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Honor Killings, Jew-Hatred & UN Think: An Open Letter to Hina Jilani

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Posted on April 22 2011 3:45 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Muhktar Mai, Pakistani gang rape victim

Hina Jilani is a Pakistani women’s rights activist, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a  former U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, and a co-author of the Goldstone Report.

Dear Hina Jilani:

Greetings! I am familiar with and an admirer of your work as a Pakistani feminist and human rights lawyer, one who has gone on record opposing both honor killing and rape and the inadequate legislation against such crimes in Pakistan.

In 1999, you handled one very high profile honor killing case, that of a Pakistani woman, Samia Imran (aka Samia Sarwar), whose physician mother and politically powerful father arranged that she be shot to death in your office because she dared to seek a divorce from a dangerously violent Pakistani husband. I wrote about this case in 2004-2005 and have written about it again any number of times since then.

I have tried to imagine what you and your staff have felt. I am friendly with a Turkish-German lawyer whose battered 15-year-old client was shot to death in her office in Berlin; the lawyer herself was shot and left for dead as well. Clearly, she lived. But we did talk about the effect this murder has had on her forever after.

Perhaps you are familiar with my work in general and in the area of honor killings; perhaps not. I have published fifteen books, including the landmark Women and Madness and Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman.  I have published two studies, written hundreds of articles, delivered speeches, given interviews, and written affidavits for girls and women who are now seeking asylum in the United States because they are at risk of being honor murdered in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe. Once, long ago, I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan and moved in Muslim circles.

Under other circumstances, we might have met, worked together, perhaps even befriended each other.

Sadly, that is not the case.

Yesterday, the Pakistani Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of five of the six men who were convicted in the 2002 tribal-council ordered gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai, perhaps the bravest woman in Pakistan, perhaps the bravest woman in the world. Instead of killing herself or turning bandit as did the famed Phoolan Devi after a similar gang-rape in India, she instead pressed charges and opened a school and a shelter for other similarly battered and raped Pakistani women.

We both know that Mukhtar Mai is supremely endangered by the release of these higher-caste rapists, as are all the women of Pakistan.

In February of 1983, you and your sister Asma spent 20 days in prison for demonstrating on behalf of a young blind girl named Safia Bibi. She—the rape victim—had been jailed in Pakistan for adultery. All perfectly legal and customary in Pakistan and in most other Muslim countries.

Thus, I was shocked—enormously saddened—when I realized that, as a long-time UN employee/professional you are also one of four people on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict which produced the infamous Goldstone Report and which is now insisting that it be implemented, Goldstone’s recantation be damned. (I assume that you’ve read the many powerful and credible critiques of this Report. Here is only one.)

Here is why I am writing.

You know that false but lethal slander leads to the honor murder of girls and women in Pakistan, in the Islamic world, and among Muslim immigrants to the West. Yes, Hindus and Sikhs do commit honor murders in India, but rarely in the West, and their motives seem to be different. Allegations of “sexual impropriety,” true or false, vague or specific, are behind so many honor murders of Muslim girls and women in Pakistan and in other Muslim-majority countries. Such rumors as well as actual “sins”  have included: talking to a boy, not veiling properly enough, having an infidel friend, having academic ambitions, wearing makeup or wanting to wear Western clothing—and, of course, being raped, wanting to leave a violent marriage, refusing to marry a first cousin, etc.

Hina, please understand: The lies and slander that have been generated against Israel are every bit as false and unjust as the lies told to justify the honor killing of girls and women.

I once worked at the United Nations. In my opinion, it is completely ineffective save in two areas:

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