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Reviewed by:
  • "Honour": Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence against Women
  • Simone Cusack (bio) and Rebecca J. Cook (bio)
"Honour": Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence against Women (Lynn Welchman & Sara Hossain eds., London: Zed Books; Melbourne: Spinifex, 2005), 384 pp. ISBN: 1-84277-626-6.

"Honour": Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence against Women is the outcome of a five year project undertaken by the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Laws (CIMEL) and The International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS) on the "Strategies to Address Crimes of Honour" project. As part of the broader project, CIMEL and INTERIGHTS have also established an online bibliography on "crimes of honour" consisting of an annotated bibliography and case summaries.1 The project, which began in 1999, aims to provide, for the first time, a comprehensive analysis of "crimes of honor." To this end, "Honour": Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence against Women explores the factors that create, facilitate, and perpetuate these crimes and, in doing so, seeks to address a lacuna in legal scholarship and community understanding about the nature and extent of crimes of honor.

"Honour": Crimes, Paradigms, and Violence against Women also seeks to develop culturally sensitive strategies to address and combat this practice. Together, the authors in this volume address five main themes, namely: (1) the meaning of crimes of honor; (2) patriarchy and its role in perpetuating and sustaining crimes of honor; (3) the operation of parallel legal systems and their relationship with crimes of honor; (4) the existence of crimes of honor in the global context; and (5) strategies for reform.

I. Crimes of Honor

Crimes of honor are defined by CIMEL and INTERIGHTS, for the purpose of this Project, to encompass:

[A] variety of manifestations of violence against women, including "honour killings," assault, confinement or imprisonment, and interference with choice in marriage, where the publicly articulated "justification" is attributed to a social order claimed to require the preservation of a concept of "honour" vested in male (family and/or conjugal) control over women and specifically women's sexual conduct: actual, suspected or potential.2

Welchman and Hossain caution, however, that "[t]he definition of 'crimes of honour' is by no means straightforward,"3 [End Page 524] conceding that its meaning is inherently problematic. They suggest, for example, that the terminology employed is imprecise, and susceptible to "exoticization," particularly in the West4 —a theme explored by Purna Sen in her chapter, "'Crimes of Honour,' Value and Meaning."5 Welchman and Hossain also caution that the use of the phrase "crimes of honor" lends support to the idea that honor is intricately tied to women and women's behavior, noting that it "seems to imply that women 'embody' the honour of males."6 The acceptance of this language is also problematic, they argue, insofar as it adopts the meaning articulated by its perpetrator and masks the "real motivation" behind the violation of women's rights.7

In addition to these issues, several authors (see, for example, Welchman and Hossain, Connors, and Sen) also discuss the problematic relationship between crimes of honor and crimes of passion, including the stereotypical association of honor with Islamic law and the East, and passion with the West.8 While acknowledging the difficulties associated with defining the phrase "crimes of honor," Welchman and Hossain, along with the other authors in this volume, ultimately seek to locate their discussion of crimes of honor within an understanding of violence against women and in the broader framework of international human rights law.

Although the meaning and use of the phrase "crimes of honor" are clearly contested within the international human rights movement, the concept of honor remains central to any definition of this phrase. Collectively, the authors demonstrate how the concept of honor has been employed with a view not only to regulating women's sexuality and sexual behavior, but also other types of behavior deemed to challenge male power and control.9 Touma-Sliman, for example, recalls that while the majority of crimes of honor she studied concerned sexual relations outside marriage, there remained "a significant number of cases where this was not the case, supporting the notion that, over the years, the meaning of 'honour' has expanded...


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