Honor Diaries: A Real Conversation on Women’s Rights or a Scratch on the Surface?

In April 2011, Faleh Hassan Almaleki, an Iraqi immigrant to the United States, was sentenced to 34.5 years in prison for killing his 20 year-old daughter for becoming “too westernized.” The case was deemed an “honor killing” because the daughter, according to the dad, dishonored the whole family.

This story is one of many presented by the film Honor Diaries, a recently launched film project directed by Micah Smith, and produced by Paula Kweskin, Heidi Basch-Harod and Alex Traiman. The film highlights the discussion on honor in “Muslim-majority societies” through a dialogue that takes place among nine female activists, who come from different backgrounds. The nine women talk about different issues that get linked to ideas of “honor,” including gender apartheid, forced marriages, honor killings, and female genital mutilation. The inclusion of real-life examples, in addition to facts and statistics by international organizations, has been instrumental in supporting claims about issues related to honor in Muslim societies.

The first concern I had with this film how it positions its main topic: honor in “Muslim-majority communities.” The film does not specify the components of these communities, and it also involves Muslims from communities that are not Muslim-majority, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. There were some examples brought up from those two countries, although these examples involve people who came from Muslim-majority countries, such as Iraq and Iran. So, the problem here is, are we talking about honor in Muslim communities? Or honor of those people coming from Muslim communities? In addition to that, it is really unfair to summarize all Muslim communities in three words. If the project intends to talk about Muslim communities, then I think it is important to talk about all of those communities worldwide. For example, North African countries, such as Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria were never touched by the conversation in the film. Countries in East Asia, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, were also left out, as were examples from African countries such as Niger and Senegal, as well as communities in Eastern Europe such as Kosovo.  In other words, the film touches only on specific “Muslim-majority societies,” and it isn’t clear how widely its arguments apply. Communities are not just characterized by being “Muslim” or “non-Muslim”. There are so many other factors that shape the way a community treats its members, regardless of gender; these include culture, education, economic development, and many others. [Read more...]