Murder in the Name of Honor

BOOK: Murder in the Name of Honor


‘Disturbing, informative and readable,
Murder in the Name of Honour
tackles one of the most shocking crimes of the 21st Century. A remarkable insight into a horrifying crime and a call to action for everyone who cares about human rights. A must read.'

Kerry Kennedy
founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, and chair of the Amnesty International USA Leadership Council

‘Rana is utterly inspiring. She is a young woman of courage, committed to the principles of truth and justice . . . If enough people read this book, maybe the next time a young woman is being stoned to death for having fallen in love, someone will intervene to save her life.'

Jane Fonda
actress, writer, and political activist

‘Rana Husseini has almost single-handedly brought this crime to public attention through her newspaper articles and campaigns, and her achievements in journalism and human rights have been internationally recognized. She does not just pontificate from behind her desk – Ms. Husseini has investigated the crime scenes, visited the prisons, and talked to both victims and perpetrators, and has produced a brilliantly researched and passionate attack on honour killings around the world. A powerful, heartfelt and important book.'

Queen Noor of Jordan
is an international humanitarian activist focusing on cross-cultural understanding, human rights, disarmament, conflict prevention and recovery, and pioneering Middle Eastern programmes in the areas of sustainable development, women's empowerment, and micro-finance


The True Story of
One Woman's Heroic Fight Against
an Unbelievable Crime

Rana Husseini


First published by Oneworld Publications 2009 Reprinted 2009

This ebook edition published by Oneworld Publications 2011

Copyright © Rana Husseini 2009

All rights reserved
Copyright under Berne Convention No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise.

A CIP record for this title is available
from the British Library


Typeset by Jayvee, Trivandrum, India
Cover design by James Nunn

Oneworld Publications
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To my mother Randa Saifi-Husseini, my mentor, who taught me the joys of life and showed me the value of being grateful for every good thing that happens to me.

To my late father Ahmad Husseini, who dedicated himself to make sure we lived the best life. He did not live to see my accomplishments but I live better knowing that he would have been proud.

To my brother Moutaz, who has continuously shown support for my work and who still looks out for his little sister.

To my nephew and niece Zein and Hana: May ‘Murder in the Name of Honour' be a thing of your past.

This book is also dedicated to every woman that has been murdered in the name of so-called honour.


Foreword by Jane Fonda


1.   Murder in Amman

2.   Interview with a Killer

3.   Honour as an Excuse

4.   Bound by Honour

5.   Excusing Murder

6.   We Fought the Law ...

7.   The Royal March for Justice

8.   Opening the Floodgates

9.   Changing Attitudes

10.   Two Steps Back

11.   A World of Honour

12.   Love, Honour and Obey

13.   Chaos in Europe

14.   Honour in the USA

15.   The Road to Real Honour





Jane Fonda

As I write this foreword, CNN is broadcasting the footage of a young woman being publicly stoned to death by a lynch mob, while the police just stand by watching. It pains me deeply to live in a world where a Kurdish woman has been killed for falling in love with a man from a different faith. Murders like this, which happen around the world, destroy the honour they are intended to restore. Honour is respect for life. Honour is respect for love. There is no honour in murder.

I first met Rana Husseini in 2005, at an international meeting of women in the media organized by Equality Now with journalists from Algeria, India, Jordan, Kenya, Palestine, Peru and Saudi Arabia. Rana Husseini was being honoured for her groundbreaking work as an investigative reporter for
The Jordan Times
. She had broken the silence on so-called ‘honour' killings in Jordan. The stories were devastating, but Rana was utterly inspiring. She is a young woman of courage, committed to the principles of truth and justice, and her writing has sparked a national campaign in Jordan to stop this violence and to hold those responsible for it accountable under the law.

Rana's work is a testament to the power of the pen over the sword, and this book will no doubt be an invaluable contribution to advocacy efforts around the world to end gender-based violence. No country is free from violence against women, and the UN has estimated that one in three women around the world will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. Domestic violence and rape are universal, while other forms of violence take culturally specific forms. Rana's clear, strong voice cuts through the north/south,
us/them divides that are so often used to marginalize violence against women in its varied forms.

Breaking the silence is only the first step towards social change. Rana's work has provoked much discussion in Jordan, and it is heartening to know that over time attitudes have started to change and the legal system is beginning to take these ‘honour' killings more seriously. In this heated debate, prejudice is plainly exposed and the way in which women are spoken of is all too familiar. Women as property and the sanctity of the hymen, dubbed by Rana as ‘the small piece of quasi-mythical flesh' by which women's value is measured, are all too familiar themes that reinforce discrimination against women around the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts with the principle that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights', a principle universally challenged by violence against women. From the time she came across her first case of ‘honour' killing, the murder of a girl by her brother for having been raped by her other brother, Rana Husseini has followed her instinct, guided by her heart and conscience. If enough people read this book, maybe the next time a young woman is being stoned to death for having fallen in love, someone will intervene to save her life.


Imagine your sister or daughter being killed for chewing gum, for laughing at a joke in the street, for wearing make-up or a short skirt, for choosing her own boyfriend/husband or becoming pregnant.

This is what happens to
five thousand women
who are murdered each year in the name of honour;
that's thirteen women every single day
. It is very likely that this figure, calculated by the UN in 2000, is a gross underestimate. Many cases are never reported and many more so-called honour killings are disguised as suicides and disappearances. This is something I know to be true in my home country of Jordan where, according to police and medical officials, there is an average of twenty-five so-called honour killings annually.

A so-called honour killing occurs when a family feels that their female relative has tarnished their reputation by what they loosely term ‘immoral behaviour'.
The person chosen by the family to carry out the murder (usually male: a brother, father, cousin, paternal uncle or husband) brutally ends their female relative's life to cleanse the family of the ‘shame' she brought upon them. The title ‘honour killing' is ironic in the extreme because these murders, and the manner in which they are carried out, lack any honour whatsoever.

It was in my capacity as a journalist writing for
The Jordan Times
, Jordan's only English-language daily newspaper, that I had an eye-opening encounter with one such murder that changed my life forever. Thankfully, despite strict state censorship of the media when I started reporting in the mid-1990s, my courageous editors agreed that the story should be published. The resulting article, published on 6 October 1994, appeared under the headline ‘Murder in the name of honour'.

I did not know it then, but I had begun a quest that has since become all-consuming and has taken me all over the world. Thanks to the continued support of my editors, I was able to investigate and report on honour killings in depth. As time went on, I gradually realized that while reporting these crimes was a step in the right direction, it was never going to be enough – I had to do something else to end these senseless murders. So I began a sensational campaign to change the law and attitudes in Jordan, a campaign that I, along with many others, have since taken across the world.

This book tells my story so far, from my humble beginnings as a naïve but enthusiastic and stubborn journalist to the campaigns to change Jordanian law, as well as my experiences in other countries in the Middle East, and investigations into so-called honour killings across Europe (especially the UK) as well as the USA. This book is also an evaluation of the current situation around the world in terms of the numbers of honour killings and the laws available to murderers to escape justice. I am sure that many readers will be truly shocked to see just how widespread and out of control this phenomenon is across the world, from the Third World to the First.

Fighting so-called crimes of honour has proved to be a perilous and traumatic journey. My life has been regularly threatened and my reputation is under constant attack. I find myself frequently slandered and libelled. Examples include accusations that I am a ‘radical feminist seeking fame' or that I'm a ‘western-collaborator intent on tarnishing the delicate fabric of the pure [Jordanian] society'.

Unfortunately, some influential and powerful people, such as MPs, judges, lawyers and policemen, have opposed me and, as extraordinary as it seems, believe that those who claim to have killed in the name of honour deserve lenient punishments, because everyone has the right to protect their family's honour. In my own
country, Jordanian law states that those who murder in a passionate frenzy (for example, men who have caught their wives in the embrace of another) deserve mercy. As we shall see, such laws and leniency are by no means unique to Jordan (for example, a similar law is still in place in the UK). Perpetrators are well aware of the sympathy shown by their country's legal system, and abuse it to their advantage. Thus, in many cases, the crimes often have serious hidden intentions far removed from honour – such as the murder of female siblings in order to claim sole inheritance of the family estate. Murders are often meticulously planned by several family members but are then claimed as ‘crimes of honour', again far removed from the state of blind anger associated with this crime.

Sometimes all that is needed to incite murder is a deliberate and malicious campaign of gossip. In fact, the majority of so-called honour killings I reported on were based on mere suspicion, something I have since seen repeated in countries across the world. The problem is not restricted to adultery. Generational conflict, teen culture, urbanization and adolescent rebellion are common trigger factors in immigrant communities in European countries as well as the USA.

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