Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Honor Diaries" is a riveting documentary about women living in Islam

Honor Diaries”, by Micah Smith (Brainstorm Media and Women’s Voices Now), is a disturbing documentary comprising a discussion and interviews of nine women from Muslim societies fighting for their own freedom and individual dignity.  The film's conversations appear to be shot mainly in Canada (Toronto).

A number of celebrities, including David Cameron, Hilary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, appear with support. But the main stars are the women themselves, including Qanta Ahmed (author of “The Land of Invisible Women”), Malala Youszafafi (Pakistan), Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Raheel Raza, Zainab Khan, and Raquel Evita Sawaswati.  One of the organizations is Karma Nirvana (link  ) Many countries are represented, including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. 
The film starts out by explaining the concept or honor in some Muslim societies, especially in poorer countries.  Women “have” the honor but men “control” it.  A woman has the power to dishonor a whole family.  Other associated concepts are arranged marriages (which happen in non-Muslim societies, too, as in India), and, particularly shocking, genital or clitoral circumcision, to keep women “virgins” for future husbands.  There is a particular moment where one of the women recounts when she resisted an arranged marriage because she didn’t love the man, and her mother says, the family will never be able to compel a marriage again.

One of the women from Iran points out that women did not have to veil themselves until the “revolution” in 1978 with the disposal of the Shah.
The whole psychology of all of this certain gets attention.  On the surface, it sounds as though religious teachings are used as an excuse to guarantee men the “right” to procreate and to have women, who effectively are denied the right to refuse.  In my own head, this would not make sense, to be sexually attracted to someone viewed as socially inferior.  But it is more complicated than that.  Muslim societies come from tribal origins, who faced enemies and privation, and who at one time probably needed strict rules to guarantee their survival.  Hence, Muslim clerics often write that Muslims must behave for the good of the group, according to religious revelations, and not to satisfy personal goals that might even normally seem legitimate.  A strict system of sexual morality, even when excessively patriarchal, seems to provide a family environment in which most men believe they can remain engage, interested, and faithful.  One’s own righteous behavior seems to be predicated on the idea that everyone else must follow it, too. But women say their lives are controlled by men: first their father, then their brothers, then their husbands, and if the husband dies (as in battle), even their own sons. 

The film does go briefly into polygamy, which would obviously leave weaker men without any wives.  But that sounds like a pretext to sacrifice men in battle. 

All of this reminds me of the reaction of others when I admitted “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men at William and Mary in the late fall of 1961 and was “expelled”.  It was a big deal that I was an only child and that such an announcement meant the end of the potential family line of my parents, as if I (like a woman) had some kind of perverse power to make a destructive choice.  Later therapists claimed that, despite the prodding of heterosexual college students to go along and try to score with girls, I was using my pronouncement as a way to “step on their toes” and make them question their own masculinity or suitability, as if there were some sort of dark plot against future generations in the back of my mind.  This was supposed to be my fault, but others were goading to talk about "fantasy life" way back in the early 60s, long before there was Internet self-expression today.  My own experience all sounds rather similar to the way Islam and many other (socially conservative) religions think.  This is about collective identity, not personal responsibility in the modern sense

The official site is here

The film can be rented from YouTube for $9.99 (expensive), or viewed on Netflix instant play.

Wikipedia attribution link for world map of Islam 

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