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Crimes of honour.

So-called crimes of honour are still commonplace in certain areas of the Middle East. The victims are women and young girls, some barely more than children. A harmless conversation with a man outside the immediate family circle can constitute a "crime". Islamic law is bery specific -- a woman must be caught in the act of sexual intercourse before she can be punished. Yet the carnage continues with only suspicion to substantiate it. David Livingstone reports from Lebanon.

IN THE sleepy farming village of Younin in Lebanon, when a father kills his daugther or his wife, or a son kills his mother or sister, there is a resigned shrug, prayers for the dead, and life goes on in the fields and the schools and the mosques and houses.

Like most Shiite villages located in eastern Lebanon's fertile Bekaa Valley once prison for Western hostages and the country's hashish production centre, Younin is a close-knit ultra-traditional society where an inadvertent conversation between male and female may result in grisly death.

Ali Ahmed Saloum stabbed his 26-year-old wife to death, according to neighbours, after he was told his brother-in-law's friend was seen in his house with his wife with the door closed.

Fifteen-year-old Souad Fadel died in a similar fashion, killed by her father, Mohammed Ali Fadel, after he was told by a rejected suitor that he had seen the girl talking to a boy, implying sex had occurred. The enraged father, who had sent his daughter to buy oil, rushed out of his house with his knife. He stabbed her repeatedly on her face and back and chest until she was dead.

Maha Mohammed Daas Abdel-Sater, 75, estimates that some 200 females have been killed in her lifetime in Younin for real or imagined transgressions. "A boy asks me a question on the road. My father sees me. He thinks something. It's a scandal if a man sees his wife or sister or daughter talking to any man unless it's a close relative. It brings shame on the family. But death is too sever a punishment."

Her sister-in-law Moutiqa Ghalib Abdel-Sater, 85, is less compassionate. "If an arm is diseased, then cut it off."

Younin has 33 extended families, four mosques, two schools. Most men work in the wheat and hashish fields or orchards which produce apricots, cherries, figs and walnuts. Women work at home. Families are large, with ten children in a household common. Houses are built on the slope of a hill and grafitti -- "Death to America" -- is spray painted on walls in this village where, like most o the Bekaa Valley, the fundamentalist pro-Iranian Hizbullah party holds political sway.

Strict rules of behaviour for both sexes are in force. Cousins marry cousins with arranged marriages the norm. Men knock on the doors of their own houses before entering lest they catch the women unscarved. Brothers can shake the hands of the females in the family, but not of his female cousins or of aunts not related by blood -- a prohibition, villagers explain, which keeps tthe honour of the female intact and does not lure the man into temptation.

Shortly after property, a tight rein is put on girls. They are normally taken out of school and work at home until they are married off. According to Nabiha Raad, a 24-year-old teacher at the village school, parents think that since girls are going to get married anyway it is sufficient their daughters know how to write their name and read a bit.

Many younger villagers spoken to believe there is a change taking place in society, but are unwilling to flaunt the rules publicly. Clearly double standards exist.

Nazih Yaghi, an unemployed 24-year-old, said he meets his village girlfriend in secret in more liberal Baalbeck, a 15-minute drive away, and scorns the strict social traditions of the older villages. However, his liberalism has its limits. "If I saw my sister with some boy, I would have to beat him up," he admitted." And if I had a gun on me, I guess I would have to shoot him."

Older villagers do not even make a pretence of supporting change. Ismail Atrish, a 48-year-old butcher, relates the story of Ahmed Ali Abbas Salhab, whose daughter Asma eloped with a relative three years ago. The father, bearing a shotgun, went to the house of his new son-in-law where he found the boy's father. Not finding the newlyweds, he placed the shotgun in the stomach of the boy's father and killed him. Still angry when he returned home, he killed his dog and a caged bird. Ahmed was later killed by his son-in-law.

"Of course he has the night to kill her if she elopes No one elopes. The father has the right to kill the boy too," said the butcher.

Traditional attitudes within the Shiite villages of the Bekaa are harsher than Islamic law, according to village Shiekh Mohammed Haider. "While a father will instantly kill his daugther or wife if he sees her just talking to a strange man, this is not sanctioned in Islam."

According to the cleric, a woman must be caught in the act of sex before she can be penalised. "There must be four witnesses -- pure in character -- who actually see them having sex. In the absence of this, under Islamic law there can be no punishment."

Punishment varies. For married women committing adultery, it is her father and not her husband who has the right to kill her by stoning. If unmarried, the punishment is 100 strokes of a cane.

Under Lebanese law a man has the legal right to kill female relatives -- which includes his mother, grandmother, sisters and daughters -- if he sees them sleeping with a man other than their husband. If he has a suspicion they are having sex outside of marriage, he may kill her and is entitled to a reduced sentence because the murder is considered a "crime of honour".

According to women's rights lawyer Laure Moghaizel, this arcane law is not, as one would assume, from the Sharia, but from the Napoleonic Code of 1804, portions of which Lebanon has adopted.

Attempts to curb wife and daughter killing are non-existent. Ali Obeid, one of six gendarmes at the dilapidated police station on the single pot-holed road leading to the village, shrugs when asked about attempts to stop the murders. "In Beirut, where the government is strong, they can stop this type of thing. But here, in the Bekaa, where there is no government and political parties rule, it's impossible. In any event if a father saw his daughter walking with a boy, he should kill her."

Horrible as the killings in Younin may be, they do not match the nearby village of Lebweh. Abu Nimr Rebaiz, whose pregnant sister eloped, spent two years hunting for her. When he found her, he killed her, but thinking that the villagers might not believe he had killed her and restored family honour, he cut off her head and took it with him to show them that she was indeed dead.
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Title Annotation:Islamic law
Author:Livingstone, David
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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