Thursday, January 3, 2008

Honor killing brouhaha

An article today on Jihad Watch about a recent honor killing in Texas by an Egyptian Muslim man who murdered his two daughters has sparked some interesting interchanges (including one between the gods—or a god and demigoddess—whose juicy, albeit brief, acrimony wafts like fresh air after arid months to the parched throats of us ignominious minions) in the comments field.

One particular commenter claims that honor killing legal codes in various parts of the Muslim Middle East are due to the Napoleonic Code being introduced there in the late 18th, early 19th centuries, then apparently becoming part of the texture of Islamic laws from then until now. I will not here and now dispute this, but I did find it instructive to take a look at one source given by this particular commenter:

Stefanie Eileen Nanes, “Fighting Honor Crimes: Evidence of Civil Society in Jordan,” Middle East Journal, vol. 57, no.1 (Winter 2003), p. 6.

The above-mentioned commenter describes this source thusly:

She explains how ARTICLE 340 of Jordanian Code, which is the problem, came into Jordan from the Napoleonic Codes via the Ottomans.

I have just accessed that very same article and read it. There is nothing about the Napoleonic Code in that article, nor is there anything about the Ottomans. A search for “napoleonic” and “ottoman” confirmed my conclusion from my perusal of the article.

The only thing in that article that even hints at what the above-mentioned commenter claims is the following:

Article 98 closely approximates the "crime of passion" defense found in Western law, and reads:

1) he who commits a crime in a fit of fury caused by an unrightful and dangerous act on the part of the victim benefits from a reduction of penalty.

Notice that the above is not about Article 340, but about Article 98; and, of course, only mentions in passing—with no mention of the Napoleonic Code nor of the Ottomans—and with no documentation or references some vague “approximation” of a certain type of legal defense “found” in Western law.

(The author, Nanes, also makes other unreferenced claims in her article, claims whose importance nevertheless demands documentation, and these significant lacunae tend to cast into doubt her merits as a scholar—e.g., “Autopsies of the murdered women show that the overwhelming majority are virgins at the time of their deaths”; and “this practice [i.e., honor killing] predates Islam, and young men who commit these murders have been quoted as saying that in these cases, despite what Islam says, tradition is stronger than religion”.)

The above-mentioned commenter frequently, in my experience and estimation (which could be wrong since I am an imperfect human), makes claims which, when one takes the trouble to delve into the sources provided by same, prove to be either patently controverted, or, at best, flimsy and unsubstantiated. This of course (particularly when experience keeps on confirming it) tends to cast anything else claimed by same in doubt.


For All Women Foundation said...

Erich, the Speaker of the Lower House in Jordan told me in 2006 that Article 340 has never been used as a dishonor killings defense, though it could be. Most often, it is Article 98 (having to do with acts committed in a "fit of fury") that is used. Article 97 also provides an escape hatch for the perpetrators. All three penal code articles are still on the books. The average sentence for dishonor killings in Jordan is six months.

It is the case that Jordanian law consists of elements of constitutional law, Shari'a law, and tribal law. Dishonor killings are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. So the penal code articles relating to them probably have their origins in that, not Napoleonic code.

The autopsy results cited by Nanes might come from the results of a 1997 World Bank study that examined post mortems of victims. The World Bank found that 95% of the victims that year were still virgins at the time of their deaths.

All this is copiously footnoted in my book.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Erich said...

Ellen R. Sheeley,

Thanks for your comments. You wrote:

"It is the case that Jordanian law consists of elements of constitutional law, Shari'a law, and tribal law."

The question for those of us who are alarmed at the trans-national prevalence of Sharia-supporting Muslims (in Western countries as well) is: Does Shari'a law countermand honor killings? It seems that not only does it not do so, it positively helps foster a sociopolitico-cultural environment of misogyny & pathological puritanism by which honor killings, whatever their ultimate source in the mists of time, are enabled.