Sunday, March 16, 2008


Remember the old joke about the definition of chutzpa? A young man who murdered his parents then sought mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan. This story is quite similar:

The Haifa District Court on Wednesday sentenced two brothers to life in prison for murdering their sister in what was termed an "honor killing."

The two brothers, 40-year-old Anwar Salameh and Hassan Salameh, 37, were convicted of conspiring to commit a crime, kidnapping with intent to murder, and premeditated murder.

The murder occurred in December 2005, when the victim was 21. The two defendants, residents of the village of Mrar, conspired to kill their sister after they discovered she had a secret romantic relationship, defying them. They viewed their sister's behavior as harming the family's honor and consequently planned to convince her to join them on a trip somewhere and then kill her.

Anwar Salameh said to the judges that "the penalty is a little severe for us; we received a very serious punishment. I ask you to take into consideration our situation? My family is bereaved."

DAVID HAZONY - (Contentions)

Israeli news agencies have been awash with new reports of Arab women being assaulted or murdered by members of their own family. “Family honor,” they call it.

Among many Palestinians and in much of the Arab world, when a woman enters a relationship with someone whom her family does not approve of, she takes her life into her hands. Recently we learned of a 19-year-old from the Israeli-Arab town of Naura, who sustained two gunshot wounds to her head and played dead until paramedics arrived, as she listened to her brother getting congratulated by his family. Then there was Nadi Abu-Amr, who was kidnapped and murdered by her three brothers and her uncle in November 2007. Her crime? She refused to marry the man she was engaged to. According to one of the suspects, she was “slaughtered” because she “deserved to die.”

And today’s Haaretz reports that Sara Abu-Ghanem, age 40, from the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Ramla, miraculously sustained only light injuries to her head and neck when an unidentified assailant opened fire on her. Abu-Ghanem, whose crime was falling in love with a Jewish man, is part of an extended family in which 9 women have been murdered in recent years. A week ago, Kamil Abu-Ghanem was sentenced to 16 years in prison for murdering his sister Hamda. But this happened only after 20 of the family’s women defied the men’s orders and testified to police about the killings.

There is no clearer indicator of a “clash of civilizations” than the prevalence of honor killings in the Arab world. With all due respect to pluralism, universalism, and respect for the Other, here is a piece of intolerance that can unite all of us, left and right, liberal and conservative. The idea that one’s relationships are one’s own business is a cornerstone of liberal thinking. That a disapproved-of relationship justifies murder — that one should take pride in killing one’s own sister because of it — well, that’s just way, way outside the pale of anything we Westerners can handle. Honor killings are so shocking to even the most tolerant among us, that one wonders why the West has failed to express its moral outrage.

One problem with honor killings is that they are not easily confined into a single religious sub-sect, and to raise the issue may be to defame a whole culture or civilization, and Westerners haven’t been into that lately. Whatever George Bush was able to achieve by not blaming terrorism on Islam broadly defined, he can never do with honor killings in the Arab world. This is exactly the kind of phenomenon that Western diplomacy cannot handle, for it suggests so great a cultural gap—a moral gap—as to bring an end to the compromise and the compulsive smoothing-over that seems to be a prerequisite for a long career at State.

A close aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once caused a stir when he suggested that the Palestinians will get their state only when they “become Finns.” Liberals do not like statements like that, because it reeks of prejudice, generalization, even racism. But what is one to do with a culture that celebrates the butchering of its family members? That treats women as literal slaves?

And more uncomfortably still: Is the West really doing a good deed by empowering such a culture with statehood?

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