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"Die Quietly, My Daughter"

Last night, I began reading Crimes of Honour and the Construction of Gender in Arab Societies by Lama Abu-Odeh, from Feminism & Islam, an in-depth essay exploring the juristic and anthropological history of laws that legalise honour killings throughout the Middle East. The essay includes a detailed discussion of how the honour killing laws of different Arab nations differ from each other, covering who, usually which male family member, has the right to injure, beat or kill his female dependents, and who these female dependents are. Of particular note is that the essay makes clear, very early on, that laws legalising honour killings are not unique to Islamic nations or the Middle East, and were present in European countries such as Italy and France up until the mid-70s. In fact, Egyptian laws on adultery, which is the historical template for similar laws elsewhere in that region, was partially derived from French laws on the same subject. But what made the derivation from Egyptian law particularly important was that Egyptian honour killing laws, and case studies of their utilisation, were used as the gold standard for their implementation elsewhere in the Middle East, with only very slight variations -- a cleaving, perhaps, to the importance of historically-aped juristic tradition?

Abu-Odeh's careful dissection of some of the finer elements of the legal clauses behind these laws is at once highly informative and highlights the almost ridiculous obsession Islamic jurisprudence can show to justify its meddling in the personal lives of Muslims. Studying, for example, what constitutes a legal honour killing in different nations makes for such a macabre, and once again, obsessive exercise, that it practically reads like a social satire. How else can this reader make sense of whether finding the underwear of one's wife alongside her (unproven) lover in one's house, without any other proof that sexual intercourse has occurred, truly constitutes evidence that adultery has happened? Or consider the legal sanction for a husband to head to the kitchen to grab a knife, upon finding his wife in bed with another person, and stab one or both of the participants -- so long he does that immediately after discovering the act of adultery, and not, say, two hours later?

At what point does any of the ethical considerations for these actions come into play? Do they even matter, under the blanket of cultural correctness in a foreign land?

I was particularly impressed by the use of quoted sections from the different adultery/honour killing laws as one method of framing and introducing the different segments of the essay. This detail made the gravity of how the laws apply to their respective countries, and the overall argument by Abu-Odeh for their abolishment, more urgent and relevant. When I woke up this morning, I wondered if I might be able to apply it to a story I'd like to write, as a means of demonstrating and reinforcing a slow growth towards increased religious conservatism in a relatively closed society, tying it in with quotes from Malaysian Syariah Law on adultery -- and its relative lack of killings. I set out, Google in hand, to find a copy of said Malaysian Syariah Laws, which the Attorney General's Chambers has made easily accessible via downloadable PDFs. Imagine my surprise when my search also revealed that, as of this morning, three women were recently caned under my country's Syariah laws for the crime of illicit sex before marriage. If you're following that article, I'm not sure which argument the Deputy Prime Minister is putting forth horrifies me more right now -- that the canings received by these women were much lighter than the ones meted out by the civil courts, which can cause "hurt and sometimes even death", or that he even believes caning women for adultery is even justifiable in this day and age.

More than that, I can't believe that less than a decade ago, I was able to discuss my country's women's rights issues and safely say, "The public stonings and lashings of women you see happening in far right Muslim countries do not happen in mine." I may need a cup for coffee for this. Possibly a few. This is an unthinkable new low for a federal government I have long been able to at least ascribe "rigid moderation" to, even one that was slowly crawling towards a more religiously conservative stance. There is much processing to be done.

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