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Honour Crimes Dissertation Abstracts

Edited by Aisha K. Gill, Carolyn Strange and Karl Roberts, Palgrave Macmillan, London and New York, 2014, 272pp., ISBN: 978-1-1372-8954-4, £70.00 (Hbk)

In a compact but powerful—and powerfully useful—book, Gill, Strange and Roberts have provided a compelling lens through which to broaden how policymakers, advocates, service providers, media and various publics around the world define, understand and respond to the global challenge of honour-based violence.

The text begins with the problem of language and definition crippling understanding and responses to honour crimes in various countries. George Orwell famously wrote in 1984 that an idea (and in turn a feeling or a belief) cannot exist without the word for it. The editors and authors of ‘Honour’ Killing and Violence: Theory, Policy and Practice start from a different place: that, in a world in which societies, economies and values systems are intermingling and converging so intensively, even a single word can contain many ideas and beliefs. Not only do the authors show us how ‘honour’ means different things to different people, families and societies, they also explain that it is undergirded by and embedded in value systems that see themselves as vastly different from each other. What this means, the authors demonstrate, is that any legal framework that seeks to dismantle values systems that use honour as a justification for committing systemic violence—and to replace it with a new, global framework—must develop a simultaneously universal and specific definition of ‘honour-based violence’.

The book’s first order of business, therefore, is to dismantle assumptions about honour and honour-based violence, and to redefine the term in such a way that enables us to view honour-based violence as part of gender-based violence generally. In turn, we may then view different types of gender-based violence as stemming from patriarchal systems of honour that exist in communities of many ethnicities, nationalities and culture. Thus, the book disentangles the reality of honour-based violence from narrow, often Islamophobic efforts to respond to such crimes.

The book also includes a carefully curated set of case studies and policy approaches illuminating different ways that countries have either allowed or limited violence in the name of honour, and how activists have or have not succeeded in raising public awareness or influencing policy. While these are useful tools for practitioners and advocates, who are presumably the target audience of this book, the conceptual framing of the text and the analysis of the various provisions lay fertile ground for future work.

When we can Instagram from the top of Kilimanjaro or tweet from the pounding heart of an anti-authoritarian uprising, the very notion of ‘remote’ seems to be a quaint relic of an older time. And yet, many media analysts have pointed out that media coverage of honour killings in the United States,1 Canada (Vatandoost, 2012) and the West (Saeed, 2014) in general is often essentialist and narrowly focused on Islam or Muslim-majority cultures. The book not only clarifies that honour-based violence can be understood as one of many forms of violence against women or of gender-based violence, it offers a logical framework within which gender-based violence in many cultures and contexts can be understood as honour-based violence. Ultimately, readers may find themselves broadening their understanding to include many cultures and contexts, including perhaps their own, among those with honour-based values systems; I certainly did.

The text also examines how feminists and women’s rights activists have taken different and sometimes contradictory positions vis-à-vis media portrayal—where some activists, particularly in diasporic communities, are much more concerned with Islamophobia and Orientalism, for example, while other feminists are comfortable openly decrying religions as a source for honour-based violence.

The book is divided into two sections: (1) Conceptual Frameworks and (2) Operationalising/Practices of Honour and Violence. The first section offers a selection of theoretical and conceptual lenses through which to understand—and broaden our understanding of—honour-based violence. The first two chapters situate honour crimes within broader contexts: the legal language of domestic violence and historic practices in Europe and North America. The fifth and sixth chapters analyse concepts of honour and dishonour within the institutions of the family and the courtroom. The latter includes a particularly meaningful discussion of how legal institutions deprive targets of honour violence of consent, an issue that has come to the fore in new analysis of data on legal child marriage in the United States (Reiss, 2015). Of particular interest is the third chapter, which offers a psychological analysis of why some individuals within certain social contexts commit honour crimes while others don’t, and can be viewed within the larger and emerging body of literature on why certain people join gangs or militant groups. These conceptual frameworks are not directly addressed in the case studies found in the second section, but if the book is read as a whole they illuminate the case studies in meaningful ways. The hope is that readers will not read selectively, but will take the time to absorb and return to this rich volume.

Practitioners and advocates familiar with the issue of honour crimes will also be familiar with many of the names and concepts in this book, but will still want to have it on their shelves because of its global perspective and its detailed case studies of advocacy and legislative efforts in places as wide-ranging as Scandinavia, India, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom. If there is one drawback to this book it is that these concepts must make their way into wider circulation if they are to have any meaningful policy impact. Emerging scholarship on the role of media coverage in influencing policy (Baum and Potter, 2008) shows us that, contrary to earlier thinking in media studies, media, public opinion and policymaking are part of a synthetic, symbiotic interrelationship. This book still seems to work within a bidirectional model of media influence in advocacy, in which media can influence policymaking or the other way around.

In other words, although the information and ideas in this book are profound and have the power to fundamentally transform the way we view and do policymaking around honour-based crime, these ideas are often couched in technical and occasionally academic language. One would love to see these ideas conveyed in accessible, broadly appealing prose that might engage a wider range of stakeholders in this issue than legal scholars or policy theorists—especially given the book's implicit premise that we are all stakeholders in the effort to dismantle honour-based values systems and the violence they engender.

This book is sure to spark an empowering and ultimately powerful conversation among scholars and activists on the issue of honour crimes, prompting them to engagement to reframe this issue as a global one, to build strategic alliances and information-sharing among advocates in different countries, and to apply successful strategies from one country to draft and incorporate effective legislation in other countries. While concepts of honour and shame are constructed, they are still very powerful, and will be difficult to dislodge even if the rule of law attempts to do so. Still, effective advocacy is a necessary tool to construct a rule of law, and this book is a must-have in the toolkit for advocates, scholars and practitioners working on ‘honour’ crimes.

References

  1. Baum, M.A. and Potter, P.B.K., 2008. The relationships between mass media, public opinion, and foreign policy: toward a theoretical synthesis. Annual Review of Political Science, 11, pp. 39–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

  2. Reiss, F., 2015. America’s child-marriage problem. The New York Times, 13 October. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/14/opinion/americas-child-marriage-problem.html?_r=0 [last accessed 13 November 2015].

  3. Saeed, S., 2014. What the Western media gets completely wrong about honor killings. World.Mic, 2 June. Available at: http://mic.com/articles/90291/what-the-western-media-gets-completely-wrong-about-honor-killings [last accessed 13 November 2015].

  4. Vatandoost, N., 2012. The News Coverage of Honour Killings in Canadian Newspapers. MA thesis. The Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, Criminology University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa, ON. Available at: https://ir.library.dc-uoit.ca/bitstream/10155/259/1/Vatandoost_%20Negin.pdf [last accessed 13 November 2015].

Copyright information

© Feminist Review 2016

Authors and Affiliations

Да, - в сердцах бросил Джабба.  - Шифр-убийца. Но единственный человек, которому известен ключ, мертв. - А метод грубой силы? - предложил Бринкерхофф.

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