Jordan is considered to be one of the most modern Middle Eastern countries, yet a woman is killed by a male relative there about every two weeks, because of alleged sexual transgressions?which include saying the wrong thing or even being raped.

Clare Murphy writes in BBC News Online that the men who commit these “honor killings” get an average of six months in jail. The parliament recently refused to amend the penal code to impose harsher penalties on men who kill their daughters and sisters. The day after this ruling, three brothers hacked their two sisters to death “to cleanse the family honor.” Jordan’s King Abdullah wants reform, because he’s anxious to present his country to the West as a model of modern Islam. While these killings occur in cultures with other religions (remember the woman who was going to be stoned to death in the New Testament), and they are not sanctioned in the Koran, it’s the Islamic insistence on women’s purity, and the disgrace impurity brings on her family, that makes it hard for these laws to change.

Right now, even men who freely admit to the killings have their sentences reduced because it’s assumed they committed the crime in a “fit of rage” sparked by an “unlawful action” on the part of the woman. According to journalist Rana Husseini, the woman may have done something as slight as leaving home or saying, “This is my life. I am free to do as I choose.” These are still considered to be unlawful acts.

Female deputy Adab Saoud, who voted against changing the law, says, “It’s also a question of culture and identity. Obviously these killings are wrong and against our religion. But the notion of honor is a very important one in our society. And we need to accept that.

“One of the main problems with the debate over the past few years are the terms which were set. The king told parliament they should look at this because Jordan was being criticized by the West. It was the wrong way to present it, because it seemed as though the West was being allowed to impose itself on our sovereign affairs. And that got people’s backs up.”

Author Norma Khouri, who wrote about the honor killing of her best friend Dalia by her father, says, “I know it would be much simpler and easier if there were certain types of men who did this. But Dalia’s father was not a cruel monster?in many ways, he was a typical Arab man, just like my dad.

“It is so hard to understand the extent of the social, cultural and traditional pressures on these men. They are constantly told the family honor is at stake, they are virtually blackmailed.” Women often assist in the killing. Rania Arafat, 26, was told by her two aunts that they’d arranged a secret meeting with her boyfriend. When the three of them arrived at the rendezvous point, the aunts stepped aside and Rania was shot in the head by her brother.

Even in our own culture, we’ve vilified innocent, and even holy, women.

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