July 19, 2024
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Honor Diaries to be Screened at CBY

Teaneck—Blood cleanses honor. In Muslim-majority societies that ‘honor’ is incorporated into a woman’s body and women donate most of the blood to cleanse or prevent the defilement of honor. The expungers of the sacred honor lurk everywhere—glancing at a male, refusing an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce from an abusive husband, wearing western-style clothing. Innuendos and rape have also been justification for honor killings. Women who are suspect are not given the opportunity to defend themselves.

No longer confined only to far away countries, honor killings and other woman-exlusive, religion-based violations such a FGM (female genital mutilation), forced and marriages are happening in North America and Western Europe. In the documentary film Honor Diaries, to be screened 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 5 at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, nine Muslim women from around the world meet for an intense two-day dialogue on their brushes with honor.

Human-rights lawyer Paula Kweskin, co-producer of the film, says her inspiration for the movie arose with the spurious hopes of the Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt. “I was really inspired and hoping that life would be better for women. Women were protesting and were hoping for women’s rights improvements. Instead the rights were peeled back. The reality is that women’s lives were not improved.”

Social media—credited with having helped foment the uprisings throughout the Arab world – helped create this video. “I trolled the internet—really a powerful process—to find women to participate. I spoke to women from all the over world.”

She adds that no major world religion, including Islam, condones the type of behavior toward women that is portrayed in this film. But shining a light on it is a first step toward eliminating the injustice and terror.

Award-winning journalist Raheel Raza, President of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, author of Their JihadNot My Jihad, and human rights activist, one of the nine women appearing in Honor Diaries, will be speaker at the Saturday night screening. Raheel, “a women’s rights activist all my life,” agreed to be in the film on the condition that “Muslim women in the film were allowed to speak for themselves.”

Her activism is “based within my faith. Some people have made these attitudes towards women part of the Koran. They use religion as a crutch to commit atrocities against women.”

She believes that awareness is the first step for change. “Expose, educate and eradicate. While she has not directly experienced the most heinous horrors outed in the film, she knows “young girls who have been threatened—just because they want to wear western clothes or have boyfriends or be educated. The statistics that we have are only those that are known. We have to change the whole understanding of honor.”

However, Raheel, who fell in love with a younger man of a different Muslim sect, felt the need to leave her native Pakistan when they married. “I would have been put in jail,” she says. “Just the idea of falling in love was enough. We saw the signs of a rising political Islam. I use the term Islamism. Islamism is the political manifestation of the spiritual message of Islam. This is what has brought this downfall in the Muslim world, with violence and terrorism. Power, patriarchy and politics have totally overshadowed the spiritual message, which is what I believe in. It is what I follow. I am an observing, practicing Muslim. I believe in the spiritual message of compassion and mercy.”

She notes that her husband “is very much an activist and feminist and is against radical and fundamentalist Islam.”

“Women suffer the backlash as fundamentalism rises. The rise in fundamentalism results from the lack of having the right interpretation. The Sunni world lacks leadership. They rarely stand up and denounce violence against women. Everyone interprets the faith to their own advantage. An educated, literate, enlightened woman is frightening.”

Arabic facebook pages about the film are very active. “This gives them a link and support. I am involved full-time because I want to support young girls who may be at risk.”

Paula Kwestel’s beginnings as a human rights activist began when a Chinese dissident came to speak at her high school. His experiences “just struck me to my core that it was a complete coincidence that I was born free in the U.S. and he was born in China,” she says. That awareness helped set her life path. She hopes this film will set off sufficient ripples to wash away sanctioned violence against women.

The film has been translated into Urdu, Parsi and Arabic. The Arabic facebook page has over 74,000 likes. “We are really making inroads,” Paula says.

Helen Weiss Pincus is a freelance writer. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, The Record, and other publications.

By Helen Weiss Pincus

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