The Books Interview: Rana Husseini

Your book Murder in the Name of Honour continues your efforts to break the silence around honour killings. What first inspired your campaign?
I was reporting for the Jordan Times and encountered a horrific case of a 16-year-old girl called Kifaya, who was killed because she was raped by her brother and the family blamed her for tarnishing their honour. I found it very hard to comprehend.

I was sitting talking to her uncles and they were still blaming her. When I published the story, a woman rang the paper screaming that we shouldn’t cover these crimes. I was enraged that this call came from a woman. So, I decided to follow my heart; I would report each case and force people to act. It worked – a movement happened after that. Now I call them “so-called honour killings” because they have nothing to do with real honour.

You detail murder after murder in the book, almost pummelling the reader. Was this your intention?
You have to put a face to and humanise the victims. So many women are deprived of their right to live. I wanted people to read this book and be angry. When a family thinks that its female relative has tarnished its reputation, by engaging in sexual relations, by being a victim of rape, incest, by marrying the man of her choice, or even just speaking with a strange man, it feels the only way to fix things is with blood. Blood cleanses honour. Many families, when they kill their relative, want to get rid of the shame completely. Sometimes they don’t even take the corpse, and often women are buried in unmarked graves. I wanted to be the voice of these women so that people become enraged and do something.

Murder in the Name of Honour shows how you tried to alter the laws in Jordan that permit these murders. Has there been any change?
Laws alone are not going to end the crime, or protect women, but we have to try to change them, for women’s dignity. You can write a bad cheque in Jordan and get a longer sentence than for killing a woman in the name of honour. The laws haven’t changed, but attitudes have, among lawyers, judges and the police. They care more now. They don’t treat these crimes as just another woman who was killed. Now, finally, there is talk about changing the law.

The book shows that honour crimes aren’t solely a problem for Muslim cultures.
They’re not, but Muslims have always been portrayed in a negative manner. The media are not fair. Honour violence is an international phenomenon. In the book, there’s a case of a Sikh woman killed. In Italy, there were two recent cases involving Christians. And there are reports of it happening in small villages in Spain and Greece. It happens everywhere.

You interviewed several murderers for the book. How did that feel?
The first time I met Sarhan, who had killed his sister Yasmin, I felt a lot of anger. There he was, sitting and smiling. But I interviewed him several times and realised that he was ignorant. These are ignorant people. One time I suggested to him, “You didn’t want to kill your sister. Were you put in this situation?” And he said he regretted it but would do it again. He said he wished society would execute honour killers, and then his family would not have pushed him. That’s not a man proud of his actions. Men are forced into the situation by their families.

You’ve received death threats for your activist work. How do you manage these?
I believe in fate and am a firm believer in what I do. I feel that when it is my time to go, nothing will stop it. I’m doing right things that don’t contradict human rights or religion; any normal person would know that those killings are wrong. Yet I have people accusing me of being a Zionist agent, a radical feminist, a western agent who wants to destroy the morals of society. But I don’t lose sleep over death threats. There will always be people who will oppose you. That’s life.

Interview by Claire Colley
“Murder in the Name of Honour: the True Story of One Woman’s Heroic Fight Against an Unbelievable Crime” is published by Oneworld (£12.99)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, King and Country

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How will future videogame makers design a grand strategy game about the 21st century?

With the diminishing power of nation states, and the lack of conventional warfare, what would a 21st-century grand strategy game look like?

In the world of historical strategy games, it always seems clear how to win. Paint the map your colour. Raise your flag over the capitals of your rivals. Pave the streets of your cities with gold. Games based around statecraft in olden times will tend to have diverse objectives, they usually focus on the greatness of a nation in the traditional senses of the word: military might, technological advancement, religious and cultural hegemony. These same priorities hold up from the times of the Roman Republic to the Cold War.

Yet if games designers in the future were to look at the world of today, how would they interpret the actions of modern governments? Do the same goals as before apply or have we moved on? Are the objectives of contemporary societies different, and if so, just what would a player in a game of 21st-century grand strategy be trying to achieve?

One thing is for sure, the conventional measures of success in historical grand strategy games don’t stack up so easily in a modern setting.

War, for instance, has always been a staple part of historical games and it remains a preoccupation of contemporary society too. In the 15 years of the 21st century, Britain has invaded two countries, conducted armed interventions in three more and is even now lining up the procurement of new fighter jets, new aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons at incredible expense. So we can safely say we do not live in a peaceful age.

But despite having all this firepower and the political will to bring it to bear at the drop of a dossier, war doesn’t seem to serve Her Majesty’s Government in the way it does in either the history books or the strategy games. There is no territory to be won and no rival great powers being thwarted – only air strikes, occupations and teetering puppet governments.

Indeed the only country whose military adventures bear any resemblance to the old-timey way of doing things is Russia, with Putin perhaps the last of the breed of world leaders who still thinks swapping out the flags on municipal buildings constitutes a legitimate redrawing of national boundaries. Given his famous distrust for technology it seems quite likely he didn’t get the tersely worded Tweet from Obama about how that kind of thing isn’t supposed to work anymore.

On the economic side of things the approaches opted for by governments today don’t fit with the historical mind set either. Nations are no longer trying to get rich for their own sake. Privatisation relinquishes the assets of the state in return for a temporary financial gain and long term loss of revenue. Deregulation and poor tax enforcement bleeds capital overseas. It is here we see perhaps the key difference between games where you play as The State itself and real countries, countries run by people who have bank balances of their own and competing party financiers to appease.

The idea of running a country for the purpose of making that country wealthier and then reinvesting that wealth back into the country by developing assets and infrastructure has gone out of the window. Simultaneously both the leftwing model of a state run for the benefit of its citizens and the rightwing ideal of a country mastering its economy to become a more powerful force on the world stage have been quietly phased out. Outsourcing and tax havens suggest that there is no longer room for patriotism in economic policy – unless you’re China, of course, but it wouldn’t be much of a game with only one nation playing it.

On a technological front there was the space race, and there have even been games built around it. But in the 21st century, the urgency and the sense of competition has been lost. Rovers on Mars, probes on comets and space stations tend to be viewed in a spirit of collective human achievement, partly because of the collaborative nature of modern space exploration, and also, I suspect, because lots of people in those fields are Star Trek fans.

The idea of going to Mars so you can stand on the surface of another planet and tell the Communists to stuff it no longer appeals as much as that whole "pushing back the scientific boundaries for the benefit of all life of Earth" deal. It is laudable, but not ideal for games built around competing with other countries.

In the 21st century grand strategy game, we wouldn’t be looking to conquer the world, we wouldn’t be looking to buy it and we wouldn’t be looking to leave it in our technological wake either. So what does that leave? What would 21st-century grand strategy look like?

It could be argued that we’ve moved beyond the era of nation states as the bodies driving world affairs, and such a game might reflect that. Maybe something more akin to a Crusader Kings game would be the way to go, with the player taking the role of an individual – a connected political blueblood, perhaps, like an oligarch, a CEO, an activist turned politician, a drugs baron or a terrorist leader. Or maybe we would play not as an individual, but as an organisation, for example the CIA, ExxonMobil, Isis, Amnesty International or the Solntsevskaya Bratva.

It may be that we never see the present day immortalised in a strategy game, at least outside of that passing phase in Civilization where everything is either settled down or exploding in nuclear fire. Perhaps we’re destined to nestle into a historically obscure crack between the tumult of the 20th century and something spectacular or horrible yet to come. It is nice to think, however, that the times we live in are at least interesting and that maybe we’ll get to see it all laid out in a game one day, if only to find out what winning the 21st century would look like.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture