survey on “Honor” Killings."
Copyright © 2008 by Ellen R. Sheeley. All rights reserved.
April 7, 2008 3:38 PM
Justice for all the victims of "honor killing" now!!!