[dc]“H[/dc]onor” is a word that
Westerners use to describe personal bravery and self-sacrifice. We bestow the word on people who have gone beyond what is expected to help others and society, even when there is no one watching, no reward, no glory. However, in the other parts of the world, the word in the local language that translates to English as “honor” means something very different. It means that every aspect of a woman’s life, including her body, must be subject to the will of the men in her family, or even to strange men on the street. And if she transgresses their will, even without knowing it, even without actually doing anything, she can be raped, tortured, disfigured and even murdered. And there is usually little or no punishment for her abusers or her murders. In these countries – and in some of the immigrant communities in the west -women are not individuals, they are livestock.
Honor Diaries, a one hour film directed by Micah Smith and co-written by Paula Kweskin and Alex Traiman, brings the pandemic of human rights abuse against women to western audiences by following nine women who work with women whose human rights – and bodies and lives – have been violated in the name of “honor”. The film is currently available for community and home showings.
One of the most powerful impacts of Honor Diaries is when the narrators point out to western audiences that it is their problem too. They show that some women in the U.S. are at risk for forced child marriage and murder, that there have been 20,000 cases of honor killings in the UK and rampant forced child marriages in the UK, Canada and even the US in immigrant communities from Arica, the Middle East and South Asia.
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Executive-produced and narrated by Somali-born Ayaan Hersi Ali, an outspoken defender of women’s rights in Islamic societies who escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to the Netherlands. Ali served as a member of the Dutch parliament where she and director Theo van Gogh made Submission, a film about the oppression of women by extremists in conservative Islamic cultures. The airing of the film on Dutch television resulted in the assassination of Mr. van Gogh by Islamic extremists and serious enough threats on her life that she immigrated to the U.S. and is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
The film uses narrative, interviews and occasional videos and photographs to describes the horrors visited upon women in these countries and immigrant communities in the west – genital mutilation, cutting off ears and noses, slavery, drenching with acid, forced marriages even of children and outright murder. But the overall message is that the problem can be attacked, that education, enforcement and solidarity among women can push back against the brutal patriarchies that women in “honor” societies must live under.
The film was produced by the Clarion Project, whose mission whose stated mission is to "educate people about the inherent dangers of Islamic extremism, provide a platform for moderate Muslim voices, and motivates people to take an active stand against those who want to deny others their basic human rights" and is often accused of being anti-Muslim. While showing the brutality of honor societies, the women in the film, whose political beliefs tend to liberal and Progressive, reject the charge that the film is an biased attack on Islam. They note that nine out of the ten worsts offender nations are Muslim and that when theocratic Islamic governments have replaced democratic regimes, as they did in Iran in 1978, the first casualties are the rights of women. Eight of the nine women in the film are Muslims and they are adamant that honor killing and what they call “gender apartheid” - the rendering of women non persons - are not cultural, they are criminal. And they make the point that “honor” is so embedded in many extremely conservative Muslim societies that torturing, disfiguring and killing daughters is considered a father’s and mother’s duty to protect the family from “shame”, even if it means jail or execution. In short, as far as I could tell the film deals only in facts.
Honor Diaries ends on a high note, spotlighting the political movement of Muslim women to be treated as individual human beings, and the agreement of many Muslim men that “honor” and its brutality will not be part of their lives or their religion.
Honor Diaries is the best film I have seen on the problem of “honor” its brutal impact on women around the world. The vehicle of following the nine women provides a strong narrative that holds your attention, plus a diversity of voices that bring fact and emotion from many angles, reinforcing both. Honor Diaries is a powerful and important film that all Americans from local police officers to the muftis of major mosques need to see.