Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Femicide

I just received an email forward with a power-point presentation attached. I downloaded it but I wish I hadn’t. The slides showed nightmarish pictures of females being stoned to death, hanged, and butchered in the worst way simply by virtue of their being female. Then I became conscious of my own Western bias. To another person, these pictures may represent sweet justice.

Femicide is not just the act of killing a female. It is killing a female because she is a female. In certain Arab and Muslim societies, it is reserved for those females who allegedly cross a line of appropriate inter-gender conduct. More accurately, it is a sexual thing. If a female is accused of acting “indecently” according to the sexual mores of Arab culture and Islam, then the men of the community can kill her in order to protect her family’s “honor.” Such “sex crimes” include but are not limited to alleged premarital sexual relations, alleged prostitution, and alleged adultery. These crimes are all alleged because the female is not brought to court or tribunal. A female can simply be seen talking to a man on the streets in a way that is “unacceptable” and before she knows it she is physically defending herself against a horde of men who simultaneously serve as judges, jury members, and executioners. Often the lynch mob is led by a father or brother, who can be vindicated of shame only once his flesh and blood is reduced to a pile of flesh and blood. An untold number of females have been killed this way.

Femicide is not limited to the Arab World. Five hundred Canadian women of Aboriginal descent have gone mysteriously missing since the 1980’s. Investigators there categorized a disproportionate number of the missing females as alleged prostitutes. Due to China’s one baby policy and the perceived economic advantage of having a male child in that society, a silent holocaust is taking place where millions of Chinese women will never be. In South Korea, where female infanticide also occurs, the pool of females has become so shallow that men are beginning to go abroad to find a wife. In the poorer areas in these Asian societies, females are worthless from day one. Those that can afford an ultrasound abort their female embryos. Others who cannot detect the baby’s sex prenatally simply starve their newborn daughters until they die. These girls never get the chance to prove their worth.


In the Arab and Muslim World, females do get a chance to prove their worth. They must act “appropriately” at all times with men, be virgins before marriage, and faithful after marriage. Any suspected or actual deviation from that path can lead to death. According to the Israeli paper Haaretz, in Israel proper, home to one million Arabs, “twenty one Arab women have been killed over the past two years.” And over the past six years, eight women from one family, the Abu-Ghanem family of Ramle, have been killed. One of these was an 18 year old girl named Hamda, allegedly killed by brother Khamel, who accused her of insufficiently modest dress, cell phone conversations with men, and street conversations with men. As the oddball country in the Middle East with a Western penal code, femicide is treated as crime in Israel, and Israeli police investigates the killings. In the world of the Israeli justice system, Khamel Rashad Abu-Ghanem is on trial for murder. In the Arab world, Mr. Abu Ghanem is a model citizen who upheld the law and restored honor to his family.


These cultural double standards become increasingly exposed as the West and East grow more entangled. When the World Trade Center was attacked, Westerners instantly became aware that its culture had been exported to unimaginable places. Now, as a result of 9/11 and technology, more aspects of Oriental cultures are being placed under a Western microscope. Planes, satellites, internet cables, and video technologies are bringing human cultures together at an exponential rate. Age old cultural traditions such as female circumcision, dolphin hunting, and child slavery are already being displayed on You Tube and sensationalist websites for all people to see. While the Western liberal mindset praises cultural relativity, or non-judgment of the other, what will the limits of this be? How will Westerners deal with “cultural practices” that they would otherwise classify as murder, torture, or cruelty to animals? What will these images do to the Western mindset? How will it affect the millions of Arab Muslims now living in the West? Perhaps it will spark an important internal and external debate about the nature of femicide. An imam in Israel recently publicly denounced the “honor killings” of women as contrary to Islam. Did this happen because of this imam’s proximity to Western liberal values, which gave him knowledge of the “Other”? The byproducts of the cultural collision course that will come to define this 21st century are greater societal introspection, self-awareness, and, consequently, change. Whether this change is viewed as positive or negative is up to you.

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