Syria—Shame, Shame, No Honor in This

The story of 16-year old Zahra al-Azzo is simply mind boggling, outlandish, and unbelievable. This triple tragedy and the sheer brutality encountered by this girl in the name of religion and culture is simply beyond the pale of reason. No you know why Universal Human Rights matter; now you know why we cannot hide under the banner of state sovereignty and cultural relativism to continue on with our various vicious practices; now we realize the importance of supporting women’s education, gender equality, and local empowerment.

In the outskirts of Damascus on a “rainy Sunday morning in January and very cold; as he left, Fawaz turned back one last time to tuck the blanket more snugly around his 16-year-old wife. Zahra slept on without stirring, and her husband locked the door of their tiny apartment carefully behind him. Zahra was most likely still sleeping when her older brother, Fayyez, entered the apartment a short time later, using a stolen key and carrying a dagger. His sister lay on the carpeted floor, on the thin, foam mattress she shared with her husband, so Fayyez must have had to kneel next to Zahra as he raised the dagger and stabbed her five times in the head and back: brutal, tearing thrusts that shattered the base of her skull and nearly severed her spinal column. Leaving the door open, Fayyez walked downstairs and out to the local police station. There, he reportedly turned himself in, telling the officers on duty that he had killed his sister in order to remove the dishonor she had brought on the family by losing her virginity out of wedlock nearly 10 months earlier.” 

 “Zahra then only 15, was kidnapped in the spring of 2006 near her home in northern Syria, taken to Damascus by her abductor and raped; how the police who discovered her feared that her family, as commonly happens in Syria, would blame Zahra for the rape and kill her; how these authorities then placed Zahra in a prison for girls, believing it the only way to protect her from her relatives. And then in December, how a cousin of Zahra’s, 27-year-old Fawaz, agreed to marry her in order to secure her release and also, he hoped, restore her reputation in the eyes of her family; how, just a month after her wedding to Fawaz, Zahra’s 25-year-old brother, Fayyez, stabbed her as she slept.”

“In Syria and other Arab countries, many men are brought up to believe in an idea of personal honor that regards defending the chastity of their sisters, their daughters and other women in the family as a primary social obligation. Honor crimes tend to occur, activists say, when men feel pressed by their communities to demonstrate that they are sufficiently protective of their female relatives’ virtue. Pairs of lovers are sometimes killed together, but most frequently only the women are singled out for punishment. Sometimes women are killed for the mere suspicion of an affair, or on account of a false accusation, or because they were sexually abused, or because, like Zahra, they were raped.”

“In speaking with the police, Zahra’s brother used a colloquial expression, ghasalat al arr (washing away the shame), which means the killing of a woman or girl whose very life has come to be seen as an unbearable stain on the honor of her male relatives. Once this kind of familial sexual shame has been “washed,” the killing is traditionally forgotten as quickly as possible. Under Syrian law, an honor killing is not murder, and the man who commits it is not a murderer. As in many other Arab countries, even if the killer is convicted on the lesser charge of a “crime of honor,” he is usually set free within months.”

“It turned out that his uncle had given him the phone so that he could call and tell the family that he’d killed his sister. We learned later that they had a party that night to celebrate the cleansing of their honor. The whole village was invited.”

For more on this gruesome story, continue here “A Dishonorable Affair.”


One Response to “Syria—Shame, Shame, No Honor in This”

  1. ammani Says:

    I read that article, too, and share the outrage. In fact, I just published a book about this same ugly phenomenon as it goes in neighboring Jordan. It’s pretty much the same there. . .three penal code articles offer such leniency to “honor” killers that the average sentence is only six months.

    However, I conducted a nationwide survey of the Jordanian public’s attitudes and opinions about this. And a full 89% of the people in my representative sample support toughening the sentences for these crimes (another 3.5% are neutral, and 7.5% like things just the way they are). So the people seem to be far ahead of the leadership on this issue. One wonders why they just don’t overturn those laws and treat these cases like other murders.

    I, too, found the confusion among the public as to whether Islam condones these crimes. It does not, but about one in five people in my sample thinks it does and that, thus, they must kill when they believe their family honor has been besmirched in some way. There’s definitely room in the mosques and in the schools to correct this misconception. And for people who know better to lean heavily on these folks.

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: