HIRSHI ALI LEAVES HIDING TO SPOTLIGHT HONOR KILLINGS
By Abigail R. Esman - WeNews correspondent
AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands (WOMENSENEWS)--With Dutch Muslim extremists
threatening her life, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali
dove into hiding last November.
Days earlier, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had been ritually slaughtered
in Amsterdam by extremists angered by his film, "Submission," about the
abuse of Muslim women. Hirsi Ali, who wrote the film, the killer declared,
would be next.
Now, two months later, she has returned to work, resuming her role as a
beacon of hope for thousands of Dutch Muslim women. For in the shadows of
the famously tolerant and peaceful Netherlands has long lurked a secret it
took Hirsi Ali's courage to lay bare: Honor killings.
Because these killings long were kept hidden and unspoken in the Muslim
community, the actual number of such murders that occur in Holland every
year is unknown, though Hirsi Ali believes it could be as many as 50,
possibly more. While Muslims account for less than 6 percent of the Dutch
population, Muslim women are 60 percent of those in battered women's
shelters. The government was reluctant to talk about the situation, Hirsi
Ali says, because they believed tolerance required respecting different
cultures and traditions.
That changed once Hirsi Ali entered the public eye in early 2002. Then a
researcher for the Dutch Labor party studying integration problems within
the Muslim community, she began speaking out, describing the abuses she had
seen while working as a translator in women's shelters here.
Politicians--and the media, especially--listened: Hirsi Ali was herself a
Muslim (though she renounced Islam after the events of Sept. 11). If she
said wife beatings and honor killings were actually happening here in
Holland, the thinking went, it must be true.
Corroboration came in October 2003, when a teacher overheard two mothers
discussing why one of his students, 18-year-old Dutch-Turkish Zarife, had
not returned to school that fall. (Dutch officials do not release the last
names of the victims of family violence.) Her father had taken her to
Ankara in August on vacation, the teacher learned; when they arrived, he
shot her. The teacher alerted the police, and the story made headlines
Holland-wide. Zarife's crime, according to Hirsi Ali: She'd been seen going
out with Dutch girls, and without her scarf.
Since Zarife's death, subsequent honor killings have been harder for many
members of the Muslim community to hide. Like 32-year-old Gul, who was shot
by her husband almost a year ago for requesting a divorce. She reportedly
died at the door of a women's shelter in North Holland--the third honor
killing at a shelter in 10 months' time.
Or Nuray, reportedly assassinated in her sleep by her father while her
mother and her uncle stood by watching. "Kill her," Nuray's uncle is
reported to have said before the fatal shot was fired, again according to
local press accounts. She, too, was seeking a divorce.
Import Brides and Import Grooms
Many of the victims are "import brides," brought from Turkey or Morocco and
unprepared for life in Western Europe. Others are Dutch-born wives of
import grooms their families--most of whom came here as guest workers in
the 1970s - --force them to marry.
But radical Islam, according to Dutch Secret Service reports, is also
growing among Dutch Muslim youth--especially second-generation
men--inciting clashes between them and increasingly Westernized Dutch
Muslim girls and young women.
Says psychiatrist Carla Rus, who counsels Muslim and non-Muslim domestic
violence victims, these girls stand "with one leg in Dutch society and the
other in their traditional Muslim culture."
Often, they find themselves forced to choose between the two worlds--a
conflict that Rus links to a rate of suicide and suicide attempts among
Dutch Muslim girls that is five times that of non-Muslims. (Hirsi Ali,
meanwhile, believes some deaths officially classified as suicides were not
suicides at all).
"All these girls want," says Hirsi Ali "is to lead a normal life in
Holland. Instead, just being seen with a boy--especially a non-Muslim
boy--becomes a death sentence."
Even being perceived as dressing improperly creates risk. Hence, many women
here are kept--or stay--locked inside their homes. Gynecologists also
report some Muslim girls seek hymen restoration surgery before marriage,
lest their premarital sexual experience--a crime that could cost them their
lives--be found out.
'She Knew the Consequences'
Not all honor-related violence involves killing: One woman's husband
reportedly simply poured hot oil in her ears. "The problem," Hirsi Ali
says, "is that these actions are acceptable to the community." Even a
victim's own parents--also living in Holland--have been known to
congratulate her attacker. "They say, 'she didn't behave. She knew the
Rus emphasizes that such problem families are a minority. "But if 60
percent of the women in the shelters are Muslim, there's a problem you
Like Hirsi Ali, she contends the problem originates in interpretations of
the Koran, though Rus also blames the Dutch, whose "misplaced respect" in
an effort to promote cultural freedom permitted sexual and physical abuse,
child abuse and honor violence to proliferate without the intervention that
takes place within ethnic Dutch families. When in 2003, a 36-year-old
Afghan woman was murdered by her estranged husband in Maastricht, along
with her 10-year-old daughter, lawmakers struggled to find an appropriate
response: Should the killer be prosecuted according to standards of Dutch
law or Islam?
That debate continues following each such crime and no standard has yet
been set. Similar questions have come up in Great Britain, which has also
reported honor killings in its Muslim community, leading former Home
Minister Mike O'Brien to describe multiculturalism as an excuse for "moral
But Sezai Aydogan, a government advisor on Muslim family issues and
director of TransAct, a Dutch center for the prevention of sexual violence,
views things differently. Yes, he says the number of Muslim women in
shelters is disproportionately high, "but often they are often immigrants
with few contacts here, whereas the Dutch can find shelter with family and
Aydogan also rejects claims of a specifically Islamic component to honor
crimes, though he acknowledges the influence of passages in the Koran that
call, for instance, for a "corrective smack" when a woman disobeys her
husband. In 1997, a survey found that 43 percent of Dutch women agreed with
the statement "I have been the victim of violence by a partner one or more
times." In 2000, in a similar survey among Dutch-Muslim women, 24 percent
agreed. While this reflects Islamic taboos against speaking against one's
family, observes Aydogan, it also shows a different attitude towards the
"corrective slap"--acceptable to many Muslim women, an act of violence in
the minds of women from the West.
Forging Different Solutions
Unsurprisingly, then, those in Aydogan's camp and those in Hirsi Ali's are
forging different solutions, with one side reaching out and the other
Now a member of Parliament under the VVD, or Libertarian Party, Hirsi Ali
has used that authority to develop legislation facilitating divorce for
victims of domestic abuse, ban female circumcision and demand deeper
investigations into the deaths of Muslim women.
Further, Integration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonck, a strong
supporter of Hirsi Ali, recently enacted laws making honor crimes easier to
track: They will be registered specifically as such whenever possible, as
determined by specially-trained police. Doctors performing physicals on
Muslim women will be required to report cases of female genital mutilation
and those who perform them will be prosecuted.
For their part, TransAct and other NGOs have taken an educational approach,
working through local mosques to teach men to be less violent to women and
creating videos aimed at stimulating discussion and recognition of domestic
violence in Muslim homes.
But for their differences, what the two sides share is a willingness to
act, to speak of what for so long was the unspeakable. The silence has been
Abigail R. Esman, a freelance writer based in New York and Amsterdam,
writes often about post-9/11 culture in Europe, and is working on a book
about Muslim women in the West.
For more information:
The Kezban Foundation - [Dutch and English]: -
TransAct - [Dutch and English]: - http://transact.nl/content.php?ID=113