Body-Shaming Isn’t A Purely Middle Eastern Phenomenon

One would think that the Western world should have more tolerance for other ways of life — especially considering that most of us believe the very idea of honor killing is barbaric. But instead of committing brutal crimes, we mostly commit quieter atrocities. Instead of killing, we conduct mental and psychological attacks aimed at shaming victims for behaviors that don’t affect us at all. 

Body-shaming is one such attack. We body-shame when we find someone wearing less than we think they should — or when they don’t look the way we think they should. 

In Bristol, England, sisters Amaleehah and Nadia Aslam-Forrester noticed they were being body-shamed by members of the Asian community online after they posted pictures of themselves in revealing bathing suits. They were surprised. Although they were accustomed to abusive behavior from members of their communities back home, the same kind of behavior from other ethnicities was completely unexpected.

The two sisters grew up in a household with a Pakistani mother and an English father, which was a different kind of obstacle in a world where attacks on other races are becoming increasingly frequent.

Their parents are mostly supportive of the lives they wish to lead, and don’t want the pair to be held back by outdated cultural practices of biased expectations. Right and wrong should be determined by what each individual believes, and not based on what others believe.

Their mother connected them with members of a youth-led Bristol charity called Integrate. The group fights for women’s rights, gender equality, and racial equality — a good fit for two bullied sisters of Middle Easter descent. Integrate teaches members about female circumcision, sexism, honor crimes, etc.

“In our community, honor lies within the body of a woman,” Amaleehah said. “There’s always pressure on her to uphold men’s honor in her behavior and also in the way she dresses. We had one case where someone told us to drink bleach [on social media.] We got a lot of hate messages. Some people were anonymous, making fake accounts. It was awful. And that was all because we were being judged, there was stereotyping involved.”

She wasn’t just provided a voice by Integrate — she was also provided with a job. Now, Amaleehah speaks to children throughout the United Kingdom about the obstacles she and her sister went through in their own schools. 

If you are the victim of violence against women, an honor crime, domestic violence, or online bullying, then reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also find plenty of resources online. Don’t have access to a computer? Go to your public library for a link!

Violence Against Women Not Just A Middle Eastern Problem

We use our voice to speak out against violence against women, focusing on those victims who live and die in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere due to the phenomenon known as “honor killing.” But violence against women is a problem that extends far beyond a few regions of the world. In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 women will experience an abusive relationship. Domestic abuse can include physical or sexual violence, harassment, stalking, PTSD, and even the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases.

Even in the era of #MeToo, the fight requires substantial growth before meaningful change can occur.

Did you know that 15 percent of all violent crimes perpetrated in the United States are the result of a domestic confrontation? What you might find more offensive is that a shockingly low 34 percent of those victims will go on to receive any kind of medical care. The lion’s share of victims will attempt to sweep the problems at home under the rug. That’s why so many of these victims will find themselves hurt again, or worse — killed because they couldn’t find a voice.

Of course, the United States isn’t alone in this culture of violence, rape, and silencing.

Mexico City, Mexico was recently the site of a 25-year-old woman’s brutal murder. Ingrid Escamilla was found flayed. Her body was devoid of its organs. A suspect was quickly detained by authorities. A video in which the presumed suspect can be seen showed him covered in blood as he was questioned by Mexico City police. He was Escamilla’s partner, which makes sense: almost all violence can be traced back to a friend, acquaintance, or sexual partner. 

That’s why so many of these cases lead back home.

Women’s rights groups around the world have spoken out about the killing. The National Women’s Institute of Mexico has said that photographs of the crime scene should not have been published. The organization released a statement that said, “Mexico is facing a tremendous challenge with respect to violence against women. We urge the media to work with rigor and professionalism.”

Escamilla’s case is also an important reminder that even victims who have previously spoken out are at greater risk. She had filed a complaint against the suspect only months before her murder. She eventually withdrew it, as so many victims do.

There are impacts to violence against women that go far beyond lost lives. They include an economic impact from missed days of work, medical bills, and lost jobs. But the emotional impact of survivors is a huge cost as well. Families of those who can’t escape will inevitably suffer the same. Depression and suicidal tendencies are common.

Are you a victim of domestic violence? Help is available: Call 1-800-799-7233 or go to thehotline.org to discuss your situation with an online representative.

Two Dead In Pakistan After Apparent Honor Killing; Others Killed In United States And India

Honor killings are often the result of perceived infidelity. That was the case for one father, Saleh Muhammad, who killed his daughter in cold blood in the Shadheri province of Swat, Pakistan. Muhammad also murdered the person with whom his daughter was purportedly having an affair. Meanwhile, California resident Jagjit Singh, 65, allegedly shot his daughter in another honor killing. No trial date has been set.

His daughter Sumandeep Kaur Kooner, 37, was also having an affair when she told her family that she would run away from them. But investigators say that Singh didn’t just murder his daughter — he also sexually assaulted her. 

Courtroom documents shed little light on the investigation thus far. Authorities found the body on August 26 at 3200 Monache Meadows Drive with apparent bullet wounds to the face and neck.

Another slaying occurred in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. Authorities say that a girl’s father and brother caught her and her partner engaged in apparently controversial behavior, at which point they attacked the lovers with an ax, killing the daughter and gravely injuring her partner. The family is in hiding while the girl’s partner remains in critical condition at Saifai Medical College.

Authorities have yet to discover where the accused are hiding. 

Cases like these are common across the Middle East and in parts of Africa, but they occur infrequently in other regions as well. The vast majority of honor killings are perpetrated by fathers and brothers of women who were accused of dishonoring or shaming the rest of the family through non-traditional acts. 

Although the tragic circumstances are getting more attention from activists around the world, there is still a great deal of pushback in countries where these crimes are common. For example, some Palestian officials recently tried to roll back women’s rights by rejecting the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is a 1979 international treaty put into place by the United Nations General Assembly.

The legislation was signed into law in 2014 in Palestine, but not all of Palestine’s government officials were in agreement.

They made a blanket statement recently saying that “the Palestinian Authority must withdraw and cancel this agreement and call for the closure of all the feminist institutions and those supporting them in Palestine. There are hundreds of them in Palestine and we call for the cancellation of their rental agreements. Anyone who rents to them is a partner in crimes.”

A recent law would have increased the legal age of marriage to 18 for both men and women, but the officials rejected that as well. Women’s rights are under attack.

Second Update: New Charges Filed In Texas Irsan Case

Two 2012 murders have resulted in a number of charges filed against members of the Irsan family, most of which are focused on a father and his son and their dastardly deeds. But now Nadia Irsan, another member of the family, has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Initially, she had been charged with stalking — but investigators have uncovered more substantive evidence of wrongdoing in the ongoing criminal case against her.

Nadia has a public defender assigned to the case: Eric J. Davis. “My hope is that people will presume her innocent,” he said.

That seems like wishful thinking in a country where honor killings rarely occur, but are viewed as horrific and unjustified. The prosecutor assigned to the case, Marie Primm, certainly sees it that way.

Nadia’s father, Ali Mahwood-Awad Irsan, has already been sentenced to death for his involvement in the killing of another daughter’s husband, Coty Beavers. The second homicide resulted in the death of Gelareh Bagherzadeh, although prosecutors failed to immediately connect one to the other — especially because the time between the two was approximately eleven months.

Ali was an immigrant from Jordan, but still holds to some of his religion’s more extremist views.

Ali and his son Nasim worked together when going after Bagherzadeh in January 2012. They followed Bagherzadeh to her parents’ home, where Nasim shot her in the car she owned. Nasim was facing a capital murder charge before he accepted a prosecutorial plea deal of 40 years incarceration. 

In November 2012, Ali covertly infiltrated Beavers’ apartment — the door was apparently unlocked — and shot him to death when his daughter exited the building. His wife, Shmou Ali Alrawabdeh, has also been charged with murder. She testified against her husband in exchange for a kidnapping plea.

According to Alrawabdeh’s testimony, Ali planned to kill his daughter, Nesreen, as well. The previous murders were committed because Ali viewed Nesreen’s relationship with Beavers, an American, to be a betrayal of their faith and culture (which is why these murders were considered honor killings).

Primm offered Nadia a plea to conspiracy to commit murder, which would have landed her in prison for at least 25 years. Nadia didn’t take the bait. That means if she goes to trial and is found guilty on the existing charges, she could end up incarcerated for the rest of her life — or for as little as fifteen years if the judge is feeling kind.

The Dangerous Practice Of Testifying In Honor Killing Cases

Honor killings are a brutal and common practice in the Middle East. Many women have been accused of “dishonoring” their families through sexuality or by running off with the wrong man, and subsequently murdered for their supposed transgressions. But what happens when one family member agrees to testify that his older brother murdered his sister? Apparently, he too is in danger.

That was the case for Taha al-Amouri, a 16-year-old who witnessed his 32-year-old brother Mohammed al-Amouri murder their 19-year-old sister, Najlaa al-Amouri. The alleged honor killing occurred on April 11 earlier this year, and Mohammed was indicted for the murder two months later. The Israeli media called Najlaa’s fate at home “systematic torment.”

Prosecutors working the investigation had already fast-tracked the case and Taha’s testimony because they suspected he might be in danger if the case dragged on longer. But Taha disappeared anyway, and his father filed a missing person report with the police.

“We intend to hold a meeting with senior officials to examine how to act if and when he is discovered,” the prosecution said. 

A number of apparent honor killings have been committed in Israel following the formation of the Palestinian feminist movement, “Tal’at.” The name is used to describe the “taking to the streets” of women who want equality.

The recent murder of a Palestinian Bethlehem native shows that there are consequences for those who stand up for themselves in this region of the world. Isra’a Ghrayeb’s death, though,  made the movement all the stronger. Protests have shot through Palestine in Gaza’s West Bank, and in at least six cities in Israel. 

These women aren’t requesting much from their governments — only legal protections from honor killings which, although illegal, are often dismissed by authorities who decide to instead turn a blind eye to the madness. 

Isra’a was murdered for no more than an Instagram post showing her alongside the man who had proposed to her. She tried to beg for her life, and fled from the brothers who allegedly murdered her, sustaining spinal injuries after falling from a balcony during the struggle in Beit Sahour. She subsequently died in the hospital after suspected foul play.

There have been at least 18 such honor killings of Palestinian women this year. Isra’a’s family denies any wrongdoing. According to a statement released after her death, she died “after she had a heart attack, following an accidental fall.” But much of the rest of the world isn’t buying into it, and cries for change have begun to resonate with humanitarian groups around the world.

Update: Irsan Taken Into Custody

Typically, honor killings occur in African or Middle Eastern countries. They occur when male members of a family feel “dishonored” by a female member of the family. A young woman will abandon an arranged marriage. She will post to social media too often. Or the clothes she wears will show a little too much. The excuses for these heinous murders are both numerous and complex. And in 2011, Houston, Texas was the site of two murders that prosecutors were quick to label: honor killings.

Mahwood-Awad Irsan was disappointed when his 23-year-old daughter, Nesreen Irsan, fled home to be with her boyfriend, Coty Beavers. Why was it such a big deal? Coty was American-born — and a Christian. Nesreen converted to his faith to make their relationship more tenable. But it had the opposite effect for her father.

Gelareh Bagherzadeh was an Iranian women’s rights activist who championed Nesreen’s desire to convert to Christianity, but she was found dead. Police considered it likely that her murder was politically motivated by hate groups in the area. They didn’t even begin to connect the dots until ten months later, when Beavers was found dead in his apartment in 2012.

It was then that investigators started looking into Ali.

Nesreen told them that her father had been agitated over her relationship with an American man, her departure from home, and her conversion to Christianity. She said that he believed the two murdered individuals had stained his family’s honor, and that she and Beavers had always feared for their lives. Ali, she said, had a known history of violence.

Before the murders, Nesreen had asked authorities for a writ of protection against her father. This prevented Ali from having access to guns — but it was too late for that. After Beavers was found murdered, police obtained a warrant to search Ali’s property in Conroe. They found something more damning than firearms inside, though: they found an envelope with at least two license plate numbers and addresses, belonging to Bagherzadeh and Beavers. 

The dots were finally connected. This man was obviously responsible somehow.

Harris County Special Prosecutor Anna Emmons described the raid to the documentary, A Wedding and a Murder: “So that one piece of evidence, that envelope, connected Ali to both Coty and to Gelareh, who were both dead.”

Later, Ali was taken into custody and charged with capital murder for the two killings. His wife, hoping to avoid charges as an accessory to murder, decided to testify against Ali in return for a plea deal. During a subsequent trial, she described his perhaps poorly laid out plan to murder Nesreen as well, noting that he only failed because he couldn’t sabotage her car successfully.

But it turned out that Ali’s son, Nasim, was involved in the murders as well. It wasn’t until August of this year that Nasim pleaded guilty to the murder of Bagherzadeh. The arrests haven’t helped Nesreen feel safer — she lives in isolation for fear of reprisal.

Irsan was sentenced to death.

Protests Erupt In Bethlehem After 21-Year-Old Woman Murdered By Family

Israa Ghrayeb was a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who grew up in Bethlehem and had a promising future — until she was murdered by her brother, Ihab. Even more disturbing is that Israa’s own father ordered her brother to commit the crime. What the family saw as an insult to their honor is hardly unthinkable in much of the rest of the world.

Israa had posted pictures and videos online of she and her fiance. The social media posts weren’t controversial in any way. So why did her family get so upset? Because a young woman and her fiance aren’t supposed to be together — or be seen together — prior to marriage. When relatives caught wind of the posts and alerted Israa’s father, he ordered Ihab to beat and kill her.

Ihab did as he was commanded, but Israa escaped — barely. She fell from the second story of the family home, severely injuring her spinal cord in the process. 

Subsequently, she made another Instagram post about her injuries, but made no mention about how she sustained the injuries.

She said, “I’m strong and I have the will to live — if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday. Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

Israa was recovering in a nearby hospital when they apparently came for her again. Video of the attack there allegedly shows her frantic, begging her attackers to let her live. But that’s not the official story, and has been contested by her family, who say she passed away after a heart attack. 

Palestinian NGO Adalah Justice Project didn’t mince words during a statement made after the killing: “Israa was murdered by members of her family after she posted a selfie video of an outing with her fiance. The crime is being called an ‘honor’ killing, but this is misleading and false. There is no honor in murder.”

Many want justice for Israa. Others are asking if the same thing could happen to them, including a high school friend: “After I heard what happened to Israa, I was terrified. I live with my family and I have my freedom to go wherever I want. But what if someone started to spread rumors about me? Will that lead to my death, too?”

Protesters are begging the Canadian government to arrest Ihab for his sister’s murder, since he currently resides there.

Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian” Was Murdered But Her Killers May Walk

Even though laws across the Middle East and parts of Africa are swiftly catching up with the civils rights expectations of the rest of the world, they don’t always change the underlying practices they have begun to outlaw. Highest among those underlying practices is the routine and ritualistic “honor killing” of women who have somehow been perceived to have disgraced or dishonored the male members of the family.

This was the case when Pakistani social media icon Quandeel Baloch, or the “Pakistani Kim Kardashian,” was murdered by her two brothers, Aslam and Waseem, in July of 2016. Although they were subsequently charged with Baloch’s murder, they might be released — because an outdated Pakistani law stipulates a woman’s murderers can be legally pardoned (in the case of an honor killing) when the defendants’ family members forgive them for committing the act.

In other words, if the entire family agrees that the honor killing was justified, then really — what was the crime? 

Baloch’s parents are reportedly trying to establish just such a pardon for brothers Aslam and Waseem, who they have apparently forgiven for killing their daughter.

The tactless tactic shouldn’t work, however, because Pakistani legislators actually closed the loophole nearly as soon as Baloch was murdered. Currently legislation does still provide family members with some power over the legal process — by forgiving the murderers, they can prevent employment of the death penalty.

Here’s the rub: because the loophole was only closed after Baloch was murdered, the family and their legal representatives are trying to say that the new laws don’t apply in this situation. Whether or not the legal strategy will pan out is still up in the air.

Baloch had over three-quarters of a million subscribers on Facebook, and tens of thousands spread out across Instagram and Twitter. Waseem strangled her because he did not want the limelight provided by her liberal views and massive following.

These ritualistic killings are still common in Pakistan, where civil rights groups estimate at least 1,000 women are killed every year. The government contends that the number of deaths seems to have fallen since the new laws were passed, but honor killings often go unreported, leaving many to question whether the updated statistics have any real accuracy at all.

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Where Are Honor Killings Still Legal?

It might seem like an absurd question to ask in 2019, but ask it we must: where are honor killings still legal? Even though the law may take a hard stance against it, in many countries those who commit such crimes still manage to walk away free because the same authorities who are supposed to maintain justice are the ones most likely to turn a blind eye. In other places honor killings are still legal because of blatant inaction or laws that implicit allow these heinous acts.

Pakistan. The country passed an anti-honor killing law in October 2016 when a high-profile celebrity was murdered by a family member. Although many saw this as an enormous step in the right direction, honor killings have continued unabated. Part of the reason is society only watches those who they deem important. Many others slip through the cracks because the crimes go unreported. Another problem is the pressure that law enforcement and government officials face from groups who condone this type of murder as just.

North Africa. Many honor killings take place in this region, but a number also occur in France because of the large North African immigrant population. Shockingly, French laws do little to combat the epidemic of violence as they are so strongly rooted in the Napoleonic Code, which itself treated honor crimes with a great deal of leniency. Many international laws are trying to circumvent this systemic lack of caring by drafting new legislation that guarantees a person’s right to life. How big an effect this will have in the future — if any at all — remains uncertain.

Libya. Victims of honor crimes in this country have little recourse: whereas the killing of a woman who is caught in a “dishonorable” act is not technically legal, it is still considered a mitigating factor. This means that family members of these unprotected women will be treated less harshly by the law than other murderers, and will receive sentences that hardly fit the crime.

Iran. Honor killings occur most often outside of major metropolitan areas and occur most often among minority populations. Access to education is considered to be the best tool against this practice, which is itself pervasive in a society so strongly dominated by men. When a man’s social status is perceived to be under attack — especially because of a woman’s actions — honor killings become much more likely, and the law does little to prevent them or provide adequate protection.

The Psychology Of Honor Killings: Why Do They Still Happen in 2019?

Those of us who live in the United States regard many of the crimes committed in the Middle East as barbaric or inhumane — sometimes we even view the punishments for those crimes with similar disdain. However, they happen for a reason. Women are still marginalized in every society in the world, and some male-dominated communities would rather perpetuate terrible violence against women to keep them subjugated than view them as equals. Why?

Family members who commit honor killings very rarely show remorse for what they have done. Not only do they believe their acts were necessary, but they see them as justified both by the laws of men and in the eyes of their faith.

The reasons for these crimes are varied: a woman might run away with a man after a previous marriage was arranged; a woman might appear in public without a chaperone; they may have been raped; they may be too friendly towards their male counterparts; they may have shown their faces in public rather than wear a hijab. 

While many of us might see the impractical reality of these crimes, even psychologists have difficulty comprehending the human capacity for violence toward other members of a family. All animals, humans included, have an instinctual resolve to keep members of their own family safe from harm. Yet in these cases — some in which women did absolutely nothing wrong at all except wander into the wrong place at the wrong time — a parent’s love for a child might be overwritten by the urge to shirk an imagined dishonorable act.

That means the answer is deeply entrenched in Middle Eastern culture and practice. Honor killings occur, even today, because reputation is important to those who live in the Middle East, as is tradition. Men who live in these parts of the world epitomize the modern concept of fragile masculinity: they strive to be as masculine as possible, as rough and tough as they possibly can be. They will not tolerate disrespect from anyone, and certainly not from a member of the opposite sex.

This is because this facade of masculinity is viewed as a key to one’s success in life. Without it, failure would follow. Of course we know this is not true, but perception is reality to those who commit honor killings.

Unfortunately honor killings have been reported in the United States as well. Any Criminal defense attorney will tell you that statistics regarding these crimes aren’t necessarily falling as time goes on, and part of the reason is because radical elements of both conservative and liberal bias are on the rise all over the world — and the more radical a person’s beliefs, the more likely it is they will perpetuate this crime. What can we do to change the outcome? The answer to that question is simpler: we can start talking.