There is No Honour in Killing

This piece contains disturbing topics such as violence against women and honour killings in the Arab region. As a personal analysis, I protest all Arab, Southeast Asian, and North African laws and judicial practices that legitimise these abusive enforcements. I believe the laws should and must be abolished. 

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On a warm summer night sometime in August 2021, I was craving my usual urge to research what Arabic films/series appear on my Netflix feed. I opened the application on my Apple TV, and, thus, a trailer for a new original Jordanian Netflix limited series called AlRawabi School for Girls (Tima Shomali, 2021) showed up. It wasn’t even 20 seconds into the trailer that my heart was sold entirely to the series, as the pink monochrome palette and art direction were enough for me to go absolutely nuts and hit play without thinking twice.

“Al-Hamdella,” I said to myself; I finally found a rare Arab gem. An all-female Arab cast and crew telling the perspective of Arab teen girls, each with their own story and struggles. Bullying, revenge, societal struggles, harassment, and abuse—stories against the patriarchy and stories of violence against women are all too real. Real stories. Tragic stories. These stories are authentic, and it’s the harsh reality that we Arab women face. I, myself, have unfortunately met a dose of each of these struggles. I saw myself in each of the characters in AlRawabi School for Girls; each character had an identity trait I owed. I hold Layan’s fierceness, Noaf’s punk rock image, Mariam’s anger, Dina’s personality, Roqayya’s hopefulness, and Rania’s easy going spirit. I finally felt represented on screen. As much as I’d love to discuss the complete limited series in its most delicate details, I have decided that I will be analysing the final scene. The scene has left several viewers with mixed emotions and received much criticism from the Arabian countries. 

In the final episode, named “The Calm Before the Storm,” Layan sneaks off with her boyfriend to his farmhouse in the outskirts of Jordan during school hours. During their arrival, Layan is nervous around her boyfriend, Laith, as this is the first time they’ve been together alone. Laith breaks the ice by being playful and pushes Layan into the pool with her school clothes on, leaving her drenched. Laith then offers his collared shirt to Layan as they watch a movie together while her clothes dry in the sun. Due to Layan’s skipping school, her family was notified of her actions and realised she was missing. Layan’s brother Hazem tries to hunt down his sister. He tracks her down and drives to the farmhouse, where he sees Layan’s clothes drying in the sun. Hazem smashes down the front door and sees Layan half-naked wearing Laith’s collared shirt. Hazem instinctively beats up Laith while Layan pleads, saying they were only watching a movie and nothing had happened. Hazem then holds a gun up to his sister, saying, “How could you do this?” and “You know what they’ll say about our family now?” Layan continues to plead to her brother, but he switches off the gun’s safety. The camera cuts to her pink school uniform under the sun, and the sound of gunfire is triggered. 

That was the final scene of the series. The scene was left open to interpretation, but the gunshot sound itself proves Layan’s death. Sadness and disgust overcame me, leaving me shattered, and I knew I had to discuss these violent acts that left viewers baffled. These violent acts are called “honour killings” that unfortunately happen behind closed doors. Honour killings are defined as “the killing of a relative, especially a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonour on the family.” It has been a long-standing dreadful tradition that continues to oppress women. Honour killings pose a risk to women’s safety in their own home. There are ways to reconcile honour killings by recognizing that these acts terrorise women and abolishing the laws that permit these killings. The murderer must be identified as a murderer and should not be justified as a hero who “saved the family’s honour.”

While watching the final scene of AlRawabi School for Girls, I felt it was vital to discuss the final scene concerning honour, as honour is not defined the same way in English as it is in Arabic. Tracing it linguistically, there are actually two definitions in Arabic for the word. The first type is “sharaf,” which mainly applies to men maintaining the family’s reputation through hospitality, chivalry, and nobility. In other words, men are honourable when they are the protectors of the family. They are honourable when they conceive sons to continue the lineage and continue the nobility of the household. The other definition for honour in Arabic is “‘ird,” or “tahara,” which pertains to women specifically maintaining the use of their bodies, their chastity, and their purity. In other words, women are honourable when they honour their bodies by keeping their virginities intact, valuing their bodies.

However, these definitions do meet and contradict. Both conceptions of honour have created ongoing oppressive issues for women in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and North Africa. The consequences of protecting family honour using the aforementioned definitions have resulted in countless innocent women being murdered. Who benefits from these terrifying misogynistic systems of what is considered honourable and dishonourable? The patriarchy, of course! It defends the patriarchy and is even justified through the laws. As long as the laws are in place, misogyny is even inherited from generation to generation until the regulations are terminated. 

To honour the right reasons will protect the right cause. To honour the wrong reasons will defend the wrong cause. Whether the reasons are right or wrong, the protection can either set human integrity free or hinder it. Honour brings pride and pleasure, but dishonour brings shame and disgrace. What is considered honourable and dishonourable is a political and subjective position. Ultimately, honour is a double-edged sword. Honour killings harm and terrorise families, communities, and societies because murderers walk freely instead of being punished for the crime they have committed. There is no pride nor pleasure in killing your family member to protect your family’s honour. The cast and crew of AlRawabi School for Girls have been outspoken about these misogynistic conditions and have taken a stand against honour killings in Jordan and globally.

Thank you, AlRawabi School for Girls, for raising awareness.

There is no honour in killing.

Killing is never justified.

Justice to all my sisters that have suffered from these tragedies.

Work Cited:

Odeh, Lama Abu. “Honor Killings and the Construction of Gender in Arab Societies.” American Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 58, no. 4, 2010, pp. 911–52. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.5131/ajcl.2010.0007.

“Middle Eastern Notions of Honor.” Sherifa Zuhur, 2021, science.jrank.org/pages/7757/Honor-Middle-Eastern-Notions.html#ixzz7LGEnL6Um.

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