When I first met Rana Husseini, I was struck by how forthright and open she was – a firm handshake, a piercing, inquisitive stare and the no-nonsense way in which she chose her words and spoke them. I quickly understood how men who are convinced of women’s inferior nature would be intimidated by someone like Husseini – and that’s besides all of the work she has done in support of women’s rights.
Rana Husseini, whom I first interviewed in 2007, is an investigative reporter and world-famous campaigner against the cruel phenomenon known as honour killing – both in Jordan and beyond. Her book, Murder in the Name of Honour, recently sold out upon its launch in Amman. Before the launch, I sat down with Rana to talk about everything from local politics to Orientalist imagery.
Natalia: So, this book was a real labour of love!
Rana: Yes. I wanted to get this one just right. I wasn’t about to let anyone sensationalize the subject matter. Thankfully, Oneworld Publications worked out really well for me and my agent, because they understood where we were coming from.
N: The cover looks great, by the way. It’s so different from the usual covers that are used on books about this region.
R: I told them right away, I wouldn’t have any seductive, veiled women on the cover! And no camels, and no sand and no menacing men in traditional clothing either! I wasn’t going to play into any of the stereotypes.
N: I meant to tell you, I have found some people to be strangely uncomfortable with the idea of an Arab woman speaking out about issues such as honour killing. It’s like they want all this phenomenon to be filtered exclusively through Western eyes.
R: Well, you can’t please everyone all the time. If we worried about what people said 24/7, we would get nothing done. There would be no progress.
When you speak about this mistrust, I can’t help but think of the Norma Khouri nonsense [Norma Khouri, real name Norma Bagain Teliopoulos, released a fraudulent “memoir” on honour killing in Jordan – a book that deal a blow to the local anti-honour killing cause]. There are a lot of people out there who still believe the lies that Norma Khouri spread about Jordan. And they don’t want those lies to be challenged.
You know, I’ve been attacked by many different people over the years. I’ve even been accused of being a government agent. This issue of honour killing has been politicized, which is why this happens. But you need to keep going, because there are women who need help.
N: Speaking of help, what are some of your goals for the book?
R: I want this book to save lives. Women in vulnerable situations will hopefully read it and see how they can protect themselves. There can be warning signs, and I illustrate many of them when talking about specific incidents. And we need to keep spreading awareness and pressuring global society to do more about this issue. God created us, and God takes us, and there is nothing defensible about honour crime when you think about it like that. More and more people must realize this.
N: Karim Kawar, Jordan’s former Ambassador to the United States, told some years ago that one of the central problems with honour killing is how certain parties view them as a case of “the family has suffered enough, so we should not be punishing them harshly.” Knowing what I know about life in Jordan, this certainly rang true. What do you think about it?
R: Based on how a lawyer presents the case, it could arouse sympathy for the killer and the family that encouraged the killer. In Jordan, we are making headway on this issue. The decision can be appealed, and I would stress that these attitudes are changing. People now discuss honour crime very openly. This wasn’t the case when I started out.
N: And what about the “it’s their culture” argument? I’ve had highly educated people say that to me when honour killing is brought up, as in “it’s their culture, you can’t change it, you’re a bigot for even thinking about it in these terms.”
R: First of all, I would say to you – violence against women is part of global culture. It’s not isolated to any religion, class or country. However, some societies develop quicker than others and have better mechanisms for coping with it and discouraging it, and people there can’t ignore the struggle going on around the corner.
We need to remember that we are all human beings, and honour crime goes against human dignity. Ending this violence means a better world for everyone.
The Amman launch for Murder in the Name of Honour had the atmosphere of a county fair. There were laughing children, balloons, lemonade. Rana sat in the center of it all, and glowed with accomplishment. She has much to glow about. The fight isn’t over, and the troops aren’t going anywhere.