A piece of white silk

By Jacqueline Rose

Murder in the Name of Honour by Rana Husseini
250 pp, £12.99, May 2009, ISBN 978 1 85168 524 0

In Honour of Fadime: Murder and Shame by Unni Wikan, translated by Anna Paterson
Chicago, 305 pp, £12.50, June 2008, ISBN 978 0 226 89686 1

Honour Killing: Stories of Men Who Killed by Ayse Onal
, 256 pp, £12.99, May 2008, ISBN 978 0 86356 617 2

The term ‘honour killing’ entered the British legal system in 2003, when Abdullah Yones pleaded guilty to killing his 16-year-old daughter Heshu. Accounts of the case vary but certain facts are clear. The family had fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991 – in London the father worked as a volunteer for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. At the William Morris Academy in Hammersmith, where she was a pupil, Heshu repeatedly expressed her fear of a forced marriage, but teachers ignored her. When her parents discovered her relationship with a Christian Lebanese boy, she ran away from home – her teachers, concerned that he was having an adverse effect on her schoolwork, had told her family about him. Taken to Kurdistan to marry her cousin (one account says Pakistan), and forced to undergo a virginity test, Heshu was threatened with a gun by her father but saved, on this occasion, by her mother and brother. After the family’s return to England, her brother discovered letters in which she repeated her desire to escape. She was locked in her room and stabbed to death by her father, who then tried to kill himself by jumping from the balcony after slitting his own throat.

According to Rana Husseini in Murder in the Name of Honour, in interviews before the trial, Abdullah first denied having anything to do with his daughter’s murder, then claimed she had committed suicide and that he had tried to kill himself out of grief. His £125,000 bail was raised by the local community. Threats were made against those planning to give evidence against him. In court, Abdullah pleaded guilty and asked for the death sentence, but was given life. Unni Wikan, too, tells this story, in her case-study of Fadime Sahindal, a Swedish-Kurdish woman killed at the age of 25 by her father in 2002. ‘Heshu’s case shows the terrible price the community exacts of a man who feels bound to kill his daughter,’ she writes. Wikan is an anthropologist who has made it her brief to extend the boundaries of cross-cultural understanding. ‘There have been times when I faltered,’ she writes in the opening pages, ‘because I came to feel too much sympathy for people I didn’t want to sympathise with.’

If Heshu Yones’s case makes history as the first legally recognised ‘honour killing’ in Britain, it is also remarkable for the testimony left by Heshu herself. ‘Hey, for an older man you have a good strong punch and kick,’ she writes in a farewell note to her father before trying to leave home. ‘I hope you enjoyed testing your strength on me; it was fun being on the receiving end. Well done.’ The fact that Abdullah had often beaten his daughter was somehow never picked up at her school. But Heshu’s tone is also resigned, self-blaming and philosophical, the voice, we might be tempted to say, of a ‘modern’ child: ‘It is evident that I shouldn’t be a part of you. I take all the blame openly – I’m not the child you wanted or expected me to be. disappointments are born of expectations. Maybe you expected a different me and I expected a different you.’ The letter could – almost – be a letter from any teenage daughter to her father: ‘life, being how it is, isn’t necessarily how it is. it is just simply how you choose to see it.’ But if her father had been able to agree on this principle, which gives equal validity to different ways of seeing the world, he would not have had – or rather would not have felt that he had – to kill her.

It is significant that this story begins when Abdullah receives an anonymous letter at his place of work accusing his daughter of behaving like a prostitute. The slur against a daughter’s, mother’s, sister’s honour most frequently begins with rumour and gossip, words that home in unfailingly on their target, but which also seem to come from nowhere.


(Submitted by reader)

Jacqueline Rose (born in 1949 in London) is a British academic who is currently Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London. Born into a non-practicing Jewish family, Rose is known for her work on the relationship between psychoanalysis, feminism and literature. She is a graduate of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and gained her higher degree (Mâitrise) from the Sorbonne and her doctorate from the University of London. Rose is critical of Zionism, describing it as “[having] been traumatic for the Jews as well as the Palestinians.”[1] In 2005, writing for the online political magazine Open Democracy, she called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

London Review of Books

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