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Iran Facilitates Honor Killings

Iran Facilitates Honor Killings

Thursday, 9 July, 2020 - 09:15
Noor Pahlavi
Daughter of Iran's Crown Prince in exile and granddaughter of Shah

Romina Ashrafi was fourteen, Fatemeh Barahi was nineteen, Reyhaneh Ameri was twenty-two. Each of them was murdered by an immediate family member, heinous murders that have received much needed attention in the international community in recent weeks. As a young woman with two little sisters, one fifteen, I feel a deep sense of disgust when reading about these killings and the minimal penalties perpetrators face for committing them.

I am grateful everyday for the home in which I was raised, particularly for the father I am so fortunate to have. While most people grow into adulthood with a sobering understanding that parents are not as perfect as they seemed when we were little, I never had that realization with regard to my father. He is the most honorable person I know. To me, he is both kind and strong, a person to whom I owe the sense of physical and emotional safety I grew up with despite the political threats we often faced.

My father has fostered a sense of self-respect in my sisters and me, and though he is not the most touchy-feely man in the world, the most he has ever snapped at any of the women in his household is when we take too long to get in the car before a flight for which he insists we arrive four hours early.

Romina, Fatemeh, and Reyhaneh and millions of women in Iran, by contrast, were born into a society in which their lives were never truly their own. They were raised in fear even in the places where they should have felt safest, at home. They were not raised to be independent and command respect, but instead as property. They fell victim to fanaticism and dangerous beliefs which throughout our country, and the Middle East, have taken too many lives.

I had known before that “honor killings” were a social problem in Iran. However, frankly, I was unaware of the depth of the problem and didn’t know it had such deep roots in our homeland. In many families, the belief has been passed down that family patriarchs “own the blood” of their daughters, and thus can exercise whatever punishment they see fit, for an act as innocuous as saying the wrong thing. These beliefs are supported by the male dominated society outside the home, one built and enforced by the Islamic Republic, leaving nowhere for these girls to seek aid.

As more details emerged about these murders, I became more and more sickened. Romina’s killing, for one, was a process. After learning of her relationship with a boy of whom he did not approve, her father bought rat poison and told his wife to convince Romina to kill herself so he wouldn’t have to deal with the shame. At the very least, she could hang herself, he urged his wife. In the end, after consulting with his attorney to ensure he wouldn’t earn a lengthy sentence, he slit his daughter’s throat with a scythe as she slept.

These horrific crimes, “honor killings”, comprise a staggering 30% of all murders in Iran, a number which undoubtedly underestimates the reality of the situation given the lack of attention historically given to these crimes which allows many of these crimes to go unreported. In the last forty-one years, they have had the government’s backing. Yet with the public attention brought on by 14-year-old Romina’s murder, even the Islamic Republic has had to strategically respond to the pressure.

It was notable for me that these three murders occurred in three different areas of Iran: Gilan, Kerman, and Khuzestan. This showed that though these “honor killings” may appear more frequently in some parts of the country, it is truly a national problem.

Before Romina, Fatemeh and Reyhaneh were Gilani or Kermani or Khuzestani, they were Iranians, and all Iranians must stand up and fight to end such murders. We must have a dialogue addressing not only the structural facilitator of these killings, the Islamic Republic, but also the cultural forces behind it. We must appreciate that we are in a time in which strong social media networks give us the benefit of having discussions that can bypass both censorship and self-censorship.

Unfortunately I’ve never lived anywhere in Iran but my primary counselors are my parents and my grandmother. When I spoke with my grandmother, she noted that though the matter has its roots in social traditions, governments have a responsibility to protect the lives of their citizens, even from their own families.

In Western nations with modern laws, states act swiftly against parents who abuse their children and can even remove such a child from the parents’ custody and put them in the care of the state. When I read that despite Romina’s pleas not to be returned to the custody of her implacable father, she was mercilessly sent back anyways, I burned with rage. My grandmother told me of the many great men and women who, prior to the revolution, worked to codify progressive laws to establish protections for women and girls, and it pains me to hear of the regression of our nation into these brutal circumstances.

She told me of Mehrangiz Manoucherian who worked diligently to create and ratify the Family Protection Law. It was a progressive law for its time but Khomeini attacked it as “the elimination of the Muslim family” and ordered its revocation in April of 1979. This, itself, shows the enmity and resentment Khomeini and his cadre had with women. My grandfather strongly supported the ratification of the Family Protection Law and spoke to foreign reporters about how proud he was of it. Khomeini revoked this same law one month after taking power.

“Honor killings” in Iran did not start with the Islamic Republic. This is a cultural issue. It is flawed traditions that consider women a man’s property that promote such crimes. But why does government exist other than to secure people's safety? These brutal acts must be addressed with laws that protect women and a strong executive backing. The problem is that the Islamic Republic instead supports those who consider Romina, Fatemeh, and Reyhaneh their father or husband’s property.

This article was first published in the Independent Persian.

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