In the name of Allah or the Christian God of
The Melbourne Age Opinion Page, Thursday February 1, 2001.
Pamela Bone (The Age/No honor
in barbarism, Thursday January 25) deserves praise for having the
courage to condemn the barbarism of ‘honor killings’ and clitoridectomy.
The killing of women, whether under the Islamic veil or in a mini
skirt at the hands of a raving Jordanian or a bloke in Western jeans
deserves condemnation. However such is Pamela’s focus on the alleged
sins of Islam she ends up sounding like a modern day Crusader oblivious
to the hypocrisy of Western ‘law’.
Ironically, on the very day
Bone was attributing all manner of darkness to Islam and the culture
of the veil the Age told of an alleged rape victim being
asked by defence counsel to explain why she was photographed semi-naked
with the accused four years earlier. If only she’d worn a veil!
It wasn’t long ago Australian
courts demanded a woman who "cried rape" chronicle her
sexual history and the prosecution show evidence of struggle by
the victim against the alleged rape. And we all remember the protests
outside the Age in August 1991 after the judge in R v Hakopian
‘discounted’ the penalty on the grounds that the woman Hakopian
raped was a sex worker and therefore less likely to be traumatised
by rape than a ‘chaste woman’. So much for the civilised West!
One must wonder what Heather
Osland, sentenced to 15 years for the murder of her pathologically
violent husband, makes of suggestions that our courts are free of
notions of male honor or gender bias. Despite Osland’s son wielding
the piece of pipe that killed her husband, he was freed. And although
Justice Kirby relied heavily on the "sanctity of human life’
when rejecting Osland’s appeal to the High Court some have asked
whether flawed cultural assumptions and the sanctity of man’s place
in the home wasn’t the real sub-text. For while a pardon by the
Victorian Government might free Osland it will do and say nothing
about the notions of woman as property that continue to underpin
so many legal judgments.
For every sensational so-called
‘honor killing’ in ‘exotic’ eastern lands there’s a plain garden
variety in a Supreme Court just beyond the gaze of middle class
Australia. In 1982 not a soul protested when Justice Lush allowed
a defence of provocation in R v Dincer. In fact former Governor,
Justice James Gobbo, later labelled it a "difficult case"
and praised the law of provocation as an example of the "flexibility
and humanity of the common law".
Dincer had stabbed his 16-year
old daughter Zerrin to death in the bedroom of her boyfriend’s house.
In the accused man’s ‘Turkishness’ defence counsel Colin Lovitt
found an opening. Zerrin’s relationship with her boyfriend, he argued,
had brought dishonor to the father’s family and to his position
in the community. That’s why he ‘lost control’ drew the knife from
his sock and killed her, the court was told. It worked. Dincer was
found guilty only of manslaughter in a case that at first glance
appears to mimic the killings about which Pamela Bone writes.
But was this case really about
Islam and cultural distinctiveness? Or beneath the superficiality
and arguments about ‘cultural relativity’ were deep-seated barbaric
assumptions about the proprietorial rights of men, irrespective
of race or culture, at work? After all when a Turkish bloke by the
name of Caliskan killed a man who offered him lemonade, which defence
said implied "effeminacy in Turkish culture", the Court
was unmoved by appeals to ‘cultural relativity’. Maybe a contemporary
judgement by Justice George Hampel throws some light on this anomaly.
On February 10 1989 in R v
Keogh Justice Hampel told Legal Counsel he proposed to "give
the jury the appropriate directions (to allow a defence of provocation)
in accordance with Dincer’s case". This meant the jury had
to consider the characteristics of the accused when asking whether
an ordinary man might have done what he did. Having stabbed his
ex-girlfriend, Vicki Cleary, to death outside the kindergarten where
she worked Peter Keogh was subsequently acquitted of murder on the
grounds that, like Dincer, he’d ‘lost control’. He served three
and half years for the manslaughter of my sister.
The real link between the
rulings in R v Dincer and R v Keogh is the killing of a woman. Even
without the ‘Muslim’ card Dincer’s barrister would have argued ‘family
honor’ and documented for the jury, as is routine in such cases,
a series of provocative acts by the dead girl. Ultimately these
killings and the trials that follow are as much about male honor
as the actions of the raving Jordanian. That’s why neither jury
could find the Catholic Keogh or Muslim Dincer guilty of murder.
Hair-raising stories of local
women being stabbed, bashed with a drill, or shot in front of their
children by their ‘ex’ in the name of love – a euphemism for honor
– only to result in a verdict of not guilty to murder are not a
relic of Victorian England or Islam. The records of our own criminal
justice system are so full of them it would make you cry. If sensational
stories involving the reciting of the Koran as a prelude to murder
capture your imagination I suggest you pop into the Supreme Court
sometime when a bloke’s pleading provocation for the killing of
a woman. It’s as profound a lesson in barbarism as I’ve encountered
and a salutary reminder that ‘honor killings’ know no cultural boundaries.