Ending the Honor System

Honor killings have long been tolerated in Muslim countries, but movements are underway to both punish murderers and bring an end to the bloodshed Something is finally beginning to change. The Syrian parliament, for example, last month canceled the clause that permits a judge to show leniency toward a person who kills "for reasons of honor."

Honor can no longer be used as a defense by lawyers when presenting their client's case, and contrary to the previous law that did not state a minimum punishment, now the judges will be forced to imprison murderers for at least two years.

In Jordan the law has not yet been amended, even though the government has twice submitted it to parliament, but the courts themselves have begun acting as if the issue of family honor is no longer valid.

The punishments they have imposed recently for honor killings have been far harsher than what Jordanian citizens are used to.

Official statistics about honor murders are nonexistent, since police refrain from classifying them as such. However, a study carried out by the National Center for Social and Criminal Studies in Egypt indicated that some 70 percent of murders against women were carried out by their husbands, 20 percent by their brothers and 7 percent by their fathers.

The most unpleasant finding in the survey is that more than 70 percent of these murders were perpetrated on the basis of unfounded rumors and remarks from neighbors or friends about the victim's behavior.

The Egyptian human rights organization says the government itself encourages murders of this kind since the law in Egypt still regards family honor as a rationale for lenient sentencing.

Paragraph 237 in the Egyptian penal code reads, "Anyone who comes upon his wife at a time when she is committing adultery and kills her together with the person with whom she was fornicating on the spot, will be punished with imprisonment instead of the punishments stipulated in paragraphs 234 and 236." Those paragraphs contain sentences of life imprisonment, imprisonment with hard labor or death.

There is no plan in Cairo to amend the law and a petition on it has not yet been dealt with by the constitutional court.

However it is not merely the punishment of honor killings that is undergoing renewed scrutiny in Arab states. The public discourse is also beginning to change. Dr. Maan Said, for example, wrote this weekend in the Palestinian Internet newspaper Dunia al-Watan that, "It is surprising that the honor is always masculine but it is masculine from one aspect only. We do not hear, for example, that a young woman killed her sister or her mother in order to cleanse the shame. Could it be that our daughters do not feel the need to wash the shame? On the other hand, the washing of the shame is always done through the blood of women. Is a woman's blood the only blood that is suitable for cleansing of this kind? Let us once more discuss matters that we thought always were part of our basic values but that have become customs that shame us."

The Syrian writer Yassin Rafaiya also chimed in.

"The murder for family honor is one of the ugliest crimes, but the criminal, the murderer, is freed from jail after only a few months while he boasts to the judge that 'that was a defective finger and so we amputated it,'" he wrote. "The family honor murder is an indication of the degeneration and decline even of religious values which grant women respect and status. However these rights have become very wanting in our days."

This discourse, which has traditionally been dominated by voices from Arab women journalists, researchers and feminists, has now moved over to the men's purview.

Perhaps in this way it the laws be amended and the tragic custom will be ended.

New Year's tourism

The Gregorian New Year is a festival of earthly delights. True, every year the religious sages in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries warn believers not to participate in this "non-Muslim" festivity, but judging by the busy cash registers on New Year's eve, a large number of celebrants would rather see Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram or Egyptian singer Amr Diab than avoid punishment in the world to come.

These popular vocalists take home between $80,000 and $360,000 in one night as they run from hotel to hotel to appear before a a pan Arab audience that has normally purchased tickets months in advance.

The price of a ticket to Ajram's performance at Lebanon's most luxurious hotel, the Phoenicia Beirut, was some $1,000 while the tickets to hear less popular singers cost between $200 and $450.

Beirut's airport also enjoys the spoils of New Year's eve. Instead of two or three weekly flights from the Gulf states, the planes come in daily and the tourists fill the hotels: their occupancy rate was between 95 and 100 percent over the holiday this year.

However the tourists in Lebanon were forced this year to forgo the main appearance of Amr Diab, even though tickets to his concert were sold out.

Diab decided to cancel his performance, for which every ticket had cost some $2,000, because he was not paid the advance that had been agreed upon with the producer, and it seems the producer has run off with the money.

In Egypt, Muhammad Munir's performance , due to take place outside the opera house, was canceled because of what the Egyptian interior ministry called "security considerations." More tickets had been sold than there were places in the square outside the opera house, and some 50,000 people massed at the entrance and caused a disturbance.

Despite the fact that the Muslim sages grate their teeth, Egypt is one of the prime winners during the Christian holiday season. In previous years, Cairo reported income of some $3 billion during the Christian holiday season. The sums swelled particularly during those years when Lebanon was at war and the tourists avoided going there. This year, Lebanon appears to have made up for previous years' losses.