Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can Counseling Prevent a Potential Honor Killing? The Rifqa Bary Case.

And so, despite the all the naysayers and second-guessers, the lawyers in the Rifqa Bary case have negotiated a reasonable and potentially life-saving settlement which will allow Rifqa to remain in state custody until she becomes 18 (which will happen in August), at which time she herself will decide whether or not she wishes to be reunited with her family.

According to the Columbus-Dispatch, Rifqa has admitted that she’d been “unruly” when she’d fled her home, and the “family will try to resolve their issues with counseling.” In a statement read by Rifqa’s attorneys, ‘both she and her parents said they loved each other and believe counseling is the best route.”

Ahem. The family’s honor has now been slightly salvaged by Rifqa’s open admission (clearly, an admission that had been required) that she’d been…”unruly.”

Is it “unruly” to choose one’s own God, or to try and save one’s own life? I’m just asking.

In any event, in grand American tradition, “counseling” is seen as an all-purpose, face-saving panacea, a way of avoiding a more superficial or harsher rule of law—a way of dealing with problems that are far beyond (or beneath) a judge’s purview. Thus, “The case plan for Rifqa and her parents says they should talk about their respective religions and visit and communicate regularly.

Had there been no settlement, I would have testified as an expert witness in this case. Luckily, thanks to the good lawyering involved, my testimony was not required.

And so, the Bary family (the teenager and her parents) will now enter counseling—always a dicey proposition in my opinion; girls and women are especially vulnerable to false promises of happy endings and true love. Many grown, battered women, report how well their sociopathic batterers bond with their counselors, and how their own anxieties and justified paranoia is minimized, scorned. Ultimately, these women may not only be diagnosed as “crazy,” they may also lose their children, their homes, even their lives—right under their counselor’s nose.

One can only hope that the counselor in the Bary case will know a great deal about the nature of honor killings and the fate of apostates in Islam.

For example, in the tragic case of Toronto’s Aqsa Parvez, the counselors at the shelter for battered women to which she fled did not understand the dynamics involved in an honor killing family and, when Aqsa’s mother called to say she missed her, they simply allowed Aqsa to go; Aqsa went home and was promptly killed by her father and brother. Aqsa’s crime? She did not want to wear hijab.

Speaking of honor killings and what counselors do and don’t understand: I am about to publish a new study about honor killings (due out in the next issue of Middle East Quarterly) in which I studied 230 honor killing victims on five continents. Therefore, I am not at all surprised by the “surprising” news coming out of Finland concerning a potentially “new” kind of victim.

Native Finnish women who marry “immigrant” men (the article simply will not use the word “Muslim”) have begun to flee for their lives to avoid being honor-killed—but not only by their husbands, but by their husbands’ family, even by his entire clan. One Finnish woman who married into an “immigrant” family says:

“They’ve threatened to kidnap my children, and my husband has repeatedly threatened to kill me. He says nobody can stop them, that horrible things happen, and he doesn’t even have to do them himself, that revenge will come from the clan….

The Multicultural Women’s Association Monika, which runs a safe house for immigrant women and their children, says that more and more Finnish women are turning to them when Finnish authorities fail to understand the threat of honour violence.” According to Nasima Razmyar, Monika’s Project Manager:

“You can have 200 people involved in honour-related violence, that is, the entire extended family. And not just the family in Finland, but relatives abroad and back in the home country. In general, our laws need to understand much better this type of group threat…One problem is that Finnish authorities in social services and on the police force treat honour violence just like any other case of domestic violence. They don’t take into account the fact that instead of a dispute between two individuals, honour violence pits a single woman against the wrath of a large group of people.”

One hopes and prays that the counselor assigned to the Bary family understands the nature of honor killings. They can certainly read my first study, which appeared in Middle East Quarterly. And, I will gladly send him or her my new study as soon as it is published.

P.S. Tundra Tabloids reports that Finnish state news had pulled the article about honor-related violence in Finland but restored it recently in a more sanitized form. Here’s what was deleted from the original article:

“Among immigrants honor violence has occurred in Finland for many years.” “She said that her marriage was hell, but no one believed her.” “The woman is the man’s property and thus can assault the woman however he pleases, if the woman refuses to obey the rules.”

“Honor violence has been increasing in recent years in Finland, when unmarried young women immigrants from a foreign culture struggle under the pressure. They may be forced to marry and be prohibited from socializing with Finns.”

“We’re currently unable to secure and protect the lives of people in the way that the authorities should do, Hukkanen says.”

Once again, I wish to acknowledge Esther’s fine work at

Phyllis Chesler

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